Sunday, 28 August 2016

Sound Of My Voice

SOUND OF MY VOICE (2011) begins in a promising tone of mystery and intrigue, as investigative journalist Peter and his girlfriend Lorna infiltrate a cult meeting. They tolerate a paranoid selection process for new recruits and learn the silly handshakes required for exclusive membership. Peter has a secret plan to expose the new age scam being perpetrated by young ‘guru’ Maggie (Brit Marling, Another Earth), apparently a con artist who claims to be from the future, and very allergic to the present, while she promises an unspecified ‘salvation’ from, presumably, an anticipated doomsday event.

Her growing clique of easily-led followers indulge in psychodrama sessions, intended as mind cleansing self–help therapy. But is Maggie a cellar–dwelling conceited recluse, just a sappy loony, or is she actually dangerous? At first, the lack of sympathetic protagonists, and the ridiculous campiness of some supporting characters, fosters disinterest in this scenario. It is often hard to take mysteries about cults very seriously and here the lack of any credible evidence means that Maggie’s crazy concocted story has more obvious holes than a golf course infested with moles.

 
Typical nutty shenanigans ensue; such as eating live worms: “It’s the new you.” A child-kidnapping strategy targets an autistic girl that Maggie reveals will, in the future, become her mother. The twist–ending abandons its pretentious Sundance–bait ambiguity as police swoop in to rescue the little girl. Director Zal Batmanglij previously made a short film The Recordist (which also stars Marling) and, seeing as this feature is only 85 minutes, it could have been included as a disc extra but, sadly, it is not. Why? I have no idea, but it might have added a bit more value to a hi–def release where the main feature proves to be rather disappointing.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Ghost island

Made in Singapore but shot in English, TV movie Pulau Hantu (2008) – trans: ‘Ghost Island’, is released on DVD in the UK as CURSE. Directed by Esan Sivalingam, it is set on a now unpopulated isle where a village was ruled by a corrupt medicine man whose predations led to his rape victim, and her daughter, being buried alive. In the present day, we see an army squad arrive via boat to search the island for AWOL soldiers. The troops are attacked, repeatedly, by an invisible enemy. “This is not happening!” keens one man, and he’s not even wounded.  

Reminiscent of Korean military–horror, Ghosts Of War (R–Point, 2004), Curse focuses on mortal fears in the drab jungle/ forest as night falls, suddenly, signalling the presence of dark forces. Suspicion and paranoia results in frightened soldiers shooting each other in a cluttered and, ultimately, very confusing storyline not helped by inter–cutting with the lone survivor (although he’s not the only one, we find) in army debriefing interviews after the mission has failed.

Having uncovered crimes (a ‘mass suicide’, apparently) of the past, the intruders here must learn that simply re–burying evidence will not make the supposedly evil forces go away. Badly made on video, with colourless imagery and some clumsy editing, this lacks even an ounce of the sinister heavyweight edginess that is required for strong atmosphere in a rural ghost story. 

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Thai house

Like many haunted house movies, Thai horror, THE HOUSE (2007), really starts with a face–at–the–window scene. A young reporter is investigating a mystery that surrounds three murdered women, all killed in crimes that span decades but are linked to the same house.

The back-story about a murderous doctor attempts to infuse some topicality but, nonetheless, it is a tired batch of pop–up gothic clichés. Subliminal scares and some first–person handycam views are hopelessly copycat after the likes of Bangkok Haunted, Shutter, and Ghost Of Mae Nak. Also, and perhaps inevitably, it borrows atmosphere and mise en scène from The Eye and Grudge movies.  

Sometimes insipid, generally underwhelming, performances do no favours to a plot which hinges upon the cartoonish loony in prison who enjoys OTT snidely Lecteresque confessions. Cheapo CGI makes for shadowy demonic phantoms that are rarely more than slightly creepy.
 
It is hard to tell if the portentous apparitions are supposed to be ‘real’, especially when they are no different to hallucinations in the dreams of traumatised victims. This is all so depressingly formulaic that it seems unlikely many viewers will care, either way.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Earth-2

“You don’t know what’s out there,” he warns her. “That’s why I’d go,” she replies. ANOTHER EARTH (2011) is an artsy variant of Gerry Anderson’s classic home-grown sci-fi Doppelganger (aka: Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun, 1969). After a road accident kills a musician’s pregnant wife and their young son, the other car’s teenage driver Rhoda is convicted of negligence. Years later, she begins an affair with still grieving widower, John, a famous composer, eccentric enough to play the saw, but he has no idea who she is, at first... 


While SETI broadcast greetings to the new planet, and hope for first contact, everybody is baffled by this apparently cosmic reflection, growing ever larger in the sky, and UFOlogy nutters roam the streets with placards of impending doom. The genre debut of director Mike Cahill, who co-wrote the screenplay with lead actress Brit Marling (Sound Of My Voice), this is a low-budget indie about festering guilt with flailing attempts at redemption. It may be viewed as metaphysical philosophy and existential introspection or simply muddled up nonsense about dreams coming true from shattered lives, but, either way, it does tend to get a bit lost in its own headspace of tragedy.
 

Facing hard truths about the improbabilities of forgiveness, like Lars von Trier’s sometimes painfully beautiful Melancholia, it’s more interested and immersed in its characters and their respective melodramas than any science fictional aspects, with a preference for the symbolic instead of the confrontational, and many – perhaps too many – of its pivotal or dramatic scenes occur off–screen. Another Earth is like a mirror world for observers in need of enlightenment but its paranormally reflective surfaces are often impenetrably blacked out. The parallel planet just hangs above the clouds offering vague promises of second chances and a multiverse heaven away from home. Unfortunately, if viewed as serious SF, this never gets off the ground. 

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Real Steel

REAL STEEL (2011) is not a remake, although it feels like one, partly due to the previous adaptation of Richard Matheson’s story Steel for a Twilight Zone episode in 1963, and partly because the producer Steven Spielberg has dealt with fighting robots before in A.I. (2001). Here it is 2020, where clunky ‘Ambush’ is wrecked in a small town bullfight, and the Japanned replacement bot ‘Noisy Boy’, loses its first match so it needs repairs that remote-control operator, full-time failure, and reluctant father Charlie (Hugh Jackman, failing to carry a leading role, yet again) can’t afford.  

Now he’s stuck with custody of his 11-year-old son, for a road movie, with boxing mecha interludes, that everyone involved somehow imagines is an awesome blockbuster super-toy (to last all summer long) that’s oh so cool it’s positively hypothermic. Bailey (Evangeline Lilly, TV’s Lost) is the techie who owns a rundown gym; but she can’t bring any warmth or humanity to a scenario vacancy that’s Robot Jox meets Transformers, with robo-Rocky asides, and all the testosterone thrills of beeping arcade video games. The mind–numbing predictability of its father/ son relationship reconciliation is made worse when the kid’s a winner, dad’s such a loser, and everything is going to work out so the grotesquely Hollywooden, shamelessly tearjerker style happy ending is inevitable.

Director Shawn Levy (CGI–laden Night At The Museum comedies, Pink Panther remake) keeps the machines running on a soda-pop high from scrap-yard challenges to the big leagues of New York arena bouts, while a sentimentalised variant of Terminator 2’s young John Connor mentored by Schwarzenegger’s reprogrammed assassin makeover is turned into utterly cringe-worthy tripe by twin ailments of Disneyfication and Spielbergitis. There’s less room here for ‘characters’ than you get in a Twitter post, and the cliché–magnet plot is blatantly easy to summarise as a one–liner. In a montage-riddled climax, junk bot Atom becomes the best brawler, too self-consciously amazing as a painfully obvious Tin-man/ little toaster that could, who beats all the odds against autonomous champ, the mighty Zeus. Yes, it’s an A–Z of aahhh... aw shucks, or - perhaps, urgh! A sequel is on standby.