Sunday, 26 June 2016

Sunday horror!

“I can’t believe in a god who’s less merciful than I am.” A Swedish horror, PSALM 21 (2009) begins rather cackhandedly, as priest Henrik learns that his father – who was also in the clergy – has just died. While he is driving out of town to visit the coroner, his car breaks down, and so the stranded Henrik stays overnight with a local family who seem more than a bit weird. He is haunted by spectres of his dead relatives and Henrik sees others (a ghost boy and a spooky girl) become ghoulish creatures with a similarly demonic aspect.  

Is poor Henrik now tragically cursed by his own willingness to accept knowing his father’s murderer? This is an especially troubling act of forgiveness when his ‘priestly’ father was also a paedophile. A first movie for actor turned writer and director Fredrik Hiller, this hell–bound shock fest has ostensibly awkward, seemingly amateurish, performances that are actually good and entertaining attempts to ground the movie’s theatrics in a kind of sober improv reality. Henrik is on a journey into a ‘twilight zone’, that becomes increasingly surreal with revelations and rememberings (including oedipal incest?) of his own dark past.

Deliciously creepy, and sometimes close to genre parody – while skilfully avoiding too many humorous pitfalls, Psalm 21 does not always, or even often, make perfect sense, but its moody intensity is a welcome diversion from slick Hollywood standards of over-produced flashiness that conceals a thematic emptiness. Delusional rantings by one religious nutter here are more frightening than close attention by most evil serial killers. This is a quite well polished flick for a low-budget foreign production boasting many effective spectral montages.

The grand finale starts with a burning bible, and ends with an heretical yet heartfelt sermon, by Henrik to a baffled congregation, which results in him being dragged from the pulpit and unceremoniously expelled from his own church (simply for daring to speak the truth, of course). Oh, Jesus wept... 

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Demon Empire

Made in 2006, DEMON EMPIRE is a superb Korean movie that fans of Tsui Hark’s Zu Warriors (either version) should enjoy. After he saves a village from demons, local folks and ungrateful wretches, betray their vagabond saviour, Yi Gwak (Jung Woo-sung, from Musa: The Warrior and The Good, The Bad, The Weird) to his enemies in a wicked dynasty. The superhero takes a fall, but wakes amidst the towering pagodas of ‘Midheaven’ for his purgatory walkabout, supposedly awaiting reincarnation, although he’s not actually dead. Yi Gwak is reunited with lost love Yon–hwa, but she’s now a higher spiritual being without memories of her previous mortal existence…  

It’s a romantically tragic fairytale about transcendent love, misplaced guilt and the importance of forgiveness, but Demon Empire never stoops to be simply preachy. This is also an enjoyably spectacular fantasy actioner with flying daggers, boomerang swords, chain-whips like living tentacles, much CGI, and wire fu galore. Yi Gwak follows a philosophical path, intent upon protecting the human world, not changing it, so chief villain Ban–chu, who sits on a hot–tub throne, becomes so angered by our hero’s morality that his hair turns white as he calls forward an apocalyptic blood Moon.

There’s a requisite mcguffin - the ‘holy stone’ of ultimate power, as symbolised by sacrificial angelic heroine Yon-hwa, whose tortured body radiates glorious light. For the grand finale, there’s a citadel–wide mêlée as Yi Gwak single-handedly takes on an entire army. Demon Empire is not a masterpiece, or a breathtaking epic, but it’s at least on a par with the likes of Goemon.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Mirrors 2

“I started seeing things... but I’m not crazy.” Losing touch with your own reflection? Don’t hate your image, it may hate you back. MIRRORS 2 (2010) is a sequel to Alexandre Aja’s 2008 remake of clever Korean mystery–chiller Into The Mirror (2003). Max (Nick Stahl, that ‘yellow bastard’ in Sin City) had a breakdown and suffers misplaced guilt over surviving the car accident which killed his fiancée. He takes a new job as security guard at his father’s commercial property, but adopts the bad habit of seeing premonitory visions of death.  

As directed by Victor Garcia, maker of Return To House On Haunted Hill (a sequel to a remake), and yet another pointless sequel, 30 Days Of Night: Blood Trail, Mirrors 2 is further evidence that here’s a filmmaker making a name for himself as someone without any obvious ambition or creative merits that involve any measure of originality (note: Garcia’s next picture was Hellraiser: Revelations). Anyway, Max’s sympathetic dad, Jack (William Katt), owns a shopping centre in New Orleans. The building is visibly haunted and is due for re–opening, like those in Aja’s New York, and in that Korean film. Have shop ghosts gone viral?

Waitress/ heroine Elizabeth (always busy B–movie starlet Emmanuelle Vaugier, Far Cry, Dolan’s Cadillac) is concerned for her missing sister, who Max ogles in mirrors. Twisted perceptions and looking-glass unreality conceals a comparatively mundane rape and murder crime. Needless flashbacks, some inserted with extreme clumsiness into climactic sequences, deflate what little suspense is generated here. Despite clichéd scripting and WYSIWYG plot construction, Mirrors 2 does boast a couple of impressively staged/ visualised death scenes (decapitation in shower, ‘self’ disembowelment).

Overall, it is predictable and distinctly un–involving but nonetheless watchable as a below average time–waster. Sequel trains do need to jump off the rails, and be unpredictable, if filmmakers ever hope to create a worthwhile follow–up instead of just a carry-on. More sightseeing from a continuance of the original journey is simply insufficient to appeal to discerning genre–literate viewers who have seen it all before.