That Was The #SharkWeak That Was

Hello cupfishcakes! 😃🦈

It’s the UK premiere of “Sharknado 5: Global Swarming” tonight on SyFy UK (9:00pm if you’re wondering) and we’ve had a lot of fun over the past seven days here at What The Craggus Saw with Shark Weak but amidst all the man-eating monstrous nonsense, there’s a lot of things these presumably well-researched and meticulously fact-checked movies leave out. So, in the interests of balance (and, you know, the planet’s future), here’s the science bit:

It’s not news to you, I’m sure, that sharks in the real world are in big trouble. SyFy Cinema might show them as vicious, relentlessly voracious killing machines but in real life, they are very vulnerable creatures (okay, vulnerable creatures with a set of endless serrated knives for teeth but remember, for every human killed by a shark attack, humans have killed nine million sharks[1]).

Peter Benchley, the author of “Jaws”, has been particularly vocal about his guilt over the role he played in giving sharks their gruesome reputation and contributing to the global attitudes towards sharks and their utterly misrepresented threat to humans.  With Hollywood embracing this remorseless killer of the sea image and humans encroaching more and more into their habitat either for leisure or commerce it’s gotten us to the point where some species of sharks are at severe risk of extinction and many more are suffering serious population depletion. The reduction and potential loss of sharks could prove to be catastrophic to the marine environment and subsequently to humanity and our relationship with the oceans.

Sharks are fish, ranging in size from the 10m-15m Whale Shark – the largest non-cetacean creature alive on the Earth today – to the 20-50cm small varieties such as the Cookie Shark. In amongst the range, you have the renowned predators such as the Great White, the Bull Shark and the Tiger Shark, unusual species and variations such as the Hammerhead Sharks and Wobbegongs (Carpet Sharks). They range all over the planet’s oceans from the Oceanic White Tip who prefers deep, open water to the Bull Shark which can happily live in both fresh and salt water areas. We have sharks in UK waters too. For example, the huge but harmless filter feeding Basking Shark (notable for its tendency to swim with its fin above water, “Jaws”-like, as it scoops up the microscopic nourishment floating under the surface of the water often visits in summer. Blue Sharks, Thresher Sharks, even the occasional smooth Hammerhead Shark can pop in around the south coast of the UK and, of course, we have permanent residents like dog fish, cat sharks and smooth hounds in our waters all year round. And don’t forget the shark family also includes the Rays too, from the small skates found in UK waters to the enormous Manta rays found in warmer climes.

My point is that Sharks are spectacularly more varied and diverse than the Great White Shark that Hollywood has adopted as the poster child for fear of the ocean and even then, the Great White itself is not what it is portrayed as on screen.  As varied and diverse as they are, they all have one thing in common: they are all under threat from Humans.  We have the biggest impact on them in so many ways: overfishing, commercial fishing techniques and by-catch all have a direct and immediate impact by reducing numbers by taking them out of the water to start with, not to mention the abhorrent ‘finning’ of sharks for soup and health supplements which sees otherwise healthy animals caught, mutilated and then dumped back into the ocean to sink, drown or bleed to death.

Climate change is also taking its toll as CO2 changes the acidity of the oceans and temperatures start to rise. Similarly to CO2 changes, long term temperature changes in the ocean can be devastating, even a degree or two’s warming is damaging coral reefs and when the coral goes, so do the fish which live and feed off them and suddenly the sharks’ food sources have also vanished. Sharks may sit at the top of the food chain, performing a hugely undervalued function of keeping the oceanic populations healthy and in balance by removing the sick and weak through predation, but they are vulnerable to any large scale disruption to those populations. And, as if all that weren’t enough, we’re also filling the deep ocean with plastic garbage. It’s not just about target efforts to protect the sharks themselves, when we move to protect and restore the environment, we save the sharks and, ultimately, ourselves.

No, sharks do not have a murderous vendetta against humans but, when you think of everything we’re doing passively and actively to harm them, could you really blame them if they did? Sharks need our help, and we can do this is so many ways…

🦈 If you eat fish, make sure that it is caught in a sustainable manner – don’t just accept “sustainably caught” on the packaging, I would encourage everyone to only purchase fish that is certified by an appropriate board like the Marine Stewardship Council. Also know that some fish is shark meat marketed under a different name. That Rock or Rock Salmon in your fish ‘n’ chip shop is actually Dog Fish, and it’s not usually sustainably caught either.

🦈 There are many organisations and charities out there who study and advocate for Sharks, providing information and education who would welcome your support (click on the logos to find out more):

🦈 Why not adopt a shark?

🦈 Marvel at how far Sharks travel the world, pick a favourite and follow them!

🦈 Say no to single use plastic. It is estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish (tonne for tonne).

🦈 Reduce, Reuse, Refill, Repurpose, Recycle

🦈 Pick up your litter. And organise or participate in your own local beach clean.

🦈 Don’t buy shark teeth necklaces or other shark items on holiday – by buying these items you provide a demand and this drives supply. Don’t buy it and they won’t be killed to provide it. You might want to think twice about cage diving with sharks or participating in organised shark feeding activities too. It encourages unnatural behaviours and puts people at risk, thereby putting sharks at risk if/when incidents happen.

🦈 Check out the late Rob Stewart’s world-changing documentary Sharkwater, which helped raise awareness of the plight of sharks worldwide and usher in a worldwide ban on shark-finning.

Sharks are great fun as movie monsters but I hope this has given you a bit of inspiration for what you can do to help protect and conserve them so that in years to come, future generations won’t be thinking of these magnificent animals the way we do the dinsosaurs when we’re watching “Jurassic World”.

Thanks for reading and feel free to share your ideas on how we can help protect the environment and sharks.

XXX

The Lost Boys (1987) Review

For a film that prides itself on a promise that you’ll ‘never grow old’, “The Lost Boys” has betrayed us all and turns 30 this year, released on this date all the way back in 1987. I watched it recently for the first time in maybe ten years and it still holds up pretty well although my overriding impression of it this time around was that Director Joel Schumacher paid for helicopter hire and by God, he was going to get his money’s worth.  I’m marking this event by, somewhat appropriately, giving blood (if you’re not a donor already, why not use this as an excuse to get started?) so I thought it only appropriate to hand the task of celebrating the film’s tricennial to WTCS occasional columnist and “Lost Boys” super fan, Sweetie G [for whom a deadline is apparently as effective as garlic and crucifixes are to vampires].  – The Craggus

Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It’s fun to be a vampire. Thirty? How the fuck did this happen??  I did not approve this! Much as I did not approve of either sequel (neither of which exist or shall be mentioned again from this point on).

It was something of a rude awakening when I was told that “The Lost Boys” would turn thirty this year.  The film that I watched pretty much every half term and school holiday for most of my school life.  My honest answer to the question ‘What’s your favourite film?’. Okay, it was never going to win any Oscars® but to an eleven-year-old emerging horror film fan, it was perfection.  With its sexy young cast, exciting action, soft-core horror/ gore, and slick, hip script, coupled with a killer (ahem) rock & roll soundtrack, it was always going to be a winner.  A hit at the time of release, its reputation has grown into cult status since.

It was the film that introduced me to both Kiefer Sutherland and Corey Haim, the loves of my life for a large portion of my formative years, and of course Nanook (played by a beautiful Alaskan Malamute called Cody), although that was less of a crush and more genuine puppy love.  From “The Lost Boys”, I followed Sutherland to the terrible “Renegades”, the awesome “Young Guns” and the eerie and jumpy “Flatliners” (the remake of which is out this year).  Haim I stalked to “License To Drive”, “Watchers”, “Dream Machine” and “Prayer Of The Rollerboys” before going back to discover “Lucas” and “Silver Bullet”. You know, when you list them out like that it’s pretty easy to see whose career went better.

But enough about my first crushes and back to the film in question.  Now, I should point out that this is not a high brow film, brains are NOT required to enjoy this film and it fails the Bechdel Test badly since the only two female characters are only there to provide context or motivation for the male leads. They’re firmly pigeonholed as the archetype ‘mother’ and ‘maiden’ and rarely get to discuss anything but Michael (Jason Patric) and/ or David (Sutherland), so you can forget any feminist subtext in the film whatsoever. Perhaps that would have come to the fore in the oft-touted but never produced sequel “The Lost Girls” which would have seen David’s vampire survive the events of this film (remember: he doesn’t explode or dissolve like all the other) but despite the film’s popularity, Joel Schumacher just couldn’t make it happen in the 1990s. What you can expect is comedic daytime capers with Corey Haim’s Sam as he teams up with local comic book nerds and would-be vampire hunters Edgar (Corey Feldman) and Alan (Jamison Newlander), the Po(e)-faced Frog brothers and sexy night time vampire action as Michael mixes with David and his gang of eponymous lost boys. And helicopter shots. Lots and lots of helicopter tracking shots.

Set in the fictional borough of Santa Carla, California (the murder capital of the world), Lucy (Dianne Wiest) and her two boys Michael and Sam move back in with her eccentric father (Barnard Hughes) following a divorce. It’s established early on that this isn’t the boys’ first choice and probably not Lucy’s either but she’s determined to make the best of it and make a fresh start. Wiest may be used more as a plot device than a character but she wrings every bit of pathos and personality out of her underwritten role and provides a deceptively important bedrock for the film’s main plot to build on.

The already- and soon-to-be- lost boys ‘meet’ for the first time at the boardwalk, as Michael’s attention is captured by the bait that is Star (Jami Gertz), while Sam is seduced by the nerd-friendly ambience of the comic book store. When the brothers meet up again, Star climbs onto the back of David’s bike as Sam laughs at Michael commenting that “she stiffed ya”.  David’s gang are all beautiful young men in leather jackets, with long, expertly coiffured hair and riding motorbikes; basically bad boy heaven for girls of the ‘80s. The bait is part of an elaborate plan to draw Michael into the gang and the motorbike chase – to the pulsing rock of Lou Gramm’s “Lost In The Shadows (The Lost Boys)” – brings us to the lighthouse overlooking the bluff where we discover the gang’s ‘home’ and Michael’s imitation begins.

Because they have become so iconic, it’s easy to dismiss some of the vampire scenes in “The Lost Boys” as cliché; the red wine/ blood switcheroo, the hypnotic tricks which made an entire generation wary of Chinese food but “The Lost Boys” actually reset and redefined popular vampire lore quite significantly, paving the way for everything from “Interview With A Vampire” to “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”. Given it’s riffing on the theme of peer pressure, there’s a devilish satirical touch as Michael literally lives out the well-worn parental axiom, ‘If your friends all jumped off a bridge, does that mean you have to as well?’

As an older sibling, I can attest to Sam is very much a normal annoying younger sibling, but it’s in his interactions with Michael that the film slowly reveals the weird shit he’s been getting into.  As a character in his own right, Sam primarily provides the comic relief, leaving the brooding heroism to Jason Patric’s Michael. He gets the bulk of the scenes with Grandpa and the banter between them regarding the Widow Johnson is well worth a giggle. It’s also through Grandpa’s reluctance to go near town that further fuels Sam’s belief that there’s something very weird going on in Santa Carla.  Sam’s comedy is used to emphasise rather than undermine the horror elements, as shown in the bath scene where, as he’s rocking out to “Ain’t Got No Home” by Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry (conspicuously missing from the too-cool-for-school soundtrack) and Michael is beginning to succumb to the first stirrings of bloodlust. Thankfully Nanook is there to save the day, a quick bite – although not the kind Michael was planning on – snapping Michael out of his trance. From this point on, both Sam and Michael know there are Vampires in Santa Carla.

While all this action is going on Lucy is quietly getting on with trying to rebuild her life and is working in town.  Like most mums of teenagers, she’s picking up after them, and it’s in this act of everydayness when she picks up the milk that Michael had dropped on the floor that we see the youngest member of the lost boys, Laddie, is listed as missing, calling back to  the opening montage of missing person posters around town when they first arrived, underlining that the vampires have been active for a long time.

The film’s exposition comes mainly from the Frog brothers, whose dedication to vampire hunting tends towards the sociopathic, like when Sam calls them for help and their response to his protests about not being able to kill his brother, is “You’d better get yourself a garlic vest or it’s your funeral”, consolidating their inability to empathise. I dread to think what the Frog brothers would make of “Twilight”.

Most of the horror in “The Lost Boys” is suggestive rather than directly shown although the scene of David and his gang tearing through the rival ‘Surf Nazis’ biker gang is pretty violent and gory as heads get ripped open and bodies get tossed on the bonfire.

There’s a frenetic pace to the finale as Sam, Michael and the Frog Brothers take the fight to the vampires, rescuing Star and Laddie and killing one of the vamps (Marco, played by Alex Winter of “Bill And Ted” fame). Abruptly, David’s motivation changes from drawing Michael into Lost Boys’ family to killing him and his. The final battle and the prep beforehand is classic eighties action with pithy one-liners and clever twists on vampire lore such as garlic baths, holy water pistols and, of course, ‘death by stereo’. Even then, the film isn’t done delivering the final twist when we discover that despite him passing the ‘tests’, Lucy has been dating the head vampire the all along in a bid to build a “bloodsucking Brady Bunch”. Thankfully Grandpa arrives to save the day for them all with his hobby coming in very handy indeed. He also gets the film’s killer closing line about “…all the damn vampires”.

A successful blend of horror, comedy and cool, perhaps “The Lost Boys” actually does manage to keep its promise. After all, even thirty years on, it holds up really well.

10/10  

Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone (2001) Review

Hello cupcakes, remember me?  I know, I know!!  It’s been a while…

Anyway, now that I’m back I want to talk to you about “Harry Potter”. Twenty years ago today, Bloomsbury published “Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone”, so I thought it would be fun to go back and rewatch that first Potter film once again.

Where to start?  Well firstly in the spirit of full disclosure, I love the “Harry Potter” series, so please don’t expect to find me shredding them here – they have their imperfections but 99% of the time they’re great.  Secondly, the books and films have been out for a bloody long time now, so there are highly likely to be spoilers in here. If you’ve managed to live under a rock and avoid this story until now!!  So consider this a *SPOILER ALERT* and read on at your own risk if you’ve not read/seen all the books/films yet.

By the time this first film was being filmed there were already four books out and the J K Rowling was working on the fifth.  As an audience we were in the beneficial position of knowing that although there might be danger present this was a story for kids and, in the blissful carefree days before George R R Martin, we could be fairly confident the main characters were safe…for now, at least.

This first film is (much like the protagonists themselves) a very young story.  The goodies smile and the baddies scowl, the heroes follow the rules (or at least break them for the right reasons) and the villains do not.  And let’s be honest the story (all volumes) are aimed at kids to young adults so at least to start with the narrative is easy to follow.

We start with a brief prologue of how Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) came to live with his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon and how he discovers from the literally larger-than-life Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) that he’s not just the unfortunate soul he thought he was but, to coin a phrase, “…a wizard ‘Arry”.  After finding out he’s quite extraordinary, his first steps into the until now unknown wizarding world comes in the form of Diagon Alley.  A secret entrance with a passcode (touching specific bricks in the wall of a dead end) to enter make it quite the reveal.  With cobbled streets, strange people and even stranger shops with odd wears and peculiar fayre.  We see with Harry for the first time the olde worlde feel of the wizarding world.  Broomsticks, cauldrons, owls, spell books and Harry’s fortune that is found in the vaults of Gringott’s, the wizard bank run by Goblins (of course).

Our heroes meet for the first time on the 25th most famous train in the world (according to an article published by The Telegraph 30 Nov 2015), the Hogwarts Express.  Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) on their way with all the other students to their home for the rest of the school year, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

We know the age-old story: good vs evil. It’s something the Wizarding World knows well and “The Philosopher’s Stone” is where it all starts up again in the Harry Potter universe. One of the clever things that Rowling’s tale does, over its seven volumes/ eight movies, is to tell two stories, that of Potter himself and, of course, that of Tom Riddle. Potter’s story takes centre stage in the first movie as our young trio get to grips with daily life at Hogwarts, survive Quidditch, deal with Trolls and tuck into mountainous feasts before finding themselves in a race against time to recover the eponymous stone before He Who Must Not Be Named. Harry’s defeat of Voldemort (metaphysically ‘couch surfing’ on the back of Professor Quirrell’s head) is mostly incidental and certainly nothing he consciously does, but it’s his courage and skills with a broomstick, along with Ron’s strategic chess acumen and Hermione’s knowledge which cements their bonds of friendship and their importance to the story still to come.

The acting from the kids is not great in this film – it’s not terrible – but it is somewhat stiff, but given their age and experience – especially with an effects-heavy production like this, Director Chris Columbus does a great job at coaxing the performances from them.  They’re helped by the supporting cast – a veritable Who’s Who of British thespianism  – who give the lightweight adventure some much-needed gravitas. Richard Harris’ Dumbledore is a drowsily sage headmaster but in retrospect, it’s difficult to see him doing justice to the dynamic Dumbledore of later movies the way Gambon did (I’m pretty sure Gambon wouldn’t have flubbed the ‘Alas, earwax!’ line too). Dame Maggie Smith revives her famous role of Miss Jean Brodie, sprinkling in enough magic and enchantment to breathe life into Professor McGonagall as enchants as a firm but caring grandmother figure that Harry needs. Alan Rickman’s Professor Snape was “Always” perfect (see what I did there?), walking the line between ‘loyal’ double agent and ambiguously spiteful bully with ease, although in this first film he’s wicked and cruel and we’re meant to hate him.

The film is a fun and relatively innocent romp through Harry’s first school year at Hogwarts and a terrific introduction to the wizarding world. Colombus’ direction is candy-coloured and bright and the chief achievement of the movie is managing to cram just enough of the details from the source novel onto the screen that you feel not like you’ve watched a movie but instead have read the novel again really quickly. It’s a testament to Rowling’s descriptive prose and Kloves’ well-crafted screenplay that the vast majority of what appears on screen is exactly what appeared in millions of readers’ minds as they devoured page after page. It’s rewarding to rewatch as well despite its Drooble’s Best Blowing Gum aesthetic thanks to the Easter Eggs and long-term Chekov’s Guns Rowling plants, not least of all the unheralded introduction of one of the pivotal Deathly Hallows. Of course, no look back – however brief – on the start of the Harry Potter film series would be complete without acknowledging the importance of the contribution of one of cinema’s true geniuses: John Williams. His themes and motifs quickly and indelibly establish both the mystery and magic of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in the same iconic way he did for “Star Wars”, “Indiana Jones”, “Superman”, “Jaws”….well, the list goes on and on.

Of all the films in the series, this is the shortest and most child-friendly; the story getting darker with each film as the story unfolds. It’s not my favourite, but all stories have to start somewhere.

6/10 

 

I’ll be back soon with my thoughts on “Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets”…

The Forest (2016) Review

The ForestSweetie G Grey Background scoreHello cupcakes, long time no speak – sorry about that! Let me break the silence by helping you see the wood for the trees when it comes to spooky mystery “The Forest”…

The talented Natalie Dormer – who has been busy of late in “The Hunger Games” as well as TV’s “Games of Thrones” and “Elementary” – stars as Jess Price (and to a lesser extent) her twin sister Sara. Sara has gone missing while hiking in a remote Japanese forest and not just any forest: the Aokigahara forest, at the foot of Mount Fuji, known as the suicide forest – where people go to die. Jess refuses to believe her sister is dead and, through the connection she has to her identical twin feels that Sara is alive and needs her help so sets off to Japan to bring her sister home.

The supernatural tone of the film is established from the get-go with the ‘psychic’ twin connection and continues and grows are we reach Japan and the true nature of the forest is revealed.  Underpinning this preternatural creepiness of the story are the cultural differences, especially the rituals, customs and beliefs associated with death.  Add to this the local authorities’ refusal to collude or engage with anyone wishing to enter the forest and the scene is set for the scares to begin.

The portrayal of women in this film really interested me.  Dormer is well known for portraying strong women and there is no doubt that the women she plays here have strength, but once again Hollywood can’t seem to allow the creation of a strong woman character without portraying her as damaged.  To that end, we’re provided with a socially acceptable backstory of childhood trauma resulting in one twin – Jess – having it all together while Sara is mentally unstable (and off her meds) as a result.  I can’t help but wonder how different the film would have been if it remained the exact same premise but switched to male twins as the protagonists?

As Jess undertakes her search for Sara, there are some good spooky moments and jumps along the way while the spectral paranormal presences of the forest builds up some good tension and suspense.  There are some disappointing stereotypes used which undermine the film a little – a clichéd creepy Japanese school girl appears more than once both before and after Jess heads into the woods. A little more originality would have gone a long way and helped avoid the stereotypical perception of Japanese culture’s morbid obsession with phantasmagorical school girls in tartan skirts! Along the way Jess does manage to recruit assistance in her search, albeit somewhat reluctantly at times, and the confusion and paranoia that her choices bring is well done and provides a lot of fun.

All in all a solid 7/10 from me. The decent budget means good special effects and despite its shortcomings it’s a solid, entertainingly eerie horror/ thriller.

Did you explore “The Forest”? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments section!

Until next time, thanks for reading!

7/10 Sweetie G7

No Escape (2015) Review

No Escape‘Ello cupcakes. As you know I usually review horror films for my mate the Craggus, so this is a bit of a change for me. Having said that, this movie epitomizes why I generally stick to traditional horror films: real life horror is so much more difficult to stomach.

Centred on the Dwyer family, the film follows Dad Jack (Owen Wilson), Mum Annie (Lake Bell) and their two young daughters as they make the move from America to an unspecified South East Asian country. Jack has a new job and the family are all relocating with him, which is quite the adventure in itself. However, it turns out to be slightly more adventurous than they had bargained for. Our naïve protagonist clearly hadn’t don’t any research into his new company or else he would have found out about the fierce local opposition to the company and its plans and because of this he walks his family right into the middle of a highly organised rebel uprising.

The Dwyers get one good(ish) night’s sleep and then all hell breaks loose. In scenes akin to a zombie apocalypse film like “28 Days Later” or “Dawn Of The Dead”, the action kicks off with aggressive clashes between police in riot gear and locals armed with sticks and Molotov cocktails. Back at the hotel, after seeing a foreigner being executed by the rebels, Jack faces a race against time to find his family, hide from the murderous rioters and then evade them while trying to seek refuge on the roof. This is when the real horror of their situation is hit home for me, and what sets it apart from the grisly fun of horror:  You can’t dismiss the fantasy of the situation when it’s people causing the terror and inflicting it on other people.

There was a scene early on that really disturbed me. Shortly after the action has kicked off at break-neck speed some the guests have made it to the roof of the hotel. In order for our family to escape they must leap to the roof of a neighbouring hotel. I’m not ashamed to say this scene made me cry. I held my breath! I love the grotesqueness of a well-made classical horror film but I struggle to enjoy a film that depicts the abject terror someone must feel when they have to throw their child from one building to another putting them at risk of falling to their death rather than try to hide knowing that too would mean certain death. The ‘I might harm you or they will kill you’ option is never a good one but in the world we live in today when wars are televised and coups are very public this film made me feel sick knowing that people all over the world have to live with decisions like this all the time. They might not have to attempt a jump from one rooftop to another but you only need to open a  newspaper or turn on the TV to see stories of desperate people fleeing persecution only to lose their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean or the people terrorised, abused and abducted by armed militia and religious zealots.

Sorry for getting all serious for a moment, I realize this is a film review and not a political forum, but honestly, this is why I find this sort of film so difficult to watch. Having said all that, for it to have evoked all that emotion and provoked that much thought I can’t conclude that this film was anything other than great. The fast paced action, the brutal terror and the genuine need to ensure this family make it are so well put together. The only thing that let this film down a little for me was the use of Pierce Brosnan’s character Hammond to deliver clunky exposition. Don’t get me wrong:  Brosnan’s good value in the movie, bringing disarming humour (and also disarming the bad guys) but he’s saddled with carrying a lot of the back story to make the plot work.

A pretty great thriller, if sometimes uncomfortable viewing. I enjoyed it but I don’t think I’d go out of my way to watch it again.

8/10 Sweetie G8

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (2015) Review

Scouts GuideHello cupcakes, Sweetie G here with a look at Paramount’s new comedy horror “Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse”.

I loved this film! It has been a loooooooong time since I literally laughed out loud at the cinema and I was still giggling in the car on the way home. If you asked me to pin it down, I’d pitch “SGttZA” somewhere between “American Pie” and “Shaun Of The Dead” with a dash of “Evil Dead” and “The A-Team” thrown in for good measure.

Three friends: Ben (Tye Sheridan), Carter (Logan Miller) and Augie (Joey Morgan) are off for their last Scouting camp-out before two of them leave Scouts. While they’re away in the woods, the unexplained zombie pathogen runs rampant through the city. Over the course of the night the boys team up with sassy high-school dropout Denise (Sarah Dumont) who’s harder than all of them. Together they apply their survival skills (both street and scout) to hilarious and gory effect.  Our motley crew provide us with a teen movie checklist: there’s a romantic crush, an oversexed and under socialised teenage boy and a wholesome and hapless good guy. It’s not an original combination but it’s bloody brilliant (moderate pun intended).

The opening sequence clearly pays homage to “28 Days Later” and sets the tone to the rest of the film. If you laugh at the beginning, you’ll be laughing for the next 90mins. If you’re not laughing though, this might not be the movie for you or, you know, you might want to check your pulse. We’re also introduced to a new(ish) breed of cinema zombie: ones that can retain knowledge of what they used to do when their blood still pumped freely around their body, plus some of the scariest zombies of all – the fast and clever variety!

It’s not often a Horror/ Comedy mix manages the balance between the two genres very well – all too often neither is executed particularly well and the outcome is all round disappointment. This time however, Director Christopher Landon manages a head shot on both counts. The jumpy/ gory horror was on point and the comedy was slapsticky-saucy hilarity. With blood-a-plenty and gratuitous boob jokes this film isn’t high-brow intellectual fare, but it is belly-laughing, teary-eyed, zombie jumping fun.

8/10 Sweetie G8

The Visit (2015) Review

The Visit“The Visit” disturbed me in a couple of ways and only one of them was the effect Shyamalan was aiming for. I’ll tell you why, but it’s going to get into super-spoilery territory, so you have been warned (and will be again, because this is M Night Shyamalan, so spoilers are, like, everything).

Brother and sister Tyler and Becca are in their early teens and are visiting their maternal Grandparents for the first time. They’ve never met their grandparents before because their mum fought with them when she left home and hasn’t been back since. So severe was the falling out that parenting superstar that she is, she doesn’t come with her children to drop them off, leaving Becca and Tyler to travel to Nana and Pop-pop’s farm by themselves.  Don’t get me wrong – it would have been a short, boring film if Mum had gone with them.

Becca (Olivia DeJonge) is an annoying know-it-all future film maker and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) is her bratty younger brother who has a liking for rap music and all its lyrical misogyny.  The grandparents at first seem to be just regular senior citizens who live on an old farm but soon begin to exhibit bizarre and frightening behaviours.

“The Visit” is really just a twisted, contemporary mash-up of Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel & Gretel (as if those fairy tales needed to be any more twisted). It’s not M Night Shyalaman’s greatest film – I enjoyed “The Village” more than this but it’s a welcome step back in the right direction after recent misfires like “The Happening” and “The Last Airbender”.  The trademark twist isn’t the earth shattering rugpull of some of his previous work and tonally, it flirts with being a paranormal horror and a thriller, ultimately doing neither justice. On the positive side, the young leads do a great job with the material and while the story may not be the strongest, Shyamalan is savvy enough to add some visual flair – and decent jump scares – to proceedings by using POV footage from the cameras that were permanently in their hands.

*SPOILER WARNING*

The other disturbing aspect of this film is the lazy stereotyping inherent in the throwaway catch-all plot devices used to explain the twist.  It’s hard not to take away the messages that: 1) old people are weird and should be shunned and feared and 2. Mental illness is something to be afraid of because all mentally ill people are potential monsters.

*I’M REALLY NOT KIDDING ABOUT THE SPOILER WARNING NOW*

Still here?

Even after both the spoiler warnings?

Okay then…

So the twist is that the grandparents are not actually the grandparents at all (but grandma, what big teeth you have) and the real Nana and Pop-pop are dead in the basement having been killed by the two imposters. Those imposters in turn are two escaped mentally ill patients who knew the couple from their volunteering visits at the local hospital. The film never bothers to explain or elaborate on the nature of their ‘mental illness’ trusting that the audience will willingly accept this shorthand for murderous intentions. There’s an attempt at poignancy when the killers confess their motivations but it does nothing to mitigate the reinforcement of the social stigmas surrounding mental health.

Like many of Shyamalan’s clever conceits, it begins to unravel when you really think about it (except “The Sixth Sense” – that thing is rock solid in concept and execution the first and second time you watch it). The real Nana and Pop-pop have not been seen by their community for several days and have missed their volunteering duties while two patients are missing from the hospital yet there doesn’t seem to be a lot of concern or action from the local authorities.

The kids are in contact with their mum via Skype most days, but when the children share their concerns about the strange behaviours she tells them, ‘well old people are strange’. Yet more peerless parenting from Kathryn Hahn’s character. Even once Becca has Google-diagnosed Nana as suffering from dementia and Pop-pop as schizophrenia, Mum still doesn’t think it might be a good idea to come and make sure her kids and her parents are okay. That #MumOfTheYear award is a lock, surely?

As a dressed-up pseudo urban-legend with an unimaginatively wrongheaded stereotype at its core, “The Visit” is quite a disappointment however some stylish directorial touches and the strong performances from those pesky kids elevates this from being yet another Shyamalan misfire to an encouraging ‘room for improvement’.

6/10 Sweetie G6

Ouija (2014) Review

OuijaThe film opens with two young girls playing with a Ouija board. Cue some expositive rules:  1. Never play alone; 2. Never play in a graveyard; 3. Always say goodbye. Of course, rules are made to be broken. Oh,  and you can see the entities that contact you by looking through the lens in the planchette. We jump forward about 10yrs to find one of the girls, Debbie (Shelley Hennig) burning an Ouija board, clearly terrified. Laine (Olivia Cooke) calls on her but Debbie says she’s not coming out as planned. As soon as Debbie is back in the house on her own, spooky things start to happen. She looks through the lens on the planchette and so the film begins…

Grieving the shocking death of their friend Debbie we meet our protagonists: Laine, Ana (Laine’s sister), Trevor, Isabelle and Pete. Laine finds the Ouija board at the wake for Debbie and decides she wants to use it to contact her to find out if there is anything they could have done to help or protect her. She talks her friends in to playing the game with her and they make contact with someone/something whose name begine with a D and greets them, ‘H-I-F-R-I-E-N-D’. Assuming it’s Debbie, they finish the session without saying goodbye. They soon start to encounter the phrase  ‘Hi Friend’ in places they shouldn’t: carved into a desk, written in breath on a window, text messages. One by one, the unseen malevolent force starts to pick them off. The film’s ‘Scooby gang’ (or what’s left of it) research the local history, uncovering a tragic story of a missing child and her matricidal sister.

Overall not a total waste of time but to be honest there are better, scarier films out there. There are just too few jumps and the creep factor was decidedly low. There really isn’t that much gross-out content either although there was a smattering of “Jacob’s Ladder” style sped up film which always unnerves me and a sewn shut mouth is always horrifying as far as I’m concerned.

Laine was a fine heroine but the film let her down. Ana (the sister) was a pointless character. From my point of view, I’m pretty sure Laine would have passionately attempted to rescue any person she took on this journey; it didn’t need to be her sister. The others are instantly forgettable. There is a misunderstood caregiver used to add tension and misdirection and a clichéd old crone character used to point them on the right path (in this case, the Spanish housekeeper).

If you’re easily scared or particularly like the cast you might enjoy this more than I did. You might also be more excited than I am to see a sequel planned for next year.

Follow @_SweetieG on Twitter.

5/10 

Quarantine 2: Terminal (2011) Review

Quarantine 2I really enjoyed “Quarantine”; it was fast paced and energetic. It was chaotic and this brought with it the scary thrill factor you want and expect from a film like this. The gist being there’s a crazy virus causing rage/ violence/ zombification. Anyone in the vicinity is at risk and the only form of control is to wait for all the infected to kill each other then dispose of the bodies. The first film didn’t bring anything new to the genre but what it did do is do it well on a moderate budget.

However, this was entirely missing from the 2nd instalment of this (hopefully complete) franchise. This one was set on a plane – I’m sure the attempt here was to induce a claustrophobic atmosphere in the confined space of a flight. It tried to tie in the first one with new footage of what was happening back in LA but even that was obvious, slow and clunky exposition. The action was not particularly pacey and the horror content was derivative and has been done better elsewhere.

If you want to see better versions of this film watch the original “Quarantine”, “28 Days Later”, “Dawn Of The Dead”(the 2004 version), or “World War Z”. Better yet, watch “Rec”, the Spanish film that ‘inspired’ “Quarantine” in the first place.

Follow @_SweetieG on Twitter.

2/10