elizabeth olsen

Godzilla [2014] – A Review

godzilla 2014

I am not a particular Godzilla fan, if in honest. I may be wrong, but I don’t think I’ve actually seen most of the historic films around the giant lizard. In fact, my first introduction was the Roland Emmerich film. I recall enjoying it at the time — I was 7 — but I think it’s safe to say that time has not been kind to it.

So I’m going into Gareth Edwards’ version with a fairly low baseline of expectation. Which might well help it, I suppose.

But the trailers have been engaging, with the right level of foreboding, scale and emotion. Whilst you should never judge a film by its trailer, they have showed a certain level of cinematic understanding. But forget that, why don’t we actually judge a film by the film?

Read on…

Silent House – A Review

Silent House [2012]

I usually don’t review DVD releases here, preferring to stick to films currently showing at cinemas, on the basis that even fewer people are probably interested in what I think once a film has seen a DVD release. But occasionally I’ll make exceptions, when a film is particularly good or particularly awful.

Silent House, for me, falls into the former category.

The plot didn’t strike me as anything terribly unusual or exciting. Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) is repairing a countryside holiday home with her father and uncle. When her uncle goes into town Sarah hears strange noises upstairs, which her father investigates for her, before going missing with a loud and violent-sounding crash. Cue the realisation that they aren’t alone in the house, and a fraught and frenetic rush to get out of the house as her sanity crumbles under the strain.

So nothing ground-breaking there. But where it does deviate from the standard, by-the-numbers horror fare is in how it is made. The first and most noticeable thing is that it is all a single take (else very cleverly edited to make it look like a single take). The real-time element was heavily trailed in the promotional material, and it’s a pretty effective gimmick.

The other main feature is the use of a hand camera. This isn’t a new idea, and has been done effectively (the Battlestar Galactica remade series springs to mind), as well as poorly (no end of wobbly found-footage films following the Blair Witch Project, for instance). Here, however, it works because the camera isn’t held by Sarah, but follows her very closely.

She is continually at the centre of the camera’s attention, as it lingers just over her shoulder or in front of her face. In fact, most of the developments are revealed to the audience firstly through Sarah’s reaction to them — a scream and terrified expression followed by the camera wheeling to look at whatever it is.

It’s a hypnotic technique, which combined with the dark and claustrophobic confines of the house puts the audience more effectively into her shoes. And in terms of creating an atmosphere, the fact that it doesn’t rely on “jump moments” for the scary. Not that there’s anything wrong with jump moments, but they can feel like lazy horror sometimes. Instead, Silent House puts you in Sarah’s position, and then slowly ramps up the tension and terror, and then either lets it ebb away with a sense of relief, or scares the life out of you.

I found it extremely effective.

And it would be unfair not to mention the acting talents of Elizabeth Olsen. The whole film is more or less a one woman show, and it’s pretty plain to see where all the acting talent in that family wound up. Unusually, most of the acting is through her facial expressions, and I expect the majority of actors would not be able to communicate such a range of emotion and meaning through that medium alone.

The visuals and some of the ideas behind it seem strongly reminiscent of the Silent Hill games — another premier example of horror — with toilets on the wall weeping blood, and mould spreading rapidly across the house. Similarly, the blurring of the line between madness and the supernatural, and the idea of memory and a “personal” flavour of horror characterised by oppression and claustrophobia is a roost that Silent Hill rules.

It was successful, in that it was scary and brilliantly acted, but I was left with a nagging feeling that it could have been perfect had the same effort been put into the script and plot. There wasn’t anything wrong with it, but when everything else is so cutting edge, run-of-the-mill stands out a mile off and feels a little lacklustre.

But in the end, this was a very exciting approach to horror, and is well worth watching for that alone.

Red Lights – A Review

Red Lights [2012]

In a world where films about paranormal debunkers are a) not uncommon, and b) rarely satisfying, Red Lights manages to buck the odds and be the “brand name” to the other “supermarket own-brand” films. And what’s all the more surprising is just how steeply the odds were stacked against it.

Two points, initially:

  • Cillian Murphy is not a good actor. Don’t get me wrong, he’s been in good films (Batman BeginsInception28 Days Later) but he’s never seemed more than a cardboard cutout to cart the story around.
  • I have serious trouble getting confused between Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. Ashleigh thinks it’s funny. It probably is. But it’s also utterly irrational and profoundly unhelpful.

I’m happy to report that, having watched Red Lights, the first of those is no longer true. Cillian Murphy was good. Very good, indeed. Sadly, although Robert De Niro was very good also, I just had to check that it was him rather than Pacino, proving that the second point is still valid.

Red Lights follows a team of paranormal debunking academics, consisting of Drs Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and Tom Buckley (Murphy) and student Sally Owen (Elizabeth Olsen — and now we see where all of the acting talent in that family went). When renowned and reclusive blind psychic Simon Silver (De Niro? *checks* Yes, De Niro) comes to town, it all starts getting a bit weird.

Oh, and Toby Jones does a small spot playing the “annoying little man” role that he’s been doing so well lately.

The story was gripping. The tone, atmosphere and pace were expertly struck, and I frequently found myself leaning forward and stroking my chin trying to figure out where the plot was going to end up. Because it is very twisty. And since in such films the proof is in the ending, I’ll say it here: I thought that the ending was superb.

It wasn’t a perfect film. The script had a tendency towards the wooden and slightly pretentious, especially in some of the  longer speeches. And sadly the character of Sally Owen seemed superfluous, an unnecessary love interest tacked on for Murphy’s character.

But the plot, carried on the shoulders of both Murphy and De Niro’s excellent performances, made any flaws pale into insignificance. The level of detail was astounding, and whilst some will cite that as a detraction, for me it was the making of it as a film.

Going in to Red Lights, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The trailer intrigued me, but I was left with a sense that it could be awesome or terrible. It was awesome. It had a feel similar to M. Night Shyamalan’s better films (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable), with an engaging plot, brilliant acting, and an ending which knocked my socks off. I highly recommend it.