Found Footage

09 “Sleep No More” (Doctor Who series 9) [SPOILERS]

doctor who peter capaldi

So it looks like not every episode this series is going to be in the two part mould. “Sleep No More” — and necessarily its…counterpart, I guess? — seems to be a standalone.

Actually, I was having a conversation a few weeks back, about how what this series really needed to make it was a “Midnight” or a “Blink” (It should be noted that despite popular opinion, “Midnight” is the superior episode to “Blink” -Ed), a stripped down and story-focused offering without the bells and whistles of most offerings. These invariably turn out to be some of the best episodes (Though we won’t dwell on “Love and Monsters”, eh? -Ed).

So coming on the coattails of last episode’s, frankly, excellence, could “Sleep No More” be the elusive jigsaw piece so far missing from series 9?

Read on…(and mind the spoilers!)

The Borderlands – A Review

the borderlands

I’m a regular listener to the BBC’s film review show on Radio 5live, hosted by Simon Mayo and the acerbic wit of Mark Kermode. It’s a good listen for anyone with even a passing interest in film, and it’s actually what brought my attention to this very film, The Borderlands.

I’m sure I would have found it anyway, the reliable crew of my Facebook friends having discovered it also, but it’s always nice to have a signpost — and it seems only fair to recognise them.

The Borderlands is a low-budget, British horror film. It also uses the found-footage format, so beloved lately of horror. I have in the past been quite mean about it, but I do always usually qualify that by saying that done right it can be tremendously effective.

The question then is which camp The Borderlands falls into.

Read on…

The 5 films which showcase the best of found-footage horror

the last exorcism

So before Christmas, I ran down what I thought were the five worst examples of found-footage horror in film. It was a spot of spleen-venting, in which I knocked down a few of my pet hates about the format. However, I fear that in the process I may have given the impression that I don’t like found-footage as a rule.

I’m a sceptic, that much is true. As the last blog indicated, there are many pitfalls for films to fall into. But that’s not to say all of them do.

These strengths are centred around the ability to put the viewer in the midst of the action. Done right it can melt away the fourth wall from the viewer’s side, and ramp up tension, in a way which is perfectly suited to horror films.

So here you go, my top five found-footage horror films.

Read on…

The Last Exorcism Part II – Review

the last exorcism part ii

Oh dear. It’s all gone a bit Final Destination 17, hasn’t it?

If you cast your minds back to 2010, you might remember a low budget little horror film called The Last Exorcism. Well, it turns out it wasn’t, because here’s The Last Exorcism Part IIThe Last Exorcism Again. The Last Exorcism Really This Time, The Last One Was Just A Test.

But before I get too cynical, we should probably remember that I did like The Last Exorcism (soon to be retrospectively retitled The Penultimate Exorcism?). In fact, I count it as one of the best found footage horror films that I’ve seen, up there with Spanish-language offering [Rec].

So how bad could the sequel really be?

Read on…

Sinister – A Review

Sinister [2012]

Sinister. In many ways, it seems almost arrogant for a horror film to title itself after an attribute it aspires to. I get that it’s trying to evoke something, but if it is Sinister then surely the film itself should demonstrate that, not some haphazard and heavy-handed marketing label slapped on the front like a “May Contain Nuts” sticker.

So is it, in fact, Sinister? Well…no.

That might be a touch cruel, as it wasn’t a complete car crash of a horror film (it wasn’t, for example, part of the Paranormal Activity franchise). And, in fact, there were a lot of things that it did rather well. But the fundamental feeling I was left with was one of disappointment.

Part of that might have been the circumstances in which I saw it. It’s truly great, in these austere times, to see a cinema packed out. But really, when Satre said that hell is other people, he was onto something. A cinema packed with the sort of people who find everything frightening simply because it’s in a horror film, is not conducive to a good film experience. They were screaming at the name of the studio, for God’s sake!

But as for the film itself; it follows true-crime writer Ellison Osborne (Ethan Hawke), who moves to a small town with wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance) and children Trevor and Ashley, in order to write his new book. They’ve moved into a house where the previous resident family was found hung from a tree, and the youngest daughter vanished — something which he hasn’t told Juliet. He then finds some Super 8 films depicting that same murder, as well as a series of others back over a period of decades. His attempts to solve the mystery then lead to various spooky and supernatural goings on.

It’s a pretty innovative approach to reinvigorating the whole “found footage” genre of horror, which has grown someone stale and overworked lately. And, actually, the murder films are genuinely creepy and unsettling — the one labelled “Lawn Work” in particular. And Ellison, as a character, feels believable the whole way through, with the jittery nervousness familiar to me and probably to all writers.

In that way, it feels almost like Stephen King could have written it.

But where it lets the side down is in some of the resolution. It plays off the is it/isn’t it tension between supernatural and conventional crime for most of the film, with the audience never quite sure until about the final third, whether there is something paranormal going on or whether Ellison is simply cracking up. But once it is clear and answers are surfacing, they seem…disappointing.

It takes the easy way out. And in many cases it kills the horror — for example, that the bad guy is a death metal singer with anger problems (the baddie IS NOT a death metal singer with anger problems, but if you watch it you’ll see what I mean). Horror is a difficult line to tread, and Sinister was so nearly there. But sadly it fell short of its name, like previous film Insideous — which is actually by the same producers. And like Insideous, it all fell apart when the big bad was revealed as something laughable rather than creepy.

You know what, I’m going to make my own generic horror film. Utter by the numbers stuff, with every cliche of the genre you can think of. And I’ll call it…Scary Movie.

…What? Wait…what do you mean that already a thing?!

The Troll Hunter – A Review

”]Enter The Troll Hunter, a Norwegian found-footage fantasy/horror film which seems to have been getting quite a bit of attention since it’s DVD release. I decided to see what the fuss was about, and sat down with it yesterday evening.

Firstly, whenever I sit down to watch a found-footage style film, my first thought is one of trepidation: “Oh God, not another one.” This is a somewhat unreasonable reaction on my part, as there are definitely good ones out there. It would be stretching it to say that for every Paranormal Activity that’s pumped out there’s a The Last Exorcism, but it’s certainly possible to do a very good film like this. The problem, I think, is the more recent deluge of sub-standard offerings (thank you very much The Blair Witch Project).

Gratifying, The Troll Hunter belongs to the “good” camp.

The film sets a group of college students and wannabe documentary film-makers in Norway, following a man who they initially believe is a poacher, but soon discover is a government-paid troll hunter. Yes, it sounds sort of mad (and it is), and conjures hilarious images of conservative politicians railing against taxpayers money wasted on trolls, but I promise you it works.

The students follow the hunter, who is obviously somewhat apathetic about his job, and film him hunting and killing a variety of breeds of troll. The thrust of the plot is that the trolls are acting out of character, but really it works as a fantastical wildlife documentary.

The main coup The Troll Hunter manages is the believability. The idea of trolls running around the Norwegian countryside and the government keeping it a secret is, on the face of it, stretching credibility. But they manage it, with much careful attention.

The characters have the feel of enthusiastic students, somewhat naive yet delighted to have stumbled on something so big. The production values are realistically low throughout, but without the nauseating camera-swinging of The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, and with night-time scenes that don’t turn into the disorientating flicker-fest of The Descent. Added to this the subtle use of visual effects for the trolls, and you’re onto a winner.

The ending is a little on the confused side, but I think that’s always likely to be a problem with found-footage. You know, deep down, that it won’t end well for the protagonists, so it’s a matter of working up to that ending, but it gets a bit rushed and hectic.

Still, all in all it’s a good film. It kept me watching, and it goes without saying that the Norwegian countryside is beautiful. It isn’t going to change the world, but it’s a very good watch, and if the big film studios are going to keep making found-footage films (and I think we all know they are…) then they should watch The Troll Hunter very carefully and take note.

VideoVista January Issue

The Last Exorcism (2010)

Yup, it’s that time of month again. The January issue of Tony Lee’s fantastic DVD review webzine has gone live, and it contains a review by yours truly.

This month, I’ve reviewed “found footage” style horror film The Last Exorcism, for all of you lucky people. This film sees a disillusioned priest and exorcist, who decides to do one last job and allow a film crew to see how he does it, in order to expose the shams. Or at least, that’s the plan until strange things start to happen with his final case.

Please take a look at my review, and at all the others. And I’m always pleased to hear what you think, if you want to comment on this blog about it.

Also, I’ll have another review coming up on Tony Lee’s other review webzine, The Zone, shortly- so keep an eye out for that.