Welcome to the shaky-cam, off-screen gore fest. Leatherface – movie review

A movie so successful and ground-breaking like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) is destined to spread loads of sequels, prequels, remakes and reboots.

The latest of these is Leatherface, the origin story of the titular character, considered one of the most iconic horror villains of all time.

Leatherface 3Before proceeding with my review, I want to raise a question: is it always necessary to give great, mysterious characters an origin story? My answer is that such a thing is not only unnecessary, but could also be dangerous, taking away the aura of mystery and uneasiness linked to a beloved character.

Nevertheless, I’m always open (and hopeful) to be surprised and prone to change my mind.

Unfortunately, Leatherface only reinforced my convictions, being one of the worst and most disappointing movies of 2017.

I went into it saving an ounce of hope, since the duo of directors were French die-hard fans of Tobe Hooper’s most influential film. France is one of the few countries in which the TCSM formula has been tried with outstanding results – check out Frontiers (2007) and Calvaire (2004) for reference (I know Calvaire is a Belgian film, but they speak French in it, so I allowed myself to cheat a bit).

Furthermore, the two directors (Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, who previously came out with the fun, gory Inside, 2007) embraced the project with enthusiasm: “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is the real game-changer… it changed the face of cinema… it’s a masterpiece” (Maury). They were also supervised by Tobe Hooper himself as the executive producer who, sadly, died before the film was released.

Leatherface 1.1Back to the movie: the story is about the dysfunctional Sawyer family that, after murdering the daughter of a local sheriff, sees their youngest son been taken into a mental institution. 10 years after his reclusion, the young Jed (Leatherface in the making) escapes with the help of three deranged patients and nurse, held hostage by the gang. The plotline follows their attempt to reach the Sawyer family, whilst being persecuted by the vindictive sheriff.

Now, this movie is full of flaws, but the biggest one revolves around tone and vibe: other than the first 3 minutes and the last 10, this flick doesn’t look anything like a TCSM film. In terms of locations, none of those utilised in the film remind the viewer of the Texan farms and fields – which makes sense, since it was shot over the course of 27 days (!) in Bulgaria!

Yet, the direction completely forgets about what made the original TCSM a ground-breaking piece of cinema: the gritty realism of the 1974 movie is replaced by over-the-top gore and driven by unlikable, idiotic characters.

Leatherface 1Also, in regards to the violence, Leatherface unwisely chooses to keep the most gruesome scenes off-camera, preferring to show two deranged criminals having sex on a corpse and showing signs of necrophilia. Scenes like these are just disgusting and off-putting, which has nothing to do with real horror or uneasiness. Yet, when the violence is actually on camera, who made the film decided to utilise the cheapest shaky-cam effects and shittiest colour scheme to prevent the viewers from enjoying the scenes.

Again, when it comes to the acting, Leatherface delivers us the most one-dimensional characters I have seen in a while, portrayed awfully by the actors – with the exception of Lili Taylor (Jed’s mom) and the titular protagonist (played fairly well by Sam Strike).

Leatherface 2Luckily enough, the portrayal of Jed/Leatherface is quite respectful of the character: he’s not downright evil, more so a victim of his background and the events that influenced his life. However, for some incomprehensible reason, the directors or writers of the script decide to focus more on other, useless characters, such as the nurse and a fat, mentally unstable goof who have no part in the TCSM universe.

Towards the end, we come back to the Sawyer family house, in which location and cinematography pay homage to the original 1974 film, which was kind of cool to see. Other than that, though, even the grand finale is downright ridiculous and disappointing.

Before I get to my conclusions, let me just add a complaint about an aspect of the movie that bugged me throughout. The editing is awfully jumpy during the entire runtime (only 84 minutes, luckily) and gives the impression of a product that has been released before being polished and refined. Since Leatherface has been shot over 27 days, which is insane, the only thing I could think of is that they just wanted to get it over with and come out with whatever shipwreck that could achieve in such a limited time. And this is what really pisses me off about a movie, because it shows little interest for audience and even less passion for your profession.

In conclusion, I strongly suggest not to watch Leatherface: if you’re a huge fan of the TCSM universe, this flick would likely let you down. If you’re just looking for some gory, mindless entertainment, instead, just check out something else which may allow you to see what’s going on. Cheers!

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The Dark Avengers recruit another member. Annabelle: Creation – movie review

After watching Annabelle (2014) I had little anticipation for this prequel that fits in The Conjuring universe and revolves around a possessed doll.

However, the direction by David F. Sandberg (Lights Out, 2016) and, mostly, an astounding 69% on RottenTomatoes, got me curious and slightly less negative about Annabelle: Creation.

What’s my opinion on it, then?

First, the plot: a group of orphan girls move to the house of Samuel Mullins and his wife, Esther, who, 12 years prior, have lost their beloved daughter Annabelle – killed in a hit and run accident.

Annabelle Creation 2When one of the girls, Janice, a young orphan who suffers from polio, sneaks into a locked room, she finds a creepy doll, unwittingly releasing the demon who begins to terrorise the girls, with a special interest in Janice.

The film is set in the 50s, in an isolated house a few miles away from a small Americana town. Compared to the first Annabelle film, Creation smartly chooses a location and an environment highly suitable for a haunted story.

Furthermore, Sandberg had the clever idea to untie its movie from the awful Annabelle, going for a prequel that guaranteed him more freedom rather than continuing with the ridiculous storyline of the 2014 flick.

Annabelle Creation 1Although driven by young actors, the performances in Creation are compelling overall: Talitha Bateman (Janice) and her best friend Linda (well portrayed by Lulu Wilson) are amazing in their roles. Yet, Sandberg decides to switch the lead between the two girls, making for a fresh storytelling in an otherwise formulaic horror flick.

Don’t worry, though, if you’re looking for the same, comforting bad acting that characterises the majority of horror flicks: Anthony LaPaglia (Samuel Mullins) drags himself around with the same facial expression he had while he was looking for missing people in 160 episodes of Without a Trace.

Besides some excellent performance, nice locations and good camera-work, Annabelle: Creation is as dull as Anthony LaPaglia in his role.

Without spoiling anything, this film doesn’t even have a plot twist: it’s predictable, the jump-scares are obvious (only one, in a staircase scene, got me) and the characters do what you expect them to.

Annabelle Creation 3Yet, Creation tries too hard to fit within The Conjuring universe and, simultaneously, to recreate Insidious (2010). The demon’s victims are all female (alike in The Conjuring), the jump-scares come from loud noises and hideous faces (Insidious), the prevalent colours are different shades of grey (The Conjuring) and the demon is the spit image of Lipstick-Face from Insidious.

The doll is just thrown in the mix, because, let’s be frank, the production company wants to fill up The Conjuring universe with spin-offs about the evil spirits that featured in the two Conjuring movie.

There is even a hint to the Nun in a scene of Creation. I expect Warner Brothers to come up with a Dark Avengers movie in a few years, featuring Annabelle, The Nun and The Crooked Man!

In conclusion, Annabelle: Creation is a massive improvement upon Annabelle. Although even a feature-length film about a dog pooping in the streets would be a better movie than Annabelle.

At the same time, though, Creation falls into all the stereotypical horror clichés we’ve seen tons of times before. It’s an enjoyable film based on a silly premise and unimaginative storytelling that, at the end, leaves you with nothing more than one hour and fifty minutes of mindless entertainment. Cheers!

Final Destination meets Jacob’s Ladder. Camera Obscura – movie review

A war photographer affected by severe PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) picks up the camera again after more than one year of inactivity due to the terrible things he’s seen and photographed in war zones (presumably Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria).

Jack Zeller (Christopher Denham), the titular character of Camera Obscura, is given an old camera from his fiancé Claire (Nadja Bobyleva), who desperately wants him back on track.

camera Obscura 1.jpgHowever, the photos Jack takes are black-and-white – despite the rolls being coloured – and, mostly, show dead bodies that lay in the locations he shot.

What started off quite premising, with a first half hour that features non-linear storyline and good character development obtained without exposition scenes, soon enough turns into a bloody mess that doesn’t know what’s aiming for.

Although rather original, Camera Obscura tries too hard to resemble the Final Destination movies and Jacob’s Ladder (1990) in its themes and development.

Unfortunately for the director Aaron B. Koontz, the film falls short in its attempts: the campiness of Final Destination is replaced by an unnecessary seriousness, whereas the social commentary on the horrors of war are completely avoided. What a missed opportunity!

The overall movie is quite confusing.

Camera Obscura 3More or less 40 minutes into Camera Obscura, the main character is convinced he has to do something extreme to protect his fiancé from an impending doom. The decision to include this sudden change of tone in the script, makes Jack less compelling (he was rather relatable up to this point) and the plot take a convoluting route involving paranormal elements.

Yet, an initially psychological thriller/horror begins to include supernatural features and a good dose of laughable gore that adds up to the general confusion.

The ending, which I’m not going to give away, is probably the pinnacle of frustration in Camera Obscura, since it doesn’t resolve any question or sub-plot brought up throughout the runtime.

Camera Obscura 2.jpgAgain, the characters are overall formulaic: we have the main character (fairly portrayed by Denham), his screaming and confused fiancé, a police officer who knew everything before the audience, another one who couldn’t figure out the simplest clues and the junkie, silly protagonist’s best friend who is helpful like a toothbrush on a desert island.

Especially Walt, Jack’s best friend, is highly disappointing. He represents my biggest disappointment with the direction: Walt is, in fact, portrayed by Noah Segan, a more than decent actor who proved himself in the past to be able to pull off complex roles.

Seemingly, Koontz has no idea what to do with him, since he randomly throws Segan in many scenes without developing the character’s arc or purpose.

Nevertheless, this is the only mistake made by Koontz. Besides that, his direction is really good for an indie horror. The cinematography is impressive and the editing cleverly resembles a sequence of photos projected on a wall.

Entirely shot on location (in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA), Camera Obscura makes good use of the environment, whilst the bright colours are toned down to make the atmosphere gloomy and sumber.

On a side note, Koontz’s direction avoids silly jump-scares and futile loud music to mark a moment of tension. Instead, the soundtrack is persistently earing and purposely irksome.

Since the direction is, overall, pretty decent, I’d say that the script is what scales down the film. It simply doesn’t make any sense and hides the redeeming qualities of Camera Obscura.

If you ask me, Camera Obscura is not a completely shipwreck, but the script for it is plain awful nonetheless.

Quoting directly from the movie: “this seems one of those weird episodes of Goosebumps!”. Therefore, I wouldn’t recommend to watch it, but neither I’d say it’s a complete and utter waste of time. Cheers!

The Classics of Horror #3 – Creature of the Black Lagoon

Creature of the Black Lagoon (1954) was released in a quirky period of time for the history of cinema.

In 1953, a few production companies attempted the 3D technology for the first time. Jack Arnold, director of many Sci-Fi movies in the 50s, decided to tag along and follow the trend.

Unfortunately, the 3D wasn’t quite appealing for the audience at the time, mostly because the filmmakers couldn’t get its and make the best of its potential. Creature of the Black Lagoon was part of this faulty experiment.

However, the film itself had much more to offer than a pure 3D gaming. As a consequence, Jack Arnold’s movie became one of the most influential motion pictures in the history of both Sci-Fi and Horror.

Creature of the Black Lagoon is clearly the product of an age of transition, where horror cinema opened the door to modern standards whilst still relying on elder modules in terms of acting and character development.

Following a quite simple storyline – scientists discover an unknown fossil in the Amazon rainforest, team up to find out more and come across an amphibious monster who won’t let them go away easily – the film develops a dreadful atmosphere which is constant throughout the 89 minutes of runtime.

The choice of not showing the monster in its entirety until half way through the film makes him scarier – probably terrifying at the time the movie was shot – than it should have if its design was unveiled straight away.

The main location – a fisherman boat sailing through the Amazon River – is also effective, since it confines our characters within a secluded place that’s not easy – or safe – to abandon.

creaturefromtheblacklagoonWhat I honestly found astounding, though, was the design and the practical effects the creature was made with. Surprisingly, they hold up and age very well: the creature of the Black Lagoon – which is a guy wearing well-made mask and costume – is more unsettling than many CGI monsters we are used to see on screen nowadays.

Yet, the underwater cinematography is worth praising. Made with a ground-breaking technology for the time, the camera work is convincing and spotless even for a contemporary eye. The waving and swinging of the pond weed gave an extra layer of realism to the whole underwater photography.

Nevertheless, although more enjoyable for modern audiences than Nosferatu or Frankenstein, Creature of the Black Lagoon is not flawless.

Firstly, neither the screenwriter nor the director bothered to check the differences between Spanish and Portuguese. For instance, at the very beginning of the film, there is a sign which tells us we are in front of the Instituto de Biologia Marina of Sao Paolo. However, in Portuguese it should have been spelled as Instituto de Biologia Marinha. It’s nit-picking, I know, but these lazy mistakes always annoy me for some odd reason.

creature-from-the-black-lagoon-sliceThe other thing that turned me off quite a bit was the role of the only female character in the film. I get that Julia Adams is in the movie purely because she’s good-looking, but why her only lines consist of her whining about her fiancé diving into the water and annoyingly screaming as soon as she sees the monster? Her presence in the movie was completely unnecessary and useless.

Even though, in all honesty, I guess that was the typical female role in the 50s’ cinema, where women couldn’t look after themselves nor make their own decisions – alike the patriarchal American society of the time wanted the viewers to perceive them.

All in all, though, Creature of the Black Lagoon is worth watching both for its influence in the creature-feature sub-genre and the level of entertainment it provides the viewers with. Cheers!