Wolf Creek 2 (2014)

Genre: Horror, Thriller

Director: Greg Mclean

Writer: Greg Mclean, Aaron Sterns

Starring: John Jarratt, Ryan Corr, Shannon Ashlyn

Rating: ★★½

Wolf Creek 2 is the sequel to the disappointing and amazingly dull Australian horror of 2005 Wolf Creek, which is another exhausting horror in which we see the predictable become even more predictable. Unfortunately I can’t say that Wolf Creek 2 takes a whole different approach, however it is slightly better, despite a problematic story for more than a few reasons, it provides gore, horror and a few thrills; taking the one positive from its original and focusing purely on replicating it.

Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) is still roaming the Australian outback with his hunting knife and sniper, chasing down tourists making it an unsafe place, and one to be feared. After setting his sights on a German couple which he soon captures, he is then interrupted by Paul (Ryan Corr), an English tourist who when driving down the highway stops and picks up a blood covered and fearful woman (Shannon Ashlyn). Mick Taylor chases the “pommy” around the outback, destroying his car, invading his hideout before eventually being one on one within his torture house, but will Mick Taylor lose out on another kill once more.

The most successful thing about Wolf Creek for me was Mick Taylor and it was a positive to see director and writer Greg Mclean spotting this and wanting to develop his outback slasher into a bigger and better sequel. However there is a huge problem, not only does this lead into a slightly repetitive and predictable storyline, but it creates an issue with the films message along with who the audience should be identifying with. The first half of Wolf Creek 2 is something which censorships would probably be worried about, as Mick Taylor kills of a few police officers, who were in retrospect being a little bit mean and harsh, he has a little “pig hunting” catchphrase producing laughs, and therefore making the audience side with him. His first victims then speak German, making them completely un-relatable to us as an audience whilst once again Mick cracks out his book of jokes; it takes far too long before Paul to appear for the audience to then realise that we should be classing him as the protagonist, instead of Mick Taylor. Now this shouldn’t really be an issue in terms of entertainment, but something which caught my eye as slightly risky writing by Mclean and Sterns.

Wolf Creek 2 as previously mentioned is very predictable, however to cover-up this flaw, as much action as possible is crammed in to make it both thrilling and entertaining. In comparison to the original much more deaths occur and this time round they become much more extreme and gore-like, with bullets to the head and knives slitting throats. The chase between Paul and Mick is a real highlight and does provide some thrills with some fast-paced scenes, something Wolf Creek lacked. As Paul finds himself in Mick’s torcher den we see a host of dead guests, some still barely breathing and whimpering, and some cold, stuffed and made to act out scenarios, making Mick Taylor look like the sick sadistic serial-killer he told us he was within the original.

John Jarratt’s portrayal of Mick Taylor is brilliant, his sniggering laughs and jokes are all very fun, although a problem of course, it does make for both a very creepy, but fun character. His performance was typified in the tortures scenes, as he quizzes his victim, reveals his intentions and whilst slashing and stabbing remains cool, calm and keeps on laughing. Ryan Corr is likewise good, practically unknown he handles his role well and gives off a reasonable performance.

McLean’s direction isn’t anything special, the way he chose to shoot the death scenes for the police were a nice touch and a highlight. However Wolf Creek 2 did shine through its use of special effects and make-up with a lot of work obviously going into creating a host of dead bodies, guts and gore.

Wolf Creek 2 isn’t anything great but is a slight improvement on its prequel. The horror manages to capture what it set out to, and that’s a gore-filled, thrilling experience focusing on a fun but deluded outback killer. However it doesn’t create anything new, exciting or unique with everything being seen and done a thousand times before, creating for me a very predictable and average watch. Wolf Creek 2 should be avoided if possible, but the experience of watching Mick Taylor might just make it slightly worth-while.

 

Oculus (2014)

Genre: Horror

Director: Mike Flanagan

Writers: Jeff Howard, Mike Flanagan, Jeff Seidman

Starring: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff

Rating: ★★★

Oculus was a horror that I was really anticipating after some positive conversations and a very chilling trailer was released not too long ago, however as the genre keeps producing in recent years, I was once faced again with a very typical and exhausted film, despite evidence of potential. Based on Mike Flanagan’s short story the writer turned director, was responsible for both the good and the bad behind Oculus, whilst the ugly was provided by a very shell-shocked Katee Sackhoff portraying Marie Russell. A mixture between psychological terror and minor-gore provided for a very thrilling horror and watch, but one which I felt was over-complicated in story.

Kaylie Russell and Tim Russell (Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites) were subject to witness violent events as children at the hands of their once loving parents, in the present day, Tim has just been released from a psychiatric ward after being convicted of murdering his father, and under the suggestions of his doctors his has been told to reunite with his sister Kaylie. Kaylie however since the incident as a child has been obsessing over a mirror who she believes is responsible for a list of supernatural events, including the possessing of her father and mother which led to those awful events those years ago. In an attempt to prove to her brother than it wasn’t truly him who killed their father, she sets up a plan to film the mirror and show him its supernatural powers on a night where seeing isn’t always believing.

Oculus consists of a very good set-up story, which it approaches very well in the introduction, however as the mirror’s powers are displayed it soon shows how false-realities are made as our characters see what they want to see, however as an audience and especially for me, this became very confusing and problematic. It seems that the film and the writers have over-complicated a very decent story which holds much potential, and as I viewed Oculus, as much as I wanted to understand and enjoy the film, I was left frustrated with the constant change in truths and realities.

The film however was slightly different to many horrors recently released, there wasn’t too much supernatural action or visual gore until the final climaxes, yet it still obtained a very creepy and eerie feel, something which was a success. However when the gore came and the supernatural beings, it was achieved and used well, producing more thrills and a few gasps. Katee Sackhoff, who played Tim and Kaylie’s mother within the film, was in particularly the most horrifying aspect in Oculus as she haunted the old house, and history was shown.

Karen Gillan, who is very well-known for her role within Doctor Who, performed well and her portrayal of Kaylie was successful. This is the first film I have seen Gillan in, and the first acting display away from Doctor Who; but she lived up to expectation and achieved the obsessive, interesting and bold character she needed to. Brenton Thwaites’ as Tim was also good, with the unknown actor handling the fast-paced haunting scenes very realistically. However the two members of the cast which deserve most credit are Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan who played younger versions of Kaylie and Tim in the many flashbacks within Oculus; the duo handled the job well and produced both believable and professional performances.

The highlight of Oculus however was in the hands of Flanagan who’s directing has made him a much more common name within film, and deservedly so. Oculus achieves a directing style which is rare for horror films; it was refreshing and unique with a range of shots and angles which were all used very well. The look was also brilliant, whilst special effects and make-up, especially on Katee Sackhoff was a real highlight.

It is a shame that for all the good which Oculus achieves it was let down majorly by a story which was repetitive, over-complex and frustrating. I feel that due to this everything else was very limited, in what was a high potential thrilling horror. Oculus is still a film which is very worth-while to watch, although not the most flawless it is an entertaining and cinematically appealing and different. Flanagan may have not hit the big-time with his writing, but his original concept and directing was certainly impressive. Horror disappointed last year in cinema and Oculus seemed to have followed in the average footsteps left behind.

 

Wolf Creek (2005)

Genre: Horror, Thriller

Director: Greg Mclean

Writer: Greg Mclean

Starring: Cassandra Magrath, Kestie Morassi, Nathan Phillips

Rating: ★★

Wolf Creek is a film I wanted to watch before viewing it’s eye-catching and somewhat talked about sequel, Wolf Creek 2. The original however also grabbed some headlines and was the topic of discussion when the horror was released, being labelled “disturbing”, “visually-grotesque” and being the only film that the great Roger Ebert walked out on due to its violence. Although it may have been a new take on the genre nearly a decade ago upon release, I feel Wolf Creek despite some elements of promise, isn’t anything new and for me a very disappointing, dull attempt at horror that we’ve seen far too many times.

Three back-packing friends set out on a journey to the National Park in the Australian Outback to view one of the most scenic craters, Wolf Creek. Kirsty, Liz and Ben (Cassandra Magrath, Kestie Morassi, Nathan Phillips) decide to mix their hiking journey with some partying, drink and fun but as they set out on the real outback they soon realise everyone and everything is a little more hostile. As they arrive at their destination and witness the Wolf Creek Crater they find that whilst they were gone their car has mysteriously broken down by bad luck, leaving them completely stranded as night approaches. The trio think they’ve then been rescued by local Bushman Mick Taylor, but the stereotypical outback man seems suspicious and unnerving soon unleashing some bad luck of his own onto the tourist’s backpackers as their night turns into something they couldn’t have imagined.

It is the archetypal set-up for any horror film, three young tourists, unaware of their surroundings unfortunately meet the local serial killer and sadist. In true generic narrative style we also get to meet our characters however writer and director Greg Mclean chooses to dwell on this for far too long and around half the total screening time. Our characters are fairly average, and for some reason the amount of sympathy and connection created is very low, somewhat failing at making the more horror-like scenes worst to watch. It was however innovative to a degree that the dialogue to the trio’s conversations was very natural and realistic, but I felt this made it dull, despite the memorable lines; “Hey Ben you got something dripping from your mouth, oh wait its bullshit” as the jokes and fun play out. It takes a long time for action and gore to appear or for any real progress into our plot; when the main action does arrive I feel that due to the over-played anticipation there is no surprise or shock but an expectance and a feel of “oh finally”.

There’s nothing too horrifying or thrilling within Wolf Creek for me, with no real scares or jumps but more visual gore being used which is still very tame in comparison to other horror releases. One of the taglines for the film is “The Thrill is the Hunt” but for me there is not much of a hunt or much of a thrill throughout the film. I also found a real annoyance at some of the “plot devices”, which were obviously visible in stopping the film in ending despite being completely unrealistic despite the hyper-real context.

The acting was fairly average, however I must praise how the on-screen relationship and overall friendly-like feel between our trio of main characters was believable and looked more natural than what is seen in other films. As a standout however, I was impressed by our villain and outback bushman Mick Taylor, John Jarratt’s portrayal was very nice, creating a somewhat malicious and chilling atmosphere at moments. Although I have criticised Mclean’s writing, his directing was impressive, the film used a handheld camera which created the classic amateur documentary feel, adding to realism also making it feel like we’re witnessing these events. The film also had a few nice shots; especially the silhouettes of Mick Taylor approaching with his stereotypical hat creating a huge shadow and when our character Liz is witnessing her friend undergo torture.

Wolf Creek is something you’ll see time and time again, however taking on a somewhat new setting off the Australian outback. There were some positives with some good dialogue and a realistic-feel however the lack of progress and a very slow paced and un-shocking story creates a huge downfall.  The horror and thrills were missing and that’s a huge loss considering the genre, I felt despite his great direction, Mclean created some sloppy writing. This isn’t a must-watch and its nor entertaining or enjoyable, I can only hope that for once, a sequel will outperform it’s original with Wolf Creek 2, but the standard hasn’t been set too high.

 

 

Godzilla/Gojira (1954)

Genre: Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi

Director: Ishirô Honda

Writers: Ishirô Honda, Shigeru Kayama, Takeo Murata

Starring: Takashi Shimura, Akihiko Hirata, Akira Takarada

Rating:★★★½

Gojira as its original Japanese name would be is more commonly and famously known as Godzilla, a creature which has created one of the largest film franchises in history. It was in 1954 which this King Kong inspired giant monster was first seen on screen, and since then a further thirty-two productions have been made, the most recent of course is Gareth Edward’s $160million 2014 blockbuster.  Godzilla is very much a product of its time, however it is actually a lot different compared to its franchise and is more about a deeper meaning, something learnt when studying Honda’s classic within Film Studies. Its main focus is on narrative, whilst the outdated suitmation, although the contemporary usual, doesn’t transfer well to modern times, but there should be a real appreciation for this influential Japanese cinema classic.

Japan is rocked by a disturbance off their coast when a group of ships are reported missing; search parties disappear and local coastal villages are soon destroyed. The Japanese government soon learn that nuclear testing within the ocean has awoken a monster reptile from hibernation, which is now looking for revenge and mass-destruction. Godzilla, a huge, fifty metre tall beast, soon learnt to be covered in radioactive matter, terrorises central Tokyo, killing and destroying many. Meanwhile a group of scientists are debating whether they should use their scientific deadly weapon to defeat the beast, as they believe and fear it will provoke further nuclear war.

Within most “monster films” we would expect a huge focus on mass destruction and of course the majority of the film to show our monster roaming around killing, providing huge action. However Gojira is the complete opposite, with our beast getting very little screen time. The main focus is on our scientists and the emotional trauma on our victims, something highlighted by our trio of writers to convey an important message.

Gojira is a film which shows the dangers of nuclear warfare and more so science as it develops, this message coming from a country such as Japan is very important, definitely regarding their history. Godzilla, a beast of destruction, being woken by nuclear testing is of course very symbolic, as our monster itself represents a nuclear bomb, which is referenced clearly to be linked with Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  It conveys how the testing with nuclear weaponry will only lead to more destruction, whilst science’s involvement within the film, also being equally important. It is science which eventually destroys the beast, which also sees a sacrifice, which symbolically presents how science now needs to destroy itself and is more so outdated, as deadlier weapons are being created and bringing harsher consequences.  It is learning this deeper meaning, although clearly obvious, which creates an appreciation towards Gojira.

As previously mentioned this is a film which is very much outdated and is a product of its time, being very hard to transfer into modern day. The acting is very poor, despite the appearance of Seven Samurai star Takashi Shimura who does produce a solid display of one of our older scientists. Momoko Kôchi and Akira Takarada play Emiko and Ogata a young couple and our main protagonists, who are planning to help destroy the beast. Their roles are very well-written however Kochi’s portrayal of Emiko is very poor, somewhat becoming laughable, whilst Takarada is fairly average.

The effects as expected are not the high-budget breath-taking display you’d expect from the latest Godzilla remake; however it is mainly suit-mation within the original. Our beast is nothing more than a man in a suit tramping about in a tiny Tokyo model-city, however again this criticism is something which occurs only due to the transition of time periods and technology. Explosions however were a little more impressive, whilst Honda’s directing was refreshing and inspiring given such the early year of release.

Gojira is a very good film, in terms of story it is somewhat a classic for sure with the under the surface meaning adding to appreciation. However the action unfortunately doesn’t match, and despite its focus on a deeper story, I would have expected more action and of course more Godzilla. If you are going to watch this original and influential film, then take into consideration the low key effects and acting may make it less enjoyable watch. However this is a piece of history within cinema, and an interesting comparison to make when looking ahead to the soon to be released big budget remake.

 

 

V/H/S 2 (2013)

Genre: Horror

Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, David Bruckner, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, Joe Swanberg, Chad Villella, Ti West, Adam Wingard

Writers: Brad Miska (concept) Simon Barrett, David Bruckner, Nicholas Tecosky, Ti West,  Glenn McQuaid, Simon Barrett, Radio Silence, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, Chad Villella

Starring: Calvin Reeder, Lane Hughes, Adam Wingard

Rating: ★★

VHS 2 has a staggering number of writers and directors who also act as stars within their own film, once viewed it is obvious to see why, as there are a number of segments and stories involved throughout. I haven’t seen the 2012 prequel VHS, however this sequel has more than enough to make up my mind about the two of them. I do admit there is a chance however that my negative views on this film may have differed if VHS adds to the understanding of the story.

The story follows two investigators hired to look into a case regarding the disappearance of a young male student. When entering a hideout deemed to be the location which will have all the answers they find the students den, however it is cluttered with a number of VHS cassette tapes. The private investigators decide to view the tapes in search for more clues but obtain more than they could have ever imagined as a series of dark and horrifying events are displayed, leading to the discovery of some hidden dark secrets.

The concept is somewhat new, but only in the fact that there’s a combination of all these stories, which are very well known and have been seen before. It is however action packed and at times frightening, but the interest and excitement doesn’t last long, as confusion and boredom approaches as a conclusion seems distant when reaching the third tape. The first tape is great, a series of ghosts are seen through a man’s faulty robotic eye and it seems to set up these horror-like moments, the second provides zombies, which are later followed by aliens, a cult and what seems to be a giant tree monster. Although this is the world of cinema, the realism within this film is absent and unfortunately if you do buy into the story well, it can become a painful watch.

The first tape is good, the effects and concept is well thought out, however it isn’t the same for the others. I normally find interest in anything involving zombies however it was too humorous despite the initial attempt being serious, at one part as we seem to follow the POV of a zombie we hear him moan “mmmm” at the sight of blood. The effects equally disappoint, which set the standard for the following events. I do however have to praise the cult scene, which sees huge amounts of gore in some certain scenes which are very well executed and managed.

The acting is very mediocre and it feels very false despite it having a “found-footage” feel, it reminds me of Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield which hosts a string of annoying laughs, voices and actor/director moments.

VHS 2 is a film which attempts to create something new, to which it deserves some credit, however I can’t empathise enough how amateur and somewhat ridiculous some parts of the film feel. It does obtain action and horror which can be entertaining, before becoming boring. I may have been to critical or had my perception altered due to missing its earlier prequel the year before, however this is a release that should be steered away from.

 

 

Hostel Part II (2007)

Genre: Horror

Director: Eli Roth

Writer: Eli Roth

Starring: Lauren German, Heather Matarazzo, Bijou Phillips

Rating: ★★

Hostel Part II is the second instalment of a not so successful franchise by writer and director Eli Roth. His first and original, Hostel (2005), caused headlines to name It one of the most shocking American films made in the last ten years, with a mixture of extreme gore, violence and sex. Hostel’s sequel similarly follows the same trend, bringing again the gore, sex and violence but investing in a deeper story which replaces the shock previously created. It maybe horror to watch due to the nature of the film but at times the horror comes at the hands of a sloppy and poorly made film.

The story follows a group of three girls as they side-track from a trip to Rome, Beth (Lauren German) the “sensible” character and lead protagonist, who also has a bucket load of money and her friends, Lorna (Heather Matarazzo) the typical shy reserved girl whilst Whitney (Bijou Phillips), the third companion, is the typical whorish slut. As they are distracted by a young Slovakian Model telling them to travel to the outskirts of Bratislava for a spa weekend, they encounter the corrupt town and hostel which saw mass death and torture in the previous film. Unaware the girls are soon brought by three wealthy businessmen and woman waiting to taste their blood.

Hostel II attempts to give us a bigger picture, bigger than what we saw in the first instalment. We seem to have an insight into the way the “elite hunting” organisation is run, with a look into people bidding and those behind the murders. Although it is new and innovated by Roth, it does seem to be that we start to identify with the antagonists and follow their story too much, neglecting our victims. The shock is removed, after watching Hostel we now suspect everyone in the town and we just wait for the killing to start, however it takes a long time with the action only starting after the half-way point. The gore however is a lot more shocking, but less frequent, a way to beat the prequel for Roth seems to be, shoot a kid, chop of a man’s nob and play football with a head.

The effects are good, however we suspect it’s all fake and it just doesn’t have the same “I can’t look” factor, but instead a more comedic over the top element which for me resembled Tarantino’s Kill Bill. Hostel II again unlike the prequel doesn’t seem to be as clever, the directing isn’t as sharp and the cuts between shots which stood out in Hostel seem to be non-existent. A good aspect though, one of the very few, seems to be the sound effects which at times is the only thing which has a scare factor.

There isn’t too much to shout about with this film, everything is average. The acting for me is very average with most of the screen time being filled up with the three girls screaming and being incredibly whiney until a really dramatic change of character in the final scenes, which of course was realistic. The story seems poorly written, its ending seems laughable as it looks like Eli Roth wanted a really quick way to end the situation and move things on. Whilst the opening sequence which follows on from Hostel, is somewhat only there to stop the audience asking questions but essentially it makes the journey of Hostel look pointless, with Eli Roth somewhat shooting himself in the foot as he imagines the potential money he can make.

There is no surprise that Hostel III went to straight to a DVD release after the second instalment of the franchise showed no promising signs at all. Hostel II doesn’t have the same effect as Hostel and tries too hard to change, which essentially ruins its concept, whilst everything is average there is the standout of some gore and sound effects but that’s all. It is most likely a better comedy than a horror which is barely entertaining to watch, with this more than typical film being waste of time and for the most part the torture is afflicted upon the audience who has to watch such a mess unfold.

 

 

Hidden References in Eli Roth’s Hostel (2005)

Eli Roth wanted to make a big claim to the cinematic community with his 2005 release of Hostel; he wanted to make it known that he is an expert of his genre, a well-knowledge film-maker and an admirer of the all time classics. Hostel very much entertained the typical zeitgeist audience when released with its mass gore and special effects, but for the cineastes and genre fans he played homage to many films and included references to others keeping them occupied and a part of an “in-joke”.

The master that is Quentin Tarantino presented and produced Hostel and his name appearing on the opening credits wasn’t his only involvement within the film. As the three backpackers check into their new Slovak hostel in the background Samuel L Jackson’s iconic speech from Pulp Fiction is being played on the TV. It is also suggested how our antagonists stalked the halls of the slaughter house whistling could be a link to Tarantino’s Kill Bill.

Eli Roth also referenced the Kubrick and horror classic, The Shining. The boys are given room 237 which is the same hotel room which is forbidden in The Shining, something which is obviously not a coincidence. Alongside one classic is another as the film uses the same score from Hitchcock’s Psycho. The closing credits to Hostel plays homage to the opening credits of Psycho using the same style score but slightly giving it a modern twist.

Wanting to state his knowledge and ability to recognise his background, Roth referenced two very small but classic British horror films. The sex scene between Josh and the Slovak roommate is a direct link to the sex scene within The Wicker Man 1973 as our priest gets seduced through a wall by a form of witchcraft. It is referenced by the iconic music played over the top. Film of the same year, Don’t Look Now 1973 is also referenced clearly, the final scene in Don’t Look Now sees our protagonist chase a figure in a red coat, in Hostel Josh and Paxton looking for Oli start to chase a guy wearing the same Orange coat, the two scenes follow the same structure and even have similar settings.

Eli Roth also chooses to have many cameo’s including himself. In a bar scene at the beginning of Hostel, Eli Roth can be seen smoking and smashing a bong whilst laughing. Japanese director Takashi Miike also plays a role as the guy who Paxton asks “what’s it in like in there” too as he stands outside the unknown slaughter house. Extending his knowledge to that of Japanese Film finally the last reference is that to Suicide Club. The end scene which sees a Japanese woman jump in front of a train is a clear homage especially to shots where we see fellow passengers sprayed with blood, it is also the only reason Roth made that very character Japanese.

Did you spot any of these references?