Archives for : June2014

Review: Willow Creek

willow_creek

Bobcat Goldthwait fascinates me as a director.  Unburdened by studio influence, the guy seems to make what he wants.  Despite budgetary constraints and the process of distributing his movies (he once stated that his films are less released than they simply escape), he has created a body of work that is varied and daring.  With Willow Creek, Goldthwait visits the world of found footage horror and finds that there’s nothing like the classics…

WillowCreek_Still01Alexie Gilmore and Bryce Johnson are Kelly and Jim, respectively, a young couple vacationing in the Pacific Northwest, where Jim plans to record his semi-documentary about his search for Bigfoot.  Kelly, a skeptic, tags along for the trip more than any innate fascination with the Sasquatch legends, and often serves as the voice of the more level-headed audience members like myself.  While Jim chats with locals about their experiences, some of the interviews turn ominous, suggesting that whatever hides in the deep woods of the region is not always friendly.

We’re also given a glimpse into the relationship between Jim and Kelly, people I found to be worthy of following.  They’re young, but not foolish, and there’s a tension in their relationship that adds a realistic texture to the proceedings.  Unlike most protagonists in these sorts of films, they’re quick to search for help and “get out of Dodge” when their vacation takes a hairy turn.  Sorry, couldn’t help it.

We get a glimpse into the world of these tourist-trap owners and Bigfoot enthusiasts as Jim records them for his film, and Goldthwait mixes interviews with actors and real-world inhabitants of Willow Creek, playing with the notion of fiction in this setting.  While never stopping to mock those who have become obsessed with Bigfoot, there’s plenty of cheeky moments where we see singers belting out odes to the hairy creature or the Patterson-Gimlin film.  The Patterson-Gimlin, for those who don’t know, is the most famous footage of an alleged Sasquatch, the one taken at the creek bed and featuring a figure moving quickly across frame.  It is this film that leads Jim and Kelly into the woods to find the site of the historic footage.

It’s here Goldthwait shifts the tone from playful to the sinister, and the back half of the movie is reminiscent of The Blair Witch willow_creek1Project for its spare use of visuals and sound to create a tense atmosphere.  Without giving too much away, it’s safe to say Willow Creek has far more in common with Blair Witch than [Rec], and those viewers who demand the action that marks modern found footage films are warned to steer clear.  Goldthwait is after a more primal fear here, manipulating sounds in an effective manner to elicit tension.  There is an extended shot that serves as the set piece of the film, which will either terrify you or bore you to tears.  As I watched in the cool dark, I fell into the former camp, finding myself breathless with anticipation the way the characters onscreen were.  Still, I can understand a criticism of the film for being perhaps too subtle in its execution, but after seeing more bombastic entries into the genre, I appreciated the film’s slow build, much like I did with The Blair Witch Project.

I’ll be curious to speak with those who have seen the film, to turn the ending over a little and examine it, to weigh others’ interpretations.  I have my own perspective on what the images we see imply, but I think it’s to Goldthwait’s credit that one could come up with multiple personal narratives to inform the ending.

While not perfect, Willow Creek held me fascinated, and the second half of the film filled me with a creeping dread, despite a less-than-stellar and ambiguous payoff.  This will be a divisive film, no question about it, but I found it to be tense and note-perfect when it came to providing a primitive fear.  But, really, what the hell was with that lady?

Review: Devil’s Due

ddposter

Released in the dumping ground of January, Devil’s Due is yet another found footage movie following mysterious goings-on in affluent white people’s lives.  In this case, it’s some business about a pregnancy that shows all the signs of being diabolical in nature.  Or something.  Written by first-time feature writer Lindsay Devlin, whose previous credit was the documentary In So Many Words, and directed by two members of the directing collective known as Radio Silence, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillet, Devil’s Due feels like a greatest hits album of demonic pregnancy and evil child movies, with a dash of found footage trope thrown in.  The result, not unexpectedly, is a movie so bland it almost makes the movie exceptional.

In defense of Devil’s Due, the affluent white people at the center of the film are charming enough.  Allison Miller and Zach Gilford play Samantha and Zach McCall, newlyweds who honeymoon in exotic Santo Domingo.  They decide early in the film that they want to film as much as possible so they can look back when they are older on even the most muDF-00674.CR2ndane moments of their lives.  It’s as close as we get to an explanation of the camera being ever-present, though the logic falls apart later in the film when Zach is wearing his “adventure cam” while hunting for devil-worshiping midwives, but I get ahead of myself.

While on the honeymoon, a cab driver takes Zach and Allison to an underground club where people look at them all creepy-like.  Fueled by booze, our heroes pass out and Allison gets the old in-and-out from some golden light before the couple wakes up alone in their hotel room.  While they have made a point to film everything so far, it’s not until well into the movie that Zach decides to check out the honeymoon footage to see how they got back to their hotel room.  Whatever.

Back home, Allison discovers she is pregnant and Devil’s Due starts trotting out the classics.  Mother acting creepy?  Check.  Belly gets distended like THERE’S SOMETHING INSIDE HER?!  Check.  Previously vegetarian mom starts craving red meat?  Sure thing.  Strangers staring at Allison and their upper-middle-class house?  You betcha.  Disoriented father realizing that maybe, just maybe, his wife is carrying a #devilbaby?  Yup.  How about a scene ata  baptism where things get weird?  Absolutely.  Or a vague explanation about antichrists?  It’s all here.

To suggest that this movie is by-the-numbers is an understatement.  If you have seen The Omen or Rosemary’s Baby, or any of the countless knock-offs of those movies, you’ve seen every move this film has in its repertoire.  The greatest crime of the movie isn’t that it’s bad, it simply feels cribbed together from far better movies.  While Rosemary’s Baby is an amazing study of the powerlessness of its central character and the manipulation of the younger generation by the aged and wealthy, Devil’s Due never rises above the level of an assemblage of cheap scares and routine set pieces.

My heart aches when I see a movie like this, a rote exercise in lazy filmmaking.  Perhaps the creators thought they were doing ddscarysomething fresh, but it’s hard to imagine the pitch went much beyond, “We’re doing Rosemary’s Baby, only found footage and dumber.”  Maybe they didn’t pitch it with the word ‘dumb’ in the mix, but I filled that in for them.  I can imagine a scenario where an individual who had never seen a horror film before being potentially affected by this movie, but, for the rest of us who remember that other horror films happened before January of 2014, this falls flat and, worse, bores the #devilbaby right out of you.

Devil’s Due is, ultimately, a painfully derivative and uninspired film that serves as ammunition for those who think the found footage subgenre is repetitive and uninteresting.  I sincerely wish the movie held loftier ambitions, or had failed more spectacularly.  Anything would have been better than the generic malaise this movie inspires.

Duncan and Bo Come Correct: Episode 3, or Buddies on Patrol!

the-guard-sony-pictures-10

Here we are again, faithful listeners, with another round of the greatest battle humanity has yet known.  On the one side, Duncan MacLeish, hailing from Scotland, and avid viewer of cinema.  On the other, Bo Ransdell, American and defender of the freedom to eat a triple cheeseburger with a fork made from an Uzi.

This time, they each choose a buddy cop film, but can the strain of competition allow these cinematic brawlers to be buddies at the end?  Also, there’s something about August Underground and heads exploding.

 

Combs Gets Gothic with Nevermore!

image

Boston literary enthusiasts and fans of the macabre will get a double whammy of fall fun this October—as a companion event to the Edgar Allan Poe Bronze Bust Project, which will be unveiled on October 30, 2014 at the Boston Public Library, Boston-based filmmaker Izzy Lee and the Poe bust sculptor, Bryan Moore, are bringing Dennis Paoli’s play “Nevermore: An Evening With Edgar Allan Poe” to the Somerville Theatre on October 31, 2014.

 

Starring beloved character actor Jeffrey Combs, the one-act play is set in 1848—one year after the death of his wife and muse Virginia, and two years before Poe’s own death—and begins and ends with the lighting and extinguishing of a candle. Combs inhabits Poe’s persona seemingly as easily as he breathes—Combs runs the gamut from congenial to hilarious to tragic—all in 90 minutes’ worth of expertly delivered monologue.

 

“I can’t express how thrilled and honored I am to be invited to perform ‘Nevermore: An Evening With Edgar Allan Poe’ in Boston. Not only was Boston Poe’s birthplace, but throughout his professional life he had, let’s say, a colorfully contentious relationship with the city’s literati. I simply can’t wait to step onto the Somerville Theatre stage on Halloween night.”

 

Having toured North America in years past, Combs has widely received standing ovations. The Austin Chronicle had this to say: “Combs, normally known for his angular, vulpine looks, is immediately recognizable as the moon-faced Poe. He lets his face droop into the lethargic, booze-fueled but brilliant visage that stares out of every portrait of the author. Then there’s the voice: In the opening minutes, it’s a bombastic flurry, as the ever-florid and over-dramatic Poe orates to the audience. It’s a breathless introduction to a powerhouse performance, as the barriers between Poe’s sense of the dramatic and his own overbearing tragedy come crashing down like the House of Usher into the deep and dank tarn.”

 

Los Angeles Times stated: “The true test of Combs’ talents lies in his rendering of such Poe standards as ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ and ‘The Raven;’ pieces so arguably overdone that one dreads hearing them even one more time. However, until you hear Combs do them, you have never heard them before.”

 

“Jeffrey Combs’ interpretation of Poe is not so much an acting job as channeling the spirits of the unquiet dead. There wasn’t one minute where I felt that I was watching the man play a role,” mused Film Threat.

 

Boston-based filmmaker Izzy Lee, who is producing “Nevermore” at the Somerville Theatre, said this: “When Bryan asked me to be involved, I forgot to breathe. Poe is a personal hero of mine; his work helped me get through a lot of dark times in my childhood. I’m absolutely thrilled to help bring a life-size representation of Poe to the Boston Public Library, one of my favorite places in the city. This event led to talk about bringing ‘Nevermore’ to town; I first saw the play in Montreal at Fantasia in 2010, and was blown away. It’s been a dream of mine to be able to bring Jeff and ‘Nevermore’ to Boston since then. Anyone who attends the unveiling and the show is going to get a very, very special treat this Halloween.”

 

Poe sculptor Bryan Moore states: “I’m honored to be working with my dear friend Izzy Lee on the Edgar Allan Poe Bronze Bust Project as well as bringing the incredible show ‘Nevermore’ to Boston. Izzy is a filmmaker of note; her cinematic niche is hard-hitting and uncompromising in its dark vision; Izzy brings that same dedication and panache to her arsenal as a great producer. When it comes to delivering the goods, Izzy Lee takes no prisoners.”

 

The bust unveiling is slated for the evening of October 30, 2014 in the Boston Public Library’s Abbey Room, and “Nevermore: An Evening With Edgar Allan Poe,” will be performed (one night only) at the Somerville Theatre on October 31, 2014.

 

The Edgar Allan Poe Bronze Bust Kickstarter fundraiser will be launched very shortly.