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Darkside – Psychic review

When a musician decides to form a group or duo after an exciting career, or even start a side project, it’s practically impossible to not compare it to the works they’ve done. We all thought of it when you read this. Whether it’s Dave Grohl in Foo Fighters, or Thom Yorke in Atoms for Peace, the original work lingers with the artist. Nicolas Jaar was somebody I didn’t believe would survive in the destructive business of music. After a solid 2011 release with Space Is Only Noise, I did not believe it could be replicated, nor should be as it would feel too forced. Oddly enough, during this time frame Jaar was working on another project with fellow touring guitarist, Dave Herrington, and they formed the duo Darkside. Combining the electronic tension of Jaar’s studio work with the organic sounds found in the live performances, they eased their way through recording the finally released Psychic album.

I usually stay away from reading reviews until I have my own opinion, but I stumbled across a mixture of positive and negative. I feel as though this album has been misjudged by both sides. One critic said it resembled the unasked question of, “What does Nicolas Jaar and Eric Clapton sound like together?” To me, that’s a dumb comment. I can see the resemblance, but I would honestly be intrigued into what the combo would sound like. Psychic does branch off from the usual spectrum Jaar likes to take, but the eerie and tense atmosphere sticks with the listener. The monster opener, “Golden Arrow”, clocks in at just under 12 minutes. There’s more excitement in these 12 minutes than the 46 in Space Is Only Noise. While comparable, Psychic could appeal to a different audience that wasn’t content with the prior release by Jaar.

These eight tracks have their distinct moments that clearly separate one from another. The minute and a half lingerer “Sitra” is completely different from the following track, “Heart”. They fit together like a puzzle piece, but the following song reminds me of an abstract brit-pop tune. The addition to Herrington’s guitar allows for these odd, but compelling moments to flow smoothly. At the core, these are electronic dance tracks, but from the listeners perspective, they come across as very experimental at times. The structure to them, although quite simple, is hidden by Jaar’s need to keep the beat slower. Some songs, like the closer “Metatron”, fall into ambient territory. That’s the beauty of Jaar’s experimental side. He’s able to flip the listeners perspective of genres and how they fit together.

Going back to the Clapton comment, I hear it the more I listen, but still I wouldn’t consider it bad. Psychic does embrace Herrington’s bluesy guitar licks, but they don’t create a blues feel. I have more of a Jon Hopkin’s Immunity sound in mind. That’s probably due to the fact that both albums are released in 2013 and they have eight tracks. Besides that, there’s really nothing in common. What Psychic does carry that surprised me is Tom Wait vocals that aren’t sung by the man himself. At first, it was hard to swallow these raspy vocals, but the more I listen, the more I understand how it pieces together with the ‘blues’ combination.

What captures my attention with each listen is the other strange additions that Jaar included. I feel like there are many different versions of songs that were made over the two years it took to record. Should there be more guitar? Is the beat hidden enough? Do these vocals sound like noise enough? I bet none of these questions were asked, but I began to think about how these two completely different musicians came to a solid conclusion about their contributions to Psychic. Up front, it sounds like a Nicolas Jaar album. Behind the scenes it feels like Dave Herrington may have had more of an influence. There’s multiple ways to look at this album, whether you hear the blues or the electronics, they oddly fit together nicely to create an album that will be more enjoyable as time went on. Even I was hesitant with my first listen.

8.3/10

Listen to a new Arcade Fire song “Afterlife”

MITNG has been covering the recent news for Reflektor very heavily, and it’s come to the surface that a studio release for a song titled “Afterlife” has arrived. On Zane Lowe’s BBC radio show, he premiered the track, which resembles the early 80′s dance floor scene, especially in England. It still has that classic Arcade Fire twist to it, but it’s nice to see the band try new sounds. I’m really excited to see what happens with the rest of Reflektor, which is released October 29th.

Listen to “Afterlife” below:

Descend Into the Pits of Hell on Jacob’s Ladder

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Struggling to come to terms in the wake of his child’s death, a veteran of the Vietnam war finds himself in the middle of a series of inexplicable events.  Plagued by chronic injuries sustained in the war, Jacob Singer begins to confuse reality with dreams and nightmares.  He hallucinates.  He can’t sleep.  His health, what’s left of it, begins to decline.  Soon, he wonders whether the events that transpired during his final days in the service have contributed to a fate from which he cannot escape.

Jacob’s Ladder is the 1990 psychological horror directed by Adrian Lyne starring Tim Robbins as Jacob Singer, Elizabeth Peña as Jezzie, Danny Aiello as Louis (the chiropractor), Matt Craven as Michael and Macaulay Culkin as Gabe Singer.

jacobsLadder_1There are a lot of things about this film that even now, after more than 20 years, serve up some seriously twisted moments of extreme unease.  Moments when Jake is confronted by the faceless remain true despite their practical sfx basis.  The too-fast-shaking head of a party goer was visually arresting for 1990 and – since similar effects can be seen in countless contemporary films, video games, and the odd porno – you may be surprised to know that director Adrian Lyne was the first to employ it.

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If you want to know — the effect was achieved by the actor shaking his head at four frames per second.  When played back at the average 24 frames per second, the shaking produced a staggeringly unnerving effect – emulated repeatedly since, but never equaled.

I’ve always been drawn to films that blur the lines of reality.  While there are two terrific scenes in Jacob’s Ladder that convey a supremely surreal atmosphere (the orgiastic party and hospital gurney sequences), the film is as much about confronting mortality as it is about psychological decay.  Both subjects, on their own, are enough to hang entire horror films on.  The combination of the two, weaved masterfully in the film, is powerful, casting a spell on its audience, catapulting us into that gray place hanging between reality and the unseen.

jacobsLadder_3Adrian Lyne, who has since become more or less disinterested in the horror genre (sadly), does a genius job of giving us enough.   We’re thrown a look at the demons that beset Jacob and his old platoon – enough to make us confused, anxious, curious, and increasingly terrified of what’s to come.  Sometimes, the demons appear for less than a second of screen time.  Less than a second.  With this tactic, Lyne proves that sometimes, especially in horror, it’s the purposeful gaps that do the most to scare us.

Tim Robbins – love him or hate him – is perfect as Jacob.  In fact, there are many faces you may be glad to see among the cast – Ving Rhames, Jason Alexander (who would also appear in Pretty Woman the same year), Danny Aiello, and Mac Culkin (uncredited!) as Jacob’s son Gabe.  Watching it now, after so many years, I look at Tim Robbins – even as he is being more or less tortured on that gurney – and find myself thankful it is he, and not Tom Hanks, that was cast.  Tom Hanks, a front runner for the role, was still several years away from the two performances that would shape his career (Forest Gump, Philadelphia).  Up until this point, Hanks had focused primarily on comedies (barring Punchline, which was more or less panned by everyone) and the role of Jacob Singer may have seemed (forgive me) a stretch.

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Maurice Jarre’s score is haunting, sparse, understated where it needs to be and  arresting when it matters.  Jarre’s music – heard in iconic films like Lawrence of Arabia, The Year of Living Dangerously, and Dead Poets Society – is sensitive, uplifting, and evocative.  It creates and supports the atmosphere carefully crafted in Jacob’s Ladder.

jacobsLadder_4_altThe film isn’t for everyone – it picks at a lot of scabs.  I’ve always felt that some level of discomfort is a necessary basis of evolution be that physical, emotional, or mental.  Jacob’s Ladder will have you feeling something even if it is just that – discomfort.  It’s worth a watch and know that LD Entertainment is planning a remake (even if it is loosely based).

Trailer:

Deleted Scene:

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Paint It Black with Kevin Bacon in Stir of Echoes

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“You’re awake now, Daddy.”

Tom and Maggie have just finished moving their growing family into a new house in a working class Chicago neighborhood.  Musician-turned-telephone lineman, Tom, asks his sister-in-law Lisa to hypnotize him at a block party.  A little drunk and more than a little puffed up, Tom thinks nothing will happen.  After all, everyone thinks Lisa is a bit of a quacky flake.  But something does happen.  It turns out Tom is one of the lucky 8%.  The small percentage of the population that is highly hypnotizable.  The experience changes him.  He begins seeing grisly images and is plagued by the feeling that something, or someone, is trying to reach out to him.

Stir of Echoes is the 1999 supernatural/paranormal horror film directed by David Koepp starring Kevin Bacon as Tom, Kathryn Erbe as Maggie, Zachary David Cope as Jake, Illeana Douglas as Lisa, and Jennifer Morrison as Samantha Kozac.

stirOfEchoes_4_altIt’s not uncommon for projects with similar themes to be released in the same year.  Think Armageddon and Deep Impact.  Think The Prestige and The Illusionist.  Think Volcano and Dante’s Peak.  Okay, that last one was particularly painful.  I still don’t understand how they drive that car over hot lava.  But, I digress.  It would seem that it’s typical for one to be widely embraced while the other is more or less panned by critics and/or moviegoers alike.

Unfortunately for Stir of Echoes, the phenomenally successful M. Night Shyamalan project The Sixth Sense had beat them to market by more than a month.  By September 10, 1999 when Stir of Echoes finally opened, The Sixth Sense had been #1 at the box office since its release on August 6th.  And while Stir of Echoes opened #5 at the box office, it would not enjoy the 40 weeks in theaters that The Sixth Sense would.  Does that mean Stir of Echoes is in some way an inferior film?  Read on.

While the similarities between the projects are undeniable, each has its own style and way of telling similar story.  With Stir of Echoes, the thrust is more about a world beyond ours – the unseen – stirOfEchoes_3accessed through intent rather than circumstance.  When Bacon’s character is given a post-hypnotic suggestion by his sister-in-law to be more open, no one guessed it would open a door through which Tom would not only see the past but the dead.

I always liked the premise of the film – that this man, who never thought he would be so boringly ordinary, is suddenly changed, his world expanded beyond anything he could have ever dreamt.  He is a Receiver – a person that can see spirits.  That he becomes obsessed in search of the truth is as interesting, to me, as the motivations of Bruce Willis’ character in The Sixth Sense.

stirOfEchoes_4In the end, I believe the film’s underlying subject matter – unforgivable abuses suffered by a young woman at the hands of a group of protected teenage boys – made the film too tragic, sad, uncomfortable or disturbing for a majority of film goers.  I’d have to agree to an extent.  After watching the film for the first time, I found certain elements worming their way into my thoughts.  People that are put off by body horror (or those of you who enjoy it) should take note Stir of Echoes will unapologetically serve it up.

On the upside – the hypnosis scenes are incredibly well executed and are among the most visually strong for the film.  Even if Stir of Echoes gifyou don’t feel like watching the entire movie, check out this clip of the scene.  And Kevin Bacon turns in what is among his best performances.  Notable too are performances by Kathryn Erbe and Illeana Douglas – they are pitch perfect, adding touches of realism and comedy where needed.  Unlike its twin (The Sixth Sense), Stir of Echoes does manage to hold up to repeated viewings thanks to the cast’s nuanced performances and cinematographer Fred Murphy‘s camera work.  And, if you like the Rolling Stone’s “Paint It Black“, all the more reason to check out Stir of Echoes.  The song acts as a unrelenting supporting cast member, adding a touch of the sinister to a film already populated by the eerie.

Trailer:

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Prepare Your Tinfoil Hat, Here Comes The Signal

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The day before New Year’s Eve, the residents of Terminus concern themselves will the day-to-day.  Some of them are preparing to throw end of the year parties.  Others, find themselves embroiled in extramarital affairs.  As all telecommunication devices begin to transmit the same, enigmatic signal – watch here, if you dare – its effects seem to vary, sometimes wildly.  Some begin to violently attack one another, without discrimination.  Others, move around in a daze.  As the carnage begins to press in on them, one thing is certain – there’s no future for those who choose to remain in Terminus.

The Signal is the 2007 independent sci-fi horror film directed by David Bruckner, Dan Bush, and Jacob Gentry starring Anessa Ramsey as Mya, A. J. Bowen as her already sort of psychotic husband, Lewis, Justin Welborn as Mya’s lover, Ben, Scott Poythress as Clark, and Cheri Christian as Anna.

signal-1When I hear people talk about The Signal the first thing that comes up is how unoriginal they feel the idea is.  This always brings up my dander.  How many vampire films are there?  How many zombie movies?  At the time of its release in 2008, The Signal had but a few contemporaries – one, a film that would be remade in the years that followed it (The Crazies) and, another in the form of a Stephen King novel, Cell.  It’s subject matter and themes – where a broadcast or transmission of unknown origin somehow corrupts the human mind – is underexplored in film.  And this makes me wonder if it’s the subject matter of The Signal that keeps these naysayers away.  As our world becomes inundated with technology meant to make our existence more comfortable and connected what’s the cost?

I’m telling you – this is ripe territory for an industry that could be interpreted as getting lazy and redundant.  But, I digress…

I love the film’s gritty look and instead of being hindered by a small production budget (around $50K), the filmmakers make it work.  More than this, the fact that The Signal is directed by three differentsignal-2 people (Bruckner, Bush, and Gentry) lends a very specific and unique feel.  In the case of The Signal each “transmission” or act has a different focus or theme with all of the acts furthering the primary plot.  The process employed in the making of The Signal is creatively exciting – a story is passed from one filmmaker to the next who, in turn, takes it in different/new/other directions before passing it off to the next person.  If you think about it, the process is simultaneously enthralling and terrifying.  The downside?  I suppose, in a way, the result can come off as schizophrenic.

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The first segment, which is not technically a transmission but more of a prologue, focuses on Mya and Ben and on the beginning of the “outbreak”.  It becomes clear, quickly, that the two have begun an affair.  Ben does his best to convince Mya to stay, to leave her husband, and to meet him tomorrow, on New Year’s Eve, at Terminal 13 where they will leave Terminus behind and begin anew, together.  I’ll happily put on record that the scene in which Mya is trying to get into her car while some stranger quickly strides toward her is tense genius.  It set a high watermark for the film.

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The second segment, known as “Transmission I” is violent and dark – emulating the splatter horror genre.  In my opinion, it’s really well done – the use of light throughout is highly atmospheric.  The third segment, known as “Transmission II” is equally as violent but you’ll find elements of black comedy employed throughout.  In the final segment, “Transmission III”, as Ben risks his life to get to Mya, the structure/theme focuses on post-apocalyptic love.

While each segment has its own merits (the prologue and first segment are my favorites), their distinct character and pacing is likely to polarize any audience.  And that’s okay.  As a fan of
episodic – or “chapter” – films like Tales from the Crypt, I gave myself to the structure quickly with a willingness to come along for the ride.  The problem is that most people will see the first segment, really dig the strong beginning, and then be like, “WTF?!”  And I can’t say I blame them.

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It’s cool to be independent, to try things and experiment.  Here at MITNG we applaud you for it.  But, there’s no escaping the reality of the marketplace.  If you want to reach more than a fringe demographic, you’re bound to the rules of coherency and cohesion – even if your subject matter plays with themes of chaos and madness.

Definitely worth a rental, The Signal is a great example of what you can do with a little and what might have been done with more.

Official Site: http://doyouhavethecrazy.com/

Trailer:

Interviews / Press Junket: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mGnxwWKi34I&list=PLDB3D6345DBB9FD97

Yes, This Happened: Stabbing in Fullerton at a screening of The Signal

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Will Antiviral Get Under Your Skin?

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Imagine a world in which celebrity infatuation has reached a fanatical new extreme.  Do you find yourself obsessing over your favorite actress and want nothing more than to be close to them?  Search no further – the Lucas Clinic has what you desire.  For a price, you can have yourself infected with their ailments – bringing them, and their world, as close as your very own skin.

Brandon Cronenberg has some crazy large shoes to fill.  Any way you slice it.  And with his first feature filmAntiviral, it’s probably safe to say he’s cut from a very similar cloth as Father, David Cronenberg.  With Antiviral‘s sparce and vividly visceral use of blood, gore, needles, and other body horror related ephemera, Cronenberg shows he’s not afraid of the obvious familial comparisons that will be drawn – even if he never set out to make a film like his Father.

Brandon Cronenberg's AntiviralStarring Caleb Landry Jones as Syd March, Antiviral plays with our oft times sickening fascination with celebrity.  It may leave you saying, “serves them right,” and it will certainly have you cringing.  What I find particularly attractive, though, is Cronenberg’s completely flat and humorless attitude about celebrity.  Bleak and sterile, it’s as if his vision of the near-future has somehow mutated our morbid curiosity into mental zombism.  We see something/someone we desire.  We obsess.  We long to fill our every moment (meals and illnesses included) with the object of our obsession.   This psychologically complex model is turned into a societally accepted state of being – I mean, people are eating genetically modified celebrity meat and voluntarily infecting themselves with celebrity Herpes.

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And by <face slap> I mean – awesome!  Sort of.  I have only occasionally been as freaked out and intrigued by intimacy as I was when initially began watching this film. anti3 And yes, worth noting is the element of the sexual amidst everything here – needles penetrating skin, impregnating oneself with bacteria and other assorted sundry to achieve satisfaction.

But it all feels, if you’ll forgive me, a little skin deep.

Antiviral is a strong first showing although it loses some of its initially strong auteur vibe as the story begins to wind down.  I’m a fan of what Cronenberg has done with his incredibly considered use of blood and violence.  Beyond the obvious needle phobia, he’s managed to suggest a terror so small it can only be seen upon careful observation, and then, occasionally, not at all.  And what’s more insidious than that?

Brandon Cronenberg's AntiviralSure, Jones could be accused of coming on a bit strong and even overplaying his role.  His pasty complexion and dead shark eyes do nothing to help convey his character’s motivations and, to be honest, I’m not sure I’d let him inject me with anything … but, I say that about everyone.

Malcolm McDowell arrives and stays too briefly as physician to the film’s object of the greatest obsession, Hannah Geist (played by Cosmopolis stunner Sarah Gadon).

If anything, Brandon Cronenberg proves he is a director to keep a keen eye on.

 

 

 

Danny Brown – Old

From the beginning of “Side A”, it’s obvious that Danny Brown has changed. Since his 2011 release, XXX, Danny has reached some major ups and downs. His unique character of being Detroit’s King Pin in rap has been hidden by the fact that he isn’t a usual player in the modern rap game. Compared to fellow Detroit-ee, Big Sean, Danny resembles someone who has just escaped a psych ward. His gap-toothed, psychotic smile was a clear influence for the infamous Miley Cyrus tongue flair that she seems to flaunt at every opportunity. From an outsiders view, Danny Brown is the devil of hip-hop today.

Old doesn’t play out like XXX. From the beginning, Danny raps about how people keep asking to change back to his older style, but in reality, Danny isn’t interested in it. He wants to keep the ball rolling and stay on top of his game. The idea does make sense; why play safe in a genre where playing safe creates losers. Danny isn’t about staying within the realms of his peers. He’s outlandish, crude, original, and honest, but his approach to compacting all these different ideas strays from traditional values in rap. While XXX presented a wild and dirty side to Danny, he’s taken more of an aggressive and louder approach on Old.

He’s lucky enough to have the likes of Freddie Gibbs, Schoolboy Q, Charli XCX, A$AP Rocky, and surprisingly Purity Ring make appearances on this album. The Purity Ring feature was the most shocking, considering that they pretty much take over the track and make it a Danny Brown feature (“25 Bucks”). Old does impress with production. He still wants the raw sound to be forefront, but his music does have a trap influence this time around. Lyrically, Danny is all about reacting to the fame. He’s struggled with handling money, attention, and the whole celebrity life, and it’s clearer than ever on Old. “Clean Up” talks about how he feels guilty for spending money on clothes, because he’s fall victim to consumerism. It’s a great perspective from someone who generally give a detailed description of his drug and sex life.

Danny doesn’t waste anytime here. All 19 songs are concise, and to the point. The features feel useful, with the exception of Charli XCX, who’s contribution could have been done by any female vocalist. I won’t lie, her name does give the song that extra push for the ‘wow’ factor. These tracks flow generally well, minus “25 Bucks”, which includes the unique Purity Ring sound. You can imagine how the sleek production contrasts a lot of the typical Danny Brown production. Old does show the influence of Danny Brown in the industry. Being able to have that all-star lineup of features goes to show how far he’s come since XXX.

The second half (“Side B [Dope Song]” onward) is all party based, trap songs that actually stand out very well. They’re very enjoyable, but I can only take so much of Danny’s crude yelps. Old closes very well with “Float On”, which like most of the album, discusses the hardships of growing up in Detroit’s Linwood area. From food-stamps to crack cocaine, he’s seen it all. The disturbing imagery feels very real on his lyrics. He’s an underrated lyricist who knows how to really engage the listener on an album. Old provides better diversity than XXX, and feels like it’s the next logical step in his hopeful and fast-growing career. He’s on top of his game so far, but I wonder how much potential he has before he hits a wall. Right now, it’s better to dwell on a very solid album that deserves the respect of many.

 

 

8.2

The Ghosts of Infedility: Why What Lies Beneath Is Worth a Watch

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When their daughter leaves home for college, an affluent Vermont couple begins to transition into their new life, alone in a massive house on a lake.  Troubled by loud arguments between her neighbors, Claire – once an accomplished concert cellist – becomes consumed with fear.  Left home alone for most of the day while her gifted genetic scientist of a husband, Norman, is away in his lab, Claire finds herself becoming obsessed with the couple next door.  Until, one particularly stormy night, she sees something she mistakes for a body being loaded into the back of a car.  In her heart, she knows she can’t leave it alone.  But will Claire be ready for what she uncovers the closer she gets to the truth?

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Misdirection, ghosts, domestic violence, abandonment, fidelity, ambition, marital trust – heady issues explored in Robert Zemeckis’ 2000 supernatural horror film starring Michelle Pfeiffer as Claire Spencer, Harrison Ford as Dr. Norman Spencer, James Remar as neighbor Warren Feur, Miranda Otto as his wife Mary Feur, Diana Scarwid as Claires friend Jody, and Wendy Crewson as Claire’s college friend, Elena.

What Lies Beneath is the Michelle Pfeiffer show.  Don’t buy the ticket to ride the ride unless you have even a modicum of interest in her.  By 2000 which saw the release of What Lies Beneath, one of Pfeiffer’s most commercially successful films, the actress was coming off a busy year of what had amounted in (more or less) tepid films (The Deep End of the Ocean, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Story of Us).

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The casting of Claire – a once accomplished artist, now a devoted mother and wife – was crucial for the success of What Lies Beneath.   Pfeiffer spends most of the film alone, dominating the scenes in near silence as she makes one fearful discovery after another, her grip on reality slowly unraveling.  Of course, Zemeckis has said that Pfeiffer was his only choice for the role[1], and while she is undoubtedly beautiful, with What Lies Beneath, she proves capable of holding her own in a horror film – at once giving us a character that is empathetic (key for a horror film) and utterly convincing.

It’s difficult to come at the film without discussing the narrative that unfolds about marriage and trust.  Much of the film’s plot is anchored in identity found and lost within the ties of marriage.  It’s one of the reasons I find What Lies Beneath such an interesting entry into the genre.  Okay, okay.  I’ll admit it, it’s sometimes fun to watch a horror film that’s not completely populated with clueless teenagers getting slaughtered.  And while I typically struggle with supernatural plots involving ghosts (or any mention of them), there is so much else going on in What Lies Beneath, I gladly put it aside to enjoy the film’s suspenseful, (and intentionally) Hitchcockian vibe.

The screenplay (written by Sarah Kernochan and Clark Gregg) just throws everything it can at it’s main character with a sort of relentless, sadistic cruelty.  A move, an empty nest, infidelity, violence, near fatal car accidents, a possession … by the time Claire reaches the film’s climax, it’s a wonder she retains any sense of self or reality.

Thanks to Kernochan and Gregg, long before that, before anything has really “happened” in the film, we know so much about the main character by watching her try to fill the hours with the daily grind of her new life – a life left a bit emptier in the wake of her daughter’s departure for school.  This proves essential for reeling us in, for making us commit.  As Claire faces her fate, I know you’ll be holding your breath along with her.

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And while many of the techniques employed by Zemeckis creates the feeling of a vacuum, it is necessary for constructing the atmosphere in which the character of Claire must finally face the truth about her life.  So, that feeling of discomfort you feel – it’s intentional, it’s crafted, and it’s … well, okay.  Performances by Harrison Ford, Diana Scarwid, and James Remar give the film an attractive, undeniable polish that, when garnered with a PG-13 rating, helped the film rake in serious cash at the box office with a purported $291M worldwide in receipts.

I’m not saying that the film is original, or unique.  Zemeckis has said he intentionally set out to craft a Hitchcockian thriller (check out the interview below) and I feel What Lies Beneath comes close.  It’s oft slow plot does mire down after the first 20 minutes or so and while the film has a genuine sort of creepiness factor to it, only those who find themselves irrevocably committed to seeing Claire’s character through to the end will remain enchanted.

Say what you will about “adult” horror, What Lies Beneath is a fun, if not slow, little ghost story that served it’s purpose.  It isn’t, nor was it ever intended to be, Zemeckis’ “masterpiece”.  After all, What Lies Beneath was filmed during the 14 month hiatus of the filming of Castaway - necessary for Tom Hanks’ remarkable weight loss.  What Lies Beneath allowed his crew to continue working so the studio would support Castaway‘s hiatus.

It’s worth a watch if you haven’t seen it (or you haven’t seen it in a while) for no other reason than the film’s final moments in which Zemeckis constructs the climax to What Lies Beneath.  It’s true the ending is a bit misaligned with the rest of the film’s pacing and sensibilities, but maybe that’s why I enjoy it.  As Claire struggles against the effects of the halothane, all sound fades away and we are left alone with the sound of the running water.  This scene is near perfect – regardless of the film that surrounds it.  Pfeiffer, who admits to being fearful of water, exudes horror film heroine in these moments.  You can watch the scene below, and – Try not to hold your breath.

Ti West’s Minimum Wage Ghost Story The Innkeepers

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During the final days of its operation, employees of the Yankee Pedlar – a grand, old Inn whose better days are now behind it – hope to catalog some of the supernatural events for which the Inn has become partially known.  As its last weekend begins, Claire and Luke – the only remaining staff – decide to check themselves into the Inn and remain there until Monday.  Joined by actress-turned-medium, Leanne Rease-Jones, the two settle in for the long weekend generally unprepared for what awaits them.

Directed by Ti West, The Innkeepers is the 2011 supernatural horror film starring Sara Paxton as Claire, Pat Healy as Luke, Kelly McGillis as Leanne Rease-Jones, Alison Bartlett as Gayle, Jake Ryan as Gayle’s kid, and Lena Dunham as the I-need-talk-to-someone barista next door.

theInnkeepers_1It’s easy to overlook the general awesomeness of The Innkeepers due to its runtime and slow-burn construction.  At 100 minutes, the film takes its sweet time building toward an ending that can’t be missed.  It’s this little kernel that sets The Innkeepers apart from almost every single one of its peers.  Films like Paranormal Activity and Insidious are solid at building necessary tension but neither of them have the universal approval of filmgoers for having delivered the goods by film’s end.  The Innkeepers definitely delivers.

The technique is seriously old school – Ti West purposely draws out the building of plot by spending a lavish amount of time on character development.  It’s in these moments that the real story theInnkeepers_2of The Innkeepers is unfurling.  If you give yourself to it, the reward at the film’s end is all the more gut wrenching.  If you find yourself bored to tears and wanting to turn it off, simply pause the film, grab a drink (coffee works, too) and relax.  The Innkeepers is as much about what you bring to the film as what it will deliver.  In this way, The Innkeepers is sure to find a serious base in fans of ’60s and ’70s horror films where stories were typically built around good/average people and the horrible event(s) that befell them.  Without the backstory, there was no scope, perspective, or barometer for the ensuing horror.

Here’s the reality.  52 minutes.  That’s about how long it will take for you to get a sense of the film’s overall thrust.

So, yes, it’s true the film is short on gore and big scares – at least initially.  This shouldn’t deter you, though.  There are other films in the genre that you can turn to if that’s all you’re looking for.  Check out The Innkeepers if you enjoy a character-driven thrill.

theInnkeepers_3Kelly McGillis, who had just come off a role in another horror film – Stake Land – the year prior, is a delight.  As an actress turned medium, it’s easy to dismiss her character – her motives, her insights, her warnings.  Think of her as the naysayer that everyone sees as a flake but who turns out to be the only one with even the faintest idea of what’s really going on.  She’s absolutely pivotal and I love seeing McGillis working, especially in the horror genre.  I love that she owns her age, her gray hair, and I applaud her for it.  In fact, I think she looks amazing.  After all, in the words of her character, “we all have our moments.”  And now, as McGillis enters a new stage of her career, may be hers.

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Sara Paxton who, as the young, wide-eyed asthmatic Claire, weaves a delicate performance between sensitive and naive, is nothing less than utterly lovable.  Her antics will have you laughing – the scene in which she takes out the garbage is among my favorites.

Told in a three-act structure The Innkeepers does a great job of poking fun at the reemergence of the spiritualist/paranormal movement and its mounting profitability thanks to renewed public interest in hauntings and supernatural events.   But really, it all boils down to the same thing.  As humans, facing our inevitable mortality, we can’t help but want there to be something else, something more, beyond what we can readily see or sense, beyond our existence.  As Claire and Luke face the close of the Yankee Pedlar, there is something inside them that can’t let go, that doesn’t want it to end.  Not until they have their proof.

We all know to be careful what you ask for.

If and when you make it to the third and final act, everything you’ve invested so far will finally pay off.   Ti West drains the final scenes of almost all light, forces his characters into the basement (again and again), and – at long last – gives you what you pressed play for.

Official site: http://www.magnetreleasing.com/theinnkeepers/

Trailer w/ introduction by Sara Paxton:

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Why a PG-13 Rating Spelled Success for Insidious

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Haunted houses.  Demon possession.  Seances.  The Further.  Astral Projection.  For the Lambert family, any hope of having a normal life gradually fades after their young son Dalton falls into a non-waking state.  As they struggle to make sense of what’s happening to their son, Renai and Josh are overcome with a feeling of never being alone.  Not quite.  Renai is tormented by noises and visions of things that aren’t there.  The events escalate until the family decides to move in hopes of getting away from whatever seeks to torment them.  But, once installed in their new home, things only become worse.  When Josh’s mother suggests they call in an expert, the Lamberts aren’t nearly prepared to learn the truth about what’s happening to their family.

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Starring Patrick Wilson as Josh Lambert, Rose Byrne as Renai Lambert, Ty Simpkins as Dalton Lambert, Barbara Hershey as Lorraine Lambert, Lin Shaye as Elise Rainier, Leigh Whannell as Specs, and Angus Sampson as Tucker, Insidious is the 2011 supernatural horror film directed by James Wan and written by Leigh Whannell – the team that brought us Saw.

I am a big fan of James Wan and of screenwriter Leigh Whannell.  The duo have a consistency about them that borders on the unreal.  What’s more, even though their work feels familiar, it almost never feels obvious or predictable.  I’m also a fan of the concept of astral projection.  Perhaps dismissed as too “new age”, or misunderstood altogether, the subject of astral projection has been much underused in film.  I’m happy to say that Insidious makes fun and creative use of the concept.  I’m also a fan of Patrick Wilson (The ConjuringLittle ChildrenAngels in America) whose resume boasts some complicated, nuanced performances that I’ve enjoyed watching time and again.

There.  With my biases set out, let’s talk.

Insidious is a rarity.  Made for about $1.5M and rated PG-13, Insidious was able to do something other films in the genre often only dream of – turn a relatively respectable profit: $90+M.  By capitalizing on a larger audience (and being widely entertaining) this modest horror film cashed in and it did so with very little violence and next to no bloodshed.  Does the PG-13 rating and lack of violence/gore mean it isn’t a “real” horror film?

Hell-to-the-no.

The horror factor of Insidious is, by necessity, internal – the fear of a parent that their child will be injured, the fear of a child of being alone, the fear of what lies in the darkness beyond our senses.  James Wan does a masterful job of using gothic-style scares to sculpt an atmospheric and spine-tingling film.

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Sure, there are moments that may feel a bit stagey, even Disneyland-ish, but remember you’re not watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, here.  This film also is meant to be enjoyed by a younger set.  A set filled with, perhaps, fewer biases and jaded sensibilities as yourself.  As a result, the film becomes a slightly lopsided experience – with the beginning half of the film building an almost impossible tension that may not really be satisfactorily resolved by the film’s (too literal?) ending.

There is a stillness to Insidious that, in direct contrast to many other pieces in the genre, builds much of the film’s tension and ambiance.  For those with a fear of being watched, Insidious knows where you live and breathe.  Others, who love to be shocked and awed, may be disappointed.

Insidious is a moderately (re)watchable film.  The same cannot be said for every entry into the horror film genre.  Many want to disgust you, shock you, disturb you to the point of making you look away from the screen.  What’s the point of that?  You’re there to see the movie, not look at the palms of your hands.  Sure, it’s great fun to be *that* unnerved in a safe environment, but it doesn’t do much in the way of telling a story.  It disengages the audience and results in the loss of their suspension of disbelief.

The true power of a horror film lies in its ability to draw its audience in, and keep them there – no matter how uncomfortable they may feel – to face those things that wait just beyond the darkness.

Would you let your kids watch it?  That’s a discussion for another writer on another blog – I’m not here to tell you if Insidious is “appropriate”, I’m not Big Sister.  I will say that, if pressed, it’s not exactly easy to come up with a moral bottom line to the film.  Is it to be always mindful of your actions?  Is it to respect all things, especially those for which our understanding is lax?  You be the judge.

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And yes, some of the film may invoke laughter on your part.  It’s okay to laugh while you’re watching a horror film.  Who said it isn’t?  I know that the depiction of the demon lurking over Dalton’s empty body has garnered a lot of attention - some enthusiasticsome laughably negative - and I don’t know if it will reappear in the upcoming sequel to the film.  I do know this.  The red-faced demon is portrayed by Joseph Bishara, the film’s score composer, and I’m sure he’ll be long remembered by an entire generation – even if they’re laughing a bit.

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