Odd Thomas (2013) | The late Anton Yelchin stars in a frenetic adaptation of Dean Koontz’s supernatural thriller
‘I SEE DEAD PEOPLE. BUT THEN, BY GOD, I DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT’
In the Californian desert town of Pico Mundo, 20-year-old clairvoyant Odd Thomas (Anton Yelchin) becomes convinced a mysterious man is connected to some terrible catastrophe that is about to occur. With the help of a kindly police chief (Willem Dafoe) and girlfriend Stormy (Addison Timlin), Odd then sets out to unravel the mystery…
IN THIS ODD WE DON’T TRUST
Did you know that this life is just a boot camp for the next? Well, that’s the kind of platitudes that pour out of this glossy adaptation of Dean Koontz’s 2003 novel from Stephen Sommers, the man behind those cartoon-like Mummy films with Brendan Fraser. But if he’s hoping for another money-spinning franchise with Koontz’s novel, which has spawned a host of sequels and graphic novels, then he’s missed the mark on this one.
The late Anton Yelchin’s portrayal of Koontz’ dorky clairvoyant ghost buster is just plain annoying. Odd might be a nerd, but he’s also a wisecracking smart-arse whose ‘psychic magnetism’ makes him attractive to every girl he meets. He’s so full of himself, given to cloying statements like ‘Evil is coming and it’s up to me to find out whose holding the gun’, that the film quickly becomes irksome. And this isn’t helped by butt-clenching dialogue like: ‘I’m a woman. We all have issues. It’s what keeps us interesting and you men interested’.
It’s a shame really because the film has a kooky kinetic energy and features some genuinely frightening CGI monsters, the bodach: wraith-like spirits that can literally smell death. But Sommers’ sledgehammer approach makes it hard for the viewer to feel for Odd, especially in the film’s closing moments when our All American hero saves the day but endures a terrible personal loss.
Odd Thomas gets its Film4 premiere screening today at 9pm; and is available on DVD in the UK from Metrodome Distrbution, and can also be rented for £3.45 from Metrodome VOD.
If you’re looking for senseless gun-toting violence and jokey Mockney banter, then prepare to be disappointed, because writer/director Gerard Johnson has crafted a blistering thriller that bites.
Bent undercover drug squad cop DS Michael Logan (Peter Ferdinando) has his territory marked – doing deals with the local West London gangs, while keeping his superiors sweet, and his instincts have always kept him one step ahead of the game. But when a pair of ruthless Albanian sibling criminals muscle in, and an investigator (Stephen Graham) and a embittered detective (Richard Dormer) start sniffing around, Logan’s fractured world spirals out of control…
Hyena starts off very bloody and keeps on bleeding until the bitter end. Gerard Johnson’s London is an urban jungle where good and dirty cops try to outdo each other, while the city’s warring gangs rule the streets. In this violent world, good and evil is blurred indeed – and no more so than in Peter Ferdinando’s super bent Logan. Forced to take desperate measures to recoup the money he’s lost in a gang deal gone bad, the corrupt copper might be deserving of everything he gets, but he’s also got a good heart, as witnessed when he tries to help a woman (Elisa Lasowski) escape from human traffickers. And Ferdinando plays him with grit and emotion. It’s both powerful and painful to watch.
Many of the film’s nocturnal shots of council estates and nightclub interiors may have an arty Edward Hopper-esque hue, but Gerard’s camera aims for realism throughout, greatly helped by including non-actors and semi-improvised scenes. But he doesn’t hold back on the blood and violence, which includes rape, decapitation and dismemberment.
The film’s music, from The The’s Matt Johnson, meanwhile, is also a hugely important stylistic device – moving between discordant guitar strumming, amphetamine-laced disco, hip-hop and exotic ethnic beats, it emphasises the film’s multi-cultural Petri dish while also echoing Logan’s psyche. Thankfully, a soundtrack has been released from Death Waltz Records in the UK.
The final 20-minutes is a total adrenaline rush, as though all that coke and weed taken by the gangsters and cops – including Neil Maskell‘s right bastard Martin – has finally hit. But – and this is my only gripe – that ‘what’s he going to do now!’ final shot makes for a disappointing comedown.
Hyena is out on DVD in the UK from Metrodome Distribution, and includes as extra features, a making of featurette, interviews and theatrical trailer
• Listen to the soundtrack on Sound Cloud
While on assignment, hitmen Pinner (Billy Clarke) and Cully (Jack Gordon) wait for their target at the man’s home in the dead of night. To pass the time, Pinner relates the story of a dancer he knew in the 1960s who met an untimely death. The tale is interrupted, however, by strange noises coming from outside the house. Investigating, the hitmen soon discover the man they have come to eliminate is a black magician who collects the souls of the damned…
With all of the action happening off-screen and much of the 75minutes running time consisting of talk, director Sean Hogan‘s The Devil’s Business evokes radio dramas of old like the 1970s BBC series, The Price of Fear; stage plays like An Inspector Calls; and TV anthologies like Hammer House of Horror.
Occasionally there are some nice cinematic touches, particularly Pinner’s glowing eyes as he resumes his tale; a red ball bouncing down the stairs a la Fellini’s Toby Dammit; a comic scene in which Pinner shares a drink with a dead man; and a scary basement encounter – all accompanied by a superior sound score by Justin Greaves. But the lack of action is evident throughout. As such, The Devil’s Business is a creepy bedtime story that would work better in a horror anthology than as a feature. Just shave 15minutes and it would do quite nicely.
The Devil’s Business also screens on The Horror Channel (Sky 319, Virgin 149, Freesat 138), with the next showing on Monday 16 June at 10.55pm
Big Bad Wolves (2013) | Justice is served at a price in the brutal and scathing Israeli vigilante thriller
SOME MEN ARE CREATED EVIL
Following the disappearance of a number of young girls in a small Israeli town, hardened police detective Miki (Lior Ashkenazi) fingers socially awkward religious studies teacher Dror (Rotem Keinan) as the culprit. When Miki is caught on-camera using extreme violence while interrogating the teacher, he is forced to let him go and is suspended from the force.
Unable to let the case go, Miki pursues Dror, but the two men are then kidnapped by Gidi (Tzahi Grad), the father of one of the girls, whose headless body has just been discovered, who plans to extract a confession out of the teacher. But as the tension mounts and Dror maintains his innocence, the lines between justice and vengeance, innocence and guilt, become increasingly frayed. Just how far should you go before you accept a truth? And what does it cost you to find out?
MANIACS ARE ONLY AFRAID OF MANIACS
Big Bad Wolves comes from Israeli filmmakers Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, who are best known for their breakout festival hit, and Israel’s first slasher, the black comedy Rabies (check out my review here).
For their follow up, Keshales and Papushado have created a brutal scathing shocker that has divided both audiences and critics. Part giallo, part torture porn, part political comment, it’s really hard to pigeonhole this incredibly violent tale about child abduction and vigilante revenge, that even adds elements from the Hansel and Gretel fairytale into its sordid mix.
The political comment, laced with absurdist humour, is evident throughout, with much of it aimed at Israeli identity, attitudes towards their Arab neighbours, and the use of excessive force over due process and trial by jury. The vitriolic hate espoused by the characters as they dish out their extreme form of justice – which gets increasingly stomach churning as the film progresses – certainly does leave a bitter taste. But what really sends a shiver down the spine is how these characters end up appearing, which is best summed up in one of the film’s most chilling lines: ‘Smells like a barbeque. You have no idea how much I’ve missed that smell’. In the end you have to ask yourself, just who are the real big bad wolves in this world?
Big Bad Wolves is available on DVD in the UK through Metrodome Distribution and on Blu-ray in the UK from 101 Films
I SHOULD HAVE GONE ON THE SWAMP TOUR
After dispatching serial killer Victor Crowley with a shotgun and a chainsaw, Marybeth (Danielle Harris), the sole survivor of his murderous rampage of Honey Island swamp, takes his scalp to the authorities to prove he’s not just an urban legend.
Suspecting her of the mass killings, Sheriff Fowler (Zach Galligan from Gremlins fame) locks Marybeth up and sends out a group of officers and medics to recover the bodies. But when they too go missing, Lewis heads into the Louisiana swamp with some reinforcements, where a SWAT team is also looking for answers. And it’s not long before they do… for Crowley (Kane Hodder) has indeed regained his form and is ready to rumble.
Meanwhile, Fowler’s Crowley-obsessed journalist ex-wife Amanda (Caroline Williams) breaks Marybeth out of jail in a bid to find the one thing that will end Crowley’s curse – the ashes of his dead father. It’s then a race against time to get back to the swamp where Marybeth must personally hand over the remains before the SWAT and police teams are completely wiped out by the unstoppable killing machine.
EVIL NEVER DIES
You needn’t have seen the first two films to enjoy this latest Victor Crowley gore-fest, as the dungaree-wearing bayou bad boy’s bloody back story is revisited and expanded on here, and there’s a whole bunch of new victims for him to rip, shred and tear apart.
Creator/director Adam Green hands his monstrous creation over to BJ Connell, who takes great pleasure in poking fun at the contrived events of the previous film, while serving up a bloody brilliant new brew of thrills, spills and irreverent giggles.
The gloriously grisly highlights include a medic having his brains blown out of his skull with some cardio pads, the horrid SWAT leader getting his heart and spine ripped out, and a weedy officer having his arms torn off in revenge for bazookering Crowley’s cabin. The blood gushing is prolific and blackly comic: one poor medic has to choose which death would be worse: Crowley or a crocodile, while another utters the film’s best line: ‘I hid. And that’s the only reason why those are not my balls hanging from that tree’.
Look out for Adam Green playing a drunken Mardi Gras party reveller and the legendary Sid Haig, who has a hilarious cameo playing a racist war veteran who thinks its still 1953.
The Devil’s Rock (2011) | This demonic wartime action horror is short on thrills, shocks or surprises
It’s long been assumed that the Nazis were secretly involved in the occult during World War II. True or not, it makes for a great story, remember Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Keep? Well, here’s another one, shot in New Zealand, by British visual effects designer turned director Paul Campion.
On the eve of the D-Day landings, two soldiers on a mission to blow up Nazi gun installations in the occupied Channel Islands decide to undertake a rescue mission on a bunker where they believe people are being tortured. But they discover something far more frightening… a Gestapo officer (tasked with raising the forces of Hell to fight for the Nazi cause) and his demon slave (which is trying to break free from its bonds). What follows is a wordy battle of wits as the men try to dispatch the manipulative satantic creature. To quote one of the Kiwi soldiers: ‘There’s bad sheeet going on here!’.
The Devil’s Rock is beautifully shot and well-acted, but is devoid of depth and decidedly short on action, thrills, shocks or surprises. Most of the film is made up of wordplay about faith and politics making it better suited to a radio play or, if shortened, an episode in a horror anthology TV series. Gorehounds will also be disappointed to find only one cool sfx scene (involving a head being swallowed), plus the film is begging a proper soundtrack.
The 2011 UK DVD release includes an interesting making-of featurette in which the director, who mortgaged his house to fund the project, explains how he went about making the film (the creation of the gunshot sound effects is a highlight).
The Devil’s Rock also screens on The Horror Channel (Sky 319, Virgin 149, Freesat 138) with the next screening on Monday 17 February at 11.pm.[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aA14m8ydRUM%5D
Upstream Colour (2013) | A psychedelic love story for the modern age or pretentious arthouse nonsense?
THE STORY – I THINK!
Marketing director Kris (Amy Seimetz) is targeted by a thief who steals her identity and assets and doses her with a mind-altering worm. A pig farmer/doctor/sound engineer (Andrew Sensenig) saves her. As she recovers, she meets Jeff (Shane Carruth), who also starts feeling ill. The couple start seeing each other. They have sex in a field where lots of pigs run about. Everything is bathed in diffused lighting. Some orchids turn blue. Jeff leaves his boring corporate auditing job. Kris is sacked from hers. A litter of piglets run about. Kris and Jeff start sharing the same memories and hear strange sounds in their heads. The pig farmer/sound engineer/doctor gets shot. After discovering she is infertile, Kris gets a piglet as a substitute child. The film ends as it begins…
Upstream Colour is described as a modern-day fable exploring the connection between nature and the human psyche, drawing on American philosopher Henry David Thoreau’s transcendental 1854 autobiography, Walden; or Life in the Woods as its inspiration. Part love story, part poetic science-fiction, it is the second film from Shane Carruth, who writes, produces, directs and acts here. Carruth’s previous film was the 2004 time travel tale Primer, which was made for just $7000 and won a Sundance Special Jury Prize for Sound Design.
Upstream Colour has been hailed by critics as ‘visually imaginative’, ‘ground-breaking’ and ‘staggeringly original’, while its detractors have called it ‘pretentious’ and a ‘baffling mess’. As for me, well I remain… perplexed. There’s a mournful sense of emptiness and longing lurking in every shot, which often don’t link together, and I think Carruth is commenting on how we fail to connect with each other and the world (read: nature) around us.
Now, I might be totally wrong because I have never read Walden, but then maybe Carruth just wants us to mediate on what it could possibly be about – be it an allegory about love or a comment on self-medication, turning away from nature, and free will etc. If that’s his intention, then he’s certainly achieved it, despite the deadly dull characters who have more ‘issues’ than you can wave a stick at, ponderous story and wholly pretentious photography that wouldn’t look out of place in hipster ad campaign for Calvin Klein, Chanel or like. Whatever you think of it, Upstream Colour is truly one of a kind, and a film that certainly gets people talking. Cult destiny awaits!
Upstream Colour is out on Blu-ray and DVD from Metrodome Distribution