Archive for the ‘Canadian films’ Tag

Grave Encounters (2011)   Leave a comment

“It’s hard to beat a derelict mental institution used in Dr. Mengele-like medical experiments for pure heart-warming joy.”
-Some guy in a straitjacket

The crew of a Ghost Hunters-esque TV show led by Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson) lock themselves into an abandoned mental hospital in Maryland to look for spooks. Will they find any? Three guesses.


He seems overly cheery about this.

Lance and his team, Sasha (Ashleigh Gryzko), Matt (Juan Riedinger), and T.C. (Merwin Mondesir) investigate paranormal activity. They look for legends and local rumors about long-abandoned abattoirs, orphanages, and schools and, armed with their Scooby-Doo starter kit—Geiger counter, ectoplasm detector, special hand-held tape recorder that picks up ghost chat, a metric shit-ton of cameras, and crappy walkie-talkies, our valiant ghost spotters, hunt for things that go bump in the night.


Pose away, Matt.

The foursome and their resident mystic, Houston (Mackenzie Gray), who looks like the middle-aged love child of Eric Roberts, Robert Davi, and Willem Dafoe, get a tour of the facility from the caretaker, Ken (Bob Rathie) complete with descriptions of the horrific treatment of the former inmates, the experimental surgeries performed, and the ghastly suicides of the poor tortured souls. Every new horror has the crew licking their lips and seeing ratings nirvana.


“Eat your heart out, Zak Bagans.”

To add to the general eeriness, Lance has Ken lock them into the asylum all night and promise to return in the morning. Great plan, Lance. Matt sets up the stationary cameras and they head out with a hand-held one to prowl the long hallways in search of spirits. At first, their trip is uneventful, but they persevere, consulting with Houston and checking the readings on their ghost gizmos. When the team are manhandled by invisible forces, they decide to pack it in and wait for Ken. Unfortunately, Ken doesn’t show and they’re stuck in a creepy insane asylum with a bunch of spooks.


Cozy

Directors, Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz (The Vicious Brothers), establish the appropriately sinister atmosphere early on. The dark hallways are full of doors, each leading to another filthy room bedecked in peeling paint, graffiti, and disused wheelchairs. Through subtle exposition we learn the team know little more than the terminology used in paranormal, um, science and that Houston is merely playing a part. There are quite a few jump scares and the found footage aspect comes off naturally.


“A little paint, a few throw pillows…it can work.”

I liked Grave Encounters. I’m not usually a huge fan of shaky-cam cinematography, but they pulled it off here. The cast of actors were new to me and did an effective job of making me like them and not want them to die horribly. They were also not soul-crushingly stupid. As the film progressed and emotions took over, they made some less-than-stellar decisions, but they were running away from disembodied asylum inmates with grudges, so they sort of have an excuse.


“Take your stinkin’ paws off me, you damn dirty inmates!”

I do wish these nutty ‘let’s stay overnight in the labyrinthine haunted house where police found 68 bodies skewered to the fenced-in part of the back garden’ folks would change it up just a bit. First, DRAW A FUCKING MAP! You’re in a place you’ve never seen before with a vast system of identical halls, empty rooms, staircases that go nowhere, and ghosts and it’s as dark as a coal mine at midnight. Leave a trail of breadcrumbs or something. Mark up the walls. Come on, guys, think! Second, bring a weapon. Carry a bat, a Maglite, a pointed stick, or some damn thing, and don’t, DO NOT drop the knife, bottle, or curtain rod the second after you use it to poke the evil spectral presence in the eye. You might need it again later.


Correct.

The main issue I have with Grave Encounters is the prologue. In the beginning of the film, a TV executive sitting in a production booth gives us a completely unnecessary introduction to the crew’s adventure. We don’t need it. The conversation among the protagonists explains it all without the tacked-on looking start, but the segment would make sense if it were bookended by an epilogue at the end. The abrupt ending with no explanation was unsatisfying. I get that some filmmakers want to withhold closure to amp up the sense of unease, or leave room for the sequel, but it left me with the same feeling I get when I get distracted and all the water drains out of the tub. Either do a scene at both ends or, if you must choose, do one at the end explaining how you got the film. Did kids, using the hospital as a place to party, find the equipment, watch the tapes, and turn them over to the police? Did criminals run across the pricey-looking stuff while dividing their loot after a hold-up, pawn it, get busted, and lead authorities back to the asylum? Did an apparition drop it off in the TV station mail slot? Enquiring minds want to know.


“It was not delivered by the US Postal Service. I can tell you that.”

Grave Encounters was entertaining and scary. It did its job.

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Cube²: Hypercube (2002)   1 comment

A handful of strangers awaken in a cube. They have no idea how they got there. The cube is attached to other cubes and they climb from one to the other in a vain attempt to figure out who put them there and how to get out.


“We’ll call the cubes Tom, Dick, and Harry. No, wait.”

Ok. I’ll admit it. I saw Cube and thought it was an interesting concept. It was more interesting when Pirandello, Sartre, and Serling thought of it, but no matter. The film had some bright spots, but it didn’t quite gel. I thought maybe they’d nail it down in Cube²: Hypercube. My hopes were dashed about four minutes into the film.


“What’s my motivation?”

In the first film, I cared somewhat about a couple of the characters and was drawn into their struggle to find the key to their Rubik’s Cube prison. In the second film, I just wanted it to end. The characters, all connected in different ways to the company, Izon, which is obviously evil because they produce armaments and their employees know math, are so completely underdeveloped, it’s tough to care about them. Then, there’s the dialogue. Cribbed from any number of ‘scenes for actors’ type books and probably workshopped in an improv studio somewhere in Toronto, the conversations reeked of cheesy experimental community theatre and the acting, from much of the cast, carried the same stench. Kari Matchett and Geraint Wyn Davies, both familiar faces, were the exceptions. They’re both solid character actors who must have felt hoodwinked after reading the script.


“I found the stage directions. The characters climb into another cube and talk some more.”
“Terrific.”

Anyway, the cube denizens move from cube to cube trying to avoid the evil, and sharp tesseracts that appear and expand and oh I don’t care. Mean computer-generated shapes attack people we don’t care about and then the same characters reappear because parallel universes! Yep. The gang bandy about terms like quantum and gravity shift and draw pictures of cubes and all I thought about was how smart it was for the filmmakers to choose a big cube for the set because they’d only have to make one.


“I knew I hated geometry for a reason.”

There was a twist at the end which didn’t make sense and served no purpose and I didn’t care about anyway. Something something evil corporation experimental cube? I have no idea. I get when a film purposely withholds closure to make a point. I feel like in this case, the lack of a satisfying ending was less by design and more by “Hey, I know! We’ll make the whole thing a conspiracy and junk.”
“Great idea, Tad.”


“Mrs. Paley, you’re smudging the prism.”

No one connected to the film is called Tad, but it fit. The trouble with a conspiracy film without a well-defined conspiracy is you at least need Elliott Gould or Mel Gibson to liven things up and they need something lucid to say. Cube 2: Electric Boogaloo fails on both counts.


“She’s right, you know.”

Cube²: Hypercube lasts an hour and thirty-four minutes. You’re better off spending an extra twenty-one minutes and watching Con Air.


“Turn the channel or the bunny gets it.”

 

Pontypool (2008)   5 comments

aapont

Wow.  After seeing PONTYPOOL on a bunch of best of lists, I finally watched it.  What a fantastic film!  A talk-radio disc jockey, his engineer, and producer broadcast their usual morning news/talk show with a difference.  On this particular morning, the sleepy, rural town of Pontypool, Ontario has a tiny problem.  Hordes of people run amok and no one knows why.  As the three contact their usual news sources and their field reporter to get to the bottom of this weird phenomenon, their initial cynicism gives way to worry, then abject fear.  Why is this happening?  The three main characters remain in the dark until Dr. Mendez (Hrant Alianak) climbs into the basement window of the radio station and joins the party.  The doctor has a sensible theory as to why the local population has started to lose it.  It has to do with language and affection and words and stuff.  Is that the answer?

aahr
“Can you stop repeating that?”

PONTYPOOL is a play-like film.  The majority of it takes place in a radio station basement.  I love play-like films.  I’d rather watch a few well-developed characters exchange words than see a truckload of lens flares and an impossible stunt, but that’s me.  The four main characters hold your attention without getting shrill or desperate.  Writer Tony Burgess gives us a character-driven story with true suspense and he does it in a classic film way.  Ripping pages from the books of Jacques Tourneur’s film CAT PEOPLE and Steven Spielberg’s modern classic, JAWS, PONTYPOOL tells its horror story subtlely, without revealing too much.  The script takes its time.  We meet the small cast and get to know them so when they’re in danger, we care.

aaeng
“We’re gonna need a bigger radio station.”

I don’t want to give away any of the clever plot so I’ll say this.  PONTYTPOOL is one of the best films of any genre I’ve seen in years.  It’s witty and intelligent and real.  Real scary, that is.  Stephen McHattie owns this film.  His DJ, Grant Mazzy is a messy, arrogant, and whip-smart alcoholic and we can’t wait to hear what he has to say.  His engineer, Laurel-Ann Drummond (Georgina Reilly) is a smart, capable woman, and his producer, Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle), is responsible, intelligent, and kind.  It’s rare that I like all the major players in a horror film, but there it is.

aach
“I’ve always relied on the kindness of DJs.”

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t want to reveal the surprises in PONTYPOOL and you’ll enjoy it a lot more if I don’t.  Trust me, you want to see this.  Parts of the film stand out.  Apart from the amazing performances by all four of the major cast members, there’s also the off camera role Rick Roberts plays as field reporter, Ken Loney.  Without ever appearing on screen, Roberts paints a picture.  The obituary segment which appears mid-film is also incredibly effective using only still photographs and narration.  Just amazing.  I love  PONTYPOOL.  Many films show up on must-see lists.  This film truly belongs there.

aamc

haunty

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