Cleaning Out The DVR: Neverknock (dir by Sheldon Wilson)

(Hi there!  So, as you may know because I’ve been talking about it on this site all year, I have got way too much stuff on my DVR.  Seriously, I currently have 190 things recorded!  I’ve decided that, on January 15th, I am going to erase everything on the DVR, regardless of whether I’ve watched it or not.  So, that means that I’ve now have only have a month to clean out the DVR!  Will I make it?  Keep checking this site to find out!  I recorded NeverKnock off of the SyFy on October 16th!)

Sitting in a small town, there’s a deserted and dilapidated house.  The address is 59 Oakwood Lane.  In 1986, three teenagers were found dead in the house.  Carved in their backs were three words: “Never never knock.”  Forty years later, the murders remain unsolved but everyone has heard the legend.  If you knock on the door, the Never Knock Creature comes to life and uses your own fears to kill not only you but also all of your friends…

Okay, I know what you’re thinking.  “Easy solution to this problem!  Don’t knock on the freaking door!”

But let’s be honest here.  If I lived in that town, I probably wouldn’t knock on that door but I’d sure as Hell beg all of my friends to do it.  After all, who wouldn’t want to see what would happen?  When I was in college, there was a legend that one of the hallways of my dorm was haunted by Wicked Wanda.  They said Wicked Wanda could kill you but I still begged my roommate to go look for her.  Urban legends are like wet paint signs.  You have to encourage people you know to test them.

Needless to say, that is what happens in Neverknock.  Grace (Dominque Provost-Chalkley) is the new girl in town.  She’s still struggling to recover from a personal tragedy.  Her best friend, Leah (Jodelle Ferland), invites her to spend Halloween night with her and her friends.  Grace agrees but she makes the mistake of bringing along her bratty younger sister, Jenna (Lola Flanery).  Jenna dresses up like the devil for Halloween and she soon proves that it’s not a totally inappropriate costume by knocking on the door to 59 Oakwood Lane.  The Never Knock Creature comes to life, Jenna promptly disappears, and Leah, Grace, and all their friends find themselves being stalked by a creature that uses their worst fears to kill them.

(So, if the Never Knock Creature came after me, I’d have to worry about heights, drowning, dogs, fire, deserted barns, dead wasps lying unseen in the carpet, odd numbers, and the wire popping out of my favorite bra and stabbing me.  Good to know.)

Anyway, I liked Neverknock.  As is typical of Sheldon Wilson’s SyFy film, Neverknock has a ton of atmosphere and the pace never lags.  Wilson changes things up a little in this movie by having the fright scenes occur during both the day and the night.  For some reason, to me, it’s even scarier when someone gets attacked by an evil creature during the middle of the day.  Even with the sun out and hundreds of people around, there’s no escape from the Never Knock Creature.  Admittedly, Neverknock‘s characters are not exactly the most complex group of people to show up in a horror film.  For the most part, they’re just teenagers who don’t understand that importance to staying together in one group while being stalked by a demonic force.  But the cast is made up of appealing performers and veteran actor Nicholas Campbell makes a welcome appearance.  You don’t want to see any of them die and that’s really all that a movie like this demands.

And finally, the Never Knock Creature is seriously creepy!  When he first responds to Jenna knocking on that door … AGCK!

All in all, this was a good SyFy horror film.

Cleaning Out The DVR, Again #34: Revenge Porn (dir by Monika Mitchell)

(Lisa is currently in the process of trying to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing all 40 of the movies that she recorded from the start of March to the end of June.  She’s trying to get it all done by the end of July 11th!  Will she make it!?  Keep visiting the site to find out!)

Revenge Porn

The 34th film on the DVR was Revenge Porn, which I recorded off of Lifetime on June 18th.

Here’s two important things to know about Revenge Porn:

First of all, when it originally aired, I live tweeted it on twitter, along with several other friends.  Needless to say, we used the hashtag #RevengePorn.  Also needless to say, using #RevengePorn as a hashtag ended up getting me a lot of attention from people who weren’t necessarily watching the film.  I picked up a lot of new followers that night.

(Of course, most of them left once I started to tweet about Big Brother.)

Secondly, when it came time to write this review, I wanted to make sure that I had at least one image to go along with it.  So, innocently, I did a google image search on “Revenge Porn.”  That turned out to be a big mistake.  If you want to find pictures from this film, I suggest that you do a search for “Elisabeth Rohm Lifetime movie.”  It’ll be a lot less traumatic.

As for the film itself, it starts out like a more respectable version of Break-Up Nightmare.  The innocent and college-bound Peyton Harris (Tiera Skovbye) is up in her bedroom, taking topless pictures, while her overprotective parents (Elisabeth Rohm and David Lewis) are downstairs.  In fact, the only real difference between the opening of Break-Up Nightmare and Revenge Porn is that Peyton isn’t taking the pictures for a boyfriend.  Instead, she’s considering whether or not to get a boob job.

Otherwise, the first hour of the film plays out pretty much the same as Break-Up Nightmare.  Peyton’s best friend (Jodelle Ferland) is jealous over Peyton’s great future and, in a moment of spite, sends naked pictures of Peyton to everyone at school.  However, things get even worse when Carl Cook (a thoroughly creepy performance fro Levi Meaden) comes across Peyton’s pictures and posts them on his revenge porn website, ExMyEx.  Cook claims that what he’s doing is perfectly legal and that it’s the fault of his victims for taking naked pictures in the first place.  Peyton’s mom decides to try to bring the website down and Carl seeks revenge…

However, after about an hour of this, the film goes totally crazy.  Angered over their attempts to shut him down, Carl starts to harass the Harrises in every over-the-top way imaginable. Since Carl Cook is a hacker (which, in the world of Lifetime films, is the equivalent of being an MCU-style super villain), there is literally nothing that he can’t do.

Send threatening texts to every member of the family?  Carl can do it!

Send and re-send naked pictures of Peyton to everyone on the planet?  Carl can do it!

Cancel everyone’s credit cards and destroy the family’s finances?  Carl can do it!

Cancel Peyton’s college scholarships?  Carl can do it!

Issue a warrant for Peyton’s father arrest?  Carl can do it!

Eventually, the Harrises even find themselves being chased by a drone, which Carl is apparently controlling from his super villain lair!

When it comes to movies about creepy hackers and naked pictures, Break-Up Nightmare is definitely the one to go with.  But Revenge Porn has its own strengths.  Both Rohm and Skovbye give good performances and, seriously, as played by Levin Meaden, Carl Cook is one of the most loathsome villains to ever appear in a Lifetime movie.

If you’re a fan of the Lifetime way of telling cinematic morality tales, Revenge Porn is one to keep an eye out for.  Hopefully, Lifetime will be do a Revenge Porn/Break-Up Nightmare double feature at some point in the future.

Film Review: ParaNorman (dir. by Sam Fell and Chris Butler)

I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting much from the new animated film ParaNorman.  As much as I love animated films, ParaNorman‘s trailer had never really captured my imagination.  (Or, at the very least, it hadn’t captured my imagination in the way that the trailers for Brave and Wreck-It Ralph did.)  For the most part, the only reason that ParaNorman was even on my radar was because it was advertised as being the latest film from the creators of Coraline and the only reason that Jeff and I ended up seeing this film last Friday instead of The Expendables 2 was because I had a slight headache and didn’t want to have to spend two hours listening to men yelling, guns firing, and bombs exploding.

In other words, I saw ParaNorman with low-to-no expectations and sometimes, that’s the perfect way to go to the movies because I absolutely loved ParaNorman.

ParaNorman tells the story of Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a shy boy who has the ability to talk to the dead.  This talent comes in handy because Norman happens to live in the haunted New England town of Blithe Hollow. 

I fell in love with ParaNorman during the opening credits, in which we watch as Norman talks to the spirts of everyone from an unfortunte aviator to a squished dog, all the while simply trying to get to school on time.  In this short, wonderfully animated sequence, we learn everything that we need to know about Norman and the town of Blithe Hollow.  We learn that Norman is shy, he’s lonely, and he’s also one of the few people in the world nice enough to actually be polite to a pushy ghost demanding his attention.  As for the town of Blithe Hollow, it’s a memorably ugly creation, full of ominous buildings that seem to have sprung straight from a nightmare of German Expressionism. 

Blithe Hollow, we soon learn, is a town that’s haunted by a lot more than just a few restless spirits.  The town was founded by Puritans who, as the film begins, are mostly remembered for their witch hunts.  Centuries ago, the town founders burned a witch at the stake and that witch cursed the town.  While it wouldn’t be right for me to give away too many details of the plot, it turns out that the witch’s curse is very much real and, as a result of a several complications and mistakes on the part of both Norman and the citizens of Blithe Hollow, the town is soon overrun by zombies. 

In a twist that would make George Romero proud, the citizens of Blithe Hollow soon prove themselves to be a hundred times more monsterous and dangerous than the film’s actual monsters.  However, as only Norman can actually talk to the dead, he soon discovers that there’s more to the “zombie rampage” then meets the eye.  Soon, it becomes apparent that Norman’s the only one who can give the witch what she wants and save Blithe Hollow from the sins of the past.

Not surprisingly, there were a lot of children at the showing that Jeff and I attended and ParaNorman had enough silly moments to keep them entertained.  They seemed to enjoy the comedic relief provided by Norman’s fat and loyal friend Neil (voiced by Tucker Albrizzi).  That said, ParaNorman isn’t really a film for children.  It starts out slow and wisely devotes a good amount of time  to establishing the oppressive atmosphere of Blithe Hollow.  The film’s resolution comes not with the spectacle that we’ve been conditioned to expect from animated films but instead, the movie ends on a rather subdued, almost mournful note.  ParaNorman‘s humor is combined with a very real sense of melancholy and loss.  This is a film that can be enjoyed by kids but only truly understood by adults.

(If Dellamorte Dellamore is ever remade as an animated film, I expect the end result will look a lot like ParaNorman.)

 Don’t get me wrong, ParaNorman is a funny film that’s full of clever details and smart vocal performances. Along with Smit-McPhee and Albrizzi, the voice cast includes Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, John Goodman, Jeff Garlin, and Leslie Mann.  All of them deliver their lines with just the right combination of sincerity and melodrama.  However, the film is really stolen by Jodelle Ferland, who voices the condemned witch and who brought me to very real tears towards the end of the movie.

ParaNorman is hardly a perfect film but’s a nicely ambitious one and it has a good message about tolerance.  I wasn’t expecting much from it and I ended up adoring it.  Perhaps I should lower my expectations more often.

Quickie Review: The Cabin in The Woods (dir. by Drew Goddard)

“If you hear a strange sound outside… have sex.”

If there was one thing the meltdown and subsequent bankruptcy of MGM ended doing it was shelving the Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon horror film The Cabin in The Woods for almost three years. The film was directed by Goddard who also helped co-write the screenplay with Joss Whedon and what we get is one of the smartest and most innovative horror films to come in over a decade. For fans of the tv shows Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and Angel (not to mention Dollhouse) this horror film just reinforces the notion that Joss Whedon knows how to write smart dialogue and premises without ever getting too self-referential and deconstructionist (I’m looking at you Kevin Williamson) or too smart-talky (a stank-eye at you Aaron Sorkin).

There’s really no way to properly review The Cabin in The Woods without spoiling the films many different surprises and twists and turns. I will say that the film does a peculiar opening that focuses not on the five college students headed to the cabin in the woods of the film’s title, but on two men (Richard  Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) in your typical office attire doing the walk and talk about family home life and the like. We see that they’re technicians in an unnamed industrial facility that wouldn’t look out of place in one of the many governmental facilities we often see in film. The film will return to these two men and their facilities and other people working within often in addition to telling the story of the five college students and the growing danger they find themselves in as night falls in the woods.

To say anymore would definitely be a spoiler.

I will continue on and say that for a horror film written to self-reference other horror film conventions and tropes what Goddard and Whedon have ultimately done was celebrate the genre itself and how much of an impact it has had in society. Unlike films like the Scream franchise, The Cabin in the Woods doesn’t knowingly wink at the audience about how cool it is for pointing out all the horror cliches and stereotypes we’ve come to expect in the horror genre. Instead the film actually treats its audience to be smart enough to see the homage to past horror films both good and bad without ever drawing attention to the fact that they’re pointed out.

Another thing which makes this film so fun to watch is how much every character in the film comes across as fully realized individuals. Even the college students who we first think of as your typical horror film stereotypes (the jock, the slut, the virgin, the brain and the stoner) end up being more than we’re led to believe. All of this actually occurs right in the beginning and this helps the audience join in on the fun that both Goddard and Whedon are having in turning the horror genre on its head right up to it’s surprising conclusion. It helps that the cast did quite a great job realizing their characters. As the film progresses we even begin to get a sense that who the villains in the film may or may not be who we think.

There’s a sense of fun and the darkly comic to the film as well. Every one-liner and comedic beats we get throughout the film doesn’t have a sense of the cynical to them. It comes across through dialogue and actions by both groups in the film in such a natural way that they never make those saying the lines break the fourth wall. Most films that try to deconstruct genre films tend to get too cutesy with the breaking the fourth wall gimmick that the audience can’t help but be pulled out of the suspension of disbelief they’ve put themselves in. This has a way of making such genre films less fun and celebratory and more of making fun of the people who enjoy such things.

The Cabin in The Woods manages that rare accomplishment of being a horror film that retains not just the horrific aspect of the genre but also add such a darkly comic sense to the whole proceeding with such a deft touch from Goddard and Whedon that we don’t know whether to call it straight horror or a horror-comedy. Some might even see the film as an entertaining treatise on the nature of the horror film genre of the last quarter-century. Both Goddard and Whedon have already called this film as their answer to the current trend of the “torture porn” that was popularized with the help of such recent horror franchises like Hostel, Saw and those made by Rob Zombie. Where those films celebrated the concept of inflicting pain not just on the characters on the screen but those who watch them with The Cabin in The Woods we finally get a reminder why we love the horror films of the past. It’s through the sense of that adrenaline rush that a tension build-up leading to a horror money shot but without becoming overly gratuitious and reveling in the pain of the horror.

Some have said that The Cabin in The Woods is the best horror film of 2012. I won’t even argue with that statement since it is true. I will put it out there that Cabin in The Woods might just be one of the best films of 2012. The film is just that fun, smart and, overall, just plain awesome.

[I usually attach a trailer to reviews but this time doing it could spoil some of the surprises in the film]