Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Jewel Staite, Connor Fox, Jerry Leggio, Kennon Kepper, Susie Ambromeit
Directed by Sheldon Wilson
My first encounter with the Mothman came in kindergarten. Being that I was all about dinosaurs and Godzilla and monster movies at the time, I gravitated towards the 000 section of the library, always checking out books on Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, and their ilk. One such book featured an entry on the Mothman of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, said to have terrorized townsfolk and caused a deadly bridge collapse in 1967. The accompanying drawing portrayed a Nosferatu-looking fiend with fangs, bat wings, and big red eyes eerily peeping through a window. Suffice to say, as a child of such a young age, that drawing made quite the impression on me despite being inaccurate to actual eyewitness descriptions of the creature.
In high school I read John Keel’s The Mothman Prophecies and learned that the allegedly true story was even weirder than I could have possibly imagined (Mothman, UFO sightings, Men in Black threatening witnesses, prophecies of doom, and so on). The 2002 Richard Gere movie version remains a sore subject for me because of how it so badly mistreated the source material. What should have been David Lynch by way of “The X-Files” instead jettisoned the extraterrestrial aspect in favor of a Sixth Sense-esque “psychological thriller” (as the film’s director insisted to avoid the dreaded scourge of being labeled as horror). I’m surprised it has taken this long for Syfy to finally make its own Mothman movie.
People in Point Pleasant that claimed to see the Mothman’s trademark glowing red eyes were said to experience burning and redness of their own eyes afterwards. Syfy’s Mothman takes it to the next level; this Mothman rips eyes out and is incapable of attacking victims that are blind because its powers all hinge on the victim being able to see it. This Mothman crawls out of mirrors like some J-horror ghost, becomes transparent and powerless when exposed to sunlight, and generally looks more like an ectoplasmic Man-Thing with wings. Pumpkinhead might be a more apt comparison given this Mothman is less a creature than a spectral avenger seeking violent revenge against those harboring dark hurtful secrets such as murder or, in this case, covering up an accidental death.
Director Sheldon Wilson succeeds in creating some spooky atmosphere while keeping things zipping along at a brisk pace, and the cast do their part as well, particularly Jerry Leggio, breathing some actual life into the clichéd blind old hermit that knows all about the monster role. Mothman‘s wings keep getting clipped by the script and not just nitpicky silliness like a pump-action shotgun with seemingly unlimited ammo. I hesitate to blame it all on the screenwriters. I know from past communications with Syfy writers that the producers and the network execs always have their hands in the creative cookie jar, and I’ve seen so many Syfy flicks that feature a town festival getting sacked by a monster or a natural catastrophe that I can only assume someone further up the filmmaking food chain made the call to have the Mothman show up at the town festival at the end and go on a random killing spree with little regard as to whether its doing so makes sense and even defies several of the rules previously established as to how it operates.
Mothman gets off to a dubious start with a group of teenage friends enjoying a day at the lake; a prank gone wrong leads to one’s kid brother drowning in a somewhat unrealistic manner in mere seconds. They all stand around his body after ten seconds of CPR fails to revive him and immediately begin freaking out about how nobody is going to believe them that this was an accident and their lives will be ruined because of it. Even the kid’s older brother is more concerned with weaseling out of the consequences. They decide to claim that he drowned after hitting his head. Being that the body has no head trauma to would support this theory, one of them picks up a big rock and bashes the corpse’s head in. To solidify their secret pact, they pass the rock around and each of them takes a turn cracking the kid’s skull. So by trying to cover up an accidental drowning to make it look even more like an accidental drowning, they create a crime scene that any police detective worth his badge would take one look at and assume a bunch of older teenagers savagely stoned a 13-year-old to death and dumped his body in the drink to make it look like an accident. And they somehow get away with this.
Ten years later, Katherine (Jewel Staite of “Firefly” fame) now works as a fledgling reporter in Washington, DC. Her boss wants her to do a story on the annual Mothman Festival held in her hometown of Point Pleasant, West Virginia. She returns home to find her old circle of friends still living there and still haunted by that prank gone wrong. Ex-boyfriend Derek still pines for her so, naturally, he’s happy to see her. The others tend to treat her with varying degrees of resentment, possibly because she appears to be the least traumatized by that night. No sooner does Katherine return than the town’s celebrated urban legend comes alive as the Mothman begins killing off the friends one at a time.
Alternate title: Mothman Knows What You Did Ten Summers Ago.
Because Mothman strives (and often succeeds) to be a darker and more well-rounded horror flick than most Syfy monster movies that openly embrace and even flaunt their schlocky nature or were made by people that clearly did not have any ambition whatsoever, it makes it harder to overlook the befuddling moments when the story scuttles its own internal logic, especially during the finale when it completely goes off the rails. I still enjoyed a good bit of Mothman, but those frustrating lapses in logic left me seeing red for reasons not associated with Mothman’s eyes.
Mothman flies off with a character that surely would have been killed only for that character to magically reappear alive minutes later without explanation other than a dialogue exchange along the lines of one saying, “I thought you were dead” and the suddenly alive person responding along the lines of, “So did I.” Either that’s just lazy screenwriting or major sarcasm on the part of the writers.
The very means by which Mothman is dispatched is one of the most underdeveloped aspects of the plot and might leave you wondering why someone would give Katherine the very instrument needed to kill the Mothman if that’s precisely what that person doesn’t want to happen. Heck, a lot of logical inconsistencies surrounding that character materialize during the climactic Mothman Festival massacre.
Faultiest logic of all: If you don’t believe there is anything you can do to stop Mothman from killing you and you know it cannot leave the city limits of Point Pleasant, why not just get the hell out of town?
2 1/2 out of 5
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Before We Vanish Review – A Quirky and Original Take on Alien Invasions
Starring Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa
Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
During the J-horror rampage of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (aka Pulse). A dark, depressing, and morose tale of ghosts that use the internet to spread across the world, the film’s almost suffocatingly gloomy atmosphere pervaded across every frame of the film. Because of my love of this film, I was eager to see the director’s upcoming movie Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha (aka Before We Vanish), which follows three aliens who recently arrived on Earth and are preparing to bring about an alien invasion that will wipe humanity from the face of the planet. Imagine my surprise when the film turned out to be barely a horror title but was instead a quirky and surreal dramedy that tugged at my heartstrings.
Admittedly, I was thrown completely for a loop as the film begins with a scene that feels perfectly at home in a horror film. Akira (Tsunematsu), a teenage girl, goes home and we enter moments later to blood splashed on the walls and floor and bodies strewn about. However, the disturbing visuals are spun around as the young girl walks down a highway, her clothes and face streaked with blood, Yusuke Hayashi’s music taking on a lighthearted, almost jaunty attitude. From there, we learn of the other two aliens (yes, she’s an alien and it’s not a secret or a twist, so no spoilers there): Amano (Takasugi), who is a young man that convinces a sleazy reporter, Sakurai (Hasegawa), of his true form and tasks Sakurai with being his guide, and Shinji (Matsuda), the estranged husband of Narumi (Nagasawa).
What sets these aliens, and their mission, apart from other invasion thrillers is their means of gathering information. They’re not interested in meeting leaders nor do they capture people for nefarious experimentations. Rather, they steal “concepts” from the minds of people, such as “family”, “possession”, or “pest”. Once these concepts are taken, the victim no longer has that value in their mind, freed from its constraints.
While this may seem like a form of brainwashing, Kurosawa instead plays with the idea that maybe knowing too much is what holds us back from true happiness. A man obsessed with staking claim to his family home learns to see the world outside of its walls when “possession” is no longer a part of his life. A touchy boss enters a state of child-like glee after “work” has been taken. That being said, there are other victims who are left as little more than husks.
Overly long at 130 minutes, the film does take its time showing the differences between the aliens and their individual behaviors. Amano and Akira are casually ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to send a beacon to begin the alien invasion, no matter how many must die along the way, while Shinji is the curious and almost open-minded one, whose personal journey finds him at one point asking a priest to envision and describe “love”, a concept that is so individualistic and personal that it can’t be taken, much less fathomed, by this alien being. While many of these scenes are necessary, they could have easily been edited down to shave 10-15 minutes, making the film flow a bit more smoothly.
While the film begins on a dark note, there is a scene in the third act that is so pure and moving that tears immediately filled my eyes and I choked up a little. It’s a moment of both sacrifice and understanding, one that brings a recurring thread in the story full circle.
With every passing minute, Before We Vanish makes it clear that it’s much more horror-adjacent than horror. An alien invasion thriller with ultimate stakes, it will certainly have appeal to genre fans. That being said, those who go in expecting action, violence, and terror will certainly be disappointed. But those whose mind is a bit more open to a wider range of possibilities will find a delightful story that attempts to find out what it means to be human, even if we have to learn the lesson from an alien.
Before We Vanish is a beautiful, wonderful tale that explores what it means to be human when faced with the threat of extinction.
Delirium Review – Bros, Cameras And A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On
Starring Mike C. Manning, Griffin Freeman, Ryan Pinkston
Directed by Johnny Martin
When will these testosterone-overloaded frat bros with cameras ever learn that pissing off the evil souls of the departed all in the name of amusement won’t get you anywhere but wrecked? Same goes for filmmakers: when will they learn that found-footage exploits set in a house of pure sadism are something of a wrung-out affectation? Oh well, as long as people keep renting them, they’ll continue to get manufactured…which might or might not be to the benefit of the horror film-watching populous.
Delirium opens with a poor lad, strapped with a GoPro, running for his life through a labyrinth of haunted territory, praying for an escape…and it’s a foregone conclusion as to what happens to this trespassing individual. We then relocate our focus towards a collection of (ahem), “gentlemen” self-titled as The Hell Gang, and their escapades are about as profound as their grasp on the English language and its verbiage. The words “dude”, creepy”, and the term “what the fuck” are thrown about so much in this movie it’ll make your head spin to the point of regurgitation. Anyway, their interest in the home of the Brandt clan is more piqued now than ever, especially considering one of their own has gone missing, and they’ve apparently got the gonads to load up the cameras, and traverse the property after-hours, and against the warnings of the local law-enforcement, who surprisingly are just inadequate enough to ignore a dangerous situation. The cursed family and the residence has quite the illustrious and bleak history, and it’s ripe for these pseudo-snoopers to poke around in.
Usually I’m curb-stomping these first person POV movies until there’s nothing left but a mash of blood, snot and hair left on the cement, but Martin’s direction takes the “footage” a little bit outside of the box, with steadier shots (sometimes) and a bit more focus on the characters as they go about their business. Also, there are a few genuinely spooky scenes to speak of involving the possession of bodies, but there really isn’t much more to crow about, as the plot’s basically a retread of many films before it, and with this collection of borderline-douches manning the recording equipment, it’s a sad state of affairs we’re in that something such as this has crept its way towards us all again. I’m always down for jumping into a cold grave, especially when there could be a sweet prize to be dug up in all that dirt, but Delirium was one of those movies that never let you find your footing, even after you’ve clawed your way through all of the funereal sediment – take a hard pass on this one.
Got about a half-dozen bros with cameras and a wanton will to get slaughtered on camera, all the while repetitively uttering the same phrases all damn day long? Then my friends, you’ve got yourself a horror movie!
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters Review – A Timid Step Towards a Frightening Possibility
Starring Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa, Yuki Kaji, Tomokazu Sugita
Directed by Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita
The Godzilla series is the longest-running franchise in cinema history. With over 30 films over a 60+ year career, the famous kaiju has appeared in video games, comic books, TV shows, and more, cementing its place as one of the most recognizable cultural icons in the past 100 years. With Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, the titular beast makes its foray into the world of anime in this first film in a proposed trilogy. While there are moments that are genuinely thrilling, the film unfortunately fails to capture the imagination and wonder that is at its fingertips.
The story is quite simple: Earth is under attack by swarms of various kaiju who are wreaking havoc across the planet. Entire cities are being destroyed when Godzilla appears to vanquish humanity’s foes. Unfortunately, the King of the Monsters isn’t really there to help humans and its rampage continues until a race of alien beings arrive at Earth asking for a place to stay in exchange for defeating Godzilla. When they are unable to do that, the remaining humans board a giant spaceship to venture off into space in search of a new home only to come back some 20 years later, nearly 20,000 years later by Earth time (think Interstellar logic), to search for resources and, possibly, a planet that will welcome them once again. However, Godzilla is still around and isn’t keen on sharing.
The main character of the film is Haruo Sakaki, a young man who begins the film by nearly following through on a suicide bomber terrorist act that is meant to call attention to humanity’s loss of vision and failure to fulfill their mission of finding a suitable home for the remaining survivors. Even though he is accosted and jailed for this act, he is eventually freed when people realize that his lifelong passion of killing Godzilla is the foundation for research he’s done in finding a way to take down the creature…a plan that just might work. The other characters are so forgettable that I forgot their names during the film.
From there, the film essentially pivots into following a massive team of volunteers who land on Earth’s surface to lay a trap for Godzilla in order to destroy it. Since this is Earth 20,000 years after they left, the flora and fauna have evolved and changed so radically that the team have no idea what to expect or how to react, so caution is a must.
The problem with this is that while the characters have to be cautious, the film doesn’t nor should it. The movie has the chance to explore the wealth of imaginative opportunities at its fingertips and yet does almost everything it can to avoid doing just that. The color scheme is flat and uninteresting. The character movements lack smoothness and the action sequences fall victim to shaky cam syndrome. There are a few mentions of some of the changes that have taken place on the planet, such as razor sharp plants, but they’re so incidental or offhand that it feels like no one making the film has any interest in seeing anything other than man against beast.
Speaking of this dynamic, the action sequences are quite entertaining but also feel somewhat reserved. Godzilla barely moves and much of the destruction levied against the humans is seen from a distance, apart from an attack on a military outpost by dragon-like creatures. For nearly the entire film, I found myself thinking, “I’m okay with this but that’s about it.”
The brightest moment in the film are the last few minutes and I won’t spoil what happens. Suffice it to say that it definitely has me interested in the second and third films but I really hope that this new world will be explored further in those entries. Otherwise, we’ve got a fascinating foundation that will be squandered.
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is a bland entry in a trilogy that has great potential. For a first course, there’s a distinct lack of flavor or complexity. The final minutes are the only saving grace and I hope that the second and third films make use of that grand wonder.
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