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Grey, The (2012)

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The Grey ReviewStarring Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo, James Badge Dale, Joe Anderson, Dallas Roberts

Directed by Joe Carnahan


Survivalist tales that have made their way onto film and into the multiplex over the years tend to have more emotional resonance than your typical genre fare. Whether they are based on fact or purely fiction, these stories tap into the primal drive in all of us to simply stay alive no matter what the cost. Watching characters onscreen bond together during the most dire of situations forces us as viewers to imagine what we would do, how we would react, and what we are ultimately capable of in the wake of a tragic accident that suddenly hurls us into the grasp of an ungovernable wilderness that doesn’t care if we live or die.

Joe Carnahan’s The Grey is the newest addition to the survivalist sub-genre, sitting alongside coming-of-age films like White Water Summer while also showing a kinship with horror entries such as The Final Terror and Ravenous. The Grey also never gives in to melodrama, staying grounded in the realism of Frank Marshall’s depiction of cannibalism in the ‘90s classic Alive. But the film that probably shares the most in common with Liam Neeson’s latest entry in badassdom would have to be Lee Tamahori’s The Edge, the David Mamet-penned thriller wherein Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin are hunted relentlessly by a Kodiac Grizzly.

The setup is usually the same: a harrowing and intense plane crash, a group dynamic slowly begins to form and then break apart due to constant peril and fear, a brave leader emerges and rescues the surviving few. Applause. In The Grey when the plane does begin to go down, it’s done with interior shots only and focuses mainly on Neeson’s character, Ottway. There are no epic effects shots of the plane’s wings being ripped off after crashing into a rocky mountainside, and on a subconscious level the somewhat intimate depiction of the wreck foreshadows future moments in the film that are much more personal and self-reflective in nature. These moments focus on the internal thoughts of Ottway surrounding his wife, moments that serve as poetic reminders of what his character is fighting for and, more importantly, how lost he is as an individual. Except for one brief sequence we only see imagery from Ottway’s past and perspective, but a number of characters get to reflect on their lives also, allowing them to tap into the good in them and find the will to go on.

Frank Grillo plays an ex-con working on the cursed oil rig these men are returning from as the film begins, and his character, Diaz, is the clear standout next to Neeson’s melancholy Ottway. Diaz transforms from being a scared anonymous punk into a respected member of the group as the film progresses. It is a star turn for Grillo, and viewers should expect to see him in many more memorable roles for years to come. Dermot Mulroney has some great moments throughout the film with Dallas Roberts and Joe Anderson also turning in great performances.

As you might have guessed by now, The Grey is much more intelligent than your typical thriller – and it’s a more effective film because of it. One of the main themes even deals with the idea of God versus the individual and how faith, or the lack thereof, is an asset or a disadvantage when you’re fighting to survive the elements and keep a fierce pack of rabid wolves from tearing you apart. In these circumstances is self-reliance hindered by faith? Will you fight as hard as you need to if you believe in a higher power that may intervene to save you? Looking at who dies and who survives, Carnahan and his co-screenwriter Ian MacKenzie Jeffers do well to answer that question as well as using it as the basis for Neeson’s most powerful moment in the film – a moment that is probably the essential scene in The Grey.

So, is it a thinking man’s monster movie? Carnahan himself says The Grey touches on the outskirts of horror, and the moments and sequences involving the wolves are certainly crafted with that in mind. Carnahan wants to scare you in these scenes, and the staging, direction, and design of the wolves by KNB (who else?) prove to be very effective. Seeing how KNB usually gets all the credit when they are involved on a film, it should be mentioned that the majority of the wolves are enhanced through CGI by the guys over at Digital Dimension; and they do great work here. The wolves look larger than life, and their wild eyes and mangled fur do well to show that this pack has never been touched by the throes of civilization, making our human characters that much more threatening and foreign to them. The pitch black design of the Alpha male wolf is the closest thing to an actual monster in The Grey, and the standoff between Ottway and the beast throughout the film culminates in a satisfying way, but probably not how you expect if you’ve seen the trailers.

The ending of The Grey reaffirms the point that it is not the typical survival movie: The sum of its parts and its emotional resonance is greater and more profound than a simple man versus nature tale. The result is a film that subverts expectations, becoming a great character piece that isn’t afraid to show real pain and internal agony below the surface of an action film. The Grey still provides some genuine thrills and scares, but it’s ultimately about how a harrowing situation can rekindle the desire and lust for life within a once broken man who was just about ready to throw in the towel.

Oh … be sure to stay after the credits for an extra scene!


3 1/2 out of 5

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Friends Don’t Let Friends Review – A Haunting Mixture of Psychological Turmoil and Brutal Supernatural Horror

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Starring Brittany Anne Woodford, Jenny Curtis, Kanin Guntzelman, Brendan McGowan, Jake White

Directed by James S. Brown

We all like to think of ourselves as being surrounded by friends, but let’s face it, if we were to ever truly hit hard times, there are probably very few, if any, people we could truly rely on. So on some level, Friends Don’t Let Friends is a film we can all relate too, as it deals with this very issue.

Stephanie is an emotionally unstable young woman who strangles her boyfriend to death after he insults and breaks up with her. She calls her friends to help her dispose the body out in the Joshua Tree National Part area, and instead of reporting her to the police, they reluctantly comply. As their car breaks down, the four friends find themselves alone at night in the Californian wilderness with the rotting corpse in need of disposal. Given their dire circumstances, they begin to become more and more aggressive towards each other, and this was where the film was really at its best. I was on the edge of my seat, wondering how far the limits of their friendship could be stretched, and who would be the first to crack and turn on the others.

Anyway, their body disposal endeavor soon proves to be a mistake, as Stephanie’s ex rises from the grave as vengeful zombie demon thing with claws as long as knives. I’ll admit, I first I thought Friends Don’t Let Friends was going to be a movie purely about the limits of trust, so I was pretty surprised when the supernatural elements came into play. And when they did, the trust and friendship elements of the plot were somewhat downplayed in favor of a more traditional horror approach, and while it was still entertaining, I still would have preferred for the film not to have strayed from its initial path. At least the ending came as a shocker. I won’t go into spoilers, but let’s just say the even the most attentive viewers probably won’t see it coming.

As you can probably guess from a psychologically-driven film of this kind, the performances were top notch, with Brittany Anne Woodford being on particularly top form as the manipulative and unstable Stephanie, a character who revels in the revels in the power she felt when ending another human life.

With its mixture of psychological turmoil and brutal supernatural horror, Friends Don’t Let Friends is a film I would certainly recommend, but keep in mind that it may make you think twice when confiding in people who you think of as being your friends.

8 out of 10.

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Coulrophobia Review – One of the Most Entertaining Killer Clown Films in Quite Some Time

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Starring Pete Bennett, Warren Speed, Daniella D’Ville, Roxy Bordeaux

Directed by Warren Speed


The word ‘Coulrophobia’ refers to the fear of clowns, and if you happen to suffer from it, you might want to avoid director Warren Speed’s film of the same name. However, if you can stand the sight of clowns with gaping wounds in their manly parts, then you’re in for one heck of a fun time.

An all-female hockey team get lost deep in the Scottish woods on their way to a match (don’t ask), and are captured and forced to participate in a series of horrific games by the Grock family of clowns. All of the members of said family are absolutely fucking insane, but the one that really stood out was Twitch (Pete Bennett), who wears jester cloths and it said to have a short attention span. He longs to be a violin player and wishes he could blend in with normal society like the other members of his family. And you almost feel sorry for him, even though he’s a mad killer with bells on his head.

Director Warren Speed also appeared as Milo, a grunting mute who had his tongue cut out when he was a boy. As mentioned above, we see a close-up shot of a open wound in his penis being stitched up, which is not an image that will be leaving your mind anytime soon. Speed is clearly fearless when it comes to his art.

Inter-spliced with all the torture and mayhem, we also see documentary-style telling the sad history of the family involved, and this was where the film unfortunately faltered, because these scenes seemed out of place and just didn’t flow with the rest of the plot.

Ultimately, however, Coulrophobia almost seems like a film Rob Zombie might have made before he lost his way and started churning out trash like 31. Comparisons to House of 1000 Corpses are inevitable, and I absolutely mean that as a compliment. This is one of the most entertaining killer clown films in quite some time.

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User Rating 2.94 (17 votes)
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The Gatehouse Review – What Is Found in the Woods Should Be Left in the Woods

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Starring Scarlett Rayner, Simeon Willis, Linal Haft

Directed by Martin Gooch


Now while no one will sneeze at the prospect of bringing up a bit of a rebellious child alone, it’s those damned kids that like to tempt fate by pissing off creatures in the woods…oh kids, they do the funniest things, don’t they?

In Martin Gooch’s moderately spooky presentation, The Gatehouse, a struggling writer named Jack (Willis) finds himself behind the 8-ball following the tragic drowning death of his beloved wife, and if that isn’t enough to torque your drawers, his young daughter, Eternity (Rayner) is becoming quite the salty soul herself. Unfortunately the little one has been finding herself bullied at school, and her recourse of sorts is to simply toss attitude around as if it was pleasantly acceptable. Her pastime has become lonely wanderings in the deep woods, digging for hopeful treasures…and we all know what problems reside in the woods, don’t we, horror fans? Well, Eternity’s father is attempting to re-start his writing career with a frightening backstory – taking the reigns on a novel that was abruptly ended when the author committed suicide, and supposedly the tome is quite the dark piece of literature.

Eternity’s never-ending quest for fortune and glory in the forest leads her to a most interesting (and ultimately) dangerous discovery (don’t sweat it – I won’t spill it for you). Bottom line here is this: the little girl has taken possession of something that should have been left in the friggin’ woods, and now someone (or something) wants it back PRONTO. What follows is a lackluster series of “spooky” events, and far be it from me to say, I’ve seen creepier stuff watching the evening news. Gooch then tries to bombard the audience with a plethora of instances and swerving plot direction – it’s fun at the beginning but can grow a bit tiresome over a duration.

Performance-wise, both Rayner and Willis play the perfect combination of mentally-shot dad and determined-to-be-independent daughter – their scenes are ripe with subtle contempt, and the right amount of indecision. Overall, the film is best suited for those fans of fantasy/fable-like horror, and while it might not scare the pants off of you, it definitely will give us all another reason to stay the hell out of the woods once and for all.

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Summary

Children in a forest-setting don’t always add up to cutesy-pie encounters with furry creatures – this one’s got a few scares to keep fans of coppice-horror appeased.

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User Rating 3.56 (18 votes)
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