Directed by Gary Ross
Distributed by Lionsgate Films
On March 23rd Lionsgate is poised to blow a certain pop culture juggernaut of a franchise about sparkly vampires away with The Hunger Games, the feverishly anticipated feature film adaptation of the first in Suzanne Collins’ teen-book trilogy centered around a strong-willed teenager named Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), who must fight to the death against 23 other teens in order to survive.
Set in a post-apocalyptic United States (now called Panem) where the problems of maintaining civil order and keeping the masses entertained by the boob tube all boil down to the same solution: The Hunger Games, a yearly contest where two dozen randomly selected 12- to-18-year-old Tributes are picked during the ‘Reaping’ of all 12 Districts outside of the Capitol.
The Hunger Games starts off quietly enough, but director Gary Ross packs in a gut-wrench moment right off the bat to engage viewers into this cruel world of the film’s heroine when 16-year-old Katniss’ 12-year-old sister, Prim (Willow Shield), is plucked from the unlucky fish bowl for the 74th Games. A shell-shocked Katniss volunteers to take her place, and she’s soon off to the Capitol with one of her flamboyant handlers, Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), and her fellow Tribute, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), who also happens to harbor a longtime crush on Katniss.
It’s a starkly bold opener that acts as a complete juxtaposition to the world Katniss is about to be thrown into, and Ross makes the transition seamlessly; once arriving in the Capitol, the sometimes socially awkward Katniss must embrace this odd and weirdly colorful world that wants to make a celebrity out of her before watching her die, but as she keeps resisting this new world, she soon realizes that if she wants to survive, she must play along with the lunacy that is The Hunger Games.
In the lead up to its release, The Hunger Games has been compared to Twilight, the Harry Potter franchise and even Battle Royale, which is understandable since it’s human nature to compare something new to something old in order to drive home a point; however, it’s unfair to attach all that baggage so early to the film since it absolutely has its own merits to stand by, and frankly, associating it with something like Twilight is a detriment to the work of the entire cast and crew.
For those of you who may be looking at The Hunger Games as the next huge action series, don’t get ahead of yourself just yet; while the film is thoroughly enjoyable and immensely exciting, that’s not what is driving Ross’ vision here. The story deals with themes of self-sacrifice, mortality and rebellion, making The Hunger Games more thought-provoking than jaw-dropping really. Sure, there are great moments of violence and shock, but that’s not what keeps you glued to your seat at the end of the day- it’s the vision and the story, and for both Ross absolutely nails it here.
Ross approaches his action sequences and the narrative scenes in between with a realistic and grounded approach, making The Hunger Games feel like more of a drama than something super-stylized like The Running Man, which allows audiences to be continually immersed in this bleak future.
Performance-wise everyone in this eclectic hodge-podge of a cast delivers solid performances. The brunt of the heavy lifting on The Hunger Games falls squarely on Lawrence’s shoulders, and simply put, she’s brilliant, and fans of the book series should no doubt be pleased with her performance as Katniss. Hutcherson (who seems to be popping up everywhere these days and for good reason) is an interesting character that, honestly, isn’t all that likable at all. But by the third act Hutcherson gets you to come around to his side, making Peeta one of the more interesting and compelling characters to follow.
But even the youngest actors, the aforementioned Shields and Amandla Stenberg, who plays the lovable Rue, could easily have been the weak links given their relative inexperience in comparison to their co-stars like Banks, Woody Harrelson or Donald Sutherland; but both are terrific. It’s also nice to see Wes Bentley involved since the poor guy hasn’t been given a decent role in almost 12 years now, and Lenny Kravitz (not exactly someone I look forward to in movies) reels in all the flashiness of his own persona and makes Cinna a warm and likable character in a world that is anything but.
And while it was incredibly easy to get swept up in the world of The Hunger Games, that doesn’t mean the film doesn’t suffer from a few problems- first and foremost being visual effects work that still feels unfinished (hopefully for the sequel they can nip that problem straightaway) and an oddly paced last 20 minutes that feels a bit underwhelming and rushed.
There is also a romantic subplot going on within The Hunger Games that felt a little odd to me (as someone who hasn’t read the books, I really have no frame of reference)- we get a sense from early on that Katniss and close confidante Gale (Liam Hemsworth) truly share a special bond, but once Katniss catches wind that Peeta has been harboring a long-standing crush on her, she begins to act wildly against the character established earlier on. At first she’s violent and enraged at him, and despite the fact that she isn’t wholly sure she can trust Peeta during the Games themselves (there’s a spoiler moment I wouldn’t dare reveal for those who haven’t read the books), she suddenly gets all warm and fuzzy for him.
Sure, I get that she’s a teenage girl and that teenage girls never act rationally, but still… there’s a weird sort of awkwardness between Katniss and Peeta in the film’s final act which left me feeling a little cold at the end and almost negated all her character worked so hard for throughout the rest of the film.
But with all that being said, who really cares? It’s like nitpicking at your Christmas presents, and what’s the fun of that? With a compelling story that actually has something to say for itself (a welcome change in the world of blockbuster filmmaking) and an entire cast delivering engaging and star-making performances (in Lawrence’s case) that sell everything perfectly, The Hunger Games looks poised to usher in a brand new hit franchise and deserves all the credit it gets for its confrontational subject matter and dystopian sensibilities, all masterfully helmed by Ross.
While the gorehounds out there might lament over how minimally the blood and violence play out, for teen/young adult audiences films don’t get much darker or more intelligent than The Hunger Games. Don’t let all the Twilight comparisons fool you- THIS is the way to make engaging youth-oriented stories for audiences of all ages (much like Chronicle did just a few weeks back).
4 out of 5
American Psycho Meets Creep – Strawberry Flavored Plastic Review
Starring Aidan Bristow, Nicholas Urda, Andres Montejo
Directed by Colin Bemis
Recently I wrote up an article here on Dread Central which was basically an open letter to anyone who was listening called “I Miss Found Footage.” Well, it seems like someone WAS listening, as I was then sent the link to an all-new found footage film called Strawberry Flavored Plastic from first-time writer-director Colin Bemis.
The film follows the “still-at-large crimes of Noel, a repentant, classy and charming serial killer loose in the suburbs of New York.” Basically, you could think of the flick as American Psycho meets Mark Duplass and Partick Brice’s Creep. That, or you could think of it as “Man Bites Dog in color!” However you choose to label Colin Bemis’ psychological thriller, just make sure you check out the film once it hits in the future.
As I alluded to above, the film is basically a found footage version of American Psycho. But that said, the film sports a twist on the charming serial killer subgenre that I have yet to see play out in any of the above-mentioned classics. I’m not going to go into spoiler territory here, but I will say that the film introduces an element to the tale that spins it into much more of a character drama than a straight horror film. Not that there is anything wrong with that!
Truth be told, the film’s turn from serial killer flick into a layered character study might have been its kiss of death, but this slight genre switch is rendered a minor issue as the film’s central narcissistic antagonist is played by Aidan Bristow. Bristow is an actor you may not have heard of before this review, but you will hear his name more and more over the years to come, I promise. The guy gives (no pun intended) a killer performance as the film’s resident serial killer Noel Rose, and time after time surprised me with how chilling, charming, or downright vulnerable he chose to play any given scene.
Bristow’s performance is, in the end, the major element the film has going for it. But that said, as a fan of found footage, I was smiling ear to ear at first-time director Colin Bemis’ understanding of what makes a found footage suspense sequence work.
In Strawberry Flavored Plastic director Colin Bemis is confident and content to allow full emotional scenes to play out with the camera directed at nothing more than a character’s knees. Why is this so important? Because it keeps the reality of the film going. Too many found footage directors would focus on the actors’ faces during such emotional scenes – no matter how contrived the camera angle was. In this film, however, Bemis favors the reality that says, “If you were really in this emotional state and holding a camera, you would let it drop to your side.” I agree, and it is small touches like that which make the film feel authentic and thus – once the shite hits the fan – all the scarier.
On the dull side of the kitchen knife, the film does feel a bit long even given it’s short running time, and there doesn’t seem too much in the way of visceral horror to be found within. Again, graphic blood and gore aren’t a must in a fright flick, but a tad more of the old ultra-violence would have gone a long way in selling our main psychopath’s insanity and unpredictability. But all the same, the film does feature a rather shocking sequence where our main baddie performs a brutal home invasion/murder that puts this film firmly in the realm of horror. In fact, the particular POV home invasion scene I’m talking about holds about as much horror as you’ll ever wish to witness.
In the end, Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic is a must-see for fans of found footage and serial killer studies such as American Pyscho, Creep, and Man Bites Dog. I recommend giving it a watch once it premieres. If only to be able to point to Aidan Bristow in the near future and tell all your friends that you watched (one of) his first movies.
Lead actor Aidan Bristow turns in a star-making performance in Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic, a found footage film that plays out like Man Bites Dog in Color before introducing a new element to the charming-serial-killer subgenre and becoming more character study than a straight horror. Think American Psycho meets Creep.
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 148 – Inside (2017 Remake)
We’ve all heard the old saying, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Well, I’m here to tell you that’s only partially true. It seems there is a third certainty that had been omitted from the original quote, “It is certain, if you enjoy a movie, at some point someone will remake that movie.” Now is the time when one of my favorite movies gets reimagined, “for an American audience”.
In the late 2000’s an explosion of “French extreme” horror films was released. Martyrs and or High Tension can often be found on any number of lists of the “most fucked up horror movies ever”. Unfortunately, the vastly superior Inside is often forgotten (as well as Frontier(s), but that’s a whole ‘nother rant). Now, ten years after it’s initial release, Inside has been Americanized. Don’t worry, we watched it so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.
Mommy says you’re not dead. Is that true? It’s the Who Goes There Podcast episode 148!
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Totem Review – It’s Not Always A Bad Thing To Look Up From The Bottom Level, If You Like That View
Starring Kerris Dorsey, James Tupper, Ahna O’Reilly
Directed by Marcel Sarmiento
Following the untimely death of a family’s matriarchal figure, a young woman finds out that managing to hold all of the pieces in place becomes increasingly more difficult when otherworldly infiltrators make their presence felt. We’re going to have to work our way up this Totem, as
17 year old Kellie is the leading lady of the home following the passing of her mother Lexy, and with a needy father and tiny tot of a baby sister, she still keeps things in working order, regardless of the rather large hole that’s been left in the dynamic due to the death. Kellie’s dad after a while decides to ask his lady-friend to move in with the family, so that everyone can move onto a more peaceful existence…yeah, because those types of instances always seem to work seamlessly. As fate would have it, Kellie’s sense of pride is now taking a beating with the new woman in the mix, and her little sister’s new “visitor” is even more disturbed by this intruder – only question is, exactly who is this supernatural pal of sorts? Is it the spirit of their dead mother standing by to keep watch over the family, or is it something that’s found its way to this group, and has much more evil intentions at hand?
What works here is the context of something innately malicious that has found its way into the home – there are only a couple moments that come off as unsettling, but the notion of having to weave through more than half the film acting as a sullen-teen drama is rather painful. The presentation of the “broken family” is one that’s been done to death, and with better results overall, and that’s not to say that the movie is a complete loss, it just takes far too much weeding through at times stale performances and even more stagnant pacing to get to a moderately decent late-stage conclusion to the film. Under the direction of Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl), I’d truly hoped for something a bit more along the lines of a disturbing project such as that one, but the only thing disturbing was the time I’d invested in checking this one out. My best advice is to tune into the Lifetime channel if you want a sulky teen-melodrama with a tinge of horror, or you could simply jump into this one and work your way up…but it’s a LONG way to the top.
Sulky, moody, and ridden with teen-angst buried in the middle of a supernatural mystery – SOUNDS like a decent premise, doesn’t it?
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American Psycho Meets Creep – Strawberry Flavored Plastic Review
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