Directed by Ti West
Distributed by Dark Sky Films
It’s unfortunate that, unlike in an era such as the 70s, we no longer have much in the way of slow-burn horror cinema. Even with a contemporary film that has more on its mind than being a kill-a-minute slash-a-thon (not that there’s anything wrong with those), there will inevitably be, at the very least, an opening sequence of mayhem to set the stage for the rest of the horror to eventually come. It’s all too rare to find a flick willing to just take its time with its characters before diving into full-on genre territory.
We’re lucky to still have movies that even attempt this, such as last year’s Insidious and the ridiculously successful Paranormal Activity films. However, we’re luckier still to have a filmmaker like Ti West on our side.
West, who found success with his previous The House of the Devil, has made his best film to date with the charming, character-driven comedy spookfest The Innkeepers. Featuring a great cast and a perfect location, The Innkeepers concerns a pair of paranormal enthusiasts (Healy and Paxton) who work at the purportedly haunted, and soon-to-be-closed, Yankee Pedlar Inn.
Taking advantage of the mostly empty space, and having an almost entire lack of customers to contend with, the two attempt to find some (any!) sort of evidence of the supernatural, with a little help from one of their tenants (washed-up actress/faith healer Leanne Rease-Jones, played with a perfect mix of world-weariness and venom by Kelly McGillis). Laughs and shivers ensue.
I applaud West for having no fear when it comes to his deliberately paced storytelling, both with this film and The House of the Devil. He allows the story to linger on his characters, sticking with them for long enough stretches that we almost forget what genre we’re in, even while slowly building up the tension before its inevitable release. I applaud him further for making his leads so damned likeable (helped in no small part by the performances), so much so that I’d have been happy following the two throughout a story with no supernatural or horror elements whatsoever.
Warning! Mild Spoilers Ahead!
If I have any problem with the film, it’s the final act. While the climax that we’re given is certainly hair-raising, it feels rather truncated. I’d have been happier with, if not a more elaborate chase sequence, then perhaps a somewhat longer one at the very least. And while my hat’s off to West for not shying away from a dark finale, I wonder if he chose the right one. Considering how light and fun the preceding eighty minutes had been, the ending is more than a little sobering. Imagine watching a version of Ghostbusters where Peter Venkman dies at the end. West’s choice of mood for this ending was undoubtedly deliberate, but appropriate? I’m not sure.
Still, I’m calling The Innkeepers a must-see for fans who like their horror a bit on the quiet, shivery side, and served with a helping of chuckles. For more on the film, check out Drew Tinnin’s review here.
Dark Sky has put together a nice package for the Blu-ray release of the film. The image is sharp, with inky blacks that perfectly represent West’s shadow-laden photography. The audio is a joy, too, full of unsettling noises both big and small. Oh, and it’s meant to be played LOUD (as a note preceding the film tells us), which will likely have you jumping out of your skin at the various boos! sprinkled throughout the feature.
The bonus features aren’t too skimpy, either. Dark Sky gives us two audio commentaries, a featurette, and a trailer. The commentaries (one with West and the producers, the other with West, Paxton and Healy) are both solid, though the director/cast commentary is certainly the more enjoyable of the two. Still, those with an interest in the nuts and bolts of indie filmmaking should find both to be must-listens.
The featurette is fun, if all too brief. One wishes that a far longer doc could’ve been produced, but so it goes. Rounding out the features is the theatrical trailer, which is…uh, a good trailer. As trailers go.
If you’re a fan of West’s, or of smart, creepy horror in general, you need this film for your collection. Skip the exploratory rental fee and just pick up the Blu-ray already. The Yankee Pedlar Inn eagerly awaits your arrival.
4 out of 5
3 out of 5
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 152 – Cloverfield Paradox & The Ritual
Last week Netflix shocked the world by not only releasing a new trailer for Cloverfield Paradox during the Superbowl, but announcing the film would be available to stream right after the game. In a move no one saw coming, Netflix shook the film industry to it’s very core. A few days later, Netflix quietly released horror festival darling: The Ritual.
Hold on to your Higgs Boson, because this week we’ve got a double header for ya, and we’re not talking about that “world’s largest gummy worm” in your mom’s nightstand. Why was one film marketed during the biggest sporting event of the year, and why was one quietly snuck in like a pinky in your pooper? Tune in a find out!
Meet me at the waterfront after the social for the Who Goes There Podcast episode 152!
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The Housemaid Review – Love Makes the Ghost Grow Stronger
Written and directed by Derek Nguyen
Vietnamese horror films are something of a rarity due largely to pressure from the country’s law enforcement agencies that have warned filmmakers to steer clear of the genre in recent years. The country’s exposure to the industry is limited, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a handful of filmmakers out there that are passionate and determined to get their art out into the world. IFC Midnight has stepped up to the plate to shepherd writer/director Derek Nguyen’s period ghost thriller The Housemaid in hopes of getting it in front of American horror fans.
Aside from a few moments that delve into soap opera territory, Nguyen’s film is full of well-crafted scares and some surprisingly memorable scenes that sneak up at just the right times. For history buffs there’s also a lot of material to sink your teeth into dealing with French Colonial rule and mistreatment of the Vietnamese during the 1950’s. Abuse that, if you’re not careful, could lead to a vengeful spirit seeking atonement.
Desperate and exhausted after walking for miles, an orphaned woman named Linh (Kate) seeks refuge and employment as a housemaid at a large rubber plantation in 1953 French Indochina. Once hired, she learns of the dark history surrounding the property and how her mere presence has awakened an accursed spirit that wanders the surrounding woods and dark corners of the estate. Injured in battle, French officer Sebastien Laurent (Richaud) returns to preside over the manor and, unexpectedly, begins a dangerous love affair with Linh that stirs up an even darker evil.
Told in flashbacks, the abuse of workers reveals a long history of mistreatment that enshrouds the surrounding land in darkness and despair, providing ripe ground for a sinister spirit that continues to grow stronger. Once it’s revealed that the ghost has a long history with Laurent before her death, the reasons she begins to kill become more and more obvious as the death toll piles up. Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle among Laurent, Linh, and the specter of Laurent’s dead wife.
Powered by desire to avenge tortured workers of the past and the anger fueled by seeing her husband in the embrace of a peasant girl, the apparition is frightening and eerily beautiful as she stalks her victims. One scene in particular showing her wielding an axe is the most indelible image to take away from the film, and other moments like it are what make The Housemaid a standout. The twisted sense of romance found in a suffering spirit scorned in death is the heart of the story even if the romance between the two living lovers winds up having more screen time.
The melodrama and underwhelming love scenes between Linh and Laurent are the least effective part of The Housemaid, revealing some of Nguyen’s limitations in providing dialogue and character moments that make us connect with these two characters as much as we do when the ghost is lurking around the frame. What does help to save the story is a well kept secret revealing a connection with the housemaid and the apparition.
Honestly, if this was an American genre film, the limitations seen in The Housemaid might cause more criticism, but seeing an emerging artist and his team out of Vietnam turn out a solid product like this leads me to highlight the good and champion the effort in hopes of encouraging more filmmakers to carry the flag. Ironically, the film is set for a U.S. remake in the near future.
The Housemaid hits select theaters, VOD, and digital platforms TODAY, February 16th.
Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle.
Scorched Earth Review – Gina Carano Making Motherf**kers Pay In The Apocalypse
Starring Gina Carano, John Hannah, Ryan Robbins
Written by Bobby Mort and Kevin Leeson
Directed by Peter Howitt
Let me preface this review by stating right off the bat that I’m a huge Gina Carano fan, and will pretty much accept her in any role that she’s put in (are you going to tell her no), regardless of the structure and plausibility behind it, and while that might make me a tad-bit biased in my opinions, just accept it as that and nothing more. Now that I’ve professed my cinematic devotion to the woman, let’s dive headlong into her latest film, Scorched Earth.
Directed by Peter Howitt, the backdrop is an apocalyptic world brought on by the imminent disaster known as global warming, and the air has become toxic to intake, generally leaving inhabitants yacking up blood and other viscous liquids after a prolonged exposure, unless you’re one of the privileged that possesses a filter lined with powdered silver. Filters of water and the precious metal are in high demand, and only true offenders in this world still drive automobiles, effectively speeding up the destruction of what’s left of the planet. Carano plays Atticus Gage, a seriously stoic and tough-as-nails bounty hunter who is responsible for taking these “criminals” down, and her travels lead her to a compound jam-packed with bounties that will have her collecting riches until the end of time…but aren’t we at the end of time already? Anyway, Gage’s main opponent here is a man by the name of Thomas Jackson (Robbins) – acting as the leader of sorts to these futuristic baddies, the situation of Gage just stepping in and taking him out becomes a bit complicated when…oh, I’m not going to pork this one up for you all – you’ve got to invest the time into it just as I did, and trust me when I tell you that the film is pretty entertaining to peep.
While Carano’s acting still needs some refining, let there be no ever-loving mistake that this woman knows how to beat the shit out of people, and for all intents and purposes this will be the thing that carries her through many a picture. There are much larger roles in the future for Gina, and she’ll more than likely take over as a very big player in the industry – hey, I’m a gambling man, and I’ve done pretty well with my powers of prognostication. With that being said, the thing that does hold this picture back is the plot itself- it’s a bit stale and not overly showy, and when I look for a villain to oppose the hero, I’m wanting someone with at least a shred of a magnetic iota, and I just couldn’t latch onto anything with Robbins’ performance – his character desperately needed an injection of “bad-assness” and it hurt in that particular instance.
In the end of it all, I’d recommend Scorched Earth to fans of directionless, slam-bang wasteland pics with a touch of unrestrained violence…plus, Gina Carano is in it, so you can’t go wrong. If you’re not a fan of any of the above, feel free to skate on along to another piece of barren territory.
Looking to get your butt kicked in the apocalypse with extreme prejudice? Drive on up, and allow me to introduce you to someone who’ll be more than happy to oblige.
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