Starring Aden Young, Tara Morice, Nadine Garner, Ben Mendelsohn
Directed by Geoffrey Wright
Released by Subversive Cinema
Having just watched Wolf Creek again on DVD, the idea of another Australian thriller was very appealing to me, especially one that came from mind and pen of Romper Stomper creator Geoffrey Wright. The synopsis for Metal Skin is a bit vague, so I really didn’t know what to expect going in, but having it seen it now I can understand why it’s so difficult to pin this movie down.
The story’s main focus is on Joe (Young), a suburban youth who’s just got a job at the local grocers. On his very first day, while wandering around he store, he happens up on a carnal act being performed by Dazey (Mendelsohn), who he later learns is actually the boyfriend of one of the most beautiful girls Joe’s ever seen, Roslyn (Garner). Dazey asks Joe to keep what he’s seen between them (“things happen, man”), and soon a friendship based on their mutual love of cars is formed.
Ah, yes, cars. Though both Joe and Dazey are car freaks, souping up their rides and taking part in late night, illegal street races, Metal Skin is not just about cars. Indeed, cars serve as the only thing about these characters they can use to relate to one another, be it Roslyn’s fear of them (caused by the accident she was in with Dazey, in which he was going to fast and she ended up with horrible burns), or the Satan-worshiping Savina’s sudden attraction to them, (mainly to do with her obsession with Dazey), cars are the only common ground the four central characters have.
Joe invites Savina to the illegal drag races with them one night, thinking she might like him, but she goes along with it because she’ll finally be able to spend time with Dazey. Joe ends up getting too drunk and scaring Savina away, and in the morning stumbles upon Dazey and Savina in a very compromising position, setting in motion a horrific turn of events that culminates with one of the most beautifully filmed, devastating car chases I’ve ever seen.
The entire story is very Shakespearian in its depiction of tragedy touching the lives of all four central characters with varying degrees of destruction resulting from it. No one comes out at the end unscarred and some relationships are ruined forever. This is primarly due to these character’s complete inability to interact with one another on pretty much any level, as each of them feels they need to be saved in one way or another. Savina thinks that is she prays to the devil long enough, Dazey will love her and she will be taken from her strict religious home. Roslyn sees changing her appearance and the people she hangs out with as the only way to make her scars heal. Joe just wants to make a lot of money so he can take care of his father, who has the mentality of a child, and live comfortably. Dazey want his family to accept him and for Roslyn to forgive him, but can’t seem to keep his libido in check for long. When these four come together, each private agenda clashes with the other and nothing good at all comes of it.
So, the question you might be asking is; is it horror? Strictly speaking, no. Savina does worship Satan to a very extreme degree, defiling a church and sacrificing animals to ge what she wants, but anyone who watches this will see that she’s doing it more for attention than an actual belief in the pagan rights. The true horror in Metal Skin is simply how real it all is, which stems from the amazing performances put in by all four leads and their depiction of living in their own personal hell. That is not to say a horror fan won’t enjoy it, just don’t expect some run-of-the-mill fright flick.
Since this is a DVD review, the first thing I have to mention is how simply amazing this film looks in this format. The folks at Subversive truly went above and beyond what was required for a general clean up and have made Metal Skin one of the most visually striking movies I’ve seen in a long time. The colors are vivid and strong; the darks are perfectly attuned, it all gives the general bleakness of the suburbs a totally alive feeling. You’ll really appreciate the difference when you watch the making of featurette, which shows footage pre-cleanup. The new 5.1 sound mix only enhances the experience that much more; indeed the car race at the end is a perfect test for the limits of your surround sound equipment.
Geoffrey’s Wright’s commentary on both the film and his first short feature, Lover Boy, is exceptional. Wright is intelligent and witty, with a bit of an almost boyish charm to him, especially when he’s discussing some of his personal favorite scenes. He gives good insight both into the actual making of the movie as well as it’s meanings and subtleties, so it’s well worth the listen.
“Pedal to the Metal: The Making of Metal Skin” is a brand-new documentary produced by Subversive for this disc featuring interviews with Wright, Young, Morice and Garner, discussing how they got involved and their feelings on the movie 12 years later. Everything from the first few months of pre-production, which were actually preceded by months of location scouting, to the final few moments of filming and everything in between is covered in the 33-minute package.
The other notable feature on this disc is the previously mentioned first short film from Wright, Lover Boy. This 57-minute short tells the story of another Australian suburbanite, Micke (Noah Taylor), who becomes the boy toy of an older, sexually frustrated neighbor woman he does yard work for. It’s another tragedy waiting to happen, and certainly it delivers on that aspect with a very downbeat ending. This is the first example of Wright’s fascination with the stories that go on behind closed doors in suburbs all around the world, and it’s a great precursor to his later work. Certainly it doesn’t look like any first film I’ve ever seen, with superb acting and plotting throughout.
Other features on the disc include a group of trailers for this and other Subversive releases, a new intro by Geoffrey Wright for the film and a second disc, the Meal Skin soundtrack. Personally there was nothing all that extraordinary about the soundtrack to me, but it’s still a very cool bonus feature for Subversive to include on yet another well-stacked DVD release.
With each subsequent release, Subversive are proving themselves to be a force to be reckoned with when it comes to getting obscure titles on the mass market, and I’m glad this is one of their early releases. Though not pure horror, as was previously mentioned, Metal Skin is just a great genre cross-blend that stands on its own as a very unique film, one that American audiences will finally be able to experience in the absolute best looking format possible.
Commentary by director Geoffrey Wright
Intro by director Geoffrey Wright
“Pedal to the Metal: The Making of Metal Skin“
Lover Boy short film (w/commentary)
Movie soundtrack (disc 2)
4 out of 5 Mugs O’ Blood
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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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