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Host, The (2013)

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The Host (2013)Starring Saoirse Ronan, Max Irons, Jake Abel, William Hurt, Diane Kruger

Written and directed by Andrew Niccol


Our planet is invaded by a race of aliens who can take control of our bodies. Nearly everyone is assimilated, but for a small group of human rebels intent on saving what’s left of the human race. As far as concepts go, it’s not an original one. We could probably make a fairly long list, varying from great to abysmal, of movies that follow this basic story structure. Now, we can add The Host to it.

Based on the book of the same name by Stephenie Meyer (yes, that one), The Host tells the story of a race of beings that call themselves Souls and the humans who are resisting them. The Souls are tiny and glowy and pretty in a spidery kind of way. And they weave themselves into their host’s nervous system and drive them around like a hijacked car. In return for room and board, the Souls repay the human race by wiping out all disease, restoring our dying planet, and dressing us all up like it’s 60’s Barbie and Ken. Apparently, aliens really dig the Mod aesthetic.

The film focuses on one particular Soul who calls herself Wanderer. She’s lived many lives (we’re told) in lots of different hosts, and they’ve brought her in and stuck her in the body of Melanie Stryder (Ronan) because they need her help. Melanie is one of those pesky humans who would prefer to remain in charge of her own body, and she knows where more of them are, and the Souls want to know what she knows. So, much like she’s supposedly done countless times before, Wanderer begins accessing Melanie’s memories in order to help complete the colonization. The problem is that Melanie hasn’t exactly vacated the premises, and what ensues is a lot of awkward backseat driving that eventually leads to Melanie and Wanderer each learning and changing and growing.

Of course, there’s more to it than that. Wanderer starts experiencing Melanie’s emotions, most notably her love for her younger brother, Jamie (Chandler Canterbury), and her boyfriend, Jared (Irons). It serves to weaken the Soul’s resolve when it comes to giving up their location. Also, Melanie is such a strong presence that she can occasionally regain fleeting control of her body and force Wanderer to do things like crash cars and slap guys. In turn, Melanie is being forced to see Wanderer as something more than just an emotionless invader.

I read the book when it was first published in 2008 and not at all since. I remember enjoying it. I don’t recall many specifics after five years, just broad strokes and feelings are left. I thought it explored some interesting ideas, I remember that. The alien race is portrayed as genuinely believing they are doing the right thing, that they’re helping humankind by making us into something better.

Because they are not evil monsters intent on using humans for food, or something equally nefarious, the line between good guy and bad guy can occasionally blur. Aside from the one Seeker we meet who’s determined to find the last remaining humans at seemingly all costs, these foes can be somewhat worthy of sympathy. They’re just trying to make everything nice and we keep shooting them with guns! Of course, they’re doing that by stripping away what makes us ‘us’, the very core of our being. It’s no coincidence that these beings are called Souls.

On the flip side, the humans just want to maintain their identity, their freedom of will. It’s an eminently understandable goal. And yet some of their behavior throughout the book illustrates the very barbarism and intolerance the Souls seek to ‘cure’ and occasionally makes you see the Souls’ point. Apart from this exploration of the importance of individuality versus the furthering of common good, Meyer also manages to examine the nature of love.

The unique situation, with both Melanie and Wanderer technically inhabiting the same body and yet possessing distinct personalities, feelings, and opinions, allows for the introduction of what isn’t exactly a love triangle. Melanie loves Jared. Because Wanderer is inhabiting her body and has access to her memories and emotions, Wanderer is sort of in love with Jared by proxy. Her body (as it feels to her) responds to his touch; she can remember what it was like to fall in love with him, her heart speeds up in his presence. So there’s a love triangle between Melanie, Jared, and Wanderer.

But then there’s Ian (Abel). Ian is another rebel who becomes sort of fascinated by the Soul’s behavior. He didn’t know Melanie before, so he’s only ever known her as Wanderer, and the more time he spends with her, the more he falls for her…Wanderer. Not the body. Although I’m sure the fact that Melanie is a cute chick doesn’t hurt. Wanderer feels the same way about Ian, after they get over that awkward moment when Ian tries to strangle her when she first arrives, of course. And because Wanderer has feelings for Ian, her body responds when he touches her or kisses her, which Melanie is not at all happy about because that’s her body and it’s supposed to only be doing those kinds of things with Jared. Jared’s not too thrilled about it either. I have no idea what kind of shape that makes. A diamond? An asterisk? Whatever, it poses interesting questions about the physical and intellectual aspects of love.

All of that is what I liked about the book. It made me think, and I enjoy books that make me think. And Meyer is good at creating likable characters, which she did again here. (Ian was my particular favorite.) But did any of that get translated to the screen?

Some of it did, I’m glad to say. When asked to review the film for DC, I felt a brief sinking sensation. In case you’ve forgotten (I promise I haven’t; I still sometimes wake up in cold sweats wondering what they’re were doing to Jackson Rathbone to get that look on his face), I reviewed several of The Twilight Saga films. And those were, at best, just bad. At worst? I still shudder to recall. So I steeled myself for another painful experience as I pulled into the theater parking lot.

The Host (2013)I’m happy to say the movie isn’t as horrible as I expected it to be. There are things it got right. Saoirse Ronan actually has some wonderful moments as Wanderer where she really manages to convey the reality of this alien being inside a confusing human body and beginning to question things she’d long held as truths. All of my favorite moments in the film, which there weren’t many of, admittedly, featured Ronan channeling Wanderer. Oddly, I didn’t really like her as Melanie. She came across too fragile.

William Hurt, Frances Fisher, and Diane Kruger were all really well cast for their roles (Jeb, Maggie, and the Seeker, respectively). It’s too bad they’re only paper thin. While it doesn’t really harm the film, except in the instance of Kruger’s Seeker, I think it bears pointing out. It should be illegal to have the awesome Frances Fisher on set and do so little with her.

But that’s not the big problem with this movie. And it bugs me to have to repeat myself, but it is, essentially, the same exact thing I had a problem with in the Twilight movies. Meyer writes predominantly in first person, which takes you right into the mind of the main character. It works great in this instance because inside her head is where the struggle between Melanie and Wanderer is taking place, and mentally is how both of them are changing as they grow to know each other, which happens because they have mental conversations. So much of this book is the internal workings of the dual protagonist and is extremely difficult to translate to the screen. It results in a lot of awkward whispering and voice-overs.

My second biggest issue with the film is that it lacks a sense of time. A lot of the sweeping desert shots are beautiful, and yet nothing seems to change. We don’t really get any feel for the passage of time. It gives the impression that things are happening a lot quicker than they are. During one scene, a distressed Wanderer retreats to her room and stares into the middle distance. She’s argued with Melanie and feels betrayed by the humans. There’s an odd shot of her superimposed on vast vistas of desert, and then Jeb wanders in and tells her she shouldn’t try and starve herself. There’s only one meal beside her and she’s in the EXACT SAME position she was just in when she ran into the room and sat down. She doesn’t look dirty or uncomfortable, despite the fact that she’s in a human body that has certain bodily needs.

For all intents and purposes, it seems as if perhaps a few hours has passed. In reality, or in the book at least, it was three days. That feeling of time passing without really passing pervades the whole movie. It makes things that should be building tension – Ian and Wanderer’s growing attraction, for example – sort of come out of left field. There’s no build-up over time, even movie time. It’s just presented to us as a fait accompli after the two share a couple of scenes together (one of which is the aforementioned attempted strangulation, let’s not forget). It’s almost never nighttime in the movie. I think we see three nighttime shots, and at least one of them is a flashback. When it’s never night and your characters don’t change clothes, you need to do something to indicate time has gone by, and writer/director Andrew Niccol totally dropped the ball on that one.

There are other issues. There’s some really stupid dialogue. I don’t know if the blame for it lies at the feet of Meyer or Niccol, since I don’t remember the book well enough to know if the lines that felt awkward or out of place were in the book and just bad, in the book and taken out of context, or possibly not in the book at all and original to Niccol. Given that the few genuinely touching or funny lines of dialogue tended to instantly recall the particular scene in the book to mind, I’m willing to bet it’s one of the latter two. The same thing happened in the Twilight movies. Lines that worked perfectly well in the context of the book, when severed from their connective tissue and set in the middle of a completely different scene, sound really awkward.

There’s also some acting that would make the packaging isle at Staples jealous. This would be a bigger problem if anyone but Saoirse had many lines, but luckily they really don’t. William Hurt gets a few as the wise old man. Even phoning it in, Hurt’s usually pretty good. That’s not to suggest he’s phoning here. He isn’t. But he’s not doing much of anything else either.

So, what is the verdict at the end of the day? Well, it’s not terrible. It even had a few brief moments where I chuckled, and one where Ronan made me tear up a little. There are some nice looking shots, the aesthetic of the alien culture is interesting, and there is decent acting in some scenes. I don’t hate myself for having watched it. I just don’t really care. I’ll most likely have completely forgotten this was a movie at all in a few months’ time. If you’re a die-hard Meyer fan or have ticket money just burning a hole in your pocket and need a way to while away two hours, go for it. Otherwise, just save yourself the time and forget about it now.

2 1/2 out of 5

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Through the Cracks – Trick or Treat (1986) Review

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Starring Marc Price, Tony Fields, Lisa Orgolini, Glen Morgan, Gene Simmons, and Ozzy Osbourne

Directed by Charles Martin Smith


I have been a horror fan for more than half of my life at this point. Meaning I have seen most of the quality horror offerings under the sun. But that said, every once in awhile a classic sneaks past so we wanted to create this “Through the Cracks” review section for such films.

Case in point, I had never seen the Halloween horror flick Trick or Treat until last night. I know, right? How the hell did that happen? But these things do happen and so for everyone that has seen the flick a million times, this will be a review of the movie from a super horror fan that – at the age of 33 – is seeing Trick or Treat for the very first time.

Now let’s get to it.

First off you have to love the movie’s plot. Mixing horror and heavy metal seems like a given, yet preciously few films Frankenstein these two great tastes together.

Like many of you out there, I am a big metal fan as well as a big horror fan. The two seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Or Jason and horny campers.

I dig bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and even those hair metal bands (Dokken forever!) and I’m well aware of the legends surrounding playing these records backward.

Off the top of my head, the only other flick that combines the two to this degree is the (relatively) recent horror-comedy Deathgasm. I say more horror-metal flicks! Or should we call it Metal-Horror? Yeah, that’s a much more metal title.

It only makes sense that someone, somewhere would take the idea of “What if Ozzy Osbourne really was evil and came back from the dead (you know, if he had passed away during his heyday) to torment a loner fan?” Great premise for a movie!

And Trick or Treat delivers on the promise of this premise in spades. Sammi Curr is an epic hybrid of the best of the best metal frontmen and his resurrection via speaker is one of the great horror birthing scenes I have seen in all my years.

Add to that the film feels like a lost entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. More specifically the film feels like it would fit snugly in between two of my favorite entries in that series, Dream Warriors and The Dream Master.

This movie is 80’s as all f*ck and I loved every minute of it.

And speaking of how this film brought other minor classics to the forefront of my brain, let’s talk about the film’s central villain, Sammi Curr. This guy looks like he could share an epic horror band with the likes of Mary Lou from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II and the Drill Killer rocker from Slumber Party Massacre Part II.

Picture that band for a moment and tell me they aren’t currently playing the most epic set in Hell as we speak. I say let’s see an Avengers-style series of films based on these minor horror icons sharing the stage and touring the country’s high school proms!

In the end Trick or Treat has more than it’s fair share of issues. Sammi Curr doesn’t enter the film until much too late and is dispatched way too easily. Water? Really? That’s it?

That said, the film is still a blast as director Charles Martin Smith keeps the movie rocking like an 80’s music video with highlights being Sammi’s rock show massacre at the prom and his final assault on our hero teens in the family bathroom.

Rockstar lighting for days.

Even though the film has issues (zero blood, a rushed ending) none of that mattered much to this horror hound as the film was filled to the brim with striking horror/metal imagery and a killer soundtrack via Fastway and composer Christopher Young.

Plus you’ve got to love the cameos by Gene Simmons (boy, his character just dropped right out of the movie, huh?) and Ozzy Osbourne as a mad-as-hell Preacher that isn’t going to take any more of this devil music. P.S. Watch for the post-credits tag.

More than a few of my closest horror buddies have this film placed high on their annual Halloween must-watch lists. And after (finally) viewing the film for myself, I think I just may have to add the film to mine as well. Preferably on VHS.

Trick or Treat is an 80’s horror classic. If you dig films like Popcornand if you put the film off like I did, remedy that tonight and slap a copy in the old VHS/DVD player.

Just don’t play it backward… God knows what could happen.

All said and done, I enjoyed the hell out of my first viewing of Trick or Treat. But what do YOU think of the film? Make sure to hit us up and let us know below or on social media!

Now bring on Trick or Treat 2: The Prom Band from Hell, featuring Sammi Curr, Mary Lou Maloney, and Atanas Ilitch’s Driller Killer from Slumber Party Massacre Part II!

  • Trick or Treat (1986) 3.5
3.5

Summary

Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat is a sure-fire Halloween treat for fans of 80’s horror flicks, as well as fans of heavy metal music.

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User Rating 3.25 (12 votes)
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AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters

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Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill

Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk


** NO SPOILERS **

It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.

Spoiler free.

To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.

That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.

Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.

Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.

Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.

Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.

But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.

But let’s backtrack a bit here.

Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).

And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.

Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.

With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.

Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.

I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.

Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!

Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.

Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?

On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.

That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.

In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.

While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.

Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.

Bring on season 12.

  • American Horror Story: Cult (2018)
3.5

Summary

The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.

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User Rating 4.11 (18 votes)
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The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror

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Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro

Directed by Nicholas Woods


The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).

The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.

The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.

The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.

The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.

The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

  • Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
  • Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
  • If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
  • “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
  • The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
  • As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
  • “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
  • The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
  • Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
  • The Axiom
4.0

Summary

In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.

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User Rating 4 (17 votes)
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