Directed by D. J. Caruso
It’s a good thing I didn’t do any research into the parties behind Disturbia before seeing it. Otherwise, I might have brought extra baggage into the theatre rather than just walking in, sitting back, and letting the film do its thing. And what Disturbia did was entertain the hell out of me for a solid 104 minutes from start to finish. It opens with a poignant father/son fishing expedition, careens into action mode immediately afterwards with a spectacular car crash, gives us a bit of character development and exposition, and then morphs seamlessly into an edge-of-your-seat thriller for the duration. Let’s get one thing out of the way right now. Yes, it owes a lot to Rear Window, but by the last half hour I wasn’t thinking about Alfred or Jimmy. No siree. The person on my mind was Michael — as in Myers — only a maskless, human version with just a dash of Hopkins’ Hannibal (sans any trace of an accent) thrown in for good measure. Maybe those disappointed in the upcoming Halloween remake can find some small solace in Disturbia instead.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. What about those filmmakers? Who the heck are they, and why do their names strike fear — and, at the same time, high expectations — in the hearts of so many genre fans? Let’s start with director Caruso. Does the title The Salton Sea ring any bells? It’s only one of the most badass undercover cop movies ever made. Val Kilmer, Peter Sarsgaard, and Vincent D’Onofrio give performances of a lifetime. But then came Taking Lives. *shudder* Does it get much worse? Thankfully Disturbia is much closer to Sea than Lives so I’ll blame the studio for the horrendous Jolie/Hawke/Sutherland misfire and put Caruso back on my A list. He keeps Disturbia from becoming the dull, formulaic murder mystery we’ve all seen a million times by somehow inserting a freshness into both the lead characters and the villain. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say it was magic, pure and simple movie magic of the type audiences used to enjoy back in Hitchcock’s heyday when it wasn’t so much about box office as it was escapism into another set of lives and problems. What with the type of horror movies we’ve been subjected to lately, it makes sense that a throwback, seemingly throwaway film like Disturbia would be the one that surprises and satisfies the most.
So, whom can we thank for coming up with the script that set this chain of events in motion? The story and one half of the screenplay are credited to Christopher Landon, whom I admit I’m not familiar with other than knowing (after checking him out on the IMDB) that he’s the late Michael Landon’s son. Good genes apparently lead to good narratives. His partner in this endeavor was none other than Carl Ellsworth, the scribe of Red Eye, one of the worst, most implausible messes audiences were subjected to back in 2005. What made it even sadder was the fact that Ellsworth wrote one of the best, most beloved Buffy episodes ever: Season 2’s “Halloween,” which leads me to believe that the failures of Red Eye were the result of execution rather than source material. That idea seems to be borne out in Disturbia since there’s not a moment in the film when events don’t play out in the most organic way possible. In other words, unlike in Red Eye or your typical slasher type film, nobody does anything extremely stupid in Disturbia — other than a cop, and by that point you’re kind of hoping he gets his comeuppance anyway so it’s forgivable. Ellsworth and Landon deserve a lot of credit for their dialogue and pacing. The characters sound like they should and act like they would given their set of circumstances. Nothing feels forced or phony although there is a moment during the final chase sequence when things seems to be dragging on a little too long, but then it gets quickly back on track and reinserts the viewer right back into the fray.
If you haven’t seen the trailer, then you may be wondering what “fray” I’m speaking of. Disturbia is, in a nutshell, the tale of Kale Brecht (LaBeouf), a high school boy who has been sentenced to house arrest over the summer months for striking a teacher and begins to suspect his reclusive neighbor is a psychopath who picks up women and kills them. He’s aided in his investigation into this theory by his wisecracking buddy Ronnie (Yoo) and Ashley, the hot new girl next-door (Roemer) whose parents moved to suburbia in a desperate attempt to keep daddy dearest from cheating quite so much. Fate has, of course, brought them all together; and as one would imagine, Kale develops instant hots for Ashley, she teases him a bit before falling for his ample charms, and Caruso teases the audience with whether or not Mr. Turner (Morse), the killer in question, is guilty or just the victim of Kale’s overactive imagination and boredom as a result of being homebound. All this over a kickin’ soundtrack that includes such diverse acts as Minnie Ripperton, Afroman, Buckcherry, and Lou Rawls. Binoculars, camcorders, and cell phones play prominent roles in the kids’ activities, as you’d expect given our current society, but the technology never intrudes. Both LaBeouf and Roemer (man, that’s a lot of vowels!) are likable and immensely talented, thereby proving that you really can find young actors these days who are able to bump up a project’s quality level rather than just induce groans of “no, please, not another fresh face!”
Kale’s mom (Moss) is a tad underdeveloped, but we feel for her as she struggles to simultaneously support and reprimand him when the shit hits the fan and events start spiraling out of control. Moss does a lot with the little she’s given, and I must make at least a small mention of Matt Craven, who plays Kale’s father. The guy has been working since 1979, and while you may not know his name, you’ll surely recognize his face. He isn’t given much screen time here but brings a first-rate touch of class and professionalism to the project. And don’t fuck with David Morse. The guy can play evil. Sure, he was all nicey nice on St. Elsewhere back in the day, but over the intervening years his acting chops have developed exponentially. Mr. Turner may not produce a lot of visible blood and gore for the more hardcore viewer to cheer about, but his menace and killer instincts are clear enough that the character won’t be soon forgotten. I know I took a second look at a few of my neighbors when I got home just in case a Mr. Turner might be lurking under their seemingly normal veneers.
If you are part of the crowd that’s avoiding Disturbia because you think you’ve seen it all before, think again, head on over to the multiplex, and give it a shot. It may not be the best horror movie you’ll see all year, but I’m willing to bet that if you let yourself get caught up in Kale’s plight, you’ll stay engrossed and in a heightened state of suspense. It proves a PG-13 film with a cast made up predominately of young adults that steers clear of gruesome effects and in-your-face violence can still be interesting and enjoyable. Certainly no one wants a steady diet of such fare, but it’s definitely fun to see a shining example every couple of years. Disturbia fits the bill perfectly and should ride its success well into the next decade.
4 out of 5
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IAMX’s Alive in New Light Review – A Dark, Hypnotic, and Stunning Musical Endeavor
Recording eight albums is an achievement no matter the artist, group, or band. This is especially true for Chris Corner’s IAMX, his solo project after the trip hop group Sneaker Pimps, which has enchanted listeners since 2004’s Kiss + Swallow with its dark electronic aesthetic. There’s something fascinating about the music Corner puts out as IAMX. Perhaps it’s the underlying melancholy that seems to pervade the music, almost certainly a result of the musician’s battle with depression and chronic insomnia [Source]. Perhaps it’s the unexpected melodies that reveal themselves with each new measure. Whatever it is, IAMX’s music is a constant delight.
On Alive in New Light, Corner reveals that his eighth album was a product he created as a way of “…breaking free from demons that have long plagued him,” per an official press release. Strangely enough, this uplifting attitude may easily be overlooked but repeat listens unveil a sense of hope and wonder that are simply breathtaking. The title track echoes with almost angelic choir pads that positively shine as Corner exultingly cries in a shimmering falsetto, “I’m alive in new light!” This comes after the Depeche Mode-esque “Stardust”, which offers the first collaboration with Kat Von D, whose pure voice is a beautiful addition to the pulsating track.
The third track, “Break The Chains”, has an opening that immediately called to mind Birds of Tokyo’s “Discoloured”, which is meant as a compliment. It’s followed by the Nine Inch Nails influenced “Body Politics”, which meshes Corner’s crooning vocals with a 90’s industrial backdrop. “Exit” has an almost sinister progression lurking in the background that builds to an aggressive, in-your-face third act. The cinematic Middle Eastern flairs of “Stalker” mutate effortlessly into a heartbeat pulse that features back-and-forth vocals between Corner and Von D. The haunted circus vibe that permeates through “Big Man” is mirrored by its playful gothic aura, ghostly “oohs” and “aahs” sprinkled carefully here and there.
While the album has been a delight up to this point, it’s the final two tracks that took my breath away and left me stunned. “Mile Deep Hollow” builds layer after layer while Corner passionately cries out, “So thank you/you need to know/that you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow/and I love you/you brought me home/because you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow.” The way the song’s melodies back these wonderfully uplifting lyrics feels grand and epic, as though a journey is coming to an end, which is where “The Power and the Glory” comes in. Far more subdued, it’s a beautiful song that feels almost like a religious experience, a hymn of a soul that is desperate to claw its way to salvation and escape a life of pain and darkness.
What makes Alive in New Light so wonderful is how much there is to experience. I got the album and listened to it no less than five times in a row without pause. I simply couldn’t turn it off because each return revealed something new in the music. Corner also makes fantastic use of Von D’s vocals, carefully placing them so as to make them a treat and not a commonplace certainty.
While some may be disappointed that there are only nine tracks, each of the songs is carefully and meticulously crafted to be as powerful and meaningful as possible. It really is a stunning accomplishment and I’m nothing short of blown away by how masterfully Alive in New Light plays out.
IAMX’s Alive in New Light is a triumph of music. Full of beauty and confidence, it doesn’t forget the foundation that fans have come to know and love for over a decade but instead embraces that comfortable darkness with open arms. Corner states that this album was a way to break free from his demons. It certainly feels like he’s made peace with them.
The Hatred Review – A History Lesson Dug Up From The Depths Of Hell
Starring Zelda Adams, Lulu Adams, John Law
Directed by John Law
I don’t know about the scholastic interests the masses had (or have) that read all of the killer nuggets that get cranked out on this site, but when I was an academic turd, one of my true passions was history, and it was one of the only subjects that managed to hold my interest, and when the opportunity arose to check out John Law’s ultra-nightmarish feature, The Hatred – I was ready to crack the books once again.
The setting is the Blackfoot Territory in the late 1800s, and the pains of a lengthy conflict have taken their toll on the remaining soldiers as food has become scarce, and the film picks up with soldiers on the march in the brutal cold and snow covered mountainside. In tow is a P.O.W. (Law), and the decision is made by the soldiers to execute him in earnest instead of having to shorten their rations by feeding him, so he is then hung (pretty harshly done), and left to rot as the uniformed men trudge along. A short time later the group encounters a small family on the fringes of the territory, and when the demands for food are rebuked, the slaughter is on and the only survivor is a young girl (Adams) who prays to an oblivious god that she can one day reap the seeds of revenge upon those who’ve murdered her family. We all know that there are usually two sides to any story, and when the good ear isn’t listening, the evil one turns its direction towards those who need it most, and that’s when the Devil obliges.
The answer to the young girl’s prayers comes in the resurrection of the prisoner that was hung a short time ago, and he has been dubbed “Vengeance” – together their goal will be achieved by harshly dishing out some retribution, and the way it’s presented is drawn-out, almost like you’re strapped into the front-row pew of a hellfire-cathedral and force-fed the sermon of an evil voice from the South side of the tracks. It’s vicious and beautiful all at once, Law’s direction gives this visually-striking presentation all the bells and whistles to please even the harshest of critics (hell, you’re reading the words of one right now). The performances, while a bit stoic in nature, still convey that overall perception of a wrong that demands to be righted, no matter how morally mishandled it might be. Overall, I can absolutely recommend The Hatred for not only those wanting a period-piece with ferocious-artistry, but for others who continue to pray with no response, and are curious to see what the other side can offer.
The Hatred is a visually-appealing look into the eyes of animus, and all of the beauty of returning the harm to those who have awarded it to others.
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.
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