Rated M for Mature
Developed by Blue Isle Studios
Oh, Slenderman, you creepypasta tweener psycho killer inspiring snappy dresser, you.
I was around when Slenderman first showed up on various forums. Fell in love with him immediately. The Internet crowd-sourced a brand new boogeyman in front of my eyes. Created by Eric Knudson, Slenderman took on a life of his own as others started creating images, stories, and even games using his image. The now-classic ‘Marble Hornets’ and the associated ‘totheark’ Youtube accounts popped up, creating an episodic found footage show about Slendy and his exploits. The whole thing was clever, fresh, and scary as hell.
So why does this, the first game officially signed off on by creator Knudson, suck just so damn hard?
Make no mistake, this isn’t just a misstep. This is an aggressively bad game. There’s not one aspect that stands up to any scrutiny. This game bashes you in the gnards again and again with just how painfully awful it is.
The sounds fade in and out drastically as you approach or leave them. Fires crackle if you’re within five feet… but you’re in the cone of silence if you stray from there.
The graphics look like an early build of Half Life 2’s Source engine. 2D grass/weeds, horrible pixelation and lack of detail, lighting effects that barely exist… it’s just horrible for a 2014 title. And that light… you spend most of the game wandering around with a flashlight with a beam that provides absolute illumination within its beam but zero ambient light. ALL lights in the game do this… a lamp in a room casts a spotlight and zero ambient lighting.
A giant spotlight in a clearing provides perfect light within the cone it shines, and zero outside it, even though that’s what it’s designed to do. It makes no sense, unless your lighting engine was designed by drunken howler monkeys with dyslexia. In 1996. Mirrors are silver (matte) panels on the wall. Even Duke Nukem had working mirrors.
And then we come to the game. I can forgive poor technical aspects if a game is fun or a story is engaging. Play The Last Door or Lone Survivor and you’ll see what I mean. But this, oh man.
You play… someone… who is going to see your… well, a lady who lives in a house in a forest. You have a video camera and you’re shooting all the time. You find her house in a shambles and evidence something was stalking her. Before long, you’re in the woods of a park behind her house and you’re… well… doing… things.
At no point in this game did I have any idea what I was doing, why I was doing it, who I was, or why I shouldn’t just walk back to my car and drive home. And I’m videotaping everything. For no reason. It commits one of the deadly sins of found footage movies, and it isn’t even a found footage movie. It can’t even manage to keep its suck within its own genre.
In the first sequence the game told me to collect pages. It wouldn’t let me see what’s on the pages. It didn’t tell me why I needed them. But doggone it, I had to stumble around in ugly woods with only my flashlight for light, looking for those pages. Get too close to Slenderman, your camera wigs out, and you die. Or not.
See, the first time I hit him, game over, would I like to retry? The second time, I inexplicably passed out and went on to the next scene. I didn’t get all the pages. I have no idea what happened. I guess Slendy is a creature of mercy, allowing me to move on without the pages so I wouldn’t have to suffer the horrors of those tree textures.
The next scene, I’m at a mine trying to turn on the generators to get an elevator to take me down. I have no idea why. Hey, I just blacked out and woke up the next day outside a mine, let’s go in! Sure!
There are six generators. This elevator apparently needs enough juice to power Cincinnati. These generators are hidden around the pitch-black facility. Because, you know, that’s what you do with emergency generators. There’s another critter chasing me now as well as Slenderman. I have to “focus” my flashlight to blind it. How I do that with a flashlight is beyond me. It blinds the beast for like 2 seconds. Inevitably it grabs me, slaps me around a little then runs away. Okay. Sure. This happens over and over. If I were in Vegas instead of a mining facility, I’d expect it to try and shove coupons for strip clubs in my hands.
I run into Slendy again and again and finally decide I’m a grown man in my 40’s and they can’t make me play this thing anymore.
Why am I videotaping everything? No clue. I understand keeping secrets, but this game hates exposition. You find emails, printed out and left hanging all over this nature preserve (why not) that tell you nothing, but they can’t explain who your character is and why you seem obsessed with videotaping everything? Screw this game.
One other thing I have to mention. You run into various ephemera while wandering lost. Completely useless bits of paper and signs you can view from the main menu, because I know I love reading random warning signs for mining camps from games I hate. One is a list of rules for a canoe shop. It includes the line, and I am not making this up: “Do not interact with any and all marine life.”
It’s a horrible cash-in on a nice horror concept. It rips off Alan Wake to the point that I’d recommend Remedy sue them.
Avoid this game like the plague. Go buy Outlast and Alan Wake. Outlast is the same game style done absolutely right and will have you crapping your tighty whiteys. Alan Wake has brilliant technical design and strong storytelling, everything this game lacks, with many of the same basic concepts: wandering a forest with a flashlight, using light to wound your enemies, trying to discover a story, etc.
For now, we can only hope someone like Telltale gets ahold of the Slenderman license and does something truly scary. Or hell, give it to Red Barrels, the Outlast people. They’ll do it right. This game just does everything wrong, over and over and over.
- Single player
- A perfect mess
Desolation Review: Campers + Lunatic = Simplicity, But Not Always a Better Product
Starring Jaimi Page, Alyshia Ochse, Toby Nichols
Directed by Sam Patton
I’m usually all in when it comes to a psycho in the woods flick, but there was just something about Sam Patton’s Desolation that seemed a bit distant for me…distance…desolation – I’m sure there’s a connection in there somewhere. Either that or I’m suffering from a minor case of sleep-deprivation. Either way, make sure you’ve got your backpack stuffed, cause we’re hitting the timber-lands for this one.
The film focuses on mother and son tandem Abby and Sam, and the tragic notion that Abby’s love and father to her son, has passed away. The absence has been a crippling one, and Abby’s idea of closure is to take her adolescent offspring to the woods where her husband used to love to run and scatter his ashes as a memorial tribute. Abby invites her best friend Jenn along as emotional support, and together all three are planning on making this trip a fitting and dedicatory experience…until the mystery man shows up. Looking like a member of the Ted Kaczynski clan (The Unabomber himself), this creepy fellow seems content to simply watch the threesome, and when he ultimately decides to close the distance, it’ll be a jaunt in the forest that this close-knit group will never forget.
So there you have it – doesn’t beg a long, descriptive, bled-out dissertation – Patton tosses all of his cards on the table in plain view for the audience to scan at their leisure. While the tension is palpable at times, it’s the equivalent of watching someone stumble towards the edge of a cliff, and NEVER tumble over…for a long time – you literally watch them do the drunken two-step near the lip for what seems like an eternity. What I’m getting at is that the movie has the bells and whistles to give white-knucklers something to get amped about, yet it never all seems to come into complete focus, or allow itself to spread out in such a way that you can feel satisfied after the credits roll. If I may harp on the performance-aspect for a few, it basically broke down this way for me: both Abby and Jenn’s characters were well-displayed, making you feel as if you really were watching long-time besties at play. Sam’s character was a bit tough to swallow, as he was the sadder-than-sad kid due to his father’s absence, but JEEZ this kid was a friggin malcontented little jerk – all I can say is “role well-played, young man.”
As we get to our leading transient, kook, outsider – whatever you want to call him: he simply shaved down into a hum-drum personality – no sizzle here, folks. Truly a disappointment for someone who was hoping for an enigmatic nutbag to terrorize our not-so-merry band of backpackers – oh well, Santa isn’t always listening, I guess. Simplicity has its place and time when displaying the picture-perfect lunatic, and before everyone gets a wild hair across their ass because of what I’m saying, all this is was the wish to have THIS PARTICULAR psycho be a bit more colorful – I can still appreciate face-biters like Hannibal Lecter and those of the restrained lunacy set. Overall, Desolation is one of those films that had all the pieces meticulously set in place, like a house of cards…until that drunk friend stumbled into the table, sending everything crumbling down. A one-timer if you can’t find anything else readily available to watch.
Looking for a little direction way out in the woods? Look elsewhere, because this guide doesn’t have a whole lot to offer.
Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political
Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside
Directed by Eitan Gafny
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.
Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.
Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.
The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.
The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Aki Avni as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.
So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.
Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.
The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.
Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.
While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.
Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama
Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein
Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.
The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.
Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.
The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.
While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.
All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.
Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.
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