Horror Movie Roundup #3: Slither, An American Werewolf in London, Eden Lake

The first two films in this batch of horror reviews work quite well together, but Eden Lake is definitely an outlier here. Nonetheless, here are my takes:

Slither [2006]
Slither [2006]
A loving tribute to early 80s horror B-movies, Slither tells the tale of a small town that is over-run by a plague of worms that is turning its denizens into all sorts of creepy monsters. There’s a little bit of everything in this horror-comedy, including zombies, blobs and other grotesque freaks, and fans of Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks and Michael Rooker will get a kick out of this. Rooker, in particular, is as enjoyably creepy as always. The special effects are over-the-top and rather well done, and they enhance the film’s cheesiness. Some jokes fall flat, and the story is full of cliches, but Slither is good for what it is. Worth seeing for fans of the genre. 6/10

An American Werewolf in London [1981]
An American Werewolf in London [1981]
I was pleasantly surprised by this cult classic. When two Americans backpacking through England are attacked by a werewolf, one of them turns into a werewolf himself. The locals refuse to acknowledge the existence of the monsters, so it’s up to the American to figure out a way to put a stop to his own potential killing spree. There’s a lot to like in this film, as John Landis’ script is full of great lines (“A naked American man stole my balloons.”), and the Oscar-winning special effects still hold up today. It’s a fun watch overall, and I’m glad I was finally able to track it down. 7.5/10

Eden Lake [2008]
Eden Lake [2008]
“Relentless” is the perfect term to describe this lesser-known British horror film. When Steve (Michael Fassbender) and Jenny (Kelly Reilly) leave the city for a romantic getaway at a rural lake, their dream weekend goes awry when they run into a group of young hoodlums. Rather than move to a different location, the bull-headed Steve confronts the youths, and it doesn’t take long for things to escalate. The film gets increasingly violent (as evidenced by the image above), and it essentially becomes a game of cat-and-mouse between the kids and the couple. It’s a very bleak, punishing film, and I can’t recall ever being as angry afterward as I was with this. Some of the actions of all involved were questionable and left me frustrated, but there is no denying that this is both well-directed and well-acted. It’s just hard to recommend a film so full of despair. 6/10

Have you seen any of these films? What are your thoughts on them?

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Movie Review: The Hunger Games [2012]

The Hunger Games [2012]

The Hunger Games [2012]
Director: Gary Ross
Genre: Action/Drama/Sci-Fi
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth
Runtime: 142 Minutes

I don’t know what’s more shocking — the fact that a movie about kids killing kids has been a monster box office smash, or that author Suzanne Collins claims to had never heard of the Japanese cult hit, Battle Royale, before writing The Hunger Games. Of course, stories about people killing people for the sake of sport are hardly anything new. Before Battle Royale, there was The Running Man, and shortly after its release came Series 7: The Contenders. While an intriguing concept, it is amazing that such a violent storyline was written with young adults in mind.

Set in a dystopian environment, The Hunger Games shares its name with an event set up by a repressive government. Two teenagers, a boy and a girl, are selected from each of twelve districts via a lottery to become participants (or “tributes”) in the games. The goal is to be the last person standing. If not, you’re dead.

The Hunger Games [2012]

We follow Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a 16-year-old who boldly volunteers to take the place of her sister Primrose (Willow Shields), who was initially elected to participate. The other tribute from her district is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), who we later find out is in love with Katniss. Since The Hunger Games event is presented as a television broadcast, the creators try to stir up a romance between these two for those watching in the districts. In fact, the creators have full access to the games and can alter the environment in order to pique the interest of its viewers. This adds an interesting dynamic to what is essentially a spectacle of murder.

Although 24 children are selected as tributes, we really only get to know two (Katniss and Peeta). This fits in line with the idea that nearly all of them will die, but it does not translate well to the film. When one minor character is killed off, director Gary Ross tries desperately to tug at our heartstrings, even going so far as to show an extended, impromptu burial. While fans of the books may appreciate this scene, it felt forced to me and I was rather apathetic about it all.

The Hunger Games is a PG-13 movie, which is a tad peculiar considering its violent concept. Ross is able to get away with this in part because of the sped-up action scenes. We rarely get a clean look at any deaths mainly due to an overreliance on “shaky cam” techniques. Some of the fight/action scenes are almost unbearable to watch because of this, and it is hard to tell what is actually happening. I get the reasoning for going PG-13, but I can’t help but feel the movie would be improved if the action sequences were better executed (i.e. more graphic, matching the theme of the story).

The Hunger Games [2012]

The movie’s greatest asset is its cast, led by the surprisingly badass Jennifer Lawrence. Her stock has been rising steadily over the last couple years, but this role has just taken her to another dimension. I can’t think of a better lead for this film. Other noteworthy inclusions are Woody Harrelson as an alcoholic mentor, Stanley Tucci as the vastly entertaining MC of the broadcast, the stern Donald Sutherland as President, Elizabeth Banks as the eccentric Effie Trinket, and Lenny Kravitz as fashion extraordinare Cinna. Even Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth are competent in their roles.

While I don’t quite get all of the hype surrounding The Hunger Games, I still enjoyed the film well enough. The lack of character development is disappointing, as is the overuse of the shaky cam, but underneath there is still an absorbing sci-fi story with a unique dystopian setting.

7/10

Movie Review: Our Idiot Brother [2011]

Our Idiot Brother [2011]

Our Idiot Brother [2011]
Director: Jesse Peretz
Genre: Comedy
Language: English
Country: USA

There’s no question that Paul Rudd is an easily likeable guy. Without him in the lead role in Our Idiot Brother, this review would probably not be positive.

In the movie, Rudd plays Ned, a laidback and, well, idiot stoner. While selling organic food at a farmer’s market, he is propositioned by a police officer (in full uniform) who is looking to buy some pot. Ned, friend to everyone, hooks him up and promptly gets arrested. After gaining an early release from jail due to “good behavior”, Ned heads home to the only place he can still go to — his family. The problem is, no one really wants him to stay with them.

Ned’s mom (Shirley Knight), a lonely wino, is the only one who takes him in with open arms. Ned’s three sisters are all hesitant to have him around, as they all have their own issues. Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) is an uptight busybody professional who has a strange platonic relationship with her neighbor (criminally underused Adam Scott). Liz (Emily Mortimer) is a housewife married to a pretentious filmmaker (Steve Coogan). Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) is an artsy free-spirit who is in a committed relationship with attorney Cindy (Rashida Jones). All of them have underlying problems that they prefer to keep under wraps. However, Ned’s friendly demeanor and big mouth leads to things coming out in the open, much to the chagrin of his siblings.

It’s a pretty safe bet that most will be able to determine the direction the movie takes early on, but the predictability never becomes a major fault. This is a testament to the entire cast, all of whom are very enjoyable no matter how small their roles.

Our Idiot Brother [2011]

Paul Rudd is, of course, the anchor of the film. I had a hard time getting behind his character, Ned, in the first 1/3 of the movie simply because he was such a doofus. Selling pot to an officer is only the beginning; I had to groan when Ned handed a big wad of cash to a total stranger on the subway while he picked up something he dropped. This is a guy who trusts everyone and expects people to live with the same sense of humanity that he practices daily. It’s a little unbearable at first just how stupid he is, but I couldn’t help but get won over by the end simply because of Paul Rudd’s natural charisma.

The rest of the cast is great, and it includes some personal favorites of mine such as Adam Scott, Zooey Deschanel and Rashida Jones (whom they even managed to make look unflattering, which I didn’t think was possible). And of course, it is fun to see Steve Coogan play the asshole that he does so well.

The story is thin, but sweet, much like the overall film. Our Idiot Brother starts off a little slow, but picks up by the halfway point. By the end, it is difficult not to feel good about the movie. Ned may be an idiot, but the world would be better off if everyone shared some of his kindhearted traits. Our Idiot Brother is a good way to close out the summer.

7/10