Friday, September 30, 2011

The Girl from the Woods Next Door

Director: Lucky McKee
Writers: Lucky McKee, Jack Ketchum
Starring: Pollyanna McIntosh, Sean Bridgers, Angella Bettis
2011 | United States | R | 108 mins

People can't seem to talk about Lucky McKee's The Woman without someone piping in about the film's controversy surrounding the Sundance Film Festival premiere. A man in in the audience was so appalled by the film that he demanded the film print be burned right then and there and made a big stink as he was escorted out of the theatre by security. The aftermath can be seen in full on YouTube. Raving loon or moral crusader? You decide.

Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers), a seemingly all-American family man and successful lawyer, is out hunting one day in the woods surrounding his home when he spots a feral woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) near a stream. Eying her up through the scope, Chris has a plan for her. So he captures her, ties her up in the family work shed, and manages to lose his finger while he tries to have some fun with her. This secret isn't going to be easy to keep so he gathers the whole family together and proposes they all pitch in and try to help "civilize" her. Now this family has a few more concerns besides martial problems, rebellious teenagers, and a depressed daughter.

The Woman is Lucky McKee's second film based off of Jack Ketchum's literary works. His first being the adaptation of Red, a story about a man's revenge for the unjust killing of his dog. Here though it seems Jack Ketchum is revisiting a previous scenario he already wrote about in The Girl Next Door, although this outing is not based loosely, or at all, on fact and has a change of location. Same basic set-up however; a girl/woman is captured by seemingly sane people, punished, tortured, raped, and eventually escapes. In The Woman though she's more of an animal than human per say and exacts her revenge, but it's the same old thing. Pollyanna McIntosh is the film's only saving grace. But she can't save it.

Lucky McKee makes some big mistakes that make this a paint-by-the-numbers captive film. The characters are all highly cliched, uninteresting and hokey, the writing bland and predictable, but the film's biggest offender is the soundtrack. Bubblegum-esque pop-punk saturates the soundtrack and it feels like some bad late 90's high school comedy ala American Pie. This ruins anything that could have possibly made this an atmospheric and chilling venture (of course if it were acted and written better as well). As for the controversy this film has caused, let's call it hype. The Woman is too boring and lame to shock or offend and even Michael Bay's movies are more misogynistic. And the twist they throw in at the end removes any credibility it may still have had. Lucky McKee showed promise as an interesting director to seek out with previous efforts such as May and his highly underrated film The Woods but this effort is just juvenile. The Woman is Lucky McKee's worst film.

All contents copyright 2011 Tyler Baptist

They're Not Just Under The Bridge Anymore

Director: André Øvredal
Writers: André Øvredal, Håvard S. Johansen
Starring: Otto Jespersen, Glenn Erland Tosterud, Johanna Mørck
2010 | Norway | PG-13 | 103 mins

The Blair Witch Project opened the floodgates to the found footage film, for better or worse. Most of these films utilize this view point for nothing more than cheap jump scares, avoiding any real plot or motive other than to scare you with a loud noise or quick frantic glimpse of some unknown terror. The Paranormal Activity franchise being notorious for this. But here comes a film from Norway which takes you into a fairy tale world come alive and just might let you enjoy the time spent viewing this found footage while providing some cleverly placed thrills. 

Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), Johanna (Johanna Mørck), and Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen) are three students from Volda College who are out doing some investigative journalism into what a series of bear killings and bear poachers. Their main target is Hans (Otto Jespersen), a mysterious hunter whom only seems to go out during the night. Curiously he always ends up leaving an area as soon as a new dead bear is discovered by the local population. Upon secretly following him into a mine blasting site they are confronted by Hans, whom agrees to let them film him as he wants to expose his actual job, much to the disbelief of the students, that he is a troll hunter. 

TrollHunter features the talents of some amazing CGI artists who blend the "reality" of the footage with the enormous, hideous looking trolls. Each type is distinctive and believable, and the attention is payed to making them part of the environment rather than the show-horse. The cast are all quite charming and at times realistically annoying. Jespersen's Hans is just like the trolls he hunts; lumbering around trying to survive yet escape the confinements of his world which he is growing tired of. André Øvredal knows that less is more, and always chooses the right moments to showcase the action and horror, and keeps things moving along despite that it takes some time to get into the world of the trolls. 

There are no cheap jump scares, the action is concise and thrilling, and it avoids going for violence over suspense. While the film loses some steam half way through, gets a bit talky, and doesn't end in the most satisfactory of terms (unfortunately, an all too common problem of the found footage genre), André Øvredal and crew still manage to bring a spectacle to life and prove that CGI can be used in a manner that becomes part of the story rather than taking you out of it. TrollHunter is, overall, light and entertaining fun. 

All contents copyright 2011 Tyler Baptist

Invite the Devil Home

Director: Michael Steiner
Writers: Michael Steiner, Stefani Japp, Michael Sauter
Starring: Roxane Mesquida, Nicholas Ofczarek, Carlos Leal
2010 | Switzerland | Not Rated | 110 mins

Isolation. Cabin fever. Sexual frustration. In the Swiss Alps legend has it that lonely mountaineers had fashioned a broom, straw, and some rags into a doll to keep them company. The Devil took pity on them so he made their doll come to life. It became the Sennentuntschi. She cleaned, cooked, made coffee, and was used and abused by these men for their pleasure. But not without a price, as the Sennentunschi took her revenge and killed, skinned, and fashioned the men into straw-stuffed dolls.

1975. A small mountainside village. During the funeral procession for a priest who committed suicide a mysterious and mute young woman (Roxane Mesquida) wanders in out of nowhere dirty, frantic, and seemingly possessed. Sebastian Reusch (Nicholas Ofczarek), the local cop, quickly takes her in despite the judging of the church community whom deem her a witch possessed by the Devil. Reusch believes in innocent until proven guilty. With the mystery of trying to find out who this woman is, Reusch discovers an article from an unsolved murder case involving three mountaineers in 1950. And the prime suspect appears to be the same woman, appearing to have not aged at all. Earlier on though, a goat farmer (Andrea Zogg), his mute son (Joel Basman), and a hired hand (Carlos Leal) working higher up in the Alps drunkenly put the legend to the test and when they awake from their absinthe-fueled slumber they find a woman amongst them, the Devil having given them a Sennentuntschi. But a curse deeper than that just of the Sennentunschi lurks over the entire mountainside, and will Reusch discover it before it's too late? 

Sennentuntschi: Curse of the Alps is a gripping, twisting and turning mystery thriller. Michael Steiner finely crafts a film that layers on atmosphere, suspense, intrigue, and a spider's web of a tale that if you're not paying attention it will leave you confused and dazed. Sennentuntschi weaves together all the pieces of the puzzle to tell its tale so we are delved into three different times throughout the film at different moments. And if you don't notice these changes in the characters' wardrobe you may think they are taking place simultaneously, and this will not help you in figuring out the mystery and will leave your head hurting. Steiner, and the other writers, use these flashbacks to anchor the story and mystery and to engage the viewer into discovering the truth along with, or before, Reusch.

Intricately detailed, this type of plot and story with its twists and turns would be horrendously butchered say if this was an M. Night Shyamalan production, but everything connects and works. And the twists unravel with substance to the plot rather than throwing a left hook out of nowhere. The actors turn in great performances and Roxane Mesquida especially gives a lot of depth to every nuance which straddles the line between childlike curiosity and predatory survivalist instinct. Accompanied by some gorgeous cinematography, rich locations, and a great and brooding score, Sennentunschi: Curse of the Alps is a thrilling labyrinthine mystery worth seeking out. 

All contents copyright 2011 Tyler Baptist