The Complex Review


In 1998 Hideo Nakata set the world on edge with a cursed VHS tape. Ringu and its impact was serious, putting Asian shocks firmly into the spotlight, influencing an indefinite amount of ghostly narratives and inevitably causing a decade long rash of imitations and remakes. Of course very few film makers get close to the innovation and reach that Nakata initially achieved so it’s no wonder quite a few horror fans out there are lamenting his lack of clout since, save for his original Dark Water, Ringu 2 and taking the helm directing the Western sequel to The Ring remake. Ultimately though, none of those could be described as fresh in the wake of Ringu, which shaped the very genre we know as J-Horror.

With The Complex Nakata goes through the majority of stale beats from almost every J-Horror (and also K-Horror for that matter) while seemingly directing on auto-pilot. The film follows Asuka (Atsuko Maeda), a young nursing student who moves into an old apartment complex with her family. After hearing eerie noises coming from the apartment next door, Asuka discovers that her still-occupying neighbour died from starvation. Unsettled after discovering claw marks on the wall shared with her room, Asuka becomes further disturbed when the noises continue despite the old man’s death. Investigation not only brings about a confrontation with the spirits of her building, but also the consequences and knowledge that the complex has had many mysterious deaths over the years. And so ensues the overly tried and tested formula; the domestic set up, which in this instance has its scenes filled with cardboard cut-outs from a family friendly advertisement. Then the inevitable freaky noises and the exploring of the possibly vacated apartment next door, these are so predictable that they are stripped of any actual tension or atmosphere, barely even qualifying The Complex for its genre label. While one understands a need for varying degrees of fright and intensity in films, here flaying its horror elements down to their very bones and therefore of anything that could be considered frightening or a surprise simply renders a ghost story useless and worse still extremely boring.

Probably the only saving grace of this film is that it’s not found footage, but that doesn’t make it any more interesting as it is still littered with dull pauses, incredibly wooden acting and with only a sparse couple of volume-ramping jump scares to react to. Needless to say there is nothing entertaining let alone memorable to be found here. The languid pacing and efforts in general make for a very hollow watch, while hysteria or scepticism are often the go to in these sorts of domestic ghost stories the flat execution makes for a patience bashing slog, so even though the all too familiar set pieces come thick they certainly do not come fast. With some linear play The Complex almost threatens to become briefly interesting in its final stretch only to retreat back into its below average corner and then bow out with some half-hearted instances that wind up unintentionally funny. A prologue of the events leading up to the story (which I managed to forget as it was being so vaguely told) in The Complex is currently airing as a 12 part series in its native Japan and I care not to even hazard a guess at how tedious that must be to follow.

As a result of his latest it’s almost embarrassing to see the grand marshal of J-Horror retreading tropes that were already run into the ground several years ago. Even fans of paranormal-lite films must have moved on somewhat from cloudy contact lenses, scowling kiddy spectres and the lazy myths they all predictably meander around in. Frankly I had mentally checked out, even before the shot of a playground swing moving of its own accord.

 (Jan 2014)


The Found Footage Festival (Live Show) Review


This week I had the pleasure of attending the Found Footage Festival, running downstairs in the Soho Theatre for 4 nights.

Two rules govern Found Footage Festival: 1) Footage must be found on physical format. No YouTube! 2) It has to be unintentionally funny. Whatever it’s trying to do, it has to fail miserably at that. And no YouTube!”

Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher are the doting and tireless masterminds behind The Found Footage Festival, a unique show that showcases footage from videos that were found at garage sales and thrift stores and in warehouses and dumpsters across the country (and this country thanks to the superb Leeds sourced VHS ‘Famous Tits & Arses’ the hosts proudly displayed). The show itself works very well, Tom and Nick gently lead the show admirably, their restrained and amiable Mystery Science Theatre-like commentary is never unwelcome or overtly snarky. The influence, homage and straight up ripping of these clips that we see in intentional comedy like Tim & Eric is apparent, its really refreshing to see the originals in all their earnest glory, managing to at times be pretty adorable and often damn eerie. The amusingly edited (but never over-tinkered) clips cram in hunk worship, instructional ferret-care, some of the most surreal keep-fit you’ve never even imagined, histrionic shopping networks hosts, creaky  infomercials, health and safety horrors that flit between the quite effective and the baffling and joyous levels of video tech wizardry, varying in tone but all warranting hearty laughs. My personal favourite is simply one middle aged man’s super focussed enthusiasm for weaponry, I can honestly say I have never witnessed someone going at a water cooler with a sword and I now question why I have never previously demanded to.

Our hosts give the audiences’ eyes a rest between the garish footage with funny tales of their footage sourcing and a friendly ease that pitches the event’s pace and length perfectly. Overall a nostalgic and hilarious praise of what is unique to the eighties and nineties. Through well worn VHS and questionable hair the show happily avoids being mean spirited, instead we share a charming nod at a time when everything wasn’t drowned in irony. This is pure affection for a period that was so wonderfully summed up by a simple homespun film format. Even the occasional technical faults on the night were fitting, truly suiting the VCR viewing experience with all its practical frustrations. At times, especially to the right Blu-ray ignoring nerd or trash aficionado (Guilty!), one gets a wholly warm feeling from the clips, presentation and the hosts’ personal efforts to bring these foraged gems to our shores.

In short the Found Footage Festival is AUTOMATICALLY OUTSTANDING!

The Found Footage Festival continues till 30th March:

Found Footage is also a gnarly way to kill hours online:

(March 2013)

Compliance Review


Based on true events, Compliance tells the unsettling account of how far some people may go to obey an apparent authority figure. On a busy day in an average fast food joint, manager Sandra receives a phone call from a police officer accusing a young female employee of stealing money from a customer. Convinced she is duly following procedure Sandra commences with the step-by-step investigation on behalf of the caller no matter how invasive it becomes.

The characters in Compliance walk a blurry line between victim and perpetrator. Director Craig Zobel wisely refrains from brashly transforming his characters into knee jerk parodies or monsters. He rightfully induces a level of ugly and tense discomfort that warrants a fair amount of seat squirming or awkward laughter, but manages to achieve this without getting schlocky, instead simply utilizing the story’s biggest shock tactic, that of staggering blinkered obedience. It’s refreshing to have mere human flaws provide the real horror. Zobel subtly captures why fast-food chains were the prime target of the twisted hoaxer. The hierarchy in the service industry (particularly in the U.S mould) is drowned in petty rules alongside frustrated rank and file. Add to that minimal wages and the rigid environment inbreeds an unquestioning adherence to the powers that be. Emphasising a setting where monotone consistency is encouraged and individual instinct is frowned upon for risk of disruption leads to the situation being all the more plausible.

Ann Dowd gives a bittersweet and measured performance as the restaurant manager Sandra, who is front line of the hoaxer’s coercion, she by no means begs for empathy but is tactile enough to avoid being too demonised. Dreama Walker similarly plays Becky the victim of the bizarre crimes well, as an initially confident teen that is rendered despondent over the course of the film, maintaining the quick fear of immaturity in the face of well spoken authority. The handling of every character isn’t quite flawless, there are a couple of shakier portrayals that run a little on the weaker side but I suspect these hiccups lay within the tricky adaptation process. For the majority though the film is well-handled, avoiding cheap hysteria or explicitness makes the reality of the events further deplorable and dare I say relatable. These people were not psychologically strong-armed so much as manipulated through fear and flattery, causing an eerily assumed politeness that is perfectly illustrated come Sandra’s final scene. The phantom cop is charismatically played by the ever wonderful Pat Healy and used in a restrained fashion that is beneficial, keeping him suitably shrouded largely as a voice on the other end of the phone and interspersed with real-time domestic appearances that present an approachable balance between the enigmatic power he wields and the perverse prankster with too much time on his hands that he ultimately is. As an audience we get all that we need from him, everything that unfolds does of course present larger questions about why and how he managed to commit these long distance abuses but as in real life we rarely have coherent answers to these questions conveniently delivered to us.

Any voyeuristic moments are dutifully sterile and completely within context, providing a sense that had this film been in the hands of another young director they’d have possibly capitalised more on the leering scenes, dragging them out beyond the point of impact and probing past the realms of taste. It’s a frank relief that an upstart horror film maker with something to prove never laid his sticky hands on the premise. Whilst skilfully constructed and statically riveting, Compliance is easier to conclude as bleakly intriguing rather than darkly entertaining and it is perhaps advisable to approach it as such. The film is an admirable undertaking and although half of the tension is achieved by it being based on actual events that wouldn’t have been an easy thing to insure and overall it skews a fall into exploitation. A distinct lack of sensationalism or moralising nicely shows the thought behind the scenes that make it a recommendation for anyone wanting to leave a film reflective, perplexed and kind of needing a shower.

(March 2013)

ABCs of Death Review



26 film makers, each given $5000, 5 minutes and a letter of the alphabet…The ABCs of Death.

A: A semi effective opener, with a semi effective display of domestic violence that at least musters a semi effective context at the end. Dir: Nacho Vigalondo 2/5

B: This may be the least intense execution of a horror ever put to film. It’s certainly one of the most incompetent and during I suddenly became very grateful of the scant runtime. Dir: Adrián García Bogliano 0/5

C: Managing to make 5 minutes feel like 5 hours, the creator appears to believe he has a mind bending concept on his hands as opposed to a rather dull concept on the bottom of his shoe. Timecrimes (2007) is the film this segment wants to be when it grows up, which was actually made by the director of the opening short. Dir: Adrián García Bogliano 0/5

D: Essentially a well shot music video, but impressively staged with overtures of Fight Club here and Gaspar Noe’s anally penetrative short Sodomites there. Dir: Marcel Sarmiento 3/5

E: Likeable actress Ms. Bettis may want to remain in front of the camera. Cheap CGI spiders? Is that it? Yep that’s it! From the off it is completely void of the adequate creep needed to provide anything in the way or interest. Dir: Angela Bettis 0/5

F: Right on cue the first Japanese entry shows up with its fists full of crazy and poised to smear that crazy all over our faces.  Vastly silly but most jarringly introducing a running theme of bowel based humour that near sabotages any tone that the whole project might be trying to establish. The only exception to this ill-advised pattern begins with the letter T. Dir: Noboru Iguchi 1/5

G: Brace yourself for some contemporary POV action. Or rather sit in calm anticipation through 5 minutes of scenic lead up to next to nothing. Dir: Andrew Traucki 1/5

H: One of the more unique efforts but also a strong argument for why cartoon aesthetics translated into live action are a bit too unsettling. At its best displaying some weird humour and accomplished FX. Not bad for a fetishistic Furry’s wet-dream. Dir: Thomas Cappelen Malling 2/5

I: Now we’re getting somewhere. An entry that is in a sense is the thinking man’s torture porn but is also effectively horrific in its minimalism. And not a moment too soon in the running to finally witness some deft skill. Dir: Jorge Michel Grau 4/5

J: Continued J-sanity with samurai, mercenary gurning and giggly gore, it also surely deserves some imaginary award for being the first entry to make me audibly laugh. Dir: Yudai Yamaguchi 3/5

 K: A cartoon non-hilarity that tacks on an ill-fitting ending and generally misses any mark. This skit notably risks ruining things especially being placed amid some of the strongest entries. Really disappointing when you realise it’s by the director of the solid Danish animation film Princess (2006). Dir: Anders Morgenthaler 0/5

L: Otherwise known as Indonesian-crass-contest-of-doom pushes the realms of taste like a trooper and wades around in vile lunacy along with some seriously dark humour. Easily one of the best segments (if not the best overall), near unrivalled in the impact stakes and assuredly not for the sensitive. Short, sharp shock at its best. Dir: Timo Tjahjanto 5/5

M: ‘’Really now Ti West with this and your V/H/S instalment I am really starting to worry about you.’’ A vapid visual gross-out that is supposed to be a bit edgy but just isn’t. Dir: Ti West 0/5

N: A note of levity that while not unwelcome isn’t exactly inspiring. A simple a comedy sketch that while sort of mildly funny is overwhelmingly un-horror. Dir: Banjong Pisanthanakun 2/5

O: Some pretence involving oddly subdued S&M innuendo and bubbles. Occasionally resembling something stylistically pretty (or should that be eighties) but an awkward fit in the run that leaves no impression other than a dated after taste. Dir: Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani 1/5

P: A competent and refreshing break from some of the more puerile entries, not so much in complexity but in being a fair few notches up on the effective scale and having a far less by the numbers genre set up and conclusion. Dir: Simon Rumley 4/5

Q: Fellow V/H/S fault figure Adam Wingard goes all Meta with his effort, a dicey move that thankfully pays off in a vaguely satirical and satisfyingly funny manner. This will go towards you climbing off my anthology shit-list someday Wingard. Dir: Adam Wingard 4/5

R: An icky Cronenbergian art-house Frankenstein, hopefully those words make sense in some order as it’s basically what you have in this short. Either way its miles better than Spasojevic’s previous feature-length A Serbian Film. Dir: Srdjan Spasojevic 3/5

S: If there is one thing worse than terrible horror it is terrible exploitation, especially when aping an already derivative Robert Roderiguez on his laziest day. With an arsenal of self-conscious swearing and no vision, it appears leagues of people still believe that some celluloid reel after effect, stock girls with alternative hair, bad dialogue and plastic weaponry make for a wild ride. Embarrassing. Dir: Jake West 0/5

T: Managing to be quite funny and the most endearing. Partly due to its inclusion through winning a competition for the anthology and also being that it’s good old homely Claymation with a comically British approach. Dir: Lee Hardcastle 4/5

U: Regional zombie POV that doesn’t set the world alight but also doesn’t disappoint. It does provide a rare glimpse of empathy for the unseen ghoul and feels like a slightly fresher angle on the undead. Not bad after my none-more negative experience with Kill List (2011), especially with this seemingly filmed on location between Kill List’s scenes. Dir: Ben Wheatley 3/5

V: A weighty live action Playstation-4 cut scene with a few too many ideas than it’s able to convey in it’s short time. Robotic-pizazz and some interesting potential as either a superior video game or an average (or less than) genre film are positives but it does wind up feeling like a work in progress trailer for film investors. Dir: Kaare Andrews 3/5

W: Another attempt at being post-modern. Those behind the scenes step forward and aim for the chaotic charm of Troma but the results are a bit too scrappy and not quite funny enough. Dir: Jon Schnepp 2/5

X: Hooray for body horror, this holds as the most visceral entry and is every inch a Xavier Gans film namely with its innate ability to be stylish and graphically bleak, very in line with the current wave of French horror, explicit and evocative. Dir: Xavier Gans 4/5

Y: Eisener’s stand-out has a real glint in its eye, is unique and prods at taste levels with the Canadian’s vibrant signature style which we saw in the highly likeable funfair that was Hobo with a Shotgun (2011). Dir: Jason Eisener  5/5

Z: Dr. Stranglove meets Tokyo Gore Police meets Ilsa She Wolf of the SS, or Nazi-Yakuza-Mutant-Rice-ploitation to coin a phrase. Although I had little to no clue of what was going on I did get that it is roundly Nishimura, visually memorable and if nothing else a decently hi-energy note to end on. Dir: Yoshihiro Nishimura 3/5

Aside from the grindingly weak toilet humour ABCs was better than I’d anticipated, the flow through of the collection wasn’t too much hard work and although there are several duds those being so brief definitely helps matters. The project is undeniably ambitious but unsurprisingly inconsistent. Still it falls closer to the positive than many recent horrors have and the international variation and handful of fresh ideas make for very welcome elements. The ABCs of Death is definitely a step in the right direction as far as horror displaying some imagination, let’s just hold out hope for this year’s other anthologies V/H/S-2, Sanitarium and The Profane Exhibit, although as Uwe Boll is the headlining director for latter best not to get too excited.

*I chose not to name the titles of each short as several serve as crucial spoilers.

(March 2013)

Maniac Review


A serial killer with a fetish for scalps is on the hunt. Frank is the withdrawn owner of a mannequin store, but his life changes when young artist Anna appears asking for his help with her new exhibition. As their friendship develops and Frank’s obsession escalates, it becomes clear that she has unleashed a recently-repressed compulsion. 

Being a remake Maniac retreads William Lustig’s grimy 1980 original, which despite sharing shelf space with the likes of Halloween and Friday 13th for 30 plus years was never nearly as revered. Unlike more commercially successful slasher titles Maniac version one was more in line with the cult films of Abel Ferrera and Frank Hennenlotter in its seedy shock which fell decidedly more into the horror underground with its departure from the suburbs and summer camps of other franchises at the time. This time round director Frank Khalfoun takes all the right cues from its source. In most ways this is still your average slice’em up with creepy mother issues and despatching of naïve female knife fodder but where it’s all too often a negative here the grimly back to basics style makes it more of a welcome film that creeps up on you despite usual expectations. In utilising POV for most of the violence and with it winding up in every scene throughout works effectively, lending a matter of fact intensity that is all too often lacking in contemporary slasher films. The stripped back to its roots approach gives makers the opportunity to pool their efforts where it counts in a film of this nature, after all the story is minimal at best and far from original. Instead setting the 80 minutes up as a viciously stylized experience is beneficial, especially the lack of clunky psychoanalysis (see Rob Zombie’s misguided Halloween re-mangling) adds to the appreciated briskness which serves its overall outcome very well.

Where the makers are concerned I have to give it to the French forces behind the scenes when it comes to delivering the red stuff in a lovingly striking fashion. Along with the POV shots the camera stalks, jars and judders with appropriate menace. The gore FX are simply flawless and for as questionable as it is to use the word subtle when describing this kind of in your face blade-happy violence I am referring to the seamless blending of the CG effects with the practical, it never looks anything but perfect and while this may seem a disposable point in a film this stark in its brutality it is potentially make or break, ultimately in Maniac how the kills are executed (pun unavoidable) is of the up most importance. L.A serves as a fitting backdrop, nicely replacing the original’s New York setting it manages to update the alleys, steaming grates and urban isolation, nicely recreating the seedy ambience that leaves one feeling alone despite the surrounding cosmopolitan pace. Adding to the successful unease is one of the best soundtracks I have heard for many a year, with its fittingly abrasive synthesized drone and perfectly pitched homage.

Elijah Wood appears very at home as shy serial scalper Frank; with his aptly incandescent eyes the actor uses his expected passiveness to channel Norman Bates to the hilt, showing a streak of murderous eerie that made him the only real menacing figure in 2005’s Sin City. As befitting of most horror nobody else is worthy of individual mention, through lack of screen time and character not actual incompetence. Maniac is a vicious little gem that deserves its own stab at modern cult status, refreshingly shirking any intent to pursue deadend sequels and gleefully in the spirit of the original. Fans of the original look out for a particularly fun shot evoking the infamous VHS ‘does what it says on the tin’ poster.

(Feb 2013)

No Review


With No Rather than labouring the potential dramatic political thriller approach, which had it been a Hollywood product it certainly would have, director Pablo Larraín chooses to take a smart and frankly refreshingly route handling bleak true life events in a slyly humorous and breezier manner. In 1988 infamous dictator Augusto Pinochet calls for a referendum to seal his permanence in power, leaders of the opposition persuade a slick young advertising executive to head their ‘No’ campaign. Under the firm scrutiny of the despot’s watchmen, the ‘No’ team conceive a bold plan to win the election and help free Chile from oppression.

Visually No convincingly utilizes its setting and period; the whole film is steeped in a garish eighties haze, smartly weaving in stark archive footage and well done reproduction of the spangled Americanised televisual campaign. The advertising backbone of the narrative is a smart and enlightening thread that manages to intrigue and entertain; it serves as an approachable point of view through which to understand the country’s crisis. Where performances are concerned the majority of the cast come and go rather briskly and merely serve as employees and naysayers to move actions and decisions forward. Gael Garcia Bernal is a fine actor whose hit rate has varied over the last few years thanks to his pretty face often gracing scenes in some unappealing melancholy indies and disappointingly a couple of sickly (and commercially baron) rom-coms,  so it is nice to see him re-gaining some interesting mileage back. As René Saavedra it is arguable that the role isn’t the most intense considering the characters part (albeit a debatably distant one) in bringing down a Chilean dictator but the portrayal is capable and subtly strong. There is a sub-arc surrounding René’s son and his son’s mother that falls rather flat, its a somewhat unwelcome element  due to it feeling like an afterthought and adds little in having us empathise much further with our protagonist. The lack of character exploration doesn’t hinder the interest in the events on screen but it does slightly mar the film with a lack of human investment that renders most of the players beside the point. The biggest example of missed character depth is the most interesting relationship on show; that of René and his mentor and boss (nicely played by Larraín staple Alfredo Castro) who is hired by the opposing ‘Yes’ strategists, this provides the best interactions in the film and harbours a complexity that elevates the tension much needed between the characters rather than just shrouding them with the bigger picture of national issues.

All in all No is a competent and interesting watch with a lot of tactful skill on hand, avoiding falling too dry thanks to Larrain’s already proven originality, with his strong previous films Tony Monero and Post-Mortem. Whilst admirable it’s not quite as solid as you feel it should have been and with its intimate tone serves a little light on individual connection which could have lent a deeper tautness and made it a more memorable experience. Although not game changing No is certainly deserving of praise, acts as a good glimpse into Chilean cinema and as an introduction to a director who is becoming a great poster boy for South American film.

(Feb 2013)

V/H/S Review


As a whole V/H/S is pretty abysmal, as a collage of separate horror shorts it’s a patchy muddle of bad efforts. There is something infuriatingly regressive about the project that had potential to showcase a diverse group of horror creative’s who clearly have a love of the genre that made it a very tempting prospect. Regressive in the sense that a chaotic and obnoxious approach masquerades as an experimental and challenging one. A general air of atypical shallowness in horror is the most consistent element here alongside a blatantly lowest common denominator attitude.

While I am defiantly one of those horror fanatics who loves to wallow in the seedier DIY aesthetic, those films that shirk slickness in favour of a basement labour of love but I fail to see the labour or the love in V/H/S. Add to the disappointment the caliber of some of the people involved most notably Ti West who has impressed with his patient, empathetic and frankly refreshing takes on scary but here throws out a devoid entry that clearly pertains to be more innovative than it actually is; leaves V/H/S feeling lazier above all else.
Amateur Night is aptly titled, as it’s about as mindlessly teenage boy as horror gets. Some tits, some blood, a demon girl thing that happens to be all horny with some dudes with a camera that are all horny also. The issue isn’t with its simplicity but in its inability to surprise or scare. Its one saving grace is that it appears to be the shortest chapter and thanks to its own limitations manages to offend less than most of the others. 2nd Honeymoon is the afore mentioned bit directed by Ti West, assuming it elicits more empathy and intrigue than it executes; a vacationing couple are interrupted by a mysterious figure. Whilst feeling familiar isn’t necessarily make or break for a horror scenario being boring as hell is, especially when what the actions are leading up to is a numb reveal that seems to think it’s a deeply astounding twist.

Glitch Man, managing to be the worst chapter (not that there is much between each of them), sees a by the book horny youths in the woods slasher with a lone gimmick that falls almost humorously flat. The gimmick being a killer via technology that feels instantly dated (not throwback or homage) and plays out so dull and vague that is serves as an ugly 15 minute plot hole. Strange thing that happened to Emily is a great argument for why the Paranormal Activity series has done more bad than good ideas wise to the genre in recent years. All of V/H/S is roundly poorly acted but this short probably requires more acting skill (or at least some) than the others, played out through mind-numbingly insipid conversations between 2 video chatting lovers some eerie possibly supernatural stuff starts putting the frighteners on the girl of the couple. And then there is another exciting twist, except it isn’t exciting and for that matter it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, rendering it another standalone plot hole.

Haunted House is the only entry I could stand, being the only vaguely positive note of the anthology but still has that afterthought weakness that drowns the entire runtime. It manages one or two ‘blink and you’ll miss them’ flashes of flair but this was probably heightened due to it being the last entry and by everything that came before being so irritatingly predictable. The (Tape 56) interlacing found footage thread is just unconvincing frat-boyish static; incurring a vacuous strand of horror that often puts so many off and rightfully so as in this instance it provides next to nothing, warranting only eye-rolls and likely fast-forwarding to the individual events.
Overall V/H/S is barely coherent and left me feeling like I had thoroughly wasted two hours, its smug sensibility proving a void in fiendish creativity rather than a champion of it. A shame as in a landscape of glossy rehashes and safe generics horror made by horror lovers should provide an oasis of passionate ideas rather than a rushed and immature mess. I am frustratingly curious to see S-VHS which is the next jaunt later this year and wondering whether some different contributors (including excitedly and worryingly Gareth ‘The Raid’ Evans) might steer this formula in the right direction, in my view it can’t do much worse.

(Jan 2013)