Friday, 29 June 2012

Review: The Innkeepers

Rating: 15
Duration: 101 mins

Echoing sentiments of underrated 2009 horror The House of the Devil, Ti West's latest indie, The Innkeepers, serves up similar traits that made the former so watchable.

Set in the Yankee Padlar Inn during its final weekend of business, Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) settle into reception for the night as the pair muse over supposed hauntings before they alternate shifts in between a few hours of shut eye. The speculation of alleged haunter Madeline O'Malley -- a woman who, decades ago, hung herself and was hidden in the basement -- is the catalyst for its unsettling narrative that raises anticipation levels at a painstaking pace. 

West uses his much honed skills in building suspense and generating genuine fear from a suggestion: like with Devil, he meticulously and ever-so-gradually hints at horror without explicitly spoon feeding a reveal nor offering immediate pay off. Whereas in some instances this lack of reward can frustrate, it instead adds to the intensity. It's this refreshing uniqueness of mundanity that appeals as a character study, making shocks that occasionally occur rather more impactful. 

Both Paxton and Healy exude a likeable quirkiness, convincing chemistry as well as a grounded normalisation of the situation, as things slowly begin to verge into paranormal territory. West teases with his ability to take audiences on a satisfying journey towards the film's climax and -- in keeping with the tone of the movie -- ends with a heightened yet believable conclusion.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Review: The Raid

Rating: 18
Duration: 101 mins

Poetry; Oldboy; I Saw The Devil; Confessions; all critically acclaimed films from Asia (South Korea and Japan, respectively) reveal the largely untapped, high-quality available on import, and whilst the aforementioned have received critical praise, they've seldom managed to penetrate the British market; losing out to mainstream success of western counterparts.

2012 sees Indonesian cinema enter the multiplex more prominently, as Welsh-born Gareth Evans helms this hotly tipped actioner that's already succumbed to enormous hype prior to release. The Raid doesn't tick every box, but in regards to thrill, action and adrenaline rush, it does so in an accomplished manner -- Evans has crafted one of the most exhilarating and pulsating genre flicks of recent times. With Iko Uwais as his lead (a talent he's worked with before on sophomore film Merantau), The Raid sustains continual engagement with the deeper elements left undeveloped such as character and plot.

Such oversights are forgivable in an exhibition of clinical fight scene after fight scene, as each one continues to raise the bar from the previous in both spectacle and tension. However, after we're privy to the initial intensity of shootouts and fistycuffs, the rest follow suit in formulaic fashion without deriving from their sole purpose to thrill with the explosive nature of martial arts -- especially when it's done this well.

Well-paced, choreographed stunts bare the core of its incomplex storyline with some bone-crunching battles; it's fair to proclaim the Evans/Uwais combo works a treat, and all without the requirement of a gimmicky 3D conversion, too.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Review: Prometheus

Rating: 15
Duration: 124 mins

Ridley Scott makes a bold return to the sci-fi genre -- one that fundamentally defined him as a pioneer in the genre with the likes of Blade Runner and Alien -- as it becomes his first directorial outing since 2010's Robin Hood.

The hype surrounding his latest epic Prometheus, has certainly elevated in 2012. Whilst it hasn't reached the obsessive levels of Dark Knight Rises fever, Scott's hiatus from the genre has only heightened expectation, as well as reignited speculation surrounding him bursting back onto the scene with a Blade Runner sequel.

Unavoidable comparisons and intrinsic links to Alien will be made, and with just cause; if you're familiar with Alien, similarities are there, yet remain slightly ambiguous in the sense that it's not an overt prequel, but more of a potential precursor to the face-hugger classic.

The set-up feels familiar; when a series of ancient artefacts point towards the chance to discover who mankind's makers are, a team of scientists are assembled to journey to the outer reaches of space to discover, and hopefully answer, the biggest questions humanity have: why are we here?

The two significant aspects here are the film's aesthetic and story. From the opening shot of breathtaking landscapes, down to the detailed space craft interior, it's safe to affirm its visual mastery. From its architecture to technology, every scene maintains an extraordinary quality that's simply gorgeous to look at. However, whilst it is an aesthetic marvel, it is the loose nature of the narrative that stutters proceedings. For the main part, there are some fascinating elements amidst some tantalising reveals, but aren't expressed coherently enough. Therefore, other moments suffer as a result as there's a distinct lack of terror and suspense Scott's prior work possesses in abundance.

Inevitably, the hype was always going to drown the movie, no matter how good it is, but such expectations can indeed prove dangerous. The film by no means fails, but buying into the ridiculous expectations set, you may feel let down. Admittedly it doesn't possess that spark (at least not initially) to deems it a modern classic, but is a feature that perhaps warrants a second look.

Fans of Alien and Ridley Scott's work will be more than drawn into his immersive world; one he creates superbly. He knows how to construct a living, breathing existence, even if the script isn't quite up to the same high standard. Those unfamiliar will also find themselves enchanted by its beauty and ability to entertain as a blockbuster.

VERDICT: Prometheus plays out predominantly as science fiction rather than juxtaposing itself with horror, but in terms of the former, it works wonderfully and certainly looks and feels the part. It can't help but come across as a precursor to Scott's 1979 classic, which by no means is a bad thing. However, plot-wise it remains sketchy and the acting isn't as accomplished as it could be, but Fassbender makes up for this with an intriguing role. 

Whereas Alien is sci-fi and horror that transcends a deeper meaning with more naturalistic acting and believable plot, Prometheus seems to cater more towards modern audience expectation, opting for  high concept accessibility rather than high concept intelligence.