Thursday, January 31, 2013

On DVD/Blu-ray: CITADEL (2012), THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY (2012), and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 (2012)

(Ireland/UK - 2012)

This dark, creepy, and very effectively-shot low-budget horror film has several scenes and images that are unnerving and intense, but it too often suffers from illogical plotting that smacks of writer's convenience.  Much of the mayhem that ensues in CITADEL, no matter how disturbingly claustrophohic and chilling it frequently tends to be, happens for nonsensical reasons.  Writer-director Ciarin Foy gets a lot right--enough that CITADEL is recommended for horror scenesters--but honestly, the script could've used one more polish or maybe another set of eyes giving it a once-over.  There's simply too many dumb things that have to happen for the story to unfold the way Foy wants it to.  Tommy (Aneurin Barnard, who looks like a disheveled Daniel Radcliffe) is raising his nine-month old daughter in a depressing Irish slum after his wife (Amy Shiels) was beaten by a group of hoodie-wearing children in their apartment building.  Tommy and the baby are on their own after the wife is removed from life support, and he lives in constant, paralyzing, agoraphobic fear of these feral children coming back to kill him and take his child, especially after the local priest (James Cosmo) tells him that's exactly what they'll do.  Tommy consistently finds evidence that these children, who often lurk outside his frosted-glass front door (a creepy image that seems indebted to the last shot of Andrezj Zulawski's 1981 film POSSESSION), have been in his apartment and even resorts to barricading himself and the baby in the bathroom at night, where he listens to them tap on the window and roam about the place.  When several of them attack Tommy and take the baby away, Tommy teams up with the priest, who's really quite insane, and Danny (Jake Wilson), a young blind boy who was once held captive by them, to raid the high-rise they inhabit, find the baby, and blow up the building.

Foy's inspiration for CITADEL stemmed from a brutal assault he endured at age 18 when he was attacked by a group of teenagers, beaten with a hammer and stuck with a syringe.  He suffered from debilitating agoraphobia afterwards and the script, with its overt horror an allegory for a more socio-economic statement, was undoubtedly therapeutic.  But that still doesn't explain why, at the beginning, Tommy and his wife don't ride down the elevator together.  He takes their bags down eleven floors and leaves her waiting in the hallway for no other reason that the script needs her to be attacked and put in a coma.  It doesn't explain why so many children are missing in this area and yet the cops don't investigate (a similar issue with the recent THE TALL MAN) and no parents seem to be looking for their kids.  And the whole "they can't see if you if you feel no fear" motif doesn't feel quite fully-baked when Danny starts going between being blind and being able to see, depending on what's going on in that particular scene.  Still, Foy manages to create some memorable scares, his depiction of this bleak urban hellscape is extremely unsettling, he gets a strong performance out of Barnard and a very appealing one by Wunmi Mosaku as a kind-hearted nurse who tries to help Tommy face his fears. I'll grade just about any high-rise mayhem flick on a slight curve, and there's no doubt Foy's got the chops and is a filmmaker to watch.  However, CITADEL's script has some shaky spots that should've been addressed.  (R, 84 mins)

(US/Spain - 2012)

A rather uninspired TAKEN knockoff, THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY got almost no publicity from US distributor Summit Entertainment and was quietly dumped on 1500 screens several months after it was released in the rest of the world.  It was in and out of most theaters in a week and grossed just $3 million, and while it's not a terrible movie, it's a pretty forgettable one despite a committed performance by Henry Cavill (the upcoming MAN OF STEEL), who gives 110% and acts as if this was going to be the biggest blockbuster of the year.  He certainly seems more invested in this than his more famous co-stars, who likely signed on for a working vacation in Spain.  The British Cavill is American businessman Will Shaw, who's meeting his family in Spain for a long-planned vacation.  Mom (Caroline Goodall) and his brother and the brother's girlfriend are kidnapped from their boat, and Will briefly teams up with his stern, CIA operative dad Martin (a visibly bored Bruce Willis) to find them before Martin is killed by a sniper.  Will meets his dad's Madrid-stationed colleague Carrack (Sigourney Weaver), who tells him that she and Martin stole a briefcase from a Mossad agent and the Israelis want it back.  Will, who's learned all sorts of things about his dad, including a secret second family he's had in Madrid, agrees to work with the Israelis to recover the case from the corrupt Carrack, who had Martin killed. 

Cavill makes a convincing action hero, even if the character isn't--how does he so quickly turn into a quick-thinking superspy capable of intensely choreographed fight scenes and gun battles?--but everyone else involved is just going through the motions, especially Weaver and Willis.  Weaver gets to ham it up near the end and fire an assault weapon while driving a speeding SUV in a typically incoherently-assembled car chase with CGI crashes and flips, but she can't even hide that she knows this is junk.  Willis has a much easier time sleepwalking since he exits the film around the 30-minute mark.  Director Mabrouk El Mechri previously helmed the acclaimed Jean Claude Van Damme confessional/mockumentary JCVD (2008), but doesn't have that level of inspiration here. THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY moves briskly, has a solid lead in Cavill, and kills 90 minutes on a slow night if nothing else is on and you need background noise while cleaning or folding laundry, but it's the kind of generic, predictable actioner that should've debuted in the $5 bin at Wal-Mart. (PG-13, 93 mins)

(US - 2012)

This durable found-footage horror franchise has been a fall staple since 2009, but the latest entry's comparitively paltry box office is a strong sign of audience fatigue with the whole concept.  It still grossed a nothing-to-sneeze-at $50 million, but that's what PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 took in during its opening weekend.  The problem with these films is that in their attempts to shake things up and add new things to the story, they end up fracturing the continuity to the point where they aren't even trying to be cohesive anymore.  Oh, so Katie Featherston and her sister were part of some Hittite cult when they were kids?  OK, we'll just go in that direction now.  And use webcams to stay topical. It's hard to believe that the last three films have had the same screenwriter (Christopher Landon, Michael's son).  Is he just making this up as he goes along?  Also returning from the last film are CATFISH directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, and PA4 deals with a family in Henderson, NV who end up taking in the strange little boy who just moved in across the street when his mother is taken to the hospital.  They've never even met the mother, and their only run-in with the kid is when he was found mysteriously hanging out in their backyard treehouse.  What police or rescue service would just dump a kid with a neighbor?  But the filmmakers need the kid to get in the house, because for some reason, the family's six-year-old son has some connection to Katie's nephew, who disappeared with his aunt and hasn't been seen in five years.  I wonder who the mysterious mother of the strange boy might be?  This formula is so played out that nothing about it is scary or even remotely suspenseful at this point.  If the action remains static for ten or so seconds, we know something will happen in a corner, or some figure will breeze by the camera.  Or if someone is looking into a webcam and turns their head, something will be behind them.  The filmmakers put forth minimal effort, dragging this out all the way up to an out of nowhere ending that isn't scary, just stupid and as rushed and random as anything else that popped into Landon's head when he sat down to shit out this script.  How soon before Katie is cryogenically frozen and the franchise moves to outer space with KATIE X?  The Blu-ray and DVD have both the unrated and theatrical versions, with the unrated running nine minutes longer and consisting of two or three superfluous scenes in the early going that add nothing to an already empty and pointless experience.  Needless to say, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 5 is due out later this year.  (Unrated, 97 mins/R, 88 mins)

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