Wednesday, March 19, 2014


(US/Mexico - 2013)

You'll pick up on the PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK vibe in this occasionally unsettling demonic possession film from Mexico long before writer/director Adrian Garcia Bogliano gives it a specific shout-out in the closing credits.  Shot with a zoom-heavy, '70s grindhouse aesthetic, HERE COMES THE DEVIL is an art-house horror film that gets under your skin but ultimately suffers from a big reveal and subsequent conclusion that are just too predictable.  It's one of those horror films that's working just fine in its ambiguity but starts stumbling when it feels the need to explain everything.  After a prologue where a lesbian couple is attacked by a crazed home intruder, we're introduced to a typical family on a day trip--dad Felix (Francisco Barreiro of the original WE ARE WHAT WE ARE), mom Sol (Laura Caro), teenage daughter Sara (Michele Garcia), and younger son Adolfo (Alan Martinez).  Sara gets her first period during the outing, but Sol comforts her and gets her through it.  They're about to call it a day when the kids ask to go exploring in a nearby cave.  Sol tells them to come back in an hour and a half, but she and Felix fall asleep after fooling around in the parked car.  Several hours later, the kids still haven't returned and the local cops tell the distraught parents to get some sleep in the motel, where the stress of the situation causes some long-withheld resentment and grudges to boil over (an interesting parallel to Lars von Trier's ANTICHRIST).  The kids reappear the next day and for a while, everyone is happy.  But the kids aren't acting like themselves and are behaving rather VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED-y, and Sol finds out they're regularly skipping school to catch a bus to the cave, located in a mountain that's reputed by the locals to be the center of some supernatural activity.  Back at home, the family is haunted by strange noises at night, a visit to the doctor reveals Sara's hymen is no longer intact, and Felix and Sol sneak back to the mountain area to deal with a man (David Arturo Cabezud) they believe molested their daughter, but obviously there's something much more sinister in store for them.

Refreshingly light on CGI histrionics and far from the EXORCIST-style depiction you might expect, HERE COMES THE DEVIL's subtext addresses the transition to adulthood, the trauma of child abuse, incest, and sexuality in a frank fashion (yeah, the title has a dual meaning), but elsewhere, its horrors are just a bit rote.  Rooms shake, the kids levitate, and a family friend has a nightmarish experience while sitting them.  And the whole nature of the mountain's true evil just feels too hackneyed to be really scary.  Bogliano's direction is very stylish and he utilizes some inventive camera angles (and a De Palma split diopter in one scene!) even if he's a bit too enamored of the kind of aggressively exaggerated zooms that other modern directors use for ironic laughs.  One shot of the kids lying in bed grinning at something hovering above their beds (we don't see it) is very chilling.  The film has its moments and is intriguing to a point as a different kind of demonic possession film but once you see its destination, it just loses some of its intrigue.  Bogliano (PENUMBRA) is obviously a talented filmmaker and HERE COMES THE DEVIL doesn't suffer from a lack of trying, but he just doesn't bring this one all the way home.  Maybe next time.  (Unrated, 98 mins)

(Canada/Germany - 2014)

Feeling like a by-the-numbers courtroom/suspense thriller frozen in 1994 and only recently thawed for release, REASONABLE DOUBT is every bit as generic as its title suggests.  20 years ago, this is the kind of PRESUMED INNOCENT, DISCLOSURE, FINAL ANALYSIS or THE FIRM entertainment that would've easily boasted a Harrison Ford, Michael Douglas, Richard Gere, or Tom Cruise in the lead, and likely would've topped the box office for a month.  But times have changed, and now it stars the elfin Dominic Cooper and was dumped in a few theaters and on VOD two months before hitting Blu-ray.  Sporting an unconvincing Chicaaahgo accent and the kind of character name that only exists in terrible thrillers, the British Cooper is arrogant ("I never lose"), hot-shot Windy City assistant D.A. Mitch Brockden, and Mitch has it all:  loving wife (Erin Karpluk), newborn daughter, successful career.  He's also drunk behind the wheel when he plows over a pedestrian after a night out with some guys at the office.  Not wanting to risk losing everything on a DUI and vehicular manslaughter, Mitch calls 911 from a pay phone (yes, there's one right there on a dark side street) and flees the scene, leaving the man fighting for his life.  The next day, the cops arrest Clinton Davis (a coasting Samuel L. Jackson, visibly irritated that he's been talked into second-billing in a Dominic Cooper movie), who was pulled over with Mitch's now-dead hit-and-run victim in his car.  Davis insists he was taking the man to the hospital but hard-nosed detective Blake Kanon (Gloria Reuben) thinks some injuries on the victim are consistent with those of recent murder victims in the area and that Davis might be a serial killer.  And guess who gets assigned to prosecute him?

Mitch might be the dumbest lawyer in the history of courtroom thrillers.  He all but advertises his involvement in the accident with the way he openly throws the case to get Davis acquitted.  But then he stupidly starts looking into Kanon's theory and finds that the hit-and-run victim was a just-paroled sex offender, as are a lot of recent murder victims in the area.  Davis lost his family in a home invasion and is exacting his revenge by taking out ex-cons.  So now Mitch tries to gather evidence to put away Davis who, of course, has Mitch's business card, which fell out of his coat pocket at the scene of the accident, and has the victim's blood on it (Butterfingers Brockden is constantly dropping things that later put him somewhere he shouldn't be).  Screenwriter Peter A. Dowling (FLIGHTPLAN) also crams in a subplot about Mitch's secret ex-con stepbrother (Ryan Robbins), who took the fall for a crime that a pre-law school Mitch was accessory to so as not to ruin his future, and there's a ridiculous scene where Mitch breaks into Kanon's office in the middle of a workday and rifles through her desk and accesses her computer files.  And would it be a cat-and-mouse thriller if Davis' over-the-phone taunting didn't prompt Mitch to frantically yell "Is this a fucking game to you?"  Director Peter Howitt (SLIDING DOORS, JOHNNY ENGLISH), rightfully cowering under the pseudonym "Peter P. Croudins," might've salvaged things if he had Cooper's Mitch Brockden and Reuben's Blake Kanon debate which of them has the more ridiculous name, but no such luck.  This is another 80-minute movie padded out with ludicrously slow-moving credits, almost always a sure sign that everyone involved is doing the bare minimum, and the big-screen equivalent of using large print and triple-spacing on a book report to get it to the required length.  (R, 91 mins)

(US - 2013)

Or, SERVES YOU RIGHT, YOU WHORE.  One of the most egregiously tone-deaf, idiotic, and offensive films in recent memory, CONTRACTED tries to be too many things--Cronenberg "body horror," viral outbreak paranoia film, stalker thriller, drug addiction drama, critique of L.A. vapidity--even before its rampant stupidity causes it to collapse in on itself.  Samantha (Najarra Townsend) goes to a party at the home of her friend Alice (Alice Macdonald), who prods her into having too much to drink.  She's eventually drugged by a stranger named BJ (YOU'RE NEXT writer Simon Barrett) and the two have a sexual encounter in her car that the filmmakers and the advertising call a one-night stand but it sure plays out like a roofie-abetted acquaintance-rape. The next day, she feels ill and has a persistent bloody discharge from her vagina, but tries to keep it a secret from her mother (Caroline Williams, aka "Stretch" from THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 2) as well as her on/off girlfriend Nikki (Katie Stegeman).  A visit to what might be cinema's most useless doctor concludes that Samantha may have a head cold or some kind of STD and her physical condition deteriorates over the next two days--dizziness, vertigo, her eyes turn blood red, the vaginal discharge gets thicker, fingernails fall off, her skin becomes gangrenous, gums bleed, teeth fall out or blacken, she pulls out clumps of hair, starts gasping and wheezing--and Alice tells her that the police are looking for "some guy named BJ" who was at her party and they need to speak with anyone with whom he came into contact.

I'm not sure what writer/director Eric England (MADISON COUNTY) was going for with CONTRACTED.  It's not a badly-made film (he also includes a couple of visual cues from CARRIE), but the script is awful, and England's deliberately evasive approach to the what's and why's (BJ is introduced in a lab, screwing a barely-conscious woman with a biohazard tag on her toe) are infuriating.  Also, are Samantha's friends blind or just a product of L.A. self-absorption?  They see her looking emaciated, purple, veiny, vomiting blood, flesh slowly eating itself away, and all they can say is "Are you OK?"  And if Samantha is a recovering addict, what kind of best friend is Alice to pressure her into getting drunk when she repeatedly says no?  No one in this film behaves like a real person.  Samantha is a server at a restaurant and her boss makes her work looking the way she does.  Everyone is an asshole or a moron. What to make of concerned nice-guy Riley (Matt Mercer)--who's been carrying a torch for Samantha--when he finally gets a chance to get her into bed?  He seems like he might be a little clingy but he cares about her--does he not see that she's basically a rotting corpse by this point?  Does he not...smell her?  England wants this to be the seminal "maggots pouring out of a vagina" movie, but it's at the expense of any semblance of logic. Imagine if Geena Davis kept sleeping with Jeff Goldblum 3/4 of the way through his metamorphosis in Cronenberg's THE FLY and you'll have an idea of how badly this scene plays out.  Townsend is alright in a second-string Rooney Mara kind of way, but even taken metaphorically as a depiction of AIDS or someone falling off the wagon or their emotional and psychological scars made physical (though that might be giving it too much credit--the implications of the abrupt finale point to the film being nothing more than a back door entry to a very stale subgenre), CONTRACTED is too overwrought and scattershot to work, and the punishment Samantha endures for her transgression (actually, victimization) is appalling.  This isn't a horror film--it's heavy-handed slut-shaming.  (Unrated, 84 mins, also available on Netflix Instant)

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