Saturday, November 7, 2015

On DVD/Blu-ray: THE FINAL GIRLS (2015); TIGER HOUSE (2015); and WE ARE STILL HERE (2015)

(US - 2015)

This meta slasher film sendup gets rolling with a surprisingly clever premise before bogging down and occasionally becoming a little too pleased with itself and displaying a sense of cult movie entitlement. As the film opens, Max Cartwright (Taissa Farmiga) and her mother Amanda (Malin Akerman) are in a car accident in which only Max survives. Amanda was a struggling actress still trying to catch a big break but can't with the albatross that is CAMP BLOODBATH, a classic summer camp slasher movie from 1986 in which she played a victim. Three years after the car crash, movie nerd Duncan (Thomas Middleditch) invites Max to be the guest speaker at a screening of CAMP BLOODBATH and its 1987 sequel CAMP BLOODBATH 2: CRUEL SUMMER. A fire breaks out in the theater and with the exits engulfed in flames, Duncan, Amanda, her best friend Gertie (Alia Shawkat), her former best friend Vicki (Nina Dobrev), and sensitive jock Chris (Alexander Ludwig) try to escape by cutting through the screen. Once they're on the other side, they find that they're in CAMP BLOODBATH, with the film's camp counselors passing them in a van every 92 minutes, the precise length of the film. It's here that Max encounters her mother, playing a counselor named Nancy, and they're all pursued by the film's hulking, Jason-like killer Billy (Daniel Norris). The presence of Amanda and the others sets off a new chain of events within the film, one that Billy and the camp counselor victims must adjust to, and in the course of altering the outcome of the film, inadvertently cause the death CAMP BLOODBATH's virginal "final girl" Paula (Chloe Bridges), the only one able to kill Billy within the definitions and tropes of the slasher genre. The visitors must work together with the actors in the film to take on Billy, while Max takes advantage of the opportunity to spend more time with her mother, even if she exists as a character named Nancy.

Funny without being too spoofy, THE FINAL GIRLS is like a slasher film take on THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO, with the meta aspects of everything from SCREAM to WES CRAVEN'S NEW NIGHTMARE to even the cult film POPCORN. After an inspired set-up, things slow down and grow repetitive as the filmmakers belabor the point, and isn't as consistently clever as it thinks it is. Still, there's a lot of affection in the script by M.A. Forton and Joshua John Miller (son of EXORCIST star Jason Miller, and best known for his days as a child actor in RIVER'S EDGE and as the vampire Homer in NEAR DARK), with nods to tons of slasher films (even a reference to the waterbed line from PIECES!), and any film that opens with an homage to the old-school Vestron Video logo obviously has its heart in the right place. Director Todd Strauss-Schulson (A VERY HAROLD & KUMAR 3D CHRISTMAS) does a nice job staging inventive kills, but the more the film goes on, the more forced the winking and nudging becomes. THE FINAL GIRLS opens and closes strong but doesn't quite have everything it needs to be crowned the next cult classic. (PG-13, 91 mins)

(South Africa/UK - 2015)

A forgettable and at times laughable home invasion thriller, TIGER HOUSE almost gets by on the strong screen presence of THE MAZE RUNNER's Kaya Scodelario, who capably carries the film despite being seemingly aware that it's a losing battle. Scodelario is Kelly, a dropout from the wrong side of the tracks who's in love with Mark (Daniel Boyd), whose domineering mother Lynn (Julie Summers) doesn't approve of her son's choice in girlfriends. Kelly sneaks into Mark's house via a second floor bedroom window so the two can fool around, but their plans are thwarted when a team of gunmen led by Shane (Dougray Scott) and Callum (THE TRANSPORTER: REFUELED's Ed Skrein) barge in to take the family hostage as part of a plot to rob the bank that Mark's stepdad Doug (Andrew Brent) manages. Shane is badly injured during the initial invasion and spends most of the film lying on Mark's bed bleeding out, with Kelly hiding directly underneath. She eventually gets out and proceeds to make her way in and out of the house, up and down the floors, and into and out of the attic as she tries to avoid the invaders and start taking them out HOME ALONE-style once she finds a crossbow in the attic. TIGER HOUSE is pretty by-the-numbers for this sort of thing, at least until the unintentionally hilarious climax with the second floor of the house engulfed in flames while Callum is downstairs in the kitchen making a sandwich with no smoke in sight. It's amazing that there's no smoke alarms in this high-tech fortress, which Doug has equipped with a dozen security and sound monitors that ultimately never come into play. Shane's crew have to be the least observant team of inept chucklefucks in the history of the home invasion genre. Two of them could be standing in a room talking and Kelly somehow manages to walk right out of that very room undetected. At one point, Callum goes up into the attic to find Kelly only to end up locked up there when she manages to sneak out while his back is turned. Of course, there's a twist ending that's completely predictable, plus a showdown that blatantly cribs from RESERVOIR DOGS. TIGER HOUSE is watchable thanks to the tough and committed performance of Scodelario, but that's absolutely all it has going for it. It's not enough. (R, 83 mins)

(US - 2015)

WE ARE STILL HERE is an anomaly in today's cult horror scene--a 1970s throwback that's completely lacking in irony, played totally straight, and cast with middle-aged actors. Writer-director Ted Geoghegan throws out a ton of references and shout-outs, cribbing elements of THE FOG, THE CHANGELING, THE WICKER MAN, and even STRAW DOGS, and displaying a particular affinity to the glory days of Lucio Fulci. The main characters share a surname with frequent Fulci screenwriting collaborator Dardano Sacchetti, other characters have the same names as those in Fulci's THE BEYOND and THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (both 1981), and the film involves the vengeful spirit of man named "Lassander Dagmar," an inversion of cult actress and Fulci veteran Dagmar Lassander. Anne and Paul Sacchetti (Barbara Crampton of RE-ANIMATOR and Andrew Sensenig) are still grieving over the death of their college-age son Bobby in a car crash a few months earlier. Seeking a change of scenery and needing a new place to rebuild their lives, they purchase an old house in rural upstate New York. It isn't long before Anne senses Bobby's presence in the house, and despite Paul's skepticism, she reaches out to May and Jacob Lewis (Lisa Marie and cult filmmaker and Wendigo enthusiast Larry Fessenden, whose involvement in a low-budget B horror movie is apparently required by law), hippie mediums whose son Harry (Michael Patrick) was a friend of Bobby's. May immediately feels a malevolent force in the house, and things get even weirder when the townies cast suspicious eyes on them at a local restaurant. The house was formerly a funeral home run by the Dagmar family, who were victimized by the locals in 1949 amidst allegations that they were abusing corpses and not giving the dead proper burials. The house has a history that was deliberately kept from the Sacchettis, and neighbor Dave McCabe's (Monte Markham) constant reminders that "This house needs a family" prove to be more sinister than folksy.

Though it's never specified and Geoghegan's use of period detail is subtle, we can assume the film is taking place in 1979, but to his credit, he never gets kitschy or winking about it. It's a slow-burning and very character-driven film that could've been made in 1981 and takes its time getting into the routine of Anne and Paul, giving you time to know them and feel their loss. WE ARE STILL HERE doesn't go for loud jump scares and is one of those films that has you looking all over the frame, waiting for something to materialize. Geoghegan's demonstrations of genre affection never distract from the story, though unlike the Fulci films he obviously holds near and dear, he feels the need to explain everything. The film's one stumble is an initially scary sequence that turns silly when Dagmar possesses one of the characters and instantly turns him into a demonic Basil Exposition, grunting reams of backstory explaining why he still haunts the house and why the locals must pay. It regains its footing quickly, and the finale is quite unexpectedly emotional. All in all, WE ARE STILL HERE with its effective scares and chilly, dread-soaked atmosphere, is one of the rare horror films of recent years that deserves its fawning fanboy accolades, especially with its unusual decision to appeal to grownups by focusing on people in their 50s as well as providing 80-year-old veteran character actor Markham with his meatiest role in years. WE ARE STILL HERE is the kind of well-done retro-shocker that Ti West fans think Ti West makes. (Unrated, 83 mins)

No comments:

Post a Comment