Thursday, February 4, 2016

On DVD/Blu-ray: MARTYRS (2016); HOME INVASION (2016); and TURBO KID (2015)

(France/US - 2016)

With its unbearably intense torture scenes supplanted by lofty spiritual and philosophical ambitions, Pascal Laugier's often-brilliant MARTYRS (2008) took France's "extreme horror" movement of the mid-2000s as far as it could go. It seemed inevitable that it would get a pointless, watered-down US remake, and eight years later, here it is, thanks in part to Blumhouse, the company behind PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and INSIDIOUS. Directed by the sibling team of Kevin and Michael Goetz (sons of veteran character actor Peter Michael Goetz) and written by Mark L. Smith (VACANCY, THE REVENANT), the English-language MARTYRS shares the same essential foundation--for a while at, least--while offering flashbacks and more backstory as far as the friendship of its two principal characters are concerned. As a child, Lucie (Troian Bellisario of PRETTY LITTLE LIARS) was kidnapped and forced to endure extreme torture at the hands of her captors. She managed to escape, though other than the scarring, no perpetrators or other evidence were ever found to support her story. Left at an orphanage, she reluctantly befriended the kind-hearted Anna and the film jumps forward ten years. Lucie shows up at the front door of a house in the middle of nowhere and shotguns a family of four to death, determined to show Anna (played as an adult by Bailey Noble) that the seemingly normal mom and dad were the people who tortured her ten years ago. Anna is incredulous but goes along with her friend by helping her bury the bodies, but they aren't able to get away once a group of mysterious people raid the house, determined to finish what they started with Lucie.

You'd probably have to go back to Rod Lurie's underrated STRAW DOGS for a remake that was met with such venomous rage before it even began shooting. Serious horror fans were ready to pounce on the new MARTYRS the moment it was announced, and while it's not an overall success and has little if any reason to exist, it's by no means terrible. Bellisario and Noble turn in a pair of surprisingly strong performances, and the childhood flashbacks with sympathetic Anna reaching out to the anguished and withdrawn Lucie are very nicely handled by the actresses (Elyse Cole and Ever Prishkulnik) who play the younger versions of Noble and Bellisario. But the changes that Smith and the Goetz brothers make undermine the effectiveness of what made Laugier's original film so powerful. MARTYRS '16 loses the sense of hopelessness and despair felt by Anna once she's utterly alone after Lucie is unexpectedly taken out of MARTYRS '08, along with another girl they find being held captive in the house. In MARTYRS '16, Lucie doesn't commit suicide midway through, the girl they find (now a child played by Caitlin Carmichael) isn't killed by the mysterious people who arrive at the house, and instead of becoming the "martyr" for the group's twisted plan, Anna becomes a badass, shotgun-toting angel of vengeance, presumed dead but coming back to rescue Lucie and the girl while blowing everyone away. The last thing any version of MARTYRS needs is a misguided willingness to be a crowd-pleaser, and while it doesn't end in an exactly uplifting fashion, it just completely lacks the devastating impact of Laugier's film. MARTYRS '16 has some positive aspects and is marginally better than it has any business being, but it can't overcome its primary stumbling block: it's completely unnecessary and even its positives don't improve on anything in the original in any way. That is, unless you thought MARTYRS '08 really could've used some of those patented Blumhouse jump scares. (Unrated, 86 mins)

(Canada - 2016)

A listless DTV thriller as generically self-explanatory as its title, HOME INVASION occasionally rises to the level of laughable and stupid but is mostly just boring, headed by a pair of slumming actors whose careers were in much better shape 20 years ago. A trio of killers in EYES WIDE SHUT orgy masks led by Heflin (B-movie action fixture Scott Adkins) commandeer the isolated peninsula mansion of wealthy Chloe (Natasha Henstridge of SPECIES) and her sullen teenage stepson Jake (Liam Dickinson) while his father, her estranged husband, is out of the country on business. They're looking for a safe that's hidden somewhere in the house, and while the local cops are unable to get to the house thanks to a deliberate bridge malfunction caused by a fourth member of Heflin's gang, Chloe and Jake are on the line with their alarm company contact Mike (Jason Patric), who uses the many surveillance cameras--hidden and otherwise--throughout the home to guide them around and let them know when the killers are in close proximity. A lot of screen time is spent with nothing happening but Chloe and Jake tiptoeing around the house and Heflin seething as he paces around the kitchen. The house is huge but there aren't that many places to hide, and it's ridiculous that there's no way the cops can get around the bridge, either by boat or chopper. The idiotic script by Peter Sullivan (ABSOLUTE DECEPTION) relies on clumsy exposition, leaves plot strands dangling, and tosses in one contrivance after another (you'll already be laughing at the stupidity of one character less than a minute into the movie) and manages to be a ripoff of both PANIC ROOM and THE CALL, minus Halle Berry's wig. The end result is a tame PG-13 thriller that could've easily been given a PG, almost like it went straight-to-DVD but had the ultimate goal of being a Saturday night Lifetime movie. Henstridge--who's done some made-for-TV movies and TV guest spots recently, but I haven't seen her in anything she's done in years--does what she can with a stock "woman in peril" role, while Patric looks bored out of his mind, with almost all of his screen time spent seated at a row of monitors watching what's going on in Chloe's house. The one positive of HOME INVASION is a solid performance by Adkins, playing a straight bad guy role without going into his action repertoire. An engaging cult actor who should be the world's biggest action star, Adkins gives it all he's got near the finale--almost like he thought this would be playing on 3000 screens and would be the #1 movie at the box office over its opening weekend--but he gets nothing in return. That also goes for any viewer who opts to spend a long hour and a half watching HOME INVASION, a film recommended only for the most fanatical Adkins completists or rubberneckers morbidly curious about the ongoing autopsy of Patric's career. Co-produced by veteran Canadian schlock king Damian Lee and directed by David Tennant...not that David Tennant. (PG-13, 88 mins)

(Canada/New Zealand - 2015)

The perfect film for cult-movie nerds who can own up to experiencing a certain degree of arousal at the sight and sound of the old-school Vestron Video logo, TURBO KID is a sincere and affectionate example of homage done right. Set in the post-nuke apocalyptic future of 1997, the film finds lone warrior The Kid (Canadian DEGRASSI heartthrob Munro Chambers) barely getting by scavenging for scraps when he meets up with a perky robot named Apple (Laurence Leboeuf) and has to fight off the mostly incompetent minions of the eye-patched Zeus (Michael Ironside), the despotic overlord of the desert wasteland. Like most post-nukes, this deals with water being the prime commodity, and Zeus has designed a machine that can harvest the water from ground-up human bodies. The Kid periodically crosses paths with a cigarillo-chomping, Indiana Jones-like cowboy named Frederic (Aaron Jeffrey) and eventually, the heroes join forces to take on Zeus and his army. The story is pretty standard issue, but the writing and directing team of Anouk Whissell, Francois Simard, and Yoann-Karl Whissell have fashioned TURBO KID as an infectiously fun throwback, complete with a constant, catchy synth score by Le Matos, and an impeccable eye for period genre detail. While a cursory glance at the advertising may make this seem like a kids movie, it's definitely not--there's a plethora of profanity and the splatter and carnage are non-stop, almost on an early Peter Jackson level of gonzo, which is mostly hilarious but it does seem at times like the one concession the film makes to the snarky hipster crowd. Other than that, TURBO KID gets everything right--it's no wonder there's been such a developing buzz about this from cult scenesters. From the opening scenes, you'll go through the movie with a big, goofy smile on your face at every amusing detail and wry one-liner. The filmmakers avoid the pitfalls into which most films of this type plunge--it doesn't have a condescending, mocking tone toward its subject. It's obviously a labor of love by fans, for fans, right down to the smallest detail. Chambers and Jeffrey are likable heroes, and Ironside has never had more fun onscreen than he does here as Zeus, but the show-stealer is the extremely appealing Leboeuf, in what should be a breakout performance if anyone in Hollywood sees this. Jason Eisener has an executive producer credit--his HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN being a case study of the kind of pre-assembled cult movie that makes every mistake TURBO KID almost completely manages to avoid. (Unrated, 93 mins, no US Blu-ray/DVD date announced but currently streaming on Netflix Instant)

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