Thursday, August 25, 2016

On DVD/Blu-ray: CLOWN (2016); BASKIN (2016); and THE INVITATION (2016)

(US - 2016)

When 2015's COP CAR got some festival buzz going and became a minor hit on the arthouse circuit, it was enough to bump director/co-writer Jon Watts and his writing partner Christopher Ford into megabudget circles with the upcoming reboot SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING. But long before COP CAR, Watts and Ford made their debut, the horror film CLOWN. Shot in late 2012 but kept on a shelf by the Weinstein Co. until 2016, CLOWN is a feature-length expansion of a fake trailer Watts and Ford made and posted to YouTube in 2010. The "trailer," about a demonic clown, jokingly proclaimed "From master of horror Eli Roth," which prompted a flattered Roth to meet with the pair and offer to produce an actual CLOWN movie. While Robert Rodriguez's MACHETE may have worked once--before the novelty wore off with MACHETE KILLS--CLOWN is more on the HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN end of fake trailers-turned-real movies. Leadenly-paced and feeling much longer than 99 minutes, CLOWN has dad Kent (Andy Powers) forced by a cancellation to don an old clown costume for his son Jack's (Christian Distefano) birthday party. The suit and makeup soon adhere to and fuse with his body, making it impossible to take off.  After several failed and increasingly gruesome attempts to get out of the costume, a desperate Kent shoots himself in the head only to find he can't die. This drives him to madness and murder, as his wife Meg (Laura Allen) learns from Karlsson (Peter Stormare), the suit's previous owner, that it's an instrument of a demon who subsists on the sacrificing of five children a year. This leads to a repetitive series of sequences with Kent pursuing children and slowly morphing into a full-on clown demon as Meg tries to keep him from killing Jack. There's some intriguing and occasionally ballsy ideas in CLOWN--Karlsson's brother was a pediatric cancer specialist, so the pair conquered the clown curse by offering the demon terminally ill children, and when the demon offers to give Kent back for one more child, Meg isn't above leading an innocent kid to the slaughter if it means saving her family--but CLOWN just doesn't come together. It's sluggish and dull, and it needs a better actor than Powers to really feel for Kent's plight. It doesn't skimp on the gore and some occasional shock value antics, but this story is, at best, a 20-minute segment in an anthology film. (R, 99 mins)

(Turkey/US/UK - 2016)

This Turkish import got some significant acclaim at film festivals and from the horror scenester echo chamber, which only serves as further evidence that fanboys will bestow accolades on pretty much everything. BASKIN is a tired, slow-moving splatterfest that's a veritable grab-bag of cribbed material. The crux of the plot is essentially a Turkish HELLRAISER, with a quintet of cops answering a call for backup and ending up at a long-abandoned police station off a dark country road on the middle of nowhere. There's some backstory about the father-son relationship between the in-charge Boss Remzi (Ergun Kuyucu) and young rookie Arda (Gorkem Kasal), who was more or less raised by Remzi after a traumatic childhood incident that, of course, comes into play late in the film. The dark, empty police outpost is filled with bloodied, contorted souls in a mad orgy of sex and torture, overseen by "The Father," played in a bit of FREAKS and THE SENTINEL-style stunt casting by non-actor Mehmet Cerrahoglu. The Father puts the cops through all the torture porn tropes, whether it's slowly tearing out one's intestinal tract or carving out another's eyes and tongue-kissing the socket before making him fuck a goat-masked woman from behind.

It was the eye socket moment where I finally lost my patience with BASKIN. Not because of the gore or the perverse French kissing of the eye socket--that wasn't the problem at all. Even from the start, little things started rubbing me the wrong way and I was getting grouchy without really realizing it, whether it was a restaurant scene where the cops are swapping stories and one goes into a Joe Pesci "Funny how?" routine from GOODFELLAS; or the long exploration of the dark, cavernous underbelly of the abandoned police station that just seemed a little too much like SESSION 9; or the fleeting glimpse of an obviously non-human figure darting across the frame like he was trying to find his way back to THE DESCENT. Director/co-writer Can Evrenol, expanding his 2013 short film of the same name, was wearing his love of horror movies on his sleeve, but it was just getting to be too much. Too forced. By the time The Father turns up about an hour in, talking about being "one with the cosmos" and "you always carry Hell with you," he started to sound a lot like HELLRAISER's Pinhead in the days when he was simply known as "Lead Cenobite." But then the eye socket scene happened and Evrenol lost me. He accompanies it with a prominent cue from Riz Ortolani's CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST score--including that synthy beeeeeew!--and the transparency was just too much to ignore. That's what I concluded to be the exact moment where those lauding the film tilted their heads back, closed their eyes, exhaled slowly and purred "Oh, right there. That's the spot. I'm yours, BASKIN." There's nothing here but Evrenol name-checking bits and pieces of his favorite horror movies, bringing nothing new to the table but fooling enough people into proclaiming BASKIN some triumphant new vision of horror. It's lazy, it's uninspired, and worst of all, it's not scary. At all. It's all smoke and mirrors, and once again, horror fans prove themselves to be the biggest genre pushovers in moviegoing. BASKIN is the most overrated horror film since GOODNIGHT MOMMY. One more time, gang: start being a little more discerning, and a little less concerned with making sure your free screeners and your convention credentials keep coming. (Unrated, 97 mins, also streaming on Netflix)

(US - 2016)

While everyone was busy fellating BASKIN, another horror film was stealthily released around the same time that actually deserved the accolades but more or less fell off the radar even with the scenesters. A slow-burner that starts ratcheting the tension in the first scene and never lets up, THE INVITATION is a film where it's best to go in knowing as little as possible. It's also one of the best films of the year that you've probably heard nothing about. En route to a dinner party in the Hollywood Hills, Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) accidentally hit a coyote that Will is forced to put out of its misery via tire iron. That will turn out to be the least upsetting thing about the evening. The dinner party is at Will's old house, hosted by his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband, record producer/recovering addict David (Michiel Huisman). Several of their closest friends are there and it's been two years since they've all been together, the group more or less splintering when Will and Kira's young son died and their marriage didn't survive the aftermath. Right off the bat, Will gets a strange vibe from Eden and David, the two endlessly talking about a trip to Mexico where they embraced a self-help philosophy of grief coping known as "The Invitation." Also at the party is a friend they met in Mexico, a clingy and needy young woman named Sadie (Lindsay Burdge), who almost instantly offers to sleep with Will. There's also the ominous presence of stranger named Pruitt (John Carroll Lynch), a friend of Eden's and David's who breaks the ice by showing the group a DVD of an assisted suicide they observed in Mexico. Wounds that never completely healed are torn open as Will vehemently disagrees with the way Eden has addressed her grief. He's also bothered by Pruitt and the fact that the windows have bars on them, that David has locked all the doors from the inside, and the fact that one of the guests they're still waiting on left David a voice mail two hours earlier saying he was the first one there, yet no one has seen him and he's nowhere to be found.

Things only get more claustrophobic and uncomfortable from there, with things boiling over into sheer terror by the end. So many films do the slow-burn approach that ends being a lot of buildup to nothing, but THE INVITATION hooks you in from the start. No matter how slow or meandering it may seem in the early going, every line, every incredulous glance, and every reaction from Will is important. Screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi must've been sitting on this one for a while and saving it for the right occasion, because nothing else they've written--AEON FLUX, the CLASH OF THE TITANS remake, R.I.P.D., and both RIDE ALONGs--would indicate a capacity for the complexity and near anxiety-attack levels of suspense that transpire here. Nothing it as it seems and you'll never see where the story is heading with THE INVITATION. It's directed by Karyn Kusama, who established her indie cred with 2000's GIRLFIGHT but then washed out with high-profile studio projects AEON FLUX (2005) and JENNIFER'S BODY (2009). She's mainly been keeping busy directing TV (THE L WORD, CHICAGO FIRE, HALT AND CATCH FIRE), and THE INVITATION is her first feature film in seven years. It's a small masterpiece as far as modern day horror goes, a film that got some glowing reviews but very little attention from horror fans seemingly ready to call anything that gets made a classic. That's not to say THE INVITATION is an Insta-Horror Classic (© William Wilson), but it's one of the very few films of recent years, along with THE BABADOOK, IT FOLLOWS, THE WITCH, and HUSH, that deserves the kind of fawning hype that comes with today's horror offerings. (Unrated, 100 mins, also streaming on Netflix)

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