Review 53: Wolves (2/5)

Wolves

Directed by David Hayter

Starring Lucas Till, Merritt Patterson, Jason Momoa, Stephen McHattie, John Pyper-Ferguson

Released on August 28, 2014

Running time 1h 30m

Rated R

Genre: Horror, Action

The word “werewolf” is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word “wer”, meaning man, and “wolf”. The two are combined into “werewolf” to quite literally mean “man-wolf”. It is also derived from the Greek words “lykos”, meaning wolf, and “anthropos”, meaning man. The two are combined into “lykanthropos” to quite literally mean “wolf-man”.

This movie can essentially be boiled down to “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah”. It’s a coming-of-age tale about a lycanthropic boy who becomes a man while also becoming a true werewolf.

This could also be seen as just another Twilight ripoff in the same vein as Warm Bodies. While Twilight was whiny and full of teenage angst, Warm Bodies was cutesy and enjoyably cheesy. Wolves is chock full of violence, nigh-hamfisted libidinal overtones, a complete lack of subtlety, and features a hot-turned-awkward-and-uncomfortable sex scene. But Wolves is much more adult than Twilight could ever hope to be. However, that still doesn’t make Wolves any less juvenile or clichéd than it is.

Director David Hayter, as many of you may know, provided the voice for Solid Snake in the Metal Gear Solid video game franchise. But while also being a competent actor, he is also a prolific screenwriter, his credits including Burn, X-Men, The Scorpion King, X2: X-Men United, and Watchmen. Dude. While I may not have particularly liked any of the aforementioned films, I cannot deny that all but Burn were successful, especially the first two X-Men movies. Wolves is Hayter’s directorial debut. Does it start Solid Snake’s movie directing career on a high note? No, not exactly. But hey, it is the typical mediocre and cheesy film that nearly any director starts his/her career on.

You may recognize Jason Momoa as Khal Drogo from Game of Thrones, and Conan from the Conan the Barbarian remake. You may also recognize Lucas Till as Alex Summers, AKA Havok from X-Men: First Class / Days of Future Past.

Set in Typical Suburb, USA, our film stars Lucas Till as Cayden Richards, football star. Over the first roughly ten minutes, he slowly but surely discovers his lycanthropy, and winds up killing a football player on an enemy team, hurting his girlfriend, and killing his parents. He flees and lives as a nomad for the next unspecified length of time. Honestly, I wanted this first ten minutes to be its own movie. I wanted more buildup to this lycanthropy. I wanted this to be the masculine edition of Ginger Snaps (great movie, by the way. Check it out). But the first ten minutes were still disappointing, as 2014 is still the Stephanie Meyer age of supernatural creature lore bastardization. I also couldn’t help but notice that The Wolfman remake had better werewolf effects. Even The Howling had better werewolf effects. And those were practical, done in 1980, and done on a $1.5 million budget.

And then the nearly nonstop narration throughout the first twenty-five minutes abruptly stops when Cayden meets Wild Joe, a redneck one-eyed bar fly, and a fellow werewolf, at a bar. He directs Cayden to Lupine Ridge (punpunpunpunpun), or should I say, Archetypal American Heartland Rural Town, USA. Two werewolf tribes live in and around Lupine Ridge: the purebred Town werewolves, or should I say the “tame” werewolves, and the bitten Mountain werewolves, or should I say the “wild”, “bestial”, and “EEEEEEEVIL” werewolves. Cayden stops at a bar, where he simultaneously gets hired as a farmhand by John Tollerman, falls in love with there-is-no-personality-only-Zuul-I-mean-eye-candy Angel, and becomes enemies with the obvious villain, Connor Slaughter, leader of the Mountain werewolves. By the way, have fun seeing Wild Joe in this one scene. He only ever shows up twice more: once to remind us he still exists, and once for the poor plot twist at the climax.

I don’t have much of a problem with Tollerman’s character. But Angel is another story. She is supposed to be this sexy but shrewd and strong character with problems of her own, which essentially amount to her semi-existent relationship with her drunkard sister Gail, and a plot twist I will soon get to. Of course, considering the camerawork reminiscent of Michael Bay focusing on how sexy Megan Fox, Rosie Huntington-Whitely, and Nicola Peltz are, Angel and Cayden obviously will be carnally interested in one another, and will eventually have sex. The shots of Angel’s sex appeal in tight-fitting and revealing clothing force us to be PG-13’d to death until the inevitable sex scene in which we actually see the goods that were almost worth waiting for. All the while, she juggles her two never-gelling personalities of Tough Girl and Sexpot.

Also, I expected more out of the character of Connor. I expected him to fit in to one of two obvious ideas: the brutal killer who prefers to do his own dirty work, or the evil mastermind who sits in the background and lets his grunts do his dirty work, but is still amazingly powerful, like Darth Sidious or Dr. Hannibal Lecter. The character of Connor is both of these: A ruthless mastermind who prefers to have his grunts do the dirty work, but isn’t afraid to become a violent brutalizer, get his hands dirty, and take things into his own hands. And that’s all that Connor is. No other character traits whatsoever.

Ultimately, Cayden is just your standard, ordinary teenager from a standard, ordinary coming-of-age movie. He never is shown to have grown up at all by the end of the film, and ultimately, he feels like a young Chris Hemsworth wannabe.

After Cayden spends a while working for Tollerman while developing a relationship with Angel, he returns to the bar one night only to be confronted by his “second cousin” and be told that Cayden is “special”, but is in great danger from Connor and needs to leave Lupine Ridge. Later, Connor and his thugs hunt down, kill, and cannibalize the “second cousin”.

Tollerman tells Cayden of his origins: Cayden was adopted!

JOHNNY CAGE (Mortal Kombat): NOOOOOOO!

Cayden’s real mother, Lucinda, was raped by Connor. She hid in the house of Tollerman and his wife, where she got pregnant and gave birth to Cayden, and killed herself soon after the birth. John also tells of the uneasy peace between the Town and Mountain werewolves comes with the condition that on the next full moon (how conveniently timed), Connor will mate with Angel. Connor desires a son, and doesn’t know about Cayden.

Oh, and a few scenes before or after the aforementioned one, Cayden and Angel have sex. They strip, start screwing, transform into werewolves mid-coitus, and we see a few seconds of the two werewolves going at it. Ew. It’s not very sexy to see two hairy humanoids screwing.

Cayden complains to the Town werewolf leaders, but they are unwilling to do anything about it. So Cayden confronts Connor himself, is overwhelmed by his pack, and barely escapes.

Insert healing scene and training montage here. You’re the best…around/Nothin’s gonna ever keep ya down…

Cayden and Tollerman form a plan to deal with the Connor’s pack. Before they can put it into action, Connor kidnaps Angel and prepares to rape her. Cayden, believed by Connor to be dead, surprises the Mountain pack, where he and Tollerman put their plan into action, utilizing explosives, rather than anything close to silver bullets, to kill them all, except Connor. After a vicious but surprisingly brief brawl, Cayden defeats Connor. Connor then reveals to Cayden that he did not rape Lucinda. He and Lucinda had been in love, but Lucinda’s father was going to kill Lucinda due to the relationship, so to save Lucinda, Connor created the rape story. Wait. So why has Connor become known in these here parts as a ruthless killer?

Jason Momoa’s performance ranges from decently villainous to being such a treat to watch (the equivalent of a big bag of Sour Patch Kids {one of my favorite candies}), especially the one scene in which he gloats and boasts about stealing Angel’s virginity in a seemingly drunken, lascivious, and misogynistic manner. Momoa does not hesitate to let the hamminess flow more than Ponyo. This is when I realized that Wolves should have been a horror comedy, so that Momoa releasing his inner bacon would have had more of a place. He essentially becomes Betelgeuse from Beetlejuice.

And believe me, the movie could have ended with that. Connor acknowledging Cayden as his son, the two parting with honor, he and his tribe leaving Lupine Ridge in peace, and everyone living happily ever after.

But then the movie throws this last little plot twist at us. It turns out that Wild Joe was the mastermind behind all of these events. He reveals that he killed Cayden’s adoptive parents and convinced him to go to Lupine Ridge just so Joe could kill Connor for…some past issues. I don’t know. Joe kills Connor in the worst done throat-slicing ever, and then Cayden tricks him into standing on an explosive, which explodes and kills Joe.

Cayden leaves with Angel to find other purebred werewolves and bring them to Lupine Ridge. And that’s where it ends, with what could be considered sequel bait.

Oh, it’s entertaining, I’ll give it that. It’s incredibly corny, cheesy, and silly. Overall, it’s just an enjoyably stupid popcorn flick that you and some friends can pop a couple of beers over and laugh at. Don’t worry, it’s well worth the money for rental.

Just enter with low expectations, and you’ll have some fun.

Final verdict: 2 out of 5 stars.

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Review 52: Unfriended (1/5)

Unfriended

Directed by Levan Gabriadze

Starring Shelley Hennig, Moses Storm, Renee Olstead, Will Peltz, Jacob Wysocki, Courtney Halverson, Heather Sossaman

Released on April 17, 2015

Running time 1h 23m

Rated R

Genre: Horror

Skype accounts, Apple laptops, webcams, microphones, teen stereotypes, serious suspension of disbelief, and ungodly amounts of padding at the ready! Here we go!

Okay, good idea. A Skype conversation between six friends goes horribly wrong when an unidentified supernatural force hacks into the conversation, terrorizes them, and pushes their friendships to the limit.

But, unfortunately, we get a lackluster, somewhat boring, incredibly predictable, and ultimately forgettable little movie that drags beyond belief and fails to make good on my admittedly ungodly high expectations. I had very high hopes for this film, and at the end of the day I found myself dissatisfied and annoyed. Go watch the trailers! The trailers look great!

The overall backstory, revealed to us over the first roughly fifteen minutes, is as follows: a video was posted onto YouTube, detailing a very drunk Laura Barns (Sossaman, who is 28) doing…something, before the video cuts to an unconscious Laura lying prone on the ground, having soiled herself. And the video ends with a pitifully edited text telling “Leaky Laura” to kill herself. Laura’s incredible obnoxiousness does not equal convincingly drunk or good acting in the slightest. Strangely enough, this video only has about seventy-five thousand views. Another Amanda-Todd-esque video made by Laura pre-suicide hasn’t even broken fifteen hundred. Wait, how is the “Laura Barns Kill Urself” video even on Youtube to begin with? One of Youtube’s strictest guidelines is that videos cannot contain harassment or cyberbullying. How the video is actually still on Youtube is beyond me. The video is legit, by the way. You can check it out if you wish. It actually got taken down off of Youtube before it hit five hundred views because they thought that it was a legit video telling a chick to kill herself, not a promo for the movie. Youtube reinstated the video after being told that it was a promo for Unfriended.

And in another video which our main chick Blaire (Hennig, who is 28 and is attempting to portray someone ten years younger than her) can find online inexplicably, Laura actually gets a gun onto school property (in Hollywood? That’s a laugh) and shoots herself…while holding her gun at arm’s length. Huh.

The film actually begins with a hilarious distortion of the Universal logo, as if being screwed with by poor Internet connection. You will either find this hilarious or horrifically infuriating, as I’m sure most of us hate poor Internet connection.

The footage begins on a Monday night for some reason, with Blaire watching both of the Laura videos, and getting a Skype call from her boyfriend Mitch (Storm, who is 28). They flirt, saying that they plan to copulate to their hearts’ content on prom night. They are about to have cybersex when they are interrupted by three of their friends: Adam (Peltz, who is 29), Jess (Olstead, who is 26), and Ken (Wysocki, who is 25), who laugh at Blaire and Mitch’s failed attempt at cybersex.

KEN: Someone’s in their chonies!

This was slightly funny.

But, through the night, we learn to dislike all five (soon to be six) of our characters. Blaire and Mitch are horny, Adam’s the jock jerk, Jess is an ditzy airhead, and Ken is the fat guy who intentionally makes himself the butt of jokes.

And all potential for a well-executed “Slow Build” is wasted when right from the getgo of the trio’s introduction, there is another unidentified Skyper in the call with them, and nobody knows who the stranger is. Oooooh. Note: we’re only seven minutes in, and the haunting has already started. We still have over an hour with these typical high school students. As of the beginning of June of 2015, I am done with high school. I don’t want to have to deal with these types of people.

By the way, the objects each kid holds up actually foreshadow their deaths. Mitch is holding up a large carving knife, Jess holds up a hair straightener, Ken holds up a blender, Val is in her laundry room with a bottle of bleach in the background, and Adam will later hold up a gun. Seriously. They made it very clear from the trailers that, for example, Ken would shred his hand and his throat in his blender.

Oh, did I just spoil each of the characters’ deaths? Oops. Screw it, I don’t care. These characters are so unlikable that I want them to die.

Anyway, they try to boot the stranger out of the conversation, and go as far as to hang up on each other and reconnect, but gasp! The stranger is still there! The haunting is confirmed, ten minutes in, no less, when Laura Barns Facebook-messages Blaire. Blaire answers, asking who it is as Laura is dead, and asking why this person would do something like that. She deletes watching the Youtube video from her Google Chrome history, but neglects to do the same with her Youtube history. Mitch, on the Skype private messaging thing, sends Blaire a link to a website forum called unexplainedforums.net (it’s not on the real internet. Look it up.) that essentially says that if the dead contact you, and you answer, you will die. Great. I already know that all of these teens are going to die. Mitch tells Blaire to unfriend Laura, but, oddly, she cannot do so. By the way, Blaire’s Facebook relationship with Laura says that they’ve been friends since February. How would it be possible to add a dead person as your Facebook friend?

Another friend is brought into the conversation: Val (Halverson, who is 26). She’s the bimbo who nobody likes.

Blaire tries to memorialize Laura’s Facebook account, but something won’t let her. Oooooh.

It was about this time that I noticed that one of the tabs open on Blaire’s Internet showed MTV’s Teen Wolf, which featured the same actress who played Blaire. That’s an Easter egg if ever I saw one.

There is one major flaw with the overall video feed: its framerate. It’s annoying enough when nothing’s actually happening, but when crap goes down, the framerate drops to about two frames per second or less. It gets infuriating after just a few of these sequences. Also, the movie is set on Blaire’s computer, so her webcam should never have framerate issues on her own screen. But throughout the film, this happens.

There are also several sequences throughout the movie in which Blaire gets onto another program and somehow it mutes the audio from Skype. I get that movies tend to use silence as a means to set the audience up for a jumpscare. But this is ridiculous, because you’re sacrificing realism to achieve the effect. It’s incredibly distracting. And then there are sequences in which having another program up doesn’t mute the Skype conversation. This just make the movie look inconsistent and stupid. Oh, and in some of the muted sequences, there isn’t actually any dialogue. Everyone just stares into their cameras.

And then a bunch of pictures of Val drunk and stoned at the same party as Laura show up on Jess’s Facebook. Val and Jess fight, and Jess swears that she didn’t post the pictures. Jess deletes them, but they show back up on Adam’s wall. Val and Adam fight, and Adam swears that he didn’t post the pictures. Val flubbs a line. And then Blaire brings up that it’s the anniversary of Laura’s suicide. Oooooh. The stranger then warns the teens that if they hang up, they will die, and then turns off the lights in all of their rooms, letting them know that it’s not a joke. Adam and Val threaten the stranger, and Val calls 911, telling them that she’s being threatened online, and signs off of Skype.

During this last sequence, when Adam was threatening the stranger, he pulled out his dad’s gun. Blaire yelled at him to put it away, telling him that it might go off. Does Blaire not know how guns work? If the gun is already loaded and cocked, you still have to take the safety off and pull the trigger for the gun to actually fire. Also, Adam was not executing proper gun safety procedures. The NRA exists for a reason. Take a gun safety class, for gosh sakes.

After the stranger shows the remaining teens the video of Laura drunk and soiled, as well as a series of comments that they all made telling Laura to kill herself, Blaire Facebook-messages Laura, telling her that they all only did it because everyone else did. Way to cave in to peer pressure. Blaire then looks at the profile of the stranger and sees that it’s Laura’s account. Oooooh. Why did she wait until now to do that? The stranger starts a minute-long countdown, threatening to kill someone. Ken has everyone download some Trojan remover software in an attempt to remove the stranger from the conversation. Okay, I may not be very good with a computer, but I’m pretty sure that Trojan removers only work with computer viruses, not Skype issues. And even then, the only viruses that this Trojan remover will remove will be Trojans (look it up if you don’t know what type of virus this is.). They all finish downloading the software. Ken tells them to put the objects detected into Recycle Bin and then empty it. Blaire skips waiting for the scan to finish and just goes straight to emptying Recycle Bin for some reason. The emptying cannot be completed because a Torrented episode of Saturday Night Live is still in use. Yet Blaire apparently cannot read, as the program is clearly open and in plain view. Things inexplicably work out just as the countdown expires. The teens disconnect and reconnect, and the stranger is gone. The teens laugh about their experience, but gasp! The stranger emails Blaire an Instagram link,  Ken tells Blaire that he can trace the IP address somehow, and Blaire sends a screenshot to Ken because there is no Forward option. You sly scamp, you removed the Forward button! She then screenshares it with everyone. By the way, the email was clearly sent from two months earlier. The Instagram link in the email shows a screenshot of an email from Laura to Val, where Val told Laura to kill herself, even though that type of picture is easily photoshopped. The picture has been posted to Val’s Instagram, and it is already filled with comments telling Val that she is a horrible person and that she killed Laura. Ken then calls Laura a b!tch, saying that she deserved what she got. Blaire then private messages Mitch, complaining about Ken. I think the movie forgot that she was screensharing. It only took a minute and ten seconds.

Ha. Typical humans. Everyone now loves Laura after she committed suicide, even though they all told Laura to kill herself a year prior.

During this past sequence, Ken gives the reason for the software download as the stranger being just an Internet troll. Blaire then asks what an Internet troll is. I immediately thought, You’re a high school student in 2015. How in heaven’s name do you not know what an Internet troll is?

The stranger Facebook messages Blaire, saying that if she hangs up, all of her friends will die. Not knowing the correct shortcut “Command+C” for her Mac, she copies the message, only for the dialog box to act like her main search engine is Yahoo even though it’s clearly been Google. She starts to send the message to Mitch, but decides against it. It seems that she’s forgotten that she’s still screensharing.

Val reappears on Skype, sitting silently and motionless in her house’s laundry room. Her computer all of a sudden falls over. Blaire and co. remember that Val used to suffer from seizures, and Blaire looks up “val seizures” on GoogleWhy the heck would she do that? We see the police arrive and say “10-56”, which, for those who don’t know, means suicide. The open bottle of bleach next to Val should give that away. Oh, and when Blaire opens up her browser to look up police radio codes, the link she clicks is purple, while the rest are blue, meaning she’s already been to that site, and has little to no reason to have done that before.

The stranger reappears on Skype, and sends the group two pictures of Blaire cheating on Mitch with Adam. The stranger now has a video feed rather than a Skype icon. The feed is revealed to be in Ken’s room. Ken finds where the feed is coming from, and his feed bursts into static and cutting off every so often so Ken could move stuff around, only letting up to show him shredding his hand in his blender, breaking the blender, and using the blades to slash open his throat. Odd – the blades seemed to be cutting into something that Ken was holding, rather than Ken’s hand. Cheap effects much?

The stranger asks about the video. Blaire Facebook messages Laura claiming innocence. The stranger calls her out on her bull. Laura goes back to unexplainedforums.net and learns that to stop the supernatural vengeance, she must confess her sins.

The stranger forces the remaining teenagers to play Never Have I Ever with five fingers held up, saying that every time they lose, they put down a finger, and that the first person to put down all fingers will die. Apparently, Blaire needs to be told how to play. Throughout the scene, we learn that Jess started a rumor about Blaire having an eating disorder. Blaire crashed Jess’s mother’s car. Mitch made out with Laura. Mitch turned Adam in to the cops for pot. Jess stole eight hundred bucks from Adam. Adam offered to trade Jess’s life for his own. Blaire had sex with Adam, despite her claims to Mitch of her unspoiled virginity. This in particular causes Mitch to go ballistic. “It was an accident! I didn’t mean to do it!”Blaire says. Of course it was an accident! His penis just accidentally slipped in! Strangely, Blaire’s Spotify starts playing the song “How You Lie, Lie, Lie”. And I started singing along. By the way, Adam puts one of his fingers back up. Cheating jerk.

Adam “roofied” Ashley Dane and forced her to get an abortion.

Typical humans. This scene has officially rendered every one of these characters unlikeable.

Adam and Blaire’s computers’ printers (which lack the same distortion effect that everyone’s camera has) print something off that Adam and Blaire refuse to reveal. A video shows up on all of their screens showing Adam and Blaire having sex, Mitch threatens to hang up, the stranger threatens to kill him, and out of desperation, Blaire shows her paper to everyone else. It reads: “If you reveal this note, Adam will die.” Adam promptly shoots himself in the face, and his paper is seen: “If you reveal this note, Blaire will die.”

Jess is hinted to be next, as it is implied that she defaced Laura’s grave, and she hides in the bathroom. A popup ad comes up selling webcam software, advertising girls undressing, and one of the girls is a still of Blaire about to have cybersex with Mitch. Blaire goes on Chatroulette for some freaking reason to get help for Jess, where obviously nobody takes her seriously, until she gets one chick to call the police. Blaire goes back to Skype to see Jess with her hair straightening iron down her throat, and her hand in the filled bathtub, choking to death while getting electrocuted. A meme is posted on Jess’s Facebook wall: a picture of her with her straightening iron down her throat, with these words on it: “Looks like Jess finally STFU”.

The stranger has one last question for Blaire and Mitch: “Who posted the video?” The stranger starts another countdown, and despite pleading with the stranger not to kill anyone, Blaire finally fesses up that Mitch posted the video. Mitch places a big butcher knife point up on the table, and slams his face into it, stabbing the knife all the way through to the back of his head. Bullhonky. The song “I Hurt Too” sarcastically plays on Blaire’s Spotify.

Despite Blaire’s claims of friendship with Laura, another version of Laura drunk and soiled video is posted on Blaire’s Facebook wall. This time, the video is extended, and Blaire is revealed to be the cameraman. Almost immediately, the video is bombarded with hate-filled comments telling Blaire that she’s a monster, that she killed Laura, and that she should kill herself. Blaire can only stare in shock as she is given the same hypocritical amount of hate that Laura received. Instead of letting Blaire live with the consequences, this happens. Her bedroom door creaks open. Two silhouetted hands forcibly slam the laptop shut, revealing the film to be entirely from Blaire’s point of view, though the physics of that don’t make sense, as Blaire’s face on the video feed does not move upward as the laptop shuts. Is the camera on Laura’s stomach? And then the demonic-looking, vengeful ghost of Laura lunges at Blaire, abruptly ending the film with probably one of the most obvious jumpscares I’ve seen to date. Snore. Even the physics make no sense. Her webcam’s supposed to be on the top of her laptop. If her screen is moving down, why is the image of her not moving down?

But yes. The final jumpscare at the very end.

Unfriended could have been great. It tries to utilize typically worn clichés to create a technological and supernatural twist on the slasher genre. It’s a somewhat innovative idea that at least tries to speak to today’s generation of technology-addicted highschoolers.

Unfortunately, the characters’ actions were unrealistic, it wasn’t even close to scary, and it was a really slowly paced movie, even though it was only a little over eighty minutes.

Unfortunately, by the time I got into the final buildup before the end, I came to a realization: the “supernatural” elements of this movie are purely and simply an excuse for everything that happens in the movie. It’s a lazy, putrid attempt to cover up for the plothole of “Why don’t they just log off?” It seriously detracts from anything scary. Not that it was scary to begin with.

Another damning error was that the movie in and of itself felt like a dastardly attempt to capitalize on the anti-cyberbullying craze.

Ultimately, the entire movie felt like I was watching someone else surf the Net. It simply wasn’t scary until, of course, the very end. But, ultimately, the scariest part of it was its portrayal of teen amorality. Unfriended was clearly written for today’s generation, but, unfortunately, it wasn’t written by today’s generation, which resulted in the over-stereotyping of each character and the unrealistic (according to me) portrayal of cyberbullying. Just because a chick gets drunk and soils herself at a party, do you really think that nearly all of her fellow students would tell her to kill herself? The only time I was told to kill myself online was when someone demanded that I kill myself purely because I believe in God. Upon seeing this, I decided to turn the other cheek.

And while I said that Unfriended had a good idea, it ultimately is only a good idea because it is a flat-out product of the times, rather than timeless. While it may be relevant today, it certainly would not have been relevant twenty years ago, and it will certainly not be relevant twenty years from now.

I will bring up my review of It Follows. It Follows had a well-known idea that can be applied to today as well as the second half of the twentieth century. It took the well-known horror trope “sex = death” and updated it for the twenty-first century. This idea has been relevant for a long time in cinema. It was practically exploited in the eighties in the slasher genre. And this idea will be relevant in horror cinema for years to come.

But apart from the product-of-the-times idea, is Unfriended any good? The acting is about as good as it could have been, considering that most of the movie involves teenagers being terrorized. Unfortunately, the non-terrified lines are very flat and dull. The dialogue matches today, and is, like the overall idea, a product of the times. To today’s iPhone generation that is connected to social media constantly, this movie is probably terrifying. But I, unlike most of said generation, rarely use social media. Heck, I’m only on Facebook. But to me, and to pretty much anyone but my generation, this movie will be more of a bore than scary. And the overall product could have been so much better.

Contrary to popular belief, the movie was not shot in one continuous take. Instead of doing a series of continuous takes, the director had the actors run through the movie from start to finish several times, and edited in the best sections of each take. Of course, there’s the obvious loophole that everyone literally has the script right in front of their faces. It’s practically set up so that the editors could easily get the best sections of each take. Every time something opens up in front of the Skype conversation or a webcam glitches or lags, you can sneak in a new take. That would explain why the glitches and lag are there in abundance. Of course, sometimes the angles are slightly different for each take. For example, in one scene in which Blaire is typing, the video feed cuts to Mitch, and then back to Blaire, showing that she’s across the room, somehow having moved while typing nonstop. Wow. It’s the equivalent of putting training wheels on a child’s bike. It’s a waste of a great concept.

And if this is the best framerate Skype has to offer, they will have to pay me to make an account and be an active user. I actually had a Skype account for about a month, but it was ultimately more of a hassle than a helpmeet.

Pity.

Final verdict: 1 out of 5 stars.

Review 51: Train (.5/5)

Train

Directed by Gideon Raff

Starring Thora Birch, Derek Magyar, Gideon Emery, Kavan Reece, Gloria Votsis, Koina Ruseva

Released on October 16, 2008

Running time 1h 34m

Rated R (originally NC-17)

Genre: Horror

Let’s talk about copycat movies. For example, the James Bond movie Moonraker. It ended with James Bond in space, with a bunch of guys fighting in small spaceships firing lasers at each other. This was an obvious capitalization on Star Wars, which had just come out two years prior. Martin Scorcese would also recycle his story from Goodfellas in Casino, and again in The Wolf of Wall Street. Or some more recent examples: Man of Steel having pretty much the exact same story as Batman Begins. Divergent being a Hunger Games wannabe, with Hunger Games being a ripoff of Battle Royale.

And then we have Train…which is a cheap, less gory, less disturbing Hostel wannabe. And I didn’t even LIKE Hostel that much. In fact, I found Hostel to be violent for the sake of being violent, and sexy for the sake of having boobs. Yes, one half of it was entirely dedicated to sex, while the other half was solely dedicated to onscreen violence. And these two halves were separated by about five minutes or less of a transition.

We begin with brief shots of desecrated, desiccated, disemboweled, eviscerated, and/or vivisected corpses as one man skins one. Skinning? Really? It just looks like you painted the corpse’s front side red. Considering that this movie is a cheap version of Hostel on a train, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were that cheap. Sigh. By the way, way to go, movie. You just revealed to us why the freaking train is bad news. At least in Hostel they saved it for about halfway through.

The first third is pretty much dedicated to establishing our group of four (I think) college students, their assistant coach, and their coach as unlikeable crapheads. They are part of a co-ed American wrestling team that is heading to Odessa, Ukraine to compete in the next round of some championship. Of these five, one is the assistant coach, and the other four are actual wrestlers. Two are horny as hell, and the assistant coach is a junkie. The night when they stop in (insert anonymous eastern European city here), they sneak out of their hotel to go to this underground club that bears a distinct resemblance to S&M. We get our complimentary boobs that we were promised, and the group leaves the club after two of them get into a fight for some reason. They get back to the hotel too late to catch the train to Odessa, and their coach who is there waiting for them berates them. I liked the coach. Past tense. Once the group got on the next train to Odessa, I soon lost my liking for him. As I was saying, the group meets an immediately suspicious blonde who gets them on the next train to Odessa.

These are some incredibly stupid actions on the part of these five people. This is exactly why I don’t screw around when I’m on a trip with my former choir or band (I was never on a wrestling team).

Oh, and by the way, I won’t address the characters by their names, because I don’t remember them. There’s Thora Birch playing our main chick. There’s her buzzcut boyfriend. There’s the junkie assistant coach. And there’s two others whose identities escape me. But frankly, I don’t care, because – spoilers – they’ll all (except Birch) be dead by the end of the movie.

Things start to look suspicious when two European perverts take the group’s passports and burn them without their knowledge, and the blonde briefly takes over the part of Natalya and Svetlana from Hostel. She seduces the coach, and they go into her cabin to have sex. Odd place to have sex – on a train. Meanwhile, the five play Truth or Dare, and the assistant coach dares the buzzcut boyfriend to run from one end of the train to the other in his underwear. He gets to That One Particular Car. And then it gets real when a guy corners Buzzcut and impales him. Blonde Chick, before she and Coach can have sex, sticks a needle in his neck and sedates him. Coach wakes up to see somebody disemboweling him. Buzzcut also has his ribcage crudely broken open, spine crudely severed, and eyes crudely removed.

But screw all of the incredibly unpleasant torture sequences that are so few and far between. “Unpleasant”, not “disturbing”. At least the torture scenes in Saw, Hostel, Martyrs, A L’Interieur, The Human Centipede, Wolf Creek, The Last House on the Left, The Loved Ones, Kill List, Oldboy, Ichi the Killer, Imprint, Audition, Frontiere(s), and plenty of others had purpose and structure, despite me not necessarily liking many of these. Train’s surprisingly few and tame torture scenes lack both. Sure, they’re violent. But they are nothing compared to the cringe-worthy moments of all of the aforementioned films.

Frankly, the ineptitude of the torture scenes and getting the overall idea that this desperately wants to be Hostel is starting to overwhelm me – I’m just going to try to finish this up quick.

Thora is briefly captured and is about to be raped by the two European guys, who fight over who gets to go first. You know, guys, there’s a better way to go about this. Have you ever heard of the term “pig roasting”?

(Readers slap me in the face) I deserve that.

Anyway, the Other Couple meets their ends, as one is vivisected, and one is dropped off at a military checkpoint as a sex slave bribe. And Thora Birch makes no attempt to rescue her.

The train arrives at a huge medieval-esque hospital, where a disguised Thora finds the assistant coach badly injured but alive. They make their escape, but when Thora leaves him behind briefly, he is found by Blonde Chick’s thugs and has his head crushed with a rock offscreen. For a Hostel wannabe, that was a missed opportunity.

Thora returns to the train, which pulls away again. She kills Blonde Chick and her thugs, douses the train in gasoline, and sets it afire. She uncouples the last car, gets out, looks over a bridge, and is attacked by a surviving thug. She subdues him with his own axe. One nitpick – she chops him in his belly with the axe, but she doesn’t go nearly deep enough to break the abdominal muscles. So why is a loop of his intestines hanging out when the gash was much higher than where the intestines should be? Anyway, Thora straps the thug to the tracks, and the next train to come by runs over him. Strange – the only part of him that was actually on the tracks were his wrists and ankles. How did the train completely crush him, making a stock squishing sound that you could find on freesound.org?  Thora escapes down the tracks. She is seen later about to enter a wrestling match. Oh yeah – wrestling was still in this movie. Uh…that was an odd way to tie the movie back to wrestling.

I think it is just a fact of life that most horror movies suck miserably. But not only is this an incompetent Hostel wannabe, but it looks just competent enough to sink into the mass of horror movies that are bad but not bad enough to warrant recognition.

And I hate movies like that.

Final verdict: .5 out of 5 stars.

50th Review Special: Orphan (4.5/5)

Orphan

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

Starring Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman, Aryana Engineer, Jimmy Bennett

Released on July 24, 2009

Running time 2h 3m

Rated R

Genre: Thriller, Horror

For my fiftieth review, I decided to break my usual pattern again by reviewing something that I like despite its flaws.

I know I just complained about Dark Castle Entertainment in my The Hills Run Red review, but I can safely say that this is one of their occasional movies that actually succeeds.

I know that Jaume Collet-Serra was responsible for the failed remake of House of Wax, as well as a trio of mediocre films starring Liam Neeson: Unknown, Non-Stop­, and Gun All Right – sorry, Run All Night. If you don’t get that little nudge, just look up Liam Neeson’s political statements regarding guns. His hypocrisy speaks for itself.

But Collet-Serra, like every broken clock, is right twice a day. And he struck gold with Orphan.

Despite some issues, this film works.

I think that the idea was particularly clever; it has been seriously underdone throughout film history, with its only successful executions being 1956’s The Bad Seed and 1976’s The Omen. I’m not even going to talk about 1993’s The Good Son.

Kate and John Coleman (Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard respectively), after the brutal miscarriage of their unborn child, decide to adopt a child to fill in the hole left by their loss. They adopt nine-year-old Esther, (the beautiful Isabelle Fuhrman). However, over the course of most of the movie, Esther is revealed to not be all she says she is, and things take a nasty turn.

The film begins with an out-of-focus scene in which Kate and John enter a hospital. Kate is checked in and is wheelchaired off to a room, but starts leaking blood from her nethers. Realizing that the Kate is in the process of having a miscarriage, the doctors wheel her to surgery, and they are implied to be performing an all-out vivisection. And then Kate wakes up from this, realizing it was a nightmare. I found this scene surprisingly shocking. Just the idea of miscarriage was enough, but combining shaky-cam with visual effects and distortion makes the vivisection scene unbearably tense. I actually gaped and covered my mouth at this. Kate, I’m so sorry for your loss.

Kate, in the aftermath of the miscarriage, deals with and conquers alcoholism, and, ultimately, she and John take the final step to moving on: they go to an orphanage to adopt a child. And they find perhaps the perfect child: nine-year-old Esther. She has a cute Eastern European accent. She speaks formally and professionally. She is a spectacular painter. She even knows to curtsy. And she even has her own personal Bible. She is slightly odd, as she always wears thick ribbons around her neck and wrists, but Kate and John know that this is the child they will adopt; they do so and take her home.

We are introduced to Kate and John’s other two children: Maxine (Engineer) “Max”, a deaf little cutie who immediately befriends Esther, and Daniel (Bennett), who is less welcoming, to say the least.

DANIEL: She’s not my … f^cking sister.

THAT was uncalled for.

To be perfectly frank, I, until the inevitable twist, wanted the remainder of the movie to just be about Esther and her induction into the family and the blossom of happiness that grows. In fact, seeing Esther help Kate heal made me tear up. Kate shows Esther a bush of white roses that grow where Kate spread the ashes of their miscarried child. And Esther’s remarks, while I forget what they said, touched my heart, and I gladly teared up. I’m serious. Kate went through a horrible experience, and I want her to heal, move on, and be happy again. And Esther seems like the perfect way to fill in the hole left by the miscarriage. Esther even learns sign language to communicate with Max. They form a very close sisterly bond, becoming nigh inseparable. Overall, the family welcomes Esther with open arms, loving her with all their heart, having that love reciprocated, feeding her artistic talents, and just being a happy family. And I am very happy for them.

I was surprised that she can play some Tchaikovsky with ease.

One scene, in which Esther is to take a bath, she locks the door, which, unbeknownst to Esther, is a no-no in the house. After Esther reveals that whenever she does this, she sings to let them know she’s okay, Kate allows her to do it just this once. And I thought, Please, Esther. I would love to hear you sing.

Esther starts school, but is almost immediately targeted by a group of girls who bully her because of her formal attire and the fact that she always wears thick ribbons around her neck and wrists.

The ear-to-ear smile on my face then began to slip, however, when I saw the first sign that Esther was not who she said she was. It happened one afternoon when Daniel was target practicing with his paintball gun. He hit a pigeon and wounded it. He was obviously distressed at the unintended injury, but Esther put it out of its misery with a rock.

The next sign happened one night when Kate and John decide to have sex on the kitchen counter of all places. Esther inadvertently sees the deed done, and Kate and John notice. The next morning, Kate attempts to give Esther the “birds and the bees” talk. The talk does not go over the way I expected. Kate starts with “when a mommy and a daddy love each other very much”, but Esther interrupts, saying she already knows about it, and adds one short sentence that I have yet to hear out of the mouth of any nine-year-old I know.

ESTHER: They f^ck.

I was stunned to hear that out of the mouth of such an innocent child.

The next sign occurred at school. Esther was walking through a crowded hall when she was surrounded by the bullies. They take her Bible and tear pages out of it, calling her a “Jesus freak”. But that’s not the odd part. When the lead bully, Brenda, tries to remove Esther’s neck ribbon, calling it a “doggy collar”, Esther reacts violently, screaming at the top of her lungs. Note how I didn’t pull the SCREAMING AT THE TOP OF HER LUNGS bit, as that would imply that the scream was borderline comical. No. Esther’s scream was quite different. I wanted to berate the bullies, especially Brenda, but I didn’t have to – Brenda gets her comeuppance.

John takes Esther and Max to a playground. Brenda is also there, but has chosen not to bully Esther at the moment. We then see Esther disappear when John is distracted by an old flame. Brenda wanders through the playground equipment and comes to the top of a long slide. Esther then appears behind her and pushes her off the slide. Brenda falls and breaks her ankle.

Kate is met by Sister Abigail, the matriarch of the orphanage from whence Esther came, who warns her that bad things happen when Esther is around. When Sister Abigail leaves the Coleman residence, Esther shoves Max into the path of the car, causing Sister Abigail to swerve off the road and crash. After an injured Sister Abigail tries to crawl away from Esther, Esther kills her with a hammer, shoves her body in the river, and hides the hammer in Daniel’s tree house.

Meanwhile, Kate is now convinced that something is very wrong with Esther, but, of course, no one believes her. Kate finds Esther’s personal Bible, and determines that it came from the Saarne Institute in Estonia, which, strangely, is a mental hospital. Kate emails a picture of Esther to them and asks for more information.

Daniel learns of Sister Abigail’s death from Max, and tells Max of his plan to retrieve the hammer. Esther overhears, and that night holds a box cutter to Daniel’s throat and threatens him with castration if he tells Kate and John about what she did. After threatening Daniel with the loss of his luggage and both of his carry-ons, Esther returns to her room, admires her paintings, turns off the lights, and turns on a black light. Her paintings, which were originally of her family and her house, now show the house ablaze and all sorts of horrific things happening to her family.

The next night, Esther gives Kate a bouquet of roses. Kate is horrified to see that they are the roses she planted on her miscarried son’s grave. She roughly grabs Esther’s arm and twists her around. This causes Esther pain, and causes John to demand that Kate let Esther loose. Later that night, Esther is seen in the garage. She sticks her arm in a clamp and twists it just tight enough to break one of the bones in her arm. She complains about arm pain to John, who discovers that the arm is broken. He immediately blows up at Kate, who insists she could not have done so. Esther is taken to the hospital and her arm is put in a brace. While Esther is taken to the hospital, Kate goes out and buys two bottles of wine, but stops just before she drinks. She dumps one down the sink and hides the other.

Esther goes to school a few days later. She gets out of Kate’s car, and when Kate isn’t looking, Esther takes the brake off. The road to the school is on an incline, and taking off the brake sends the car careening down the hill into a snowdrift. Max is fine, but, that night, John and Kate’s therapist confront Kate, using Esther’s broken arm, today’s incident, and the wine bottle from earlier as evidence. The therapist insists that Kate should be sent to rehab, and John threatens to take the kids and leave.

A few days later, when Daniel attempts to retrieve the hammer, Esther sets his tree house on fire. Though Daniel survives by jumping out of the tree house, breaking his neck in the process, the hammer and other evidence is destroyed. Esther tries to finish Daniel off, but Max stops her, Kate arrives on the scene, and Daniel is taken to the hospital. While the family is at the hospital, Esther, under the guise of grabbing a soda from the vending machine, slips into Daniel’s room and smothers him with a pillow, which stops his heart, but the doctors quickly revive him. Kate knows that Esther tried to kill Daniel and attacks Esther, but the doctors sedate her and hold her at the hospital overnight.

Back at the house, Esther expertly applies makeup and modifies one of Kate’s dresses. John gets drunk and a now provocatively dressed Esther sits by him. To John’s horror, Esther tries to seduce him. John finally realizes that there’s something very wrong with Esther.

Meanwhile, Kate receives a call at the hospital from the Saarne Institute. The doctor reveals that Esther is not Esther – she is actually a 33-year-old woman named Leena Klammer who has hypopituitarism. For those of you who don’t know, hypopituitarism is a hormone disorder that stunts your physical growth. That is why Leena looks like she’s nine years old, but is actually 33. This is a particularly bad case, then. Leena has spent most of her life posing as a child and having families adopt her, attempting to seduce the father and have a sexual relationship with him. Leena has had a history of extreme violence and murder. The last family that adopted her was in Estonia, the father had rejected her sexual advances, and Leena had murdered the entire family. Her escape from the Saarne Institute had left her with scars around her neck and wrists, which explains the ribbons. Kate checks herself out of the hospital and rushes home to prevent her family from suffering the same fate.

Leena essentially has an anger-induced nervous breakdown. She ransacks her room and removes the disguise that enhanced her youthful illusion as Esther, adding about three years to her face and size. She hides. John enters Leena’s room and is horrified to discover paintings of himself and Leena in various sexual acts. Leena then kills John. Max sees this happen and hides.

Kate arrives home and finds John’s corpse. Leena grabs John’s gun, shoots Kate in the arm, and tracks Max down, but Kate knocks her out, takes the gun, and flees with Max. Leena regains consciousness, finds Kate and Max near a frozen pond, and attacks Kate, knocking the gun away. The fight moves onto the ice-covered pond. Max grabs the gun and tries to shoot Leena, but misses and hits the ice instead, cracking it, causing Leena and Kate to fall into the water. Kate climbs out. Leena reverts to her Esther persona, begging Kate not to let her die, addressing her as “Mommy”. Kate angrily responds that she is not her mother. She kicks Leena in the face, breaking her neck. Leena sinks back into the pond, and Max and Kate are found by the police soon after.

If you want a movie about an evil child, don’t want to find the little-known The Bad Seed, and don’t want to subject yourself to the atrocity known as The Good Son, this is the film for you. The story is surprisingly strong despite turning somewhat sleazy near the end, the characters are relatable and lovable, especially pre-crazy Esther/Leena, the script is well written, and the acting is fantastic apart from Sarsgaard being a little bland at times. Vera Farmiga earned a place on my list of favorite actresses with her role in The Conjuring, and solidified her place with Orphan.

But there is one flaw that seriously detracts from the overall product: Orphan’s scare sequences. For example: the scene at the playground. Shown mostly from Brenda’s perspective, the scene has the camerawork and it has the music. But it lacks one thing: what we’re supposed to be scared of. I know we’re supposed to be scared of Esther, but she hasn’t done anything particularly bad until now.

But enough of the bad; this was a damn good movie. Isabelle Fuhrman does a wonderful job as Esther/Leena, and I wish her the best of luck in her acting career.

Final verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars.