INLAND EMPIRE (2006)

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Stars: Laura Dern, Justin Theroux, Jeremy Irons

Admittance to Lynch fans only

I remember when I watched Inland Empire for the first time. You could say that I was something of a David Lynch virgin as I had only seen The Elephant Man, Wild At Heart and Mulholland Drive. I have since devoured everything and anything he’s put his hands on from his earliest short film, Six Men Getting Sick to his bizarre animated series, Dumbland. Inland Empire is definitely jumping into the deep end though if you’ve only seen a handful of Lynch’s stuff, so I was either going to sink or swim. Luckily for me I sat there completely spellbound throughout the hefty 180 minute acid trip and was left completely shaken by what I had just seen. It was the film which turned me from a fan and into a super-fan.

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This isn’t the normal reaction to Inland Empire though. Even the most die-hard Lynch fans find massive fault with it and I can completely understand this viewpoint. This is a film which defies description. Some people liken it to David Lynch shooting random crap on a cheap digital camcorder, but I think it’s important to approach the film as you would with a piece of art or music. It’s a feeling and you either get it or you don’t. I could write an essay about how Cher’s ‘Believe’ is the best song of all time but if you hear it and don’t like it then nothing’s going to change your mind. Inland Empire is not something you can casually stick on and watch whilst playing on your phone, it’s a film which requires your absolute fullest attention. Your eyes can’t afford to leave the screen otherwise the magic will be ruined. Forget everything you know about coherent plots and movies, this is something which you have to truly immerse yourself and get lost in.

It has that lucid dream-like quality to it just like Mulholland Dr, but this time even more so. If Mulholland Drive was a dream captured on camera, then Inland Empire is a full-blown nightmare. It made me feel as if I was turning insane (in a good way). If David Lynch aimed to get his audience in the same twisted mind-set as his protagonist then he certainly succeeded. The film was a total mind funk from start to finish. I have never taken drugs before, but this is what I would imagine a ‘bad trip’ feels like. It’s exactly like experiencing a dream because dreams feel like they’re going on forever when you’re in them, yet when you wake up you can only remember bits and pieces. Inland Empire is three hours long and yet I find it difficult to recall most scenes. It feels like it’s going on forever when you’re watching it and not long at all, all at the same time. It’s the closest you will ever come to experiencing a dream whilst awake.

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You could argue that Inland Empire does lack a strong plot. Whilst Mulholland Drive by no means has a coherent and linear narrative, there is still a strong sense of a plot and a lot of it is open to deep analysis and interpretation. However, Inland Empire will have you utterly bemused right from the black and white opening which sees a blurred-faced Polish girl interacting in a hotel room. That’s not to say that there is no plot though, I just wouldn’t worry about it too much on the first viewing, just go with the flow and let the madness wash over you. It somehow manages to be grossly unwatchable, yet utterly hypnotic. I remember first watching the film and thinking that this is either the worst film of all time, or the greatest.

Most people don’t class Inland Empire as a horror film, however it’s one of the very scariest films I have ever seen and I don’t scare easily! The look of the film is very early Lars Von Trier, as it was shot on a digital camera, which adds a very raw and real edge to the film. It feels like you’re experiencing a nightmare first-hand. There are some very claustrophobic moments where the camera is right up to the actor’s face and some moments which will chill you to the core. If you jumped at the Winkie’s Diner scene in Mulholland Drive then wait until you see Laura Dern’s face in this (no offence to Laura, you’ll see what I mean).

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Talking of Laura Dern, what a performance she gives in this! If the film was more accessible then people would be calling this a performance for the ages and she would’ve rightly won the Academy Award. It’s also important to note that Dern wasn’t even given a complete script so she was as in the dark as us in regards to what the heck is going on. David would write the film as the shoot was going on and give Laura a freshly written page of script each day. I’d also like to mention the extraordinary music used in the film which adds the unsettling atmosphere. Composed by Marek Zebrowski and Lynch himself, some of it is reminiscent of The Shining and a piece of music from The Shining is even used at one point which is delightful.

If you’re going to watch Inland Empire then it’s important to do it right. Set aside three hours at night time and make sure there are zero distractions. Put your kids and partner to bed, make sure you’re comfortable and switch your phone off. Make sure you have a sizable TV with good sound, pop in the disc, press play and do not take your eyes off the screen. If you follow these tips then you should find yourself feeling lost in a nightmarish labyrinth that will seemingly never end. It’s not always a pleasant experience, but it’s certainly like nothing you’ll ever see again. In some ways, Inland Empire is the epitome of David Lynch’s gorgeous filmography.

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10 Best Horror Movies Of 2016

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2016 has been a stellar year for horror films. Every year people declare our beloved genre dead due to the tired tropes and cliches, but this year has proven that horror is very much alive and thriving. Below you’ll find my top 10 horror movies of 2016. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to catch Under the Shadow and The Handmaiden, so those titles have been regrettably omitted.

10. ‘Green Room’

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I wasn’t as impressed with Green Room as a lot of people were. The acting was a little strange, the lighting was a dark and there were quite a few slow patches. I did love the dark, grungy atmosphere though and there were some fantastic moments of shocking violence and intensity. It follows a group of young punk rockers who get trapped in a venue run by neo-Nazi skinheads. It’s a fun premise and it does boast some memorable scenes, but it doesn’t deserve the rave reviews it received, which is why I’ve placed it at the lower end of the list.

9. ‘Lights Out’

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Thanks to an effective short film, David F. Sandberg got the chance to debut a fun, feature-length chiller with an original premise. The premise features a family haunted by a crooked spirit called Diane who only appears when the lights go out. It boasts good performances and likable characters, which are all too rare in horror films of today. The scares aren’t entirely effective, but there are moments of genuine suspense, particularly in the thrilling third act, which adds an innovative #supernatural spin on the home invasion sub genre. Despite suffering from some clichés and a sudden ending, #LightsOut stands out as one of the most memorable horror films of the year.

8. ‘Ouija: Origin Of Evil’

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This could possibly be the most surprising film of the year. A prequel to one of 2013’s worst horror films, #Ouija2 was surely guaranteed to be a disastrous abomination. However, talented writer-director Mike Flanagan (#Oculus, #Hush) raised everyone’s expectations and crafted a supernatural horror film that is better than it has any right to be. Yes, it has the usual jump-scares, possessed little girls and #Insidious-inspired demons. It also disappoints in its last act with odd pacing and an all too familiar finale, but Ouija also does so many things right. It focuses on a family that you genuinely end up caring about and has a fantastic eye for detail in its period setting. It also cleverly deconstructs the genre and plays with our extensive horror knowledge while also delivering some scenes of surrealism, which makes for unsettling viewing. Most of all though, it’s just a fun time from start to finish and you can really see that it’s been crafted by an intelligent team who have genuine affection for horror films.

7. ’10 Cloverfield Lane’

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Dan Trachenberg’s film had a strange release. No one had heard about the film until a trailer surfaced just months before the film was set to hit the big screens. People were also confused as to whether the film was a sequel to 2008’s #Cloverfield, even though the trailer looked as though it had nothing at all in common with Matt Reeves’ found footage monster movie. Lots of people (including me) are still confused by the mysterious title, but nevertheless, #10CloverfieldLane is an impressive exercise in suspense and mystery. It features a menacing performance from John Goodman as the enigmatic conspiracist, locking up two innocents with him in his bomb shelter. It’s a film that always manages to engage thanks to the constant, intense atmosphere and intrigue. It also doesn’t opt for a predictable finale, rather, going for something delightfully crazy and different altogether. It never takes itself too seriously and I look forward to seeing where exactly the Cloverfield universe is heading

6. ‘The Conjuring 2’

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Here’s another sequel that managed to surpass expectations. #JamesWan managed to outdo himself with this beautifully crafted supernatural horror film. It follows the (supposedly) true story of a family in England experiencing some spooky activity of the paranormal kind. #Conjuring2 places most of its focus on the family instead of scares, so that we’re totally invested in their story. That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have scares though. James Wan’s directing is as effective as ever at building up an atmosphere of almost unbearable suspense. He has also created one of the most iconic horror villains in recent memory with Valek, the terrifying demon nun. It’s a masterful film that manages to unsettle, entertain and emotionally involve its audience in equal measure.

5. ‘The Neon Demon’

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Nicolas Winding Refn’s polarizing look into the fashion industry feels like a natural progression from the criminally underrated Only God Forgives. He’s swapped stunt driving and gun-slinging for gals and make-up. The story itself isn’t anything original — it’s the tale of a wide-eyed girl with big dreams who ends up getting consumed by them; however, the way it’s told is nothing short of masterful. Every shot in #NeonDemon is a work of art that oozes absolute style and beauty, which is exactly what the film is about. It’s full of hypnotic, Lynchian imagery, which makes you feel as if you’re watching a dream unfold. There are several stunning moments of pure visual cinema which is something of a rarity nowadays. The film also ends on a memorably whacky and disturbing note which will have you pondering over for weeks. It’s not a film which everyone will appreciate, but those who are attracted to strange and immersive films will find a lot to love.

4. ‘Don’t Breathe’

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It hasn’t been a good year for the homes of the disabled. We already had a deaf woman getting her home invaded this year in Mike Flanagan’s #Hush, and now Fede Alvarez’s #DontBreathe shows us a blind man getting his house burgled by a gang of youths. Surely the most intense movie of the year, Alvarez makes every shot and sound count in his home invasion horror. Don’t Breathe is masterfully directed and dripping with suspense. It delivers non-stop thrills at every corner as well as featuring a memorable villain in Stephen Lang’s deadly Rambo-esque veteran and a badass heroine in Jane Levy’s Rocky. It’s a terrific experience on the big screen and is pretty much guaranteed to have you holding your breath on several occasions.

3. ‘Train To Busan’

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This Korean undead tale is arguably more of an action thriller than a straight-up #horror movie, but it does have #zombies in it. It’s also great and easily the best zombie flick since Shaun of the Dead. It follows a neglectful father taking his young daughter on a train to a nearby city to see her mother. Unfortunately for them, hordes of the living dead begin to overtake most of Korea just as the train is about to depart, leaving the passengers in a desperate fight for survival. #TraintoBusan is pretty much a non-stop, two-hour thrill ride — no easy task considering that it’s almost entirely set in the confines of a train. It hurtles from set-piece to set-piece in waves of brilliant intensity that leave you gasping for air. The film also packs a surprising emotional wallop thanks to its terrifically drawn-out characters who you end up genuinely caring about. I found myself holding back the tears on more than one occasion.

2. ‘The Wailing’

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The Koreans have been ruling horror this year with Train to Busan, The Handmaiden and now this, #TheWailing. It’s an enigmatic mix of crime, thriller, supernatural horror and dark comedy. It could’ve easily turned into a mess, but thanks to Na Hong-jin directing an unpredictable screenplay we’re left with an unforgettable near-masterpiece. It follows a bumbling yet lovable policeman as he investigates a series of mystifying murders plaguing his tiny village. Does it have something to do with the strange Japanese man who recently moved to the nearby forest? The Wailing keeps you guessing to the very end and always enthralls with its surprising twists and often hilarious comedy. Some may find the film silly, but it has such ambition and engaging characters you can’t help but appreciate what it’s trying to succeed. It’s a fantastic horror film that plays on your mind long after the credits roll.

1. ‘The Witch’

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I can hear the cries of abuse now. For some reason, The Witch didn’t sit well with a lot of audiences after generating a lot of early critical acclaim. There’s no denying though that #TheWitch is the best horror film of the year so far and is destined to become a classic. Someone described it as “a Brothers Grimm fairytale directed by Stanley Kubrick” and that is the most accurate description I could think of. Robert Eggers’s debut film is a phenomenal piece of filmmaking and one if the scariest horror films to hit our screens in quite some time. Everything about The Witch is masterful, from the intense foreboding atmosphere to the bold unsettling score.

The film is set in 1630 and follows a God-obsessed family who suffer a series of tragic events after being banished to an isolated house next to a terrifying forest that is possibly home to a witch. It’s a film laced with horrifying imagery and suspense that explodes into an entirely satisfying finale that left my mouth agape. The Witch isn’t just the best horror movie of 2016 so far, but the best film period. Oh, and let’s not forget that it contains the best performance of the year in the shape of Black Phillip the goat.

So there we have it. Told you it’s been a knockout year for horror! What films have you enjoyed the most?

Blair Witch (2016)

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Director: Adam Wingard

Stars: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid

Same old tricks

I’m not against found footage films like a lot of people are. Fair enough if you suffer from motion sickness, but selfishly, I don’t. They’re a great way of creating a sense of scary realism and intensity on a low budget. Cannibal Holocaust may have been innovative enough to begin the concept but there’s no doubt that 1999’s The Blair Witch Project started the trend. Love it or hate it, it’s an essential piece of filmmaking and a masterpiece of movie marketing. Personally, I’m not a fan of Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez’s original film. Despite a creepy final ten seconds and an intriguing set-up of the Blair witch legend, the film is basically 80 minutes of people arguing in the woods over a lost map. There’s no big payoff, nothing is ever shown and mostly I just find very boring and tedious.

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So when Blair Witch was revealed, I wasn’t exactly excited like a lot of people were. I love the Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett duo. The Guest was good and You’re Next was great so I was looking forward to their next project, The Woods which turned out to be a secret pseudonym for a sequel to The Blair Witch Project. Early Reviews came out and I suddenly became very excited. People were calling it a game changer for horror films and one even went so far as to say that the film will wreck you, so of course I was sold. I avoided all trailers and decided to pop over and see it on opening day, hoping to watch a genuinely scary found footage horror film. Unfortunately I came out extremely disappointed.

Blair Witch isn’t a bad film, but it’s certainly no game-changer. In fact, it’s nothing much to write home about at all. It is simply an average horror film and in my opinion the worst offering from the directing/writing duo so far. One of the main problems is that it plays out almost exactly like the original Blair Witch Project, albeit a bit more souped up. Instead of having a group of characters going into the woods to investigate about the legend, we have a group of characters going into the woods to find Heather, the main character from the original, who happens to be our protagonist’s sister. If there was no mention of Heather then Blair Witch would definitely be classed as a remake, rather than a sequel. Even fans of this film admit that it follows almost every beat of the original: there’s the getting lost, finding twig men hanging outside the tent, running away in the dark from something that can’t be seen and even the iconic old house finale.

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Blair Witch offers no new surprises and the first half of the film is almost as tedious as the original. We’re not really made to care for any of the characters and none are properly developed. They’re just your average group of young adults being lined up for the slaughterhouse, with the technicians from The Cabin in the Woods at the control panel watching it all play out. When a character dies, we don’t really care which is sort of a problem when we’re made to stay with them for 90 minutes. There are some nice moments of good humour, but for the most part not a great deal happens in the first half. It’s just like watching some friends go on a camping trip. It would’ve been an ideal opportunity for some character development, but instead we just get the usual arguing and friendly banal banter.

Once we hit around the midway point, spooky stuff starts happening but it’s all stuff we’ve seen before. There are some tense moments when characters go off on their own and hear strange noises deep in the woods, but there’s never any payoff. A good scare is like a good joke. There has to be an extended moment of suspense and then an explosive punchline, but Blair Witch seems to always miss the punchline. I was always on edge and waiting for something scary to happen in the woods, but nothing really ever does. I did like the strong feeling of isolation though. There’s a real sense of panic and stress as we realise that these characters are going to end up lost in these woods for what could be an eternity. But whilst the atmosphere is good, the scares are too uninspired to be effective.

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Things do start to pick up in the last twenty minutes though. After what feels like endless screaming and running in the woods, we come across the dreaded old house from the first film. This is when things start to become intense and genuinely horrifying at times. There’s a huge sense of dread and unpredictability which had me on the edge of my seat. I thought, “finally! Maybe this is the part that’s going to wreck me” but it wasn’t. Despite a couple of effective jump scares and moments of intensity, the finale fails to live up to the expectations which it promised. It did a good job of building up tension, but just like the scenes in the woods, it failed to conjure up a truly scary punchline. In fact, the film ends with a very disappointing whimper which left me wanting a lot more.

I don’t mind slow-burners but there has to be a payoff worth waiting for. The original Wicker Man and Kill List are good examples of this, but Blair Witch fails in delivering. In the end, it’s a perfectly serviceable horror film. It uses the found footage aspect well and makes good use of utilising new filming technologies. It’s also better and far more entertaining that the original, but that’s not really high praise coming from a detractor of it. I suppose that I just fell for the hype and I don’t want you to do the same. It has moments which are scarier than most mainstream horror films, but there’s nothing that will shake you to your core here. Hardened horror nuts are not going to be impressed. It may be worth a quick look when it gets released on DVD but it’s not worth seeing on the big screen. If you want a truly scary found footage film then stick to [REC] of Noroi: The Curse. In a year full of great horror films, Blair Witch disappointingly seems to be the first hiccup.

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Where the Dead Go to Die (2012)

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Director: Jimmy ScreamerClauz

Stars: Ruby Larocca, Brandon Slagle, Joey Smack

This ain’t Pixar folks

This review is going to be subjective because I’m not like most people who get scared by horror films like The Exorcist or The Shining. I get scared by strange things. Things that bury themselves into your psyche and fester for a long time. That’s why I’m such a fan of David Lynch’s surreal films and why (what most people would describe as) an unwatchable mess like Inland Empire is a frightening masterpiece to me. Similarly, some people find videos of glitches from The Sims hilarious, whereas I find them chilling with those strange and nightmarish impossible contortions. Where the Dead Go to Die is like one big Sims glitch.


Many will see it as an atrociously animated and badly voice acted mess, and they wouldn’t be wrong. This has to be the worst animation ever committed to film. In fact, it looks as though it was made on The Sims with a few disturbing expansion packs which allow your sims to woohoo with animals and travel to a kaleidoscopic hell. This will make the film borderline unwatchable for some people, but for me it made it all the more horrifying. Likewise, a little boy being voiced by a man mimicking a screechy child’s voice is much more frightening to me than being voiced by an actual child. It’s extremely uncomfortable as it feels like we’re watching something Satanic that shouldn’t be watched.

Where the Dead Go to Die has to be one of the most disturbing films I have ever seen and I don’t get too disturbed easily either. This film is up there with Salo, Martyrs and all he rest. If it was a live action production then I’m pretty sure that the anonymous director, who goes by Jimmy ScreamerClauz, would be arrested. Whilst the animation is beyond poor, the ideas are still there and these ideas are seriously messed up. I don’t want to spoil it for people who want to experience this mind fudge, but there are some depraved ideas involving children which are explored explicitly in this film. They may only look like blobs, but that didn’t make it any less upsetting to watch, for me at least. Especially combined with the horrifying musical score in the background.


I feel like I should delve into the story a little bit. Where the Dead Go to Die is an anthology film which follows three characters living in the same neighbourhood (I think) who all come in contact with a demonic dog. The first segment tells the story of a boy who is convinced by the dog to kill his mother’s unborn child as it’s the antichrist. This story certainly gives you a taste of things to come. It’s just utter madness with some terribly disturbing ideas and images thrown in. The second story kind of lost me a bit, but it concerns a man who steals people’s memories after killing them. It’s the weakest story and is mainly an excuse to go overboard on the hellish, surreal imagery. The last story is the strongest and most disturbing. It concerns a neglected boy with his dead Siamese twin’s head stuck to the side of his face, who falls in love with a little girl. Needless to say, she harbours some very dark secrets at home.

You can try and think about the absolute sickest thing in the world and this film will show you worse. I can’t decide whether I liked it or not. You could argue that it’s a film designed to shock you for the sake of it, but there is actually a story here (several actually) and I’d argue that this Jimmy ScreamerClauz bloke actually manages to respectively weave the story with the moments of depravity. This isn’t like August Underground where it’s just one sick pointless scene trying to outdo the other. The disturbing themes do actually have something to do with the surreal story, particularly in the last segment. There’s a moment where I was almost moved to tears, just due to the intensity of the concept presented on screen. The relentless bleakness also started to get to me after a while.


Where the Dead Go to Die is not a good film on a technical level, but it’s unlike anything I have ever seen. There’s no denying that it’s innovative, whether that’s in a good way or not. It does get bogged down in its moments of relentless surreal glitchy imagery, but when it focuses, I found myself strangely captivated. On one hand I find the film trashy and stupid but on the other I find it startling and original. It’s an endlessly dark, depraved and upsetting film. It disturbed me, horrified me and affected me both emotionally and physically. It’s a film which I won’t ever forget, and that has to be worth something doesn’t it?

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Megan Is Missing (2011)

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Director: Michael Goi

Stars: Amber Perkins, Rachel Quinn, Dean Waite

Megan isn’t the only thing that’s missing

Every self-respecting weird person who’s looking to get disturbed has heard of Megan Is Missing. The only reason I sought out the film is because I’d read how so many people find it horrendously disturbing. If you hop on to the IMDb message boards (always a good place to find opinions by level-headed people) then you’ll find a lot of posts by self-confessed horror movie addicts saying how they found the last twenty minutes of Megan Is Missing to be the most haunting thing they’ve ever seen in a horror film which is quite a big statement! I’m also one of those people who don’t really find many films disturbing. The Human Centipede 2 didn’t particularly bother me and I managed to watch Salo alone in the dark pretty comfortably (ish) so I’m always on the lookout for films that might actually give me sleepless nights.

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Megan Is Missing is atrocious. Let’s get that out the way first, it is absolutely embarrassingly bad. As soon as it started my eyes widened in terror at the beyond horrendous acting from the two main characters in the film, Megan and Amy. Both of them can’t act for a toffee apple and that’s being kind about them! Megan’s wooden bedpost is probably the best actor in the whole film and steals the show. Although, let’s face it there really isn’t much of a show to steal. It presents itself as a true story, but this is impossible to take seriously thanks to the stilted acting and forced chemistry between Megan and Amy.

As soon as the film starts we’re treated to dialogue from Amy which goes something like, “We’re filming on my expensive new video camera, Daddy loves me.” To which Megan replies, “My Daddy loves me too, slut” and we get a painfully wooden, “Bitch!” Back from Amy. Such Shakespearean dialogue continues throughout the film and it’s probably supposed to sound like natural 14 year-old girl banter, but the actors deliver their lines like their reading them from the cameraman holding up a cardboard sign. It’s just a total cringe-fest and the characters couldn’t get any more stereotypical or two dimensional. We’ve got Megan the confident, popular school bike and Amy the unpopular, angelic prude.

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There is an attempt to build up characters but it just ends up resulting in ridiculous clichés. At one point I even predicted in my head exactly what Megan was going to say as she breaks down awkwardly on camera about her dysfunctional upbringing. We also get treated to a needlessly long monologue from Megan about her first sexual experience which just ends up sounding like dialogue from a porn film. I also liked the director’s idea of a teen house party complete with torch lights and girls randomly jumping up and down going “woo!”

It’s a found footage film so it’s essential for it to have a realistic atmosphere, which it fails at miserably. It does make for unintentionally hilarious viewing though. It’s about a girl talking to a randomer over the Internet and ending up missing (surprise, surprise) but the film is extremely heavy-handed with these themes. It almost feels like a student film at times, especially when they try to create news footage. I actually laughed out loud at one point where they do a re-construction of the kidnapping. I also loved the part where the newsreader teases the next story about a cocker spaniel driving a car through a shop window! I’m not kidding, the filmmakers should’ve made a film based on that idea.

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Basically, the first hour of Megan Is Missing is an hilarious example of how not to make a film. But then the next 20 minutes arrive and everything changes. It’s difficult to talk about the last 20 minutes without giving away big plot twists, but I can say that it did actually disturb me. The acting gets a little more convincing (big stress on ‘little’) and the film becomes relentlessly terrifying. The unintentional funniness disappears and we’re presented with a genuinely chilling atmosphere of horror and a sobering sense of realism. Some people say that it’s like some sort of indulgent fetish thing for the director but I think it’s actually done in a way that’s not too exploitative or gratuitous. It’s actually a well-made bit of harrowing horror.

So, Megan Is Missing is a film of two halves and both halves are horrendous for different reasons. The first three quarters have no redeeming qualities, whereas the last quarter has the power to genuinely shock and unsettle without over-stepping the mark or trying to be nasty for the sake of it. It’s a difficult film to recommend, but if you know what you’re getting in to and are a hardened horror fan then it’s definitely worth one watch. Most of it is total rubbish but in the end it presented some truly frightening ideas which did haunt me and will probably continue to haunt me for some time. So that has got to be worth something, hasn’t it?

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The Conjuring 2 (2016)

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Director: James Wan

Stars: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Frances O Connor, Madison Wolfe

Cor, blimey guvner! A sequel actually worth your sixpence piece

I remember being pretty disappointed when The Conjuring first came out. The Internet was building it up to be one of the scariest films ever made and I was getting really excited to be properly scared. I don’t usually get scared in films, but James Wan’s very own Insidious did manage to conjure up (pardon the pun) some genuinely terrifying imagery so I had every right to expect the same from The Conjuring but the film didn’t scare me at all. It wasn’t until I re-watched it recently that I realised that whilst it isn’t a scary film to me, I can appreciate it for being a very well-made horror film. If you take the hype away from it, there’s a lot to love.

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So when The Conjuring 2 reviews came out and were citing similar hype, I tried to put aside the claims of it being even better than the first film and went in with an open mind, almost expecting it to be a disappointment, but it wasn’t. The Conjuring 2 is one of those very rare sequels (even rarer in the horror genre) which manages to better the first. It still has its problems and I still don’t think it’s scary or that it outdoes Insidious, but it is a fine example of haunted house horror which can stand proudly on its own.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s simply more of the same when the film starts as it’s almost identical to the first film. A seemingly unrelated case opens the film and the title flashes up on the screen along with some jargon about the film being true and this case is yet again the scariest The Warrens’ have ever encountered blah blah blah. It’s basic scare tactics that might work for horror virgins but us aficionados will just be rolling our eyes. To be fair, the opening scene is actually very well directed and gives you some idea of the film’s overall quality.

We’re soon plunged into 1970’s England and we’re given constant reminders of this which is something that irritated me. Maybe it’s because I’m English myself but the stereotypes were often quite overwhelming, although amusing. Every car in the driveway is a Mini Cooper, The Queen often pops up on the telly and everyone has a seriously strong cockney accent. I know that it’s set in London but even so it sounds like most of the actors have moulded their accents on Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. I also found Frances O Connor a little wooden and unconvincing at times as well as a few of the kids.

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Overall the acting is terrific though. I was particularly impressed with Madison Wolfe as Margaret, the main girl, who gave off Linda Blair vibes at times. The role asks a lot of such a young actress but she tackles it head on and it’s pretty extraordinary to watch. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are also as excellent as ever as our favourite paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren. I really liked how the film focused so much on their relationship so that it became the emotional core of the film. Similarly, Wan takes his time to carefully build the characters in England so that we become invested in them and actually care about what’s going to happen to them. It’s such a rarity these days to find a horror film with characters you feel involved with and this is the main aspect which makes The Conjuring 2 so strong and compelling.

The other great thing about the film is its atmosphere. James Wan clearly has a deep love for the horror genre and The Conjuring 2 is a labour of this love. The whole film is deliciously gothic and over-the-top, it’s a horror fan’s dream come true. There are a lot of spooky scenes crammed into the film and whilst they didn’t particularly scare me, you can’t help but appreciate the stylishness and effectiveness of them. James Wan really is a master behind the camera and knows how to create genuine tension. Like the first film, a lot of scenes are filmed skilfully in one fluid take and it often becomes very intense, especially combined with the striking loud score and sound design.

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Even the typical horror clichés like possession and creaky doors are done in such an effective way that you don’t care that you’ve seen it a hundred times before. With a running time of over two hours, I was still left feeling eager for more. The Conjuring 2 creates a gorgeous world of horror and allows you to sink within it. It will leave horror fans consistently grinning from ear to ear. The demon/ghost designs in this one are also much more creative than the first film. The nun character (played by the same lady who acted as the iconic bum in Mulholland Dr) was memorably creepy and a bizarre character known as the crooked man is weirdly delightful, although some might find him a jarringly out of place.

If you’re a fan of the horror genre then I can’t really see any reason for disliking The Conjuring 2, and if you’re not a horror fan then what are you bloody doing watching a horror film? Recent films like The Witch, It Follows and The Babadook may be better but that doesn’t make The Conjuring 2 obsolete. It’s a beautifully crafted piece of supernatural horror which delivers atmosphere and suspense in spades. Some of it does feel a little contrived towards the end but the finale’s so excitingly pulse-pounding and intense that you’re unlikely to care. It makes sure that the audience actually care about the people on screen so it’s never dull for one moment. A third film will definitely be on the cards and if it carries on being as solid as this one then we might be looking at the best supernatural horror franchise since… Well, ever.

eight-out-of-ten

 

Green Room (2016)

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Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Stars: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat

Didn’t leave me green with envy

Don’t you hate it when you get yourself hyped up for a film and it lets you down? Green Room has everything I love in a film: A fight for survival, an intense situation and  murderous psychopaths. Horror fans and critics were building it up with stories about people walking out the cinema vomiting and calling it one of the most intense films ever, but I wholeheartedly disagree. Don’t get me wrong Green Room is a good film but it’s no where near as amazing as people are making it out to be. As an avid fan of home invasion and survive the night kind of horror, I think there are much better examples of this kind of film out there and whilst Green Room is a solid thriller it really doesn’t bring anything new to the table.

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My biggest gripe is how forgettable the characters are. Likable characters and character development are essential for slasher films like this. If you like the characters then chances are that you’ll be invested in the film. However, I didn’t really care about any of these characters and they all felt pretty lifeless and flat. Even the potentially fascinating neo-Nazi villains were wasted, with no characters really being explored fully. Green Room set itself up for a Eden Lake standard character-driven ride, but failed to deliver its full potential.

Another thing that irritated me was the acting. Everyone seemed to be acting very odd with lines being mumbled to a barely audible level and no one really being that bothered about murderous Nazis being outside the door. I don’t think this is the fault of the actors though, I get the feeling that this is the style of acting the director was going for but for me it didn’t work. Even Patrick Stewart sleep-walked his way through the film failing to be the menacing kingpin he could’ve been. I don’t think anyone’s going to be winning any awards here.

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This all makes it sound like I hated the film, but I did actually like a lot of it. I liked the slow build-up of the group ending up in the scary fascist bar and how situations slowly and realistically built up to a life or death situation. When the crazy violence does begin, the film never becomes boring despite being set in one location, although it’s still never as intense as it could’ve been. It is very thought-provoking though and leaves you wondering about what you’d do in their situation. I also loved the dark grungy atmosphere which really added to the hellish situation the group are in.

There are some brilliantly tense scenes, especially towards the end with a couple of nail-biting showdowns which are really well done but I was expecting more. The way it was hyped, I thought it was going to be the same level of intensity as Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s French horror, Inside! However, some of the film is poorly directed with low lighting, frantic camerawork and fast editing so it’s often difficult to make out what’s going on which takes you out of the film and makes it uninvolving. At some points I found it hard to tell which characters’ had died. I also don’t quite understand why people are vomiting from the violence. Whilst there are some nasty moments I never found it overly gory, but then again I am very desensitized now.

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I know it sounds like I hated every minute but if you take away the hype it is a good little thriller and I just want to warn over-excited people (like I was) that it isn’t the ground-breaking horror film they think it’s going to be. Films like You’re Next and the recent 10 Cloverfield Lane are more intense and better made than this one.

sevem out-of-ten