Review: In Fear Offers Up a Tense, Claustrophobic Thriller

In Fear is a psychological thriller that plays be every rule you would expect, given the set-up, yet still manages to deliver a memorable experience. It doesn’t offer too much in the way of breaking out of the mold or in plot innovation, but where it excels is by offering up a flawless example of exactly how well this trope can be built.

What could easily have been a bland, by-the-numbers thriller is elevated by the direction and performances involved, turning a familiar plot into a situation steeped in a tightly-wrought atmosphere.

The premise is simple – a young couple are vacationing (in this case, an English couple taking a weekend trip in Ireland), and find themselves lost on the way to a secluded hotel for the evening. Bad directions, confusing signs and a labyrinth of backroads leave them completely turned around, helpless, and running short on fuel. That’s when (you guessed it) they are suddenly preyed upon by an unseen tormentor, seemingly reveling in their helplessness and taking every opportunity to make a bad situation worse.

You’ve heard it all before, no doubt. That part is nothing new. What makes Jeremy Lovering’s film different from so many in this subgenre is the flawless tension building throughout the story. Tight shots, tense, broken dialogue and an ever-growing urgency and need to escape contribute immensely to the claustrophobic atmosphere that will leave you squirming in your seat.

Everyone has their different buttons, and this one just happened to hit one of mine. The claustrophobic nature of the film (enunciated by the actors’ performances and the tight cinematography), sent my anxiety meter over the top. Even though the film didn’t really hit any beats that I wasn’t expecting, it was still a tense experience just due to the execution. It’s a fantastic example of how the work going into a product is just as important as the product itself. In Fear is terrifying, despite its rather formulaic plot. It’s not so much what story points were used, but how they were arrived at that makes this film memorable.

Ian De Caestecker and Alice Englert are both effective in their respective roles, embodying first the uncertainty of a new relationship and then later, the mounting frustration and fear resulting from the situation they haplessly find themselves in. Their delivery was spot-on in heightening an already tense scenario, making it feel both natural and realistic. They helped to bring you into the car with them, away from the safety of your couch, and into this tense nightmare.

In Fear is one that I definitely recommend you check out. There are some very tense moments that will make you never want to get lost again, and it is an excellent exercise in the importance of execution when approaching a common storyline.

Review: The Raid 2 is All of the Badass You Hoped It Would Be!

Remember that time you saw this little film called The Raid and then you shat your pants because you couldn’t believe how much ass-kicking and awesome could be crammed into one movie? Well, get ready to experience that all over again.

Director Gareth Evans is back with The Raid 2, and with a vengeance!

The film picks up just a couple of hours after the first film ended, with Rama (Iko Uwais) being talked into going undercover to expose police corruption inside a local crime syndicate.

Evans takes this film and goes in a completely different direction from the first one. Where The Raid was a tight, confined (physically as well as in terms of run-time), quickly-progressing action flick, The Raid 2 is more of a sprawling crime drama, taking its time
and developing some really dynamic characters before executing important plot maneuvers. With tons of ass-kicking, of course.

And it’s absolutely gorgeous. Lots of rich colors, elaborate sets and beautiful, theatrical shots.  A complete 180 from the contained, understated look of the first film. The differences really go a long way in giving each entry distinct feels and personalities. While The Raid 2 continues the story set up in the first film, each film is easily able to stand on its own, and the visual changes help them both to distinguish themselves as individual films, rather than as two chapters in an as-yet unfinished story.

And the action? Fucking spectacular. The widening of the scope and a bigger budget has allowed Evans to shoot some scenes that are absolutely amazing. From long tracking shots to close-quarters fights, to one of the most epic car chases I have ever seen. He is quickly establishing himself as one of the top action directors out there. He is really taking the opportunity to stretch with this film and offer up a variety of action pieces that are positively badass on their own, and also build nicely toward the overall effect of the film. This one holds absolutely nothing back and at times, is positively brutal.

The acting is solid from all players, and the decision to lean more heavily into the crime drama offers up some great opportunities from members of the supporting cast. The audience really understands the dynamics at play between these underworld figures and everything they have at stake in the story. There are some really incredible moments that rely on tension and scene building, and they come off perfectly.

It’s a rare sequel that is able to offer as much (if not more) than its predecessor. That’s not to say The Raid 2 is better than the first film. You could certainly argue that it is and not have a difficult time defending that stance. But I really see the two films as equally brilliant, equally awesome, yet very very different. They are exercises in two very different approaches, looks, pacings and storytelling methods, yet they both offer up a fantastic viewing experience.

If you have the opportunity to see The Raid 2 in a theater, you need to take it.  You wouldn’t think it possible, but it is bigger, crazier and more exciting than the first film, and it’s really exciting to be able to see Evans take this film in new directions – in terms of scope, stylistically, action-wise – every way you can think of. Prepare to have your mind blown and your head kicked in!

Oculus Review – Gaze into the Lasser Glass

Oculus is a film that separates itself from many of its contemporaries by refusing to play by the expected rules, and by tethering itself to its concept and mythology (undefined as that mythology may be – not a complaint) and avoiding the cheap and easy scares. I’m a horror fiend – I like cheap and easy scares just fine. But when a film comes along that chooses to forgo these easy moments in pursuit of something greater, that’s something to take note of. And that is one of the many things that Oculus brings to the table.
Directed by Mike Flanagan (Absentia), Oculus tells the story of siblings Kaylie (Karen Gillan) and Tim (Brenton Thwaites). The film opens with Tim being released from a mental institution upon turning 21, having resided there for treatment after he killed their father eleven years ago. The story Tim told back then was that the evil mirror that hung in his father’s office had made his father (Rory Cochrane) go crazy, murder their mother (Katee Sackhoff), and attack the children. The official version of the story is that the parents were both suffering the stresses of a marriage falling apart, and that the father simply lost it.

Eleven years spent confined and in therapy have taught Tim the more logical, society-approved version of the events that occurred, allowing him to finally get a hold on his delusions and give him the tools to restart his life. Kaylie, on the other hand, remembers the truth. She has spent her time tracking down the mirror, and now that Tim is free, plans to kill the entity residing in it once and for all. But first, proof. She sets up a bit of an experiment in the house where they grew up. Cameras, monitoring equipment and timers will prove to the world that their story is wasn’t a delusion or a fabrication and something truly evil resides within the Lasser Glass.

The film’s narrative structure is one of its strongest assets. The story of the events that transpired when these characters were children is told alongside the events of the present day. What happened before is not so much a flashback as it is a concurrent storyline all of its own. The two match pacing and even plot points, until they finally culminate together at the film’s climax.

The editing applied to pull this off is absolutely sublime. The way the past and the present are integrated into a fully cohesive story is nothing short of magic. The transitions are smooth, the shifts are logically-placed, never jarring and always relevant. In lesser hands, it would be easy for this to feel as though you were watching two separate movies simultaneously, but the fusion between the two is perfect.

This storytelling method also contributes nicely to the overall tone of the film, which is one based far more in dread than in outright horror. That’s not to say this is a tame film – it has its grisly moments, to be sure. But so many opportunities for the easy scares are bypassed in the name of setting the mood and in building and overarching sense of the unknown. The Lasser Glass is a mysterious artifact. Kaylie has been able to trace its history and knows a great deal about the fates that befell its previous owners, but little is known about the mirror itself. Let alone the powers that it possesses.

In fact, that is where Oculus really shines – in the way it always keeps you guessing. The
Lasser Glass has the power to enter your mind, so memory and perception are all faulty, even for the audience. There are no real rules at play here, and like Tim and Kaylie, we are at the mercy of the power of the mirror, and its effects are simple, disorienting, and completely unnerving.

The cast is all incredibly solid. If you need more of a reason to get excited about a genre cast that includes Karen Gillan, Katee Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane, know that they all do a stellar job. If the film suffers at all, it is from a slight pacing problem as the experiment is getting under way. It’s minor, and it does little to derail the story or its impact. I’ve heard complaints that the film meanders a bit in the middle, but had it given itself a little more time to ease into the experiment, I think those issues could have been resolved. Still though – not a big deal.

Much like in Absentia, director Mike Flanagan tied the supernatural occurrences in Oculus with very human and personal issues. This ghostly story of a haunted mirror and the lives that it has affected is also a personal examination of memory, and of confronting the past. We see Tim and Kaylie explore and empty out the dark corners of their childhood to reveal the nature of the events that tore their family apart eleven years ago. It gives the film a very emotional component, as well as characters that the audience can connect with. You are absolutely rooting for these two (both in the past and in the present)

Oculus is a film that dares to let mood and atmosphere take center stage, pushing jump scares aside and allowing the characters and the premise to develop and take the reigns of the story. The unknown nature of the Lasser Glass allows a reality in which nothing can truly be real, and that our senses can’t be trusted, leading to a really unsettling, dread-fueled film.

Review: Sabotage is an Action Flick that Refuses to Play Nice

Sabotage is, without a doubt, one of the meanest, harshest action thrillers you are likely to find. But don’t think that doesn’t make it fun – it’s a blast to watch. But not in that giddy, testosterone-driven, moar ‘splosions kind of way. This, my friends, is a completely different beast.

Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as the head of an elite (and rather questionable) DEA taskforce. This isn’t your typical tough, yet fun, heart of gold gang of miscreants, a la The Expendables. These guys are hard, dirty, and don’t play nice. Not to mention borderline sociopathic. If you found yourself in a locked room with even one of these characters, you would immediately begin searching for an exit. They trust each other, and are certainly a family – but a realistic, violent, dysfunctional one.

The story starts when this group takes down a massive drug opp, and decides to skim a little cash off the top for themselves. What seems like a fairly simple plan gets infinitely more complicated when the money disappears before they can reclaim it. Add to that the fact that the DEA opens an investigation into the matter, and, oh yeah, an unknown assailant begins knocking off our team, one by one. Is it an assassination attempt for years of questionable service? Is it the cartel seeking revenge for the missing money?

The story keeps you guessing, dropping in and out of our group as they try to decide what to do next, while following a mirroring storyline involving a local police officer played by Olivia Williams, who finds herself on the case after the first member of the group is picked off.

What surprised me the most about this film is that it is equal parts who-done-it caper as it is actionfest. I was really expecting more of the latter, but was pleasantly surprised by how much the former came into play and shaped not only the plot, but the characters as well. Watching everyone trying to figure out exactly what is going down and exactly what they are in the middle of is as exciting as the scenes where shit gets crazy and it’s time to reach for the guns.

Did I mention the guns? There are some serious guns in this flick. And gore. And violence. And of course, ‘splosions. It just feels more like a tempered journey than a full-on roller coaster. But when it does hit its action notes, it hits them full-on. But getting there is a calculated maneuver, which is something not often seen in this kind of film.

The cast is solid with Schwarzenegger  turning in a performance in a very different role that we are used to seeing him in. His Breacher is a dark, haunted character. While he cares for his team and takes his position as leader seriously, he has had a rocky past that can’t quite stay in the background. And it’s something that is evident in his character. This isn’t a typical role for him and it allows him some really interesting moments. Particularly at the end –which I won’t spoil. Just trust me when I  say it’s one of the more badass moments of his filmography.

Director David Ayer is playing hardball with this one, offering up an intense action flick that
doesn’t give you too many reasons to want to like it, yet leaves you feeling satisfied just the same.

Review: I Know That Voice – A Fascinating Doc About the Art of Voice Acting

Voice actors are, hands down, some of the hardest working people in the business. From lead characters in animated series (often, multiple series), to voice-over work, to film work, to background voices, to video games, these actors make it happen. They bring an animated character to life onscreen and give it its very soul. These are the people who are able to create singular, very unique characters using voice – a very specific tool that that have mastered in a unique way. These aren’t simply celebrities lending their well-known, unmasked voices to the latest animated blockbuster. These are the people who make a career out of crafting voices so uniquely different from one another that you would never guess they can come out of the same person.

Which brings me to the subject at hand: I Know that Voice is a new (and fascinating) documentary (produced by voice giant John DiMaggio of Futurama, Adventure Time) that explores the subject of voice acting by listening to the people who know the ins and outs better than anyone – the actors themselves. And it is AWESOME. Whether you are a fan of the medium or a complete novice, it is a highly interesting, educational, funny and revealing look at some of the hardest working actors that you never get to see. John DiMaggio, Tara Strong, Kevin Conroy, Billy West, Corey Burton, Mark Hamill, Nancy Cartwright, Kevin Michael Richardson…the list goes on and on.

And even though the runtime is only 90 minutes it is a wide-reaching and exhaustive look at this little corner of the craft. It interviews a large group of actors and gets various perspectives on what it takes to become a voice actor, how they got into the business, how they go about crafting a character, the demands of being in a booth and recording, challenges they have had to overcome, people in the industry who inspired them to pursue this art, and the sheer joy they feel by getting to do it every day.

Through it all, you get a very candid glimpse of how immensely talented this group of people is. It’s always fascinating (and kind of unnerving) to watch a human being sitting in front of you suddenly morph into a human being with the voice of Bender. Or of Spongebob Squarepants. Or of Bubbles. We know in our brains that those voices probably come out of humans (we see names in the credits, and logically those voices come from somewhere), but seeing it done and hearing the artists describe how they conceptualize these characters and bring them to life is an entirely different level of understanding. And appreciation. The work they do is really amazing.

Not to mention complex – It’s more than just being able to do funny voices on command. It’s being able to do them through multiple takes, with multiple variations. It’s understanding how the character would express the lines on the page, and getting that across. It’s having a firm grasp on rhythm and tone and intonation, and applying all of these different elements to create a memorable performance.

This film is for everyone and offers a very unique perspective into the medium – that of the actors themselves. The people behind the microphone that are rarely in the spotlight, yet they are responsible for creating some of the most noteworthy and memorable characters in pop culture. This film simultaneously gives them their due and gives us a chance to peek behind the curtain to see exactly what goes into making these characters come to life.

I can’t recommend this one enough. I Know That Voice is now available on VOD, and hits DVD on June 17th You should definitely check it out.