Tag Archives: possession

The Taking of Deborah Logan (2015)

The-Taking-of-Deborah-Logan

I’ve got way too many movies to review, so I thought I’d start with the remaining 2015 films first so I can at least fulfill my promise of punching out my Best Of and Worst Of lists.

Kicking off the home stretch is The Taking of Deborah Logan, a recommendation from my sister. It’s a found-footage horror movie that has received surprisingly positive reviews from critics (83% on Rotten Tomatoes, though only from a sample size of 6) but also one few people have even heard of.

The premise is interesting at least — a PhD student (played by the familiar face of Michelle Ang — I had to look her up to realise that she was Cho Chang in the Harry Potter movies!) decides to record the everyday life of an Alzheimer’s patient (Jill Larson). Things start off innocently enough until strange shit starts to go down, and it seems Alzheimer’s might not be the correct diagnosis after all.

The Taking of Deborah Logan is not bad as far as found-footage horror flicks go. There are moments of genuine horror, and the special effects are done well enough (despite the low budget that they don’t stick out like a sore thumb). There’s one image near the end that The performances, especially from Larson, are also unexpectedly decent.

That said, it’s still a found-footage horror movie, and at the end of the day, it’s just a variation of the same old crap. There’s the slow build up, the filler moments, the little scares here and there in the beginning that rely on well-trodden horror tropes, etc etc. And of course, there’s some unnecessary and convoluted explanation for everything and you have an “all hell breaks loose” climax at the end.

While the film is definitely not as infuriating as other found-footage horrors in recent years, The Taking of Deborah Logan still doesn’t do enough to fully separate itself from the pack. A nice premise, a couple of decent shocks and scary images don’t make up for the shittiness of the gimmick.

2.5 stars out of 5

The Vatican Tapes (2015)

tapes1

I need an exorcism to expunge this demon inside me that keeps forcing me to watch exorcism films.

Case in point: The Vatican Tapes, yet another been-there-done-that effort that somehow managed to attract some notable stars. While Michael Pena, Djimon Hounsou, Kathleen Robertson and Dougray Scott aren’t exactly household names, they  at least lend credence to a project — or so I thought.

The premise is as cookie-cutter as they come: a young woman (Olivia Taylor Dudley) is involved in an accident and suddenly starts acting all erratic and creepy. I wonder what could be the problem? Call the priests! The power of Christ compels you!

So what makes this possession movie different to its predecessors? Well, as stated explicitly at the start of the film, it’s the idea that the Vatican has a large collection of video and audio tapes of exorcisms it has conducted throughout history (which I think may have already been used in another movie).

While I loathe found footage films, I have to admit the premise seemed suitable for a found footage horror or faux documentary. The problem is, The Vatican Tapes is actually just a conventional horror flick with a few “security cam” scenes tossed in. And just in case we forget the name of the movie, the footage actually has “Vatican Tapes” printed on the bottom of the screen.

In other words, the so-called idea of the Vatican Tapes doesn’t have much to do with the story at all. It’s symbolic of the film’s muddled attempt to differentiate itself and ultimately not knowing what he hell it’s supposed to be. This is made abundantly clear as the film goes completely off the rails in its third act and takes the concept of demonic possession to another level.

Strangely, Kathleen Robertson (TV’s 90210 and Boss) gets top billing although she’s a supporting character who only occupies the middle chunk of the film. Djimon Hounsou is listed third but literally has a cameo, while Michael Pena and Dougray Scott are obviously just there for the cheques. Pena, in particular, playing a serious role for once, seems almost ashamed to be in it.

All of these issues would have been bearable had The Vatican Tapes actually been scary. Sadly, it doesn’t even get close to producing a single scare. Anything this film tries has been done a thousand times before, except better, and with a more effective atmosphere.

So that can only lead to one conclusion: The Vatican Tapes sucked balls. There probably have been worse exorcism films made, but at least they’ll be more memorable than this scareless, run-of-the-mill wannabe.

1.5 stars out of 5

Exeter (2015)

exeter

This film — originally called Backmask and released as The Asylum in the UK — had a bit of buzz in Taiwan after the trailer was released and made it look kinda scary. The intro shows a suicide, and then we’re introduced to the Exeter School of the Feeble Minded (great name). A bunch of young idiots decide to hold a party there because it’s what idiots in horror movies do, and in the aftermath of some ritualistic shit someone gets possessed.

Up to this point, the film is atrocious and has no redeeming features whatsoever. Crap characters, crap dialogue, crap production value, and crap demonic possession crap we’ve seen a zillion times.

At some point — probably around the time of the homemade exorcism executed straight off internet instructions — the pace suddenly picks up and the movie becomes a gore-filled splatter slasher. In this regard, the film is serviceable as it’s directed by Marcus Nispelthe dude behind the surprisingly thrilling 2003 Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake.

There is a copious amount of blood and gore as the film progresses and gets crazier and crazier, though there’s always this undercurrent of comedy below all the terror and mayhem on the surface. You just have to laugh out loud when these characters start yelling iconic lines from horror cinematic history and the deaths become more funny than frightening. It’s still not a good movie overall, though I give it brownie points for not taking itself too seriously and not going down the found-footage route.

2 stars out of 5

Battle of the found-footage horrors: Devil’s Due (2014) vs Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)

My disdain for found footage horror films is well documented. But as often is the case, I am gullible and always get sucked into watching more because people tell me “This one’s good”.

Apparently, two new ones released this year, Devil’s Due — basically a found footage version of Rosemary’s Baby — and Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones — the gazillionth entry in the worst movie franchise of all time, are “good”, or at least “better” than the other ones, given the trash we’ve seen in recent years. To me, that’s like asking which animal’s turd smells the best.

And so I am surprised to say, both of these films are actually, genuinely, “better” than most found footage horrors I’ve seen over the years. Not to say they are good, but they’re not hair-pulling terrible for once. I’ve decided to pit the two against each other to see which one is less bad.

Devils Due (2014)

devil's due

I don’t agree with the idea that you can’t remake a classic like Rosemary’s Baby, and  I don’t have a problem with a semi-remake in the more contemporary found footage style. After all, I’ve seen the new Zoe Saldana mini-series remake that was released recently and it was atrocious, so I’m not against taking a fresher approach.

The premise is fairly typical — a young married couple head to the Dominican Republic for their honeymoon and are tricked/drugged by locals before participating in some kind of satanic ritual. And boom, the wife is pregnant, and the rest of the film plays out plot points that are eerily similar to Rosemary’s Baby, complete with the paranoia and the raw meat eating. The ending, to the filmmakers’ credit, is different, going for the sensational climax as opposed to Rosemary’s Baby’s muted horror. But it’s not better, with the special effects on the low-budget end, and the final scenes are about as cliched as they come.

If you haven’t seen Rosemary’s Baby then there might be something to take away from this film, even though the ending is nowhere near as chilling. The acting is not bad and there are some genuinely creepy moments that are by and large better than the scares you get from the Paranormal Activity franchise. And while it is strictly speaking a straight-up horror flick there is a sense of fun and humour injected throughout.

But my two main problems with the film are: (1) the story is too derivative; and (2) it struggles, like most found-footage films do, to justify the constant use of hand-held cameras. I liked the idea of splicing the footage with CCTV and security cameras, etc, but there’s just no logical explanation why anyone would keep filming in circumstances the characters find themselves in. It takes away the realism the film is trying so hard to achieve.

2.5 stars out of 5

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)

Paranormal-Activity-The-Marked-Ones-Poster

I don’t know what’s more frightening: the fact that they’ve made yet another Paranormal Activity movie or that the franchise is so successful that they are now making spin-offs. Either way, we’ve got one, and it’s arguably better than all the other ones.

As I understand it, The Marked Ones is the first in the franchise that departs from the same old “haunted house” formula, but it still could not help itself from being somehow tied to the convoluted storyline that involves the woman with the big boobs (Katie Featherston) from all the other entries in the series. The reason they made it was to appeal to the Latin American market, but the vast majority of the film is in English.

The plot focuses on a bunch of Latino teenagers in California who break into a neighbour’s apartment following a murder. In there they find some weird shit, including VHS tapes and journals containing spells. Of course, strange things start to happen to the characters from there, including superhuman strength, behavioural abnormalities and other paranormal activity ripped straight from the X-Files. They investigate, stuff gets escalated, and eventually the shit hits the fan. What a surprise.

The reason I liked it a little more than the others is because it feels different. I never found the original Paranormal Activity all that scary, but there were at least some decent moments. By the time you got to the second, third and fourth films, there was never anything new. It was always the boring formula of filler, filler filler, false alarm scare, filler, filler filler filler, false alarm scare, filler filler filler, crazy screaming ending. Always.

The Marked Ones throws a bit more of a curved ball at audiences, with hints of witchcraft and occurrences that take place outside of the usual confined space of the family home. The tricks are not all that creative — it’s the typical gradual “possession” narrative — but at least they breathe life into a franchise that never really had much to begin with. There were a few more unexpected scares as well, plus the occasional successful attempt at generating a creepy atmosphere, though on the whole I still feel like I wasted 84 minutes of my life.

It’s not clear why the kids had to film everything even when they are scared out of their pants, but by this stage it’s pointless to ask.

2 stars out of 5

PS: I’d avoid both, but if I had to make a decision I’d say Devil’s Due gets the nod over The Marked Ones (but at least it still earned the best rating I’ve ever given to a Paranormal Activity film).

Movie Review: The Possession (2012)

The Possession, a supposedly “true story”, has a less than creative title, a cliched plot and employs some very old horror movie tricks. But for all its faults, The Possession IS freaking scary. I know this year hasn’t been a great year for horror films so far, but off the top of my head, I believe it is the scariest horror film I have seen this year, rather easily edging The Woman in Black.

It would be remiss of me to not mention upfront that The Possession is not even close to being “based on a true story.” The film is based on the tale of the “Dibbuk Box”, which is allegedly some kind of haunted Jewish wine box that allegedly brings bad luck to the owner. It became famous after one such box was sold on eBay and, as expected, a bunch of morons thought it would be great to buy it. You can read up on it here, a website dedicated to the story that looks so good it makes me suspicious about everything. In short, none of the stuff that happens in the “real” story happens in the movie.

Anyway, The Possession is about a recently divorced couple played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan (the American Javier Bardem) and Kyra Sedgwick and their two young daughters, one of whom comes across the dibbuk box at a garage sale. Naturally, strange and frightening stuff starts happening, and the parents have to work together to find a way to save their little girl.

Yes, it is yet another movie is about demonic possession of a young girl, but The Possession does have a lot going for it. For starters, unlike the majority of such films, it is genuinely creepy and has some really terrifying scenes, usually amped up by a blaring score that reminded me a little of Psycho. A lot of the scares are typical, classic tricks you might have experienced before, but that doesn’t make them any less effective. The Jewish slant adds a dash of freshness to the concept but also unintentional laughs during the final climax, which has elements of brilliance but didn’t break any new ground in the end.

Some of the “scary” scenes do fall a little flat, especially if you have seen the trailer. There are also some sequences that are too over-the-top for my liking, contradicting what Danish director Ole Bornedal (who did Nightwatch with Ewan McGregor and Josh Brolin, a surprisingly underrated horror flick) said about aiming for the subtlety of The Exorcist,  the greatest horror movie of all time

The Possession does start off with subtlety in mind, but unfortunately by the end it inevitably unravels and goes crazy — unnecessarily so, in my opinion. If you manage to get into the flow of the movie then you might be able to forgive some of the more outrageous scenes that were there merely for the sake of cheap thrills, but if you were sceptical from the outset you might find yourself laughing at how silly and nonsensical it is.

The performances of Morgan and Sedgwyck were strong, as were those of the two girls that played their kids, Natasha Calis and Madison Davenport. You really do get a sense of a familial bond between the four of them. One of the biggest and scariest shocks in the movie was discovering that Sedgwyck’s boyfriend in the movie is played by an initially unrecognizable Grant Show! Yes, I’m talking about Jake from Melrose Place!

The Possession is not what one would expect to be a good movie, and strictly speaking, it isn’t. But if it is just scares you are after, you may not find a more effective film this year.

3.5 stars out of 5!