Movie Review – The Forest of Lost Souls (Sydney Film Fest 2017)

forest-of-lost-souls

EXPECTATIONS: Artistically fulfilling, yet cinematically unrewarding.

REVIEW: Out of all the genres in cinema, horror is, in my opinion, is the best outlet for creativity within storytelling. Whether in a metaphorical sense, a symbolic sense or just nuts-and-bolts mainstream filmmaking, horror can engage, thrill, scare and surprise, regardless of what it looks like on the outside.

Case in point, David Cronenberg‘s The Fly. With a Cronenberg film involving a mutant fly, you expect the body horror and blood and gore. But underneath all of that is a tragic love story and the ramifications that one would face when a loved one is going through terminal sickness and how it affects the relationship. The best horror films tend to be symbolic of great importance and that is the reason they earn their status.

In the case of The Forest of Lost Souls,  it does feels very similar to the other Portuguese horror film, The Eyes of My Mother, due to the same slight running time, the black and white cinematography and the fact that they both combine grindhouse tropes with an arthouse aesthetic. Whereas The Eyes of My Mother deals with themes of loss and loneliness, The Forest of Lost Souls deals with coming-of-age, finding one’s place in the world and differing views of death.

With all of that in mind, will The Forest of Lost Souls succeed in both providing sufficient entertainment for horror fans as well as giving some food for thought for those looking for something different?

A Floresta das Almas Perdidas - O destino de Carolina

A young woman, Carolina, and an old man, Ricardo, fatefully meet in a forest, which is famous for being a place where people decide to commit suicide. They decide to briefly postpone killing themselves in order to explore the forest and also to continue talking to one another, as Ricardo and Carolina find themselves intrigued by one another.

However as they go further into the forest it becomes clear that one of the pair has other reasons for being in the forest and is not who they would have the other believe them to be and is actually more than meets the eye.

The-Forest-of-the-Lost-Souls-Movie

The Forest of Lost Souls is thankfully a very distinct, brisk, unconventional horror film that delivers a huge impact despite the limited resources and short running time would lead you to believe.

The obvious draw of the film is the black and white cinematography by Francisco Lobo and it is a fantastic complement to the surreal and dreamlike world that director Jose Pedro Lopes was going for. Similar to the black and white sequences in Lars Von Trier‘s Antichrist, it adds a surprising amount of tension and weirdness that it can easily put the audience at unease.

The element of surrealism is also counterbalance by the grounded nature of the story, which is a major factor of what makes the film scary. Based on a real place called Aokigahara (aka The Suicide Forest or Sea of Trees), people venture into the forest to commit suicide. But in the case of The Forest of Lost Souls, it serves as a eerie backdrop for what is essentially an origin story for the antagonist of the film. And it is executed so well that it feels grounded and it could possibly happen in real life. The fact that the film doesn’t cop out in its conclusion makes it linger disturbingly in one’s mind.

The-Forest-of-the-Lost-Souls-2

The use of modern technology and social media is also dealt with rather well; especially with how it is incredibly easy to interact (which is a nice way of putting it) with other people as well as how we present ourselves to the world. It is the kind of effort that Lopes commits to his film that makes it more substantial that one would surmise, even with the short running time.

But does the meat-and-potatoes tropes of horror pack a punch? Yes, it certainly does. The violence and kills are sudden, understated and tastefully done; and that is thanks to the tension wrung from the cinematography, the bizarrely retro score by Emanuel Gracio and the assured direction by Lopes. Some of the shots where the antagonist is lurking behind people or in the background is reminiscent of John Carpenter‘s Halloween.

Mafalda Banquart in The Forest of Lost Souls

The acting is also noteworthy with the subtlety and ingenuity of the performances. Daniela Love is great as the impulsive and knowledgeable teen, Carolina, while Jorge Mota is compelling as the conflicted family man, Ricardo. The two share an understated and natural chemistry with one another and it makes the first act of the film very serene. But of course, there’s more lurking beneath the surface when one of them has more than a few demons up their sleeve. The supporting cast are all fine but it is Love that stands out from the rest (no pun intended).

As for its flaws, the first act may be a bit slow and the abrupt change in tone in the second act may turn off viewers, as it almost turns into an entirely different film. But considering the flaws, The Forest of Lost Souls is a worthwhile horror experience thanks to its grounded story, Lopes‘ assured direction, Lobo‘s beautifully surreal cinematography, Gracio‘s retro creepy musical score and Love‘s standout lead performance.

AFlorestadasAlmasPerdidas_OLago-e1482962857878

Quickie Review

PROS

Good performances (especially from Daniella Love)

Assured direction from Lopes

A creepy retro score from Gracio

Beautifully surreal cinematography from Lobos

Grounded storytelling adds to the tension

CONS

Slow pacing in the first act

Abrupt tone change in the second act

SCORE: 8/10

lhs

This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Daniela Love, Jorge Mota, Mafalda Banquart, Ligia Roque, Lilia Lopes, Tiago Jacome
Director: Jose Pedro Lopes
Screenwriter: Jose Pedro Lopes

Movie Review – Killing Ground (Monster Fest 2017)

1 xH0roIJMkOT2YVPR06ipCA

EXPECTATIONS: A film that will further damage Australia’s reputation on tourism.

REVIEW:  It’s been a long time since I’ve been camping and there’s a big reason for that. Films in the backwoods genre like The Blair Witch Project and Deliverance have always freaked me out in my early years due the uniqueness of the settings. It is quite an oxymoron that an area like the Australian forests can be so vast and yet feel so claustrophobic.

It also doesn’t help that Australian films have made great horror films (like the Wolf Creek series) in the Outback that have spread unintentional (or is it intentional?) fear across the world about what it’s like to tour around Australia.

So when I heard that a small film called Killing Ground was making huge buzz at Sundance, I was curious. And to have Aaron Pedersen (who was fantastic as the lead in crime-thrillers Mystery Road and Goldstone) in the cast was just icing on the cake. Will Killing Ground further “damage” the reputation of Australia’s tourism?

3070-30-ian-and-sam

Young couple Sam (Harriet Dyer) and Ian (Ian Meadows) drive down a long park road in order to spend a romantic New Year’s Eve on a remote lakefront. They’re initially a bit put off to find another tent already set up on the beach, then are quite dumbfounded when its inhabitants fail to turn up through the night.

Meanwhile, older married duo Margaret (Maya Strange) and Rob (Julian Garner) are likewise camping with their two children, bored teen Em (Tiarne Coupland) and toddler Ollie (played by twins Liam and Riley Parkes).

And in another subplot introduces German (Aaron Pedersen), a brooding ex-con with a vicious attack dog, and Chook (Aaron Glenane), his impulsive, dimwitted sidekick. Both have been seen earlier, trying to pick up female tourists at the pub and generally earning their reputation as the sleazies of the community.

killing-ground

With a low budget, basically one location, a decidedly small cast and a simple well-worn premise, you gotta have a damn good director to make the most out of these resources. Thankfully, director Damien Power and the cast and crew are all up to the task.

One of the things that makes this film special is Power‘s refusal to abide to genre tropes. One example is the storytelling. As stated in the synopsis, there are three different subplots, but unlike a straightforward approach, these plots converge in a way that is inventive, refreshing and it is all done with a shocking singular take involving an infant.

Even the portrayal of the characters is told in a way that is out of the norm from thrillers. For the heroes, they are either more flawed or more capable than the audience would expect. As for the villains, we seem them early on, with a glimpse of how they go through their day-to-day life and it actually gives them a sense of humanity that makes them even scarier due to how true-to-life these characters can be.

Another example, there is a certain point in the film that bluntly tells the audience that all bets are off; no one has a guarantee of survival. Films of this genre need to be more like this, as the suspense is increased exponentially. This and other examples (like the restrained approach to violence, lack of musical score and character reversals) just goes to show that putting in a little effort in a well-worn genre goes a very long way.

MV5BMjE0NzkxNjcwNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTg5MzU3ODE@._V1_

It is said that the restrictions of a low budget in a feature film can force a filmmaker to rely on their own creativity, and the crew of Killing Ground do not let Power down. Simon Chapman’s cinematography captures the Outback environment beautifully while also making the film it crushingly claustrophobic (even when the majority of the film is set during the day) while Katie Flaxman’s editing is kept minimalist to maximum effect. Last but not least, Leah Curtis‘ score is very effective ironically when it is sparingly used.

But all of this can be for naught if the characters were not portrayed in a way that makes the audience sympathetic towards them and gratefully, the actors are all up to snuff. Whilst Ian Meadows is likable as Ian (Who else?) the doctor/boyfriend, Harriet Dyer stands out as Sam, as she provides a sense of warmth as well as fearsome strength as the shit hits the fan. It also helps that it never feels phony since Dyer portrays it as if Sam always had that sense of strength within her; nor is it done to the detriment to other characters, as it feels rightly earned.

Special mention goes to Tiarnie Coupland, who is a real sport in portraying Em, the daughter of the family who were at the lakefront before the protagonists. It must not have been easy to go through the emotional as well as physical wringer and she does a very good job of it.

Like in every film, the protagonists are only as good as the antagonists and the two that the film has are very worthy. Aaron Pedersen, whom I remember as the heroic cop Jay Swan in films Mystery Road and Goldstone, plays against type as the collected, yet brooding German and he amply gives chills with his taciturn performance. While Aaron Glenane is great as the incredibly impulsive and unhinged Chook; and the two complement each other very well that they convince that they have a history together.

HTFile.ashx

As for its flaws, there are a few moments in the story that are still left hanging that might frustrate some and the fact that some of decisions that characters make in the film will definitely anger some, but considering that director Power had said that the 1997 Austrian film Funny Games was an influence in making Killing Ground, it was definitely intentional.

Overall, Killing Ground is a fantastic calling card for Damien Power, with very good performances, a willingness to make the most out of a well-worn genre and some visuals that will linger on your mind for a very long time.

Quickie Review

PROS

Damien Power’s willingness to make the most out of genre tropes

Very good performances

Some very haunting visuals

Refreshingly different storytelling

CONS

Will drastically affect Australian tourism

Minor frustrations from characters and plot decisions

SCORE: 8/10

Cast: Aaron Pedersen, Harriet Dyer, Ian Meadows, Aaron Glenane, Maya Stange, Julian Garner, Tiarnie Coupland, Liam Parkes, Riley Parkes, Chris Armstrong
Director: Damien Power
Screenwriters: Damien Power

Movie Review – Raw (Monster Fest 2017)

Raw-2016-movie-poster

EXPECTATIONS: Something fantastic as it is gory.

REVIEW: In the past decade, I have grown an affinity for French film, especially when they venture into the horror genre. With unbearably intense entries like Inside, Martyrs, Frontier(s); or artful entries like Amer, Evolution, Livid; and film classics like Les Diaboliques and Possession, I had an intense itch to satisfy that could only be satiated with another stellar entry.

So when I read about the huge buzz at Cannes and TIFF about a French cannibal horror film, which involves ambulances at screenings and tons of awards, I knew I had to see that film as soon as possible. Now let’s serve this review Raw, with all the sides!

raw_01

Garance Marillier stars as Justine, a shy, yet extremely bright young vegetarian who is following his parents’ footsteps (Joanna Preiss, Laurent Lucas) as well as her older sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf), by attending vet school. She arrives at the university and immediately gets dragged into a hazing initiation, which shows her a world of thrills and danger.

Desperate to fit in, she strays from her principles and eats raw meat for the first time. With sheer amounts of peer pressure, a bunch of alcohol and joints of drugs, Justine soon experiences terrible and unexpected consequences as her true self begins to emerge.

landscape-1484251467-raw-trailer

From reading the synopsis, it may seem like that this film is more of a coming-of-age film, rather than a horror entry. And after seeing the final result, that is actually what it is. The storytelling is surprisingly grounded given its genre trappings and director Julia Ducournau handles the film with such an assured hand, that the film rarely feels heavy-handed, even with its unsubtle metaphors (A vegetarian who is also a virgin?).

The genre execution mixed with the plausible grounding of the story is meshed really well, like how a character eats meat for the first time, which is quite reminiscent of experimentation just to conform. Or how one goes to university to discover who they are and how they fit in the world, which is conveyed in the truly messy fashion it is, that almost anyone can relate to. And it is because of Ducournau‘s direction and storytelling chops, that we have an emotional attachment to the story as well as the characters.

raw14f-2-web

Speaking of the characters, the actors assembled for the film are all fantastic. Garance Marillier is astounding as Justine, as she handles the arc of her character like a professional, from the shyness to the depravity, to the vulnerability and finally the acceptance. She reminded me of a more daring version of Saoirse Ronan, and I hope she gets more meaty roles in the future. Equally as good is Ella Rumpf, who is a force of nature as Alexia. Her roughness, her rebellious nature and her slight paternal nature towards Justine, are all handled with nuance and the chemistry the two actresses share is believable and quite touching as it develops throughout the film. Seeing Rumpf on screen reminded me of a mix of French horror queen Beatrice Dalle (who stars in horror films like Inside and Among the Living) and American actress Fairuza Balk, whom I have loved since her first role in the cult-classic sequel, Return to Oz.

The cinematography by Ruben Impens extracts a lot of nightmarish, yet beautiful imagery from the university setting, particularly scenes involving animals. Like a scene involving the newcomers crawling through a vast, dark room, like ants following a trail. While the make-up, by Laura Ozier and SFX specialist Olivier Afonso (who has worked on Inside), is skin-crawlingly convincing. There is a scene where we see a person’s leg that is half eaten, and the make-up is so realistic, that I could not stop staring at it despite being repulsed by it.

raw

With all the gory, nightmarish imagery and the dark story, it would seem that the film would be an arduous experience. But thankfully, it never feels like that and one of the reasons is because of the editing. Under a tight running time of 98 minutes, the editing by Jean Cristophe-Bouzy is intricate, yet free-flowing at times, like during the clubbing sequences. Without the focused editing, the film could have been a lot harder to swallow.

Another reason the film doesn’t feel arduous is because director Ducournau peppers dark humour throughout the film. Like when a character is finished vomiting, a fellow student assumes that she has a eating disorder and quickly shows her how to vomit correctly. Or another scene when Alexis is giving Justine a session of Brazillian wax. It is these moments of mirth that give the film a comedic bite that is similar to the work of Daniel Waters, who has written the classic teen film, Heathers.

And lastly, the musical score by Jim Williams, which not only capably conveys both menacing and entrancing moods very well, but also gives the film a needed dramatic punch in the film’s most intense moments, especially the climax.

Raw was a fantastic experience that had shocked, surprised, thrilled and touched me. I’ll be really surprised if this does not make it to my top 10 by the end of the year. With its assured and professional direction, a fantastic pair of performances, a well-thought out story and a beautiful musical score, Raw is definitely a rewarding meal to savour.

Her film does remind me of David Cronenberg and Daniel Waters, but I will definitely remember her name: Julia Ducournau.

Quickie Review

PROS

Assured direction

Fantastic pair of performances

Focused and tight editing

Wonderful musical score

Nightmarish imagery and cinematography

Marries genre tropes and true-to-life situations cleverly

CONS

The ending is a teeny bit abrupt

SCORE: 9/10

Cast: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella, Joana Preiss, Laurent Lucas, Bouli Lanners
Director: Julia Ducournau
Screenwriters: Julia Ducournau

Movie Review – The Tenants Downstairs

13963082_1137046389718367_1056075558093958165_o

EXPECTATIONS: A soft and fluffy version of the Category III Hong Kong films of yore.

REVIEW:

NOTE: This review is for the revised 98 minute version, not for the 110 minute version.

Giddens Ko is well-known in Taiwan for being the author of such hits like The Apple of My Eye, which spawned renewed interest in the young love genre, as well as he comedy hit The Killer Who Never Kills and the romance Cafe, Waiting Love. Whereas Adam Tsuei is well-known for bringing musical stars into the spotlight like Jay Chou and Leehom Wang, as well as producing some of Gidden’s projects as well as the Tiny Times films.

So, when you see the two work together for their latest project, you’d expect them to work on something fluffy and crowd-pleasing. Thankfully, they brought out their latest project, The Tenants Downstairs, a depraved throwback to the Category III Hong Kong films of yore, starring genre stalwart, Simon Yam. But considering their past work, will it be homogenized and watered-down, or will it be hard-hitting and pack a serious punch?

photo-php

The film starts off with an unnamed and enigmatic landlord (Simon Yam) sitting in an interrogation room, preparing to tell a story to a police detective (Kai Fung) which is described as “a story out of your imagination”. Then it flashes back to the landlord inheriting the apartment complex and discovering the surveillance room, which has cameras in all of the apartments.

Then over time, a group of tenants reside in the complex and which include Kuo Li (Lee Kang-sheng) and Linghu (Bernard SenJun), a gay couple attempting to hide their relationship; divorced gym instructor Chang (Chuang Kai-hsun) who has a penchant for expired milk and is a ball of repressed rage that would make Adam Sandler blush; depressed single father Wang (Phil Yan) who harbours more than just love for his young daughter (Angel Ho); Miss Chen (Li Xing), an office worker with an insatiable thirst for her work in the horizontal refreshment industry and Boyan (Yan Sheng-yu) is a student who loves video-games and another private game where he always wins.

Last but definitely not least is Yingru (Ivy Shao), a beautiful and seemingly angelic young woman whose apartment is strangely stacked with many suitcases. And there’s also a victim in her bathtub who is being tortured, you know the usual. So after the landlord discovers her secret, he becomes fascinated about the dark side of human nature and decides to prod and push his tenants to embrace their darkest desires and to commit the most depraved acts.

1470093612-528544693_wl

As you can tell from the synopsis, there really isn’t much of a plot here. And the humour in which is peppered in it is in actuality how the film is presented; humour that is macabre and twisted. And boy, is it twisted. There is a fine line between sadistic and comedic, but director Adam Tsuei and writer Giddens Ko walk on it incredibly well.

Scenes involving dragging bodies has never looked funnier, especially when the magic of “teleportation” is involved. The use of classical music alleviated the effect of the atrocities that happen on-screen with enough dark humour and the cast are wholly committed to the proceedings. Whether they are doing something physically taxing or doing something prurient beyond their sexual realms, the cast are all on their A-game.

Simon Yam shows why he’s fantastic in portraying psychos and insane lunatics back in the 90’s and he is full of life here in the role of the landlord. Whether he is dragging a body, sticking it to the man, dancing majestically or sinking his own submarine to those who are sharpening their power tools, it is a pleasure to see Yam back in a role that will please Category III cinema lovers.

the-tenants-downstairs-720

Tsai Ming-liang’s favourite collaborator Lee Kang-sheng can do any of the stuff he does in the film in his sleep, if films like Rebels of the Neon God is any indication. And even after a stroke he had suffered two years ago, Lee still does well with his performance. Bernard Senjun plays the student/mistress of Kuo Li and he gives a good performance as the gradually lovelorn yang to Kuo Li’s tempered yin.

Chuang Kai-hsun plays his jackass of a role convincingly, as he shows both repressed and expressive rage with ease. He really takes it up a notch when he acts alongside Li Xing, leading to some intense scenes. The latter is fantastic as Miss Chen, even when her character takes part in the more prurient aspects of the film, she never makes her character feel like she has no choice in the life she’s chosen. Li exudes confidence and strength in the role that probably was not present in the script.

Phil Yan is fine as the sexually repressed father, as he definitely looks the part of an average joe, which makes it creepier when he embraces both his inner child and actual child while Angel Ho is likewise fine as the daughter, who acts in scenes that really seem like the film-makers are breaking laws to film.

Yan Sheng-yu is funny as the self-gratifying slacker who believes he has the power of “teleportation”. His physical comedy does lead to some funny moments including “literally” taking one for the team and especially a part in the climax, which results in the best use of a body part since 1993’s wuxia comedy, The Eagle Shooting Heroes.

But the biggest standout of the film is Ivy Shao. Exuding an understated creepiness underneath her angelic smile and bright white wardrobe, she sends chills to the audience every time she shows up. Her performance is quite reminiscent of Eihi Shiina’s performance in Takashi Miike’s cult classic, Audition, and it is a wonder to witness.

tenantsdownstairs2-1600x900-c-default-1024x576

The film is also magnificently well-shot and edited, making the film more prestigious than it really should, but fortunately director Adam Tsuei never tells the story more than it actually is: a series of unsavory events twisted up in a line of insanity, depravity and abnormality.

If Tsuei had taken the film seriously, it would have ended up like one of Hong Kong director Wong Ching-po’s films, which can be incredibly pretentious. The production design by Kei Itsusuji and cinematography by Jimmy Yu make Simon Yam’s house of horrors look strikingly beautiful; even with the shocking events that occur, you cannot take your eyes away.

As for flaws, the film lacks a lot of explanation with its story, although that may have been the result of the shorter cut which was released at NYAFF 2016, because apparently, the full theatrical cut is 110 minutes and has scenes of exposition that further explain the landlord’s backstory, his motives, other backstories of various characters and a sense of logic to the proceedings.

But whether this is a flaw depends on your preference. If you prefer ambiguity and leaving it up to your imagination, the shorter cut certainly does that. But if you want things tied up neatly, the longer cut may do the trick.

Overall, The Tenants Downstairs is a fantastic throwback to the Category III films of the 90’s that will sicken, surprise and amuse many with its sexual deviancy, shocking depravity and sheer lunacy. And with a wonderfully committed cast and its fantastic production values, The Tenants Downstairs is my top guilty pleasure of the year that brought a huge demented smile on my face.

the-tenants-downstairs-3-1024x576

Quickie Review

PROS

The entire cast are all committed to the insane shenanigans

The production values make the film look and sound fantastic

The fine line between sadism and dark comedy is trodden well

CONS

Lack of explanations of the proceedings

SCORE: 9/10

Cast: Simon Yam Tat-wah, Ivy Shao (Shao Yu-wei), Lee Kang-sheng, Chuang Kai-hsun, Phil Yan, Li Xing, Yan Sheng-yu, Bernard SenJun, Angel Ho, Chen Mu-yi, Chou Hsiao-an, Kai Fung
Director: Adam Tsuei
Screenwriters: Giddens Ko, based on his novel of the same name

Movie Review – Trash Fire (Sydney Underground Film Festival 2016)

dxoceg9ogftjeidfzb06.jpg

EXPECTATIONS: Something darkly comedic and horrific like the director’s previous films.

REVIEW: Richard Bates Jr. is a film-maker that I admire ever since I saw his first film; the wonderfully acidic and biting film Excision. The melding of horror elements with a heavy dollop of dark comedy set within a grounded story helped by a wonderfully talented cast with career-best performances from Traci Lords and AnnaLynne McCord made Excision one of the best films I have seen in 2012. Since then, I have followed his work and had enjoyed his second film, the horror-comedy Suburban Gothic. The lighter approach to horror and comedy (compared to Excision) and the likable characters made Suburban Gothic a very fun experience, similar to watching old Scooby-Doo cartoons. And now, we finally have his latest film, Trash Fire, which seems to be following the same path as Excision. And knowing that the cast has AnnaLynne McCord and Matthew Gray Gubler coming back for more, I was psyched. Did Trash Fire meet my high expectations?

The film starts off with Owen (Adrian Grenier) telling his life story to his increasingly weary shrink (Sally Kirkland) and how he wanted to kill himself ever since his parents died in a freak fire that also left his sister Pearl (AnnaLynne McCord) permanently scarred for life. After that, we go into a dinner setting where we see his long-suffering girlfriend Isabel (Angela Trimbur). They clearly have issues (not helped by her side of the family) and Isabel has had enough of him and decides to break it off. Fast-forward to avoid spoilers, something major happens and the two decide to patch things up and try harder on their relationship by revisiting Owen’s surviving family, consisting of his grandmother (Fionnula Flanagan) and Pearl, who has been living under her care. Owen is really reluctant on the matter, but decides to go along with the plan due to his love for Isabel. Little do the two know that the past always comes back to bite them in the ass and boy, does it bite. Hard.

trash-fire

From the synopsis, it doesn’t seem to hint that the story has anything that could be considered as horror. But like Excision, that’s the beauty of the horror. Richard Bates Jr’s direction starts off with a grounded story that could happen to anyone and yet builds the horror from it to the point that the mood and atmosphere can be increasingly uneasy. The relationship between Owen and Isabel is well-developed and portrayed and it never backs off from or tones down the ugliness that plagues it. And Bates intelligently mixes the drama from the relationship with the horror that is yet to come very well to the point that it comes off not only as scary, but also quite insightful.

But in case that the story sounds like it is grim and depressing, Bates also brings back the dark comedy that made his other films earn cult status. Religion (like in Excision) is the target here and boy, does it take a lot of hits. All of the characters who are religious are shown to be either self-righteous or are hypocritically blind or lack of better words, utterly insane. And through all that, Bates squeezes the humour for all of its worth. Plus, all the interactions between family members are hilarious to witness, with all the passive-aggressive attitudes, the evil eyes and the mean remarks that ones can treasure. I know I did.

screen-shot-2016-01-23-at-2-01-21-pm-620x400

But none of it would be anywhere near as effective if it weren’t for the committed cast. Adrian Grenier is far away from what you expect from his performances in Entourage, and he seems to relish the darkness and nihilistic behaviour of the character of Owen, but he never overdoes his performance to the point of losing the audience. He retains enough humanity that he makes Owen empathetic, if not quite sympathetic at times. Doing a 180 turn from her high-energy performance in The Final Girls, Angela Trimbur does great as Isabel, showing easy dramatic chops along her proven comedic chops and she has great chemistry with Grenier. The two have a sex scene together that must be seen to be believed and I have to admit, it made me do a spit-take.

The supporting cast are no slouches and the most with what they got. Matthew Gray Gubler is funny as the religious brother of Isabel and has great interactions with Grenier, which pays off with some hilarious barbs. While AnnaLynne McCord is again unrecognizable (like in Excision) and is having a whale of a time as Pearl. Whether peeking through a hole while doing something the Lord wouldn’t like to playing with guns, McCord still frightens and entertains, even in a smaller role. But the MVP of the film is Fionnula Flannagan as the grandmother of Owen. Deranged, toxic, rude and upfront (much like the film), Flannagan is a pure delight whenever she shows up. It is definitely her scariest role since Yes Man. Yes, that is a joke. Or is it?

As for its flaws, the tone can be a bit imbalanced (fittingly, so are the characters) since the drama and comedy can be a bit apart from each other; and the gloriously over-the-top ending may not be satisfying for everyone, but Trash Fire shows that Bates (not related to Norman Bates, I swear) hasn’t lost a step and I look forward to his next film.

Trash Fire: Luckily, more fire than trash.

Quickie Review

PROS

Fantastic performances

Hilariously dark sense of humour

Palpable tension

CONS

Tone shifts can be a bit abrupt

The ending can be a bit over-the-top for some

SCORE: 8/10

lhs

This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Adrian Grenier, Angela Trimbur, Fionnula Flanagan, AnnaLynne McCord, Sally Kirkland, Matthew Gray Gubler, Ezra Buzzington
Director: Richard Bates Jr.
Screenwriter: Richard Bates Jr.

Movie Review – The Love Witch (Sydney Underground Film Festival 2016)

phbnqfl4ztbsfd_1_l

EXPECTATIONS: Something of a groovy, dreamy and sexy experience.

REVIEW: Ooo-ooo, witchy woman! Sorry, got the song in my head. After my viewing of Blair Witch, it’s only fitting that my next review will be about The Love Witch. Hearing the incredibly positive buzz from many festivals around the world, especially from the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF), I was so excited to see this film for this year’s Sydney Underground Film Festival. Also considering the fact that it hearkens back to the erotic melodramas of the 60’s and the occult films of the 70’s in terms of every facet of film-making, my eyes were watering. So was the film worth the buzz that it achieved?

elaine_knife

Elaine (Samantha Robinson), a beautiful, narcissistic love-starved young witch, is determined to find a man to love her. After her ex left her (or so she says in her blissfully selective memory), she moves into a new neighborhood. In her gothic Victorian apartment she makes spells and potions, then picks up men and seduces them. But though her desperation, her spells work a wee bit too well, and she ends up with a string of increasingly hysterical victims. When she at last meets the man of her dreams, her desperation to be loved drives her to the brink of insanity and murder.

elaine_richard

Just within seconds of the film, the viewer will be swept up by the incredibly gorgeous cinematography. Filmed on 35mm by cinematographer M. David Mullen, the film is just soaked with colours that will make your eyes crying for more. And let’s not forget the use of musical scores from the 60’s and 70’s consisting of works by Ennio Morricone, it’s clear that director Anna Biller has done her homework on the subject.

But there are some small and amusing modern touches that ensures that this story is set in the present, like a modern police car and the usage of mobile phones, but it just goes to show that the themes the story conveys can be told in any time period and still be relevant, timely and quite thought-provoking. There are also some subversiveness of the genre, such as the equal nudity of both genders in the ritual scenes as well as what fits the definition of being a witch.

Sexual politics, feminism, desires of both genders are all examined with wit and humour and Biller seems to be having a ball with her meticulous, yet somewhat indulgent direction. All the tropes of 60’s and 70’s films are here. The use of rear projection, the costumes, the make-up and especially the narration are all put to good use. But the film is not a parody or a spoof of any kind. The film is played absolutely straight and it only makes the film funnier and more genuine.

The Love Witch 05/19/15

And the performances are fantastic to witness in its stilted and deadpan glory. Samantha Robinson is a pure delight as Elaine, as she conveys her narcissistic side and her lovelorn side with a perfect balance of poise and subtle enthusiasm. You can tell that she has a wonderful time playing the role and the fun rubs off on the audience. And the same goes for the supporting actors like Gian Keys as the playboy cop investigating the mysterious deaths and Laura Waddell as the trusting landlord.

Every actor in the film looks the part of the film genre and it really does resemble a time machine back to the past, and it is glorious. The male actors in particular are all hoots, especially when they suffer from an absence of Elaine in their lives to the point of becoming hysterical. They all squeeze their roles with reckless abandon and it’s quite uproarious.

ritual_gahan

As much as I am raving about the film, there is one problem that dials my praise back quite a bit. Basically, the film is too long. At 120 minutes, the film can start to drag, especially for those not accustomed to the pacing of the film’s throwback feel and the intentionally stilted line readings, meaning that the film can be a bit too indulgent with itself. But then again, considering the film’s story and its characters, it feels strangely appropriate.

The Love Witch is a sweet and spicily entertaining tribute to the films of the 60’s and 70’s, with fantastic performances and such meticulous detail from multi-tasking director Anna Biller, that feels both nostalgic and timely at the same time. Although the running time shows that you can have too much of a good thing, it again reflects the film itself, as it is a lovely spell that works too well.

elaine_rug_01

Quickie Review

PROS

Fantastic performances, especially from Samantha Robinson

Meticulous detail towards all facets of film-making

Subversive details towards genre

Thought-provoking in its thematic impact

CONS

Overlong and indulgent in its running time

SCORE: 8/10

lhs

This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Samantha Robinson, Gian Keys, Laura Waddell, Jeffrey Vincent Parise, Jared Sanford, Robert Seeley, Jennifer Ingrum, Steve, Randy Evans, Clive Ashborn, Lily Holleman, Jennifer Couch, Stephen Wozniak
Director: Anna Biller
Screenwriter: Anna Biller

Movie Review – Blair Witch

timthumb-php

EXPECTATIONS: A re-invigoration of the found-footage genre.

REVIEW: If there is a film that you can think of the top of your head that had the best marketing strategy, many would say that it would be The Blair Witch Project. With just the perfect timing of the Internet and the matter-of-fact documentary film-making, it started the first viral marketing campaign and everybody, including myself, were swept up by it to the point that the majority of the world thought that the legend of the Blair Witch was true, and that there were three people missing in the woods. Family and friends of the people in the film were swarmed with sympathy cards and letters, showing care for their supposed loss of loved ones. With its genuine acting from its three leads and the realism and restraint applied from the filmmakers, The Blair Witch Project is a horror classic.

Which up to this point in 2016, it’s very strange and daring to do a sequel to a film like this. Trying to do a marketing campaign for a sequel to this is hard, so when it was revealed that it was a sequel to The Blair Witch Project, there was a mixed reaction. Some were pleasantly surprised due to how they kept the film secret for so long, but some were displeased due to the fact that Hollywood is currently drowning in a sea of remakes, reboots, re-tellings and whatnot. But with talents like Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett (famous for their horror contributions like You’re Next and The Guest), it couldn’t possibly be any worse than Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows. Can it?

coyvarfxyaqjkv7-jpg-medium

Set 20 years after the Blair Witch events, the film follows a group of college students and their local tour guides, who enter the Black Hills Forest in Maryland to see if the disappearance of James’ sister (played by Heather Donahue in the first film) is connected to the Blair Witch. It was said that a videotape of the incident was found and that Heather was briefly seen in the video out in a dilapidated house in the forest, which prompts James and his friends to go out into the Black Hills Forest. So they pack up with their latest in digital film technology and navigational systems and venture into the woods. But as night falls, the students realize the legend is all too real after they are visited by a menacing presence.

blair-witch-e1472153697230

Now let’s get straight down to it. Did I like the film? Yes. Did I think the film could be better? Hell, yes. With a director like Adam Wingard, you can definitely find a technically competent and polished horror production in Blair Witch, but is it too polished? What was great about The Blair Witch Project was its sloppiness in the film-making, which achieves audience immersion that the film is really found-footage, and not a film. In the case of Blair Witch, video glitches majorly happen on a narrative cue and it takes the audience out of the film at times.

Speaking of taking the audience out of the film, there are jump scares in the film. Jump scares in a horror film are never going to die, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be done right, but in the case of Blair Witch, there are far too many, and half of them are more like punchlines than actual scares. At one point, a character actually says “could everyone stop doing that”, when a person acknowledges their presence by touching them on the shoulder. You would think that this witty remark (courtesy of writer Simon Barrett) would result in no more jump scares of the like from then onward, but Wingard doubles down on them, which can wear the audience out.

blair-witch-image

The acting from the young cast are all fine, as they convincingly all go through the emotional and physical wringer once the horror bears down upon them. Corbin Reid in particular, is a great sport when it comes to her character’s experiences with the Blair Witch. But when you compare to the actors in The Blair Witch Project, they all come off more like actors than actual people we are witnessing. It certainly doesn’t help that these are actors who have starred in other projects before this, unlike the actors in The Blair Witch Project.

And considering that the marketing campaign for this film is to keep the idea that this film is a sequel to The Blair Witch Project a secret, you would think that the film itself would keep up with that level of ambition. But unfortunately, it doesn’t. The film sticks so lavishly to its source material to the point that it almost feels like a remake than a sequel. And the mythology of the Blair Witch isn’t expanded upon that much either, leaving a very big missed opportunity.

blair_witch_01

But despite all of these flaws, Blair Witch is still a very competent horror film and Wingard still brings the requisite scares with energy and ferocity. Those who expect the minimalist approach of The Blair Witch Project will be disappointed but those who want it loud and proud will find plenty to enjoy, especially in the riotous final act, where the tension and suspense almost become unbearable. It is a bit disheartening that the biggest flaw of the film is its association with The Blair Witch Project. If it was just known as The Woods, as it was previously claimed, it might’ve gotten a better reception. But alas, expectations are a drag. It still beats Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows, which by the way, has no book in the film. There’s no where else to go up from there.

blairwitch

Quickie Review

PROS

Wingard’s ferocious and energetic direction brings out good scares

Good performances from the cast

Good production values

One hell of an intense ending

CONS

Lacks the immersion and realism of the original

Annoyingly laughable jump scares

SCORE: 7/10

lhs

This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry
Director: Adam Wingard
Screenwriter: Simon Barrett

Movie Review – Train to Busan

Heropage-980x560_56

EXPECTATIONS: A fantastic blockbuster that lives up to its hype.

REVIEW: Zombie stories have always been a guilty pleasure of mine. No matter how a zombie gets disposed of, it will always make me break out a smile. But lately, zombie films haven’t been anything notable and have been treated poorly as more of an entry point for other genres than actually being zombie films i.e. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Zombeavers and Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse. There have been more successful attempts to break the zombie mold like Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland and Miss Zombie, but the main reason those films succeed is because they never forget that they are true zombie films, regardless of what genre they aspire to be. So when you have a zombie film from Korea (which is rarer than you think) directed by an acclaimed director who has only done animation projects, your anticipation tends to slightly go up a little bit. So will the film excite and thrill like the best zombie films do or will it end up drowning in the pool of the undead?

t1.daumcdn.net

Gong Yoo stars as Seok-woo, a fund manager who is unfortunately a workaholic, much to the detriment of his marriage and his relationship with his daughter Soo-an (Kim Soo-an). On the night before Soo-an’s birthday, Soo-an insists on seeing her mother for her birthday. Feeling obligated to do so, Seok-woo has no other choice but to take her to Busan. Early the next morning, they board the KTX train for Busan at Seoul Station. Before the train leaves the station, a stowaway woman (special appearance by Shim Eun-kyung) jumps onto the train and starts attacking people, causing them to become infected. Struggling to work together as a team, the passengers, including Seok-woo and Soo-an, have to settle their differences in order to survive and make it to their destination of Busan.

Kia46cB1ib34WGEoZxXJAbdicP0tdIIRCwIIINDPz1wIoHfd6ntepcKlVXLVMiciclXNzpyQEETpHRgFpSuQfMlS1lw

Animation directors turning to live-action films have been a successful trend, with filmmakers like Tim Burton, Ari Folman and Brad Bird, and fortunately director Yeon Sang-ho follows the norm. His visual eye for detail has not lost a beat and he provides the best of thrills and scares that one could ask for in a zombie film. Yeon really takes advantage of the train as it provides a strong sense of claustrophobia to the proceedings, ramping up the tension as the film relentlessly zips along. The aspect ratio of 1:85.1 (as opposed to 2.35:1) certainly adds to the cramped feel. The subversion of zombie genre cliches is a welcome change of pace, like how Gong Yoo’s character isn’t really the heroic everyman he appears to be or the use of the pregnant woman trope, played by Jung Yu-mi. Even the zombies are a bit different from the norm and that is due to their movement. Although they run as if death is an energy drink to be quenched, when they move on the train, they contort their bodies, giving them a haunting movement that reminded me of the lady in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s horror film, Pulse (Kairo). Even some of the potentially tragic moments are laced with a sliver of humour, like a particular phone call to a loved one that ends with a criticism of a particular character.

What is also noticeable about Yang Sang-ho’s foray to live-action is that his cruel worldview has dampened a bit, which may disappoint Yang’s ardent followers. First of all, most of the characters here are actually likable, which is a clear contrast compared to his characters in his previous films, as they are usually cruel, sadistic and even misogynistic. Although there is a human antagonist played by Kim Eui-sang, he isn’t really as cruel as those characters, but Eui-sang still gives it his all to make his character audiences will truly love to hate as well as adding a sense of empathy in the final act. There’s even a message that if mankind unites together, there is an assurance of survival. And as the train acts as a microcosm of society, social statuses are conveyed metaphorically between the two groups of the passengers, which gives the film a hint of social commentary similar to Bong Joon-ho’s sci-fi blockbuster, Snowpiercer. The likability of the characters comes from director Yeon’s insistence for character moments. Although the characters aren’t three-dimensional, the sketches are outlined efficiently and distinctly enough for the audience to care what happens to them.

train_to_busan_h_2016

It certainly helps that we have a talented cast that makes the two-dimensional characters become more substantial than the script would ever allow. Gong Yoo gives a great and understated performance as Seok-woo, the conflicted everyman whose survival instincts will polarize some, yet those choices makes the character painfully real and Gong sells it. Jung Yu-mi provides some comic relief and dramatic clout as Sung-kyu while Choi Woo-sik and Ahn So-hee are likable enough as the young lovebirds who can’t catch a break with their love for one another.

But the standouts are Ma Dong-seok and Kim Soo-an. Being an all-round badass on-screen as well as off (He was a personal trainer for mixed martial artists!), he had the best character in the film. Having excellent comedic chops, charisma and a tough presence, he helps the film take flight whenever he shows up. It is also a nice change of pace for him, since he usually plays villains, particularly of the scene-chewery kind, similar to the zombies. As for Kim, she provides a fantastic performance for a child actress. Never appearing precocious for audience sympathy, she has a great father-daughter chemistry with Gong and shows maturity beyond her years that makes her character’s decisions understandable and even relatable.

train-to-busan

As for flaws including those stated above, the ending tends to drag a little bit and can be a bit too sappy for Western tastes. But to be honest, it actually is a bit lighter on the sentimentality compared to other Korean films. And those expecting gallons of blood and gore will come out a bit disappointed, since it is quite tame in that department.

But what it lacks in gore, it makes up with frenetic energy and tension, and Train to Busan is a superior zombie entry with great performances and assured direction that proves that there is life to the over-saturated genre.

train-to-busan-gli-zombi-hanno-molta-fame-nella-nuova-clip-v3-268703-1280x720

Quickie Review

PROS

Fantastic performances

Assured direction from director Yeon Sang-ho

Subversion of zombie tropes

Relentless pacing, tension and thrills

Efficient storytelling/character details

CONS

Ending can be a bit sappy and overlong

Those accustomed to director Yeon’s worldview will be a bit disappointed

SCORE: 9/10

Cast: Gong Yoo, Kim Soo-an, Jung Yu-mi, Ma Dong-seok, Kim Eui-sung, Choi Woo-sik, An So-hee, Shim Eun-kyung
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Screenwriters: Park Joo-suk, Yeon Sang-ho

Movie Review – The Inerasable

zane_950x400

EXPECTATIONS: A ghost story with more reliance on storytelling than actual scares.

REVIEW: Ghost stories have been incredibly popular on film and in Japan, it was a huge craze. From films back in the 50’s and 60’s like The Ghost of Yotsuya and Kuroneko to its resurgence in the 90’s and 00’s with Ringu, Ju-On and many others, many people were flocking into the theater. And ironically flocking out of the theater too after the films finish. But like all trends in film, all the juice is squeezed out for all of its worth and now we have inferior, and quite frankly, crappy so-called horror films like Sadako 3D, The Shock Labyrinth and Ghost Theater, which I have comprehensively slaughtered. But that’s another review. Now we have The Inerasable; Yoshihiro Nakamura’s first venture into horror since his ghostly contained thriller, The Booth. Applying his vast and ambitious storytelling in the horror genre, will he create a thriller that will stick in the minds of audiences or will it be something the audience would want completely erased from their minds?

zang-e_ssub6-760x518

Kubo (Ai Hashimoto) is a university student who is studying architecture and she has recently moved into an apartment complex for travel conveniences. While studying one night, she hears strange noises coming from the living room every time she has her sights elsewhere. Noticing an old-fashioned clothing garment moving in and out of the shadows, Kubo is understandably a little bit concerned. She writes a letter to a popular writer (Yuko Takeuchi) who is famous for her crime stories and mystery novels. Seeing this as the perfect jump-start for a new novel, she helps Kubo to investigate the strange happenings. But what starts out as straightforward with simple solutions, it is implied that no tragic circumstances have happened anywhere near the apartment, nor did anything similar happen in recent history. Not willing to back out from certain intrigue (or even a fight), the two keep on investigating until their findings lead them to a backstory that gradually turns out to be more tragic, disturbing and far vaster than anyone would have expected.

zang-e01

After my disappointment of watching Yoshihiro Nakamura’s other film of 2016, The Magnificent Nine, and the present state of J-Horror, I didn’t have much high hopes of watching The Inerasable. But after seeing it, the film surprised me in many ways.  One way is how Nakamura’s approach to the ghost story is surprisingly self-referential. It is then that it results in some amusing observations of the J-Horror genre (thanks to Kenichi Takito who plays the writer’s husband) as well as many opportunities taken to subvert horror tropes and cliches, like the story unraveling through cliches like noises signifying suicide or properties build over a place of death. Or how the characters react in the story, which is not as loud and exaggerated as one would expect. If anything, the characters are a lot more accepting of the paranormal events, since they are more self-aware of it.

All tropes and cliches are prodded and subverted, but not in a post-modern or wink-wink way, and the film is all the better for it. There’s a wonderful flashback sequence where the story goes back to the 1950’s and the cinematography (thanks to talented cinematographer Yukihiro Okimura) changes to evoke that time period (i.e. old film stock), as well as the sound design (i.e. ONE channel sound). Okimura’s compositions always change when the film changes time-periods and it is very effective in story immersion as well as adding to the realism of the story. Another surprise is Nakamura’s approach to scares, which is surprisingly old-fashioned and realistic. The film’s scary moments rely more on sound and the power of suggestion, rather than jump scares and bombastic music. A silhouette seen through a window, talking in understated manner while accompanied with a lack of a musical score is scarier than a lazy and loud jump scare that you can just interject in the film without effort.

20

The acting from the two lead actresses certainly contribute to the film. Between this and Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s 2016 film Creepy, Yuko Takeuchi is venturing into dark roles and it is a thrill to watch. Helped by a pair of glasses, Takeuchi nails her nameless character with aplomb, conveying the character’s intellect with utter sincerity. Ai Hashimoto, who’s been a star on the rise since Tetsuya Nakashima’s 2010 film Confessions, she is maturing to be a fine actress, as she acts out her character’s maturity and insatiable interest in the paranormal events like a pro. All the supporting cast are fine in their roles, but it is the two actresses that stand-out and rightfully so.

As much as the refreshing approach to the story goes, it does come with a few caveats. One, the story does get quite a bit convoluted with its numerous amount of ghost stories (though you can narrow it down to FOUR), it does get a bit rough to get into. It starts to feel like an anthology of sorts (which director Nakamura has worked on vast amounts of) but somehow, all the stories connect in the end, which is a feat to behold. Two, those expecting a full scary blowout will be a bit disappointed, since Nakamura relies more on an understated approach as opposed to films like Ju-On. It is reminiscent of a similar approach to his recent films like Prophecy and The Snow White Murder Case. But those who go along for the ride will be rewarded with a spectacularly creepy climax that subverts the typical endings of Japanese horror films.

THE INERASABLE

The Inerasable is a great film that is buoyed by two good leading performances and Nakamura’s assured hand to subvert J-Horror tropes and cliches to create a part meta-horror experience and part crime procedural that is refreshingly smart.

Quickie Review

PROS

Good leading performances

Nakamura’s refreshing approach to storytelling of ghost stories

Nice subversion of horror tropes and cliches

A spectacularly creepy climax

Understated approach to achieving scares and tension works

CONS

The story can be quite convoluted due to numerous subplots

May be a bit to subtle and understated for those who are accustomed to the usual horror genre fare

SCORE: 8/10

Cast: Yuko Takeuchi, Ai Hashimoto, Kuranosuke Sasaki, Kentaro Sakaguchi, Kenichi Takito, Erika Shumoto
Director: Yoshihiro Nakamura
Screenwriters: Kenichi Suzuki, based on the novel “Zang-e” by Fuyumi Ono

Movie Review – Grace [NYAFF 2016]

99f53cec00d8c22b2b987eb1beb76a44

EXPECTATIONS: A darkly comedic yarn, similar to Eli Roth’s Knock Knock.

REVIEW: Social media has become a popular trope in films today, whether it is just used as a means for sufficient storytelling to making biopics about people that have pioneered the trend to even using it as social commentary. And from social commentary, it has even sprouted into more sub-genres; the popular one being cyber-bullying. Shown in mostly horror films and teen dramas like the underrated Unfriended and the darkly hilarious Knock Knock, this particular theme can be mined for compelling thematic material. Enter the Thailand thriller, Grace, a film that is part home invasion thriller, part exploitation flick and part psychological character study; all wrapped within a slither of dark social commentary. Does the film reach up to its ambitions or will it be forgotten like another social trend like…planking?

thumb_2655

Ple (Latkamon Pinrojkirati) is an ordinary high school student who loves spending quality time with her best friend, Care (Napasasi Surawan), who is popular for being precocious and cute. Together, they create a Facebook page (called Summer Trick) for Care to share her personal photos and videos to garner Facebook likes from the public, in hope of becoming a popular internet idol. It then captures the attention of Grace (Apinya Sakuljaroensuk) and her obsessive fan; a deranged lunatic named Jack (Nutthasit Kotimanuswanich), as Care’s Facebook page is public for everyone to see. Grace and Jack devise a plan to take Care and Ple hostage, with their motives unbeknownst to each other. Stricken with jealously over her swift rise to Facebook fame, Grace torments and abuses Care, which sets off a cataclysmic sort of events that end up in bloody circumstances.

559000000544104

“We all live in public now, we’re all on the Internet. How do you think people become famous anymore?! You don’t have to achieve anything! You just gotta have fucked up shit happen to you.” That is a quote from the underappreciated Scream 4, and boy, does this quote apply to Grace. Themes like cyber-bullying and the objectification of women through pop culture and social media are given a thrashing of an exploration by writers/directors Pun Homchuen and Onusa Donsawai. Deftly shown through flashbacks developing the character Grace, it presents a condemning examination on the price of popularity and how the objectification of women has warped Grace’s mind, and the directors have presented that well. I haven’t seen a scathing look at the objectification of women since Sion Sono’s trippy horror film, Tag.

And when I said that the quote above applies to the film, I also meant the titular character as well. Played with such sadistic glee and understated sadness, Apinya Sakuljaroensuk is a ball as Grace; so much so that it was decided that the international title of the film was named after her. Good thing too since she is the best thing in this film. The rest of the cast do fine with what material they are given, particularly Napasasi Surawan as the innocent-looking Care and Nutthasit Kotimanuswanich, who surprisingly gives an understated and realistic performance as the perverted and depraved Jack, who just might have a conscience. But the real star is Sakuljaroensuk, which is ironically the best thing about the movie as well as the worst thing in the story. If that makes sense.

awasarn-lok-suey-featured

Although this does not bother me much, I have to state that this film is shockingly violent and it gradually becomes more so till its bloody climax. It actually is reminiscent of French horror films like High Tension and Inside. The gore is not overstated like torture porn films like Saw, but it will definitely rile some people.  And the same goes for some of the actions of the characters, which are very few, but they can irk some people i.e. It is not a good idea that you antagonize the culprit when they are armed and at their most vulnerable.  The flashbacks, while are very important to the character development, can be a bit confusing due to how they are inserted, since there is very little use of transitions to inform the audience about them. Also hindering the storytelling is the English subtitles. They can be a bit confounding when they translate Thai text from Facebook, which may dilute the drama, particularly the ending, so for those who need glasses better equip yourself for some fast reading.

Grace is full of fury and anger but a great performance from Apinya Sakuljaroensuk; the game supporting cast; the razor-edged look on cyber-bulling, social media, popularity and the objectification of women and its shocking violence will make it a cult experience for brave viewers.

1

559000000544105

Quickie Review

PROS

A fantastic performance from Apinya Sakuljaroensuk

Enthusiastic supporting cast

Themes and social commentary add a lot of punch

CONS

Violence will shock some

English subtitles may be hard to read in scenes involving Facebook

Confusing actions from characters

Flashback insertions can be a bit confusing

SCORE: 7/10

Cast: Apinya Sakuljaroensuk, Nuttasit Kotimanuswanich, Parisa Pinyakamolchart, Napasasi Surawan
Director: Pun Homchuen and Onusa Donsawai
Screenwriters: Pun Homchuen and Onusa Donsawai