Isolation (2005)

Isolation (2005)

It didn’t want to be born. Now it doesn’t want to die.

Cash-strapped farmer Dan Reilly allows a local bio-genetics firm to experiment on some of his cows to make them grow faster. However, the experiment goes wrong when one of Dan’s cows gives birth to a calf which is already pregnant with mutated foetuses. During an autopsy, one of the still-living foetuses manages to escape and with an ability to infect cows as well as humans, it is a race against time to stop the creature before it leaves the farm.

 

In horror, no animal is safe. You’ve got nature’s fearsome predators like sharks and crocodiles which are all too easy to turn into maneaters. You’ve got spiders which provoke instinctive reactions in a large percentage of people when confronted with one. But cows? The animals that are generally gentle, quite emotional and intelligent, commonly known to ‘moo’, produce milk and generally just stand around all day grazing? Actually, according to statistics, they’re the most dangerous large animal in the UK, killing more people in the last fifteen years than dogs so there might be something there to work with. Perhaps Isolation was made about ten years too late to capitalise on the mid-90s BSE scare in the UK (commonly referred to as mad cow disease), where thousands of cows were slaughtered to prevent the spread of disease. This type of body horror would have caused a few ripples if audiences thought this sort of thing could happen to them if ‘mad cow disease’ spread rapidly.

OK, so putting aside the notion of a killer cow for a moment, Isolation is a pretty creepy film which does a lot of things right in building an ominous atmosphere in the remote farm setting, borrowing plenty of style and tone from the likes of Carpenter and Cronenberg. First time director Billy O’Brien does a fantastic job in creating the right mood for the film, with the cold Irish countryside becoming a bleak place as the carefully-selected grey and gloomy colour palette offers little hope or vitality for the camera. This doesn’t look like a great place at the best of times, not least when there’s a mutated creature on the loose. O’Brien keeps the film grounded in minimalization for the most part, crafting the story well and slowly building up the mystery as to exactly what has happened and how bad it will get. If there is an issue here, it’s that it takes too long to get to a position where the horror can be unleashed upon the audience. There’s only so much biding time that the script can churn out and Isolation begins to wear a little thin before things pick up. You get the sense, especially if you glance at the running time left, that the payoff won’t be quite as satisfying as you’re expecting it to be.

Isolation does shift into more traditional ‘monster on the loose’ territory in the final third where the matured version of the creature starts to hunt down the survivors and it’s here that the script gives up and resorts to the characters running around in dark places. There are a few parallels with The Thing in the manner of how the infection spreads and there is some underlying body horror but it’s not as explicit as I’d have liked – let’s see one of the human characters explode with blood and goo when the infection has fully spread. Even the creature, looking suitably squirmy and nasty in its smallest form, doesn’t get much time on screen during the stalking and attack scenes. It doesn’t look bad in, well what you actually see of it anyway, but its underused and kept to brief glimpses and dark corners of the farm. Tantalising morsels of what could have been, but we don’t quite get the main course. And that just about sums Isolation up: it promises a lot but doesn’t really deliver when it really counts.

What is nice is that the limited effects on show are all practical and have that realistic vibe that CGI lacks. As the creature is meant to be mutated and defective, there’s no real shape or pattern to it, just lots of blood, flesh and bone all skewed and twisted. There’s a respectable amount of blood on show, with flesh wounds coming out particularly effective thanks to the make-up department. On top of this realistic carnage, the actors do their characters justice and make them believable enough to get the notion of a killer cow put to the back of your mind. John Lynch is solid as Dan: likeable and intense enough to show how desperate he was to resort to allowing the bio-genetics firm to experiment on his cow. Only Marcel Iures as the ‘mad scientist’ comes off remotely hammy in the final third but we all know what happens to that type of character in a film such as this!

 

Though Isolation might be a little derivative of some genre classics, it manages to craft a nice, effective mood with some decent moments, only failing to really capitalise on all of the hard work in a final third which doesn’t do the rest of the film justice. Forget any pre-conceived notions of a film about a killer cow being silly – you’ll think twice before you next cross over that farmer’s field.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Creep (2004)

Creep (2004)

Your journey terminates here.

Modelling agency worker Kate finds herself trapped in the London Underground when her late-night plans to crash a party goes wrong after she falls asleep and wakes to find the place has closed. An attempted rape by someone who has followed her is brutally broken up by an unseen assailant. Kate flees and takes refuge with a young homeless pair who live in the Underground, who tell her of stories of homeless people going missing. A hideously-deformed killer is living in the sewers below and prowling the Underground for more victims.

 

Not enough horror films have been set in the London Underground. Oh there was Hammer’s more sci-fi than horror flick Quatermass and the Pit, Death Line in 1972 and the fantastic werewolf chase sequence in An American Werewolf in London. But its slim pickings for variety which is a shame as the long, winding pedestrian tunnels which snake from the surface down to the rail tracks look chilling when they’re empty, with the white-tiled walls bathed in an eerie fluorescent light. I’m sure it looks like a hundred other subways, but the London Underground has a historic legacy of being the world’s first metro system and has seen plenty of action and drama during its time.

It is a pity then that Creep is the latest film to use this location as its main setting. A pity in that it’s a story we’ve seen done before, and done better, but not without its merits. A dread-filled opening half in the subway, with the potential escape routes and solutions to Kate’s situation, promises much which is not really capitalised on with the more routine second half. The claustrophobic subway passages are replaced with more generically-grim environments such as storerooms and old medical labs. It’s a good job that the first half of the film builds up plenty of goodwill to carry itself through. The dimly-lit prologue promises plenty from first time writer-director Christopher Smith and, script aside, he clearly knows his stuff, with clear influences all the way from Hammer to more recent ‘torture porn’ flicks.

Cinematography is nice and crisp, with the bright white walls of the Underground contrasting sharply against the darkness and grime of some of the sewers and abandoned tunnels. Neither brings any sort of comfort or satisfaction for the characters or the audience watching. It’s a pity not as much is made of the pure darkness that would be present over 100ft underground in these unlit corridors as it could be. It’s all too easy for the story to come across plenty of storerooms and underground medical facilities that have been left to time, and conveniently most of the rooms have power and electricity which kind of kills a lot of the ambiance. Nevertheless, there is still a generally effective atmosphere filling the screen and the claustrophobia of being stuck down there is played on fairly regularly.

Sadly, Creep doesn’t do an awful lot with the decent set-up and effective tools of the trade. Its essentially an underground slasher, where the characters’ isolation is in the subway rather than some summer camp in the middle of nowhere and they all go off looking around dark places, succumbing one-by-one to the killer. A number of thinly-written characters are introduced into the film simply to pad out the body count – this is Kate’s film and everyone else is second to that. At least she’s not totally stupid, doing a lot of reasonable things that the majority of people would do (like running away from the killer’s body after you think you’ve killed him…just get the hell out of there!). But the script doesn’t give her enough progression apart from running and screaming and fending for herself, which she seems very good at doing to begin with. Usually, the heroine finds some inner strength and overcomes the odds in this type of film.

Franka Potente may look good but her character is wholly unlikeable, made out to be a nasty, self-centred piece of work from the opening sequences. She looks down upon everyone else and is rude to everyone she meets, never thinking of them or their problems but what they can do for her. Potente plays the part well in this case, it’s just a pity it’s been written so badly. When she does eventually run into trouble, are we meant to really care for her wellbeing or celebrate in the torment that she is put through? The same can be said for the rest of the small cast, with the characters made up of annoying comic relief, jobsworth security guards, homeless druggies and sleazy co-workers. I’m not sure who we’re supposed to be rooting for. Maybe the unfortunate sewage worker who makes sure he tells Kate “I’ve got a kid” ticks this because guess what? That kid is going to be an orphan! The star turn comes in the form of the ‘Creep’ of the title, your typical The Hills Have Eyes type of mutant humanoid. Sean Harris isn’t the most intimidating physical presence, but he gives the monster some weird mannerisms and acts the part well with some stage theatrics that distinguish him from other similar creations – I could have done without the whimpering and squealing though. If you’re expecting some sort of clear background to his origins, think again. There are a few hints and ideas floating around but they’re not the priority here. In fact, the more you try and think about who or what the Creep is, the sillier and more fantastical it all becomes.

Surprisingly, the film is fairly bloody despite not really appearing to sell itself like that to begin with. Throats are slit, there’s some unwanted surgery, heads rammed onto metal spikes and plenty more. The camera doesn’t dwell on the gore but its there as an add-on to really convey the sense of just how brutal and inhuman the Creep really is. But given the weaknesses in his backstory, some of his mystery and threat are eroded quickly.

 

Creep is not a brilliant film, nor is it terrible. Writer-director Smith knows his stuff and clearly has some potential to go on to bigger and better things. The directing side of things works well, the script less so. With a more polished script, he could have avoided the plot gaps, the abrasive characters and the horrid dialogue and built upon the solid foundations he established at the beginning.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Deep Blue Sea 2 (2018)

Deep Blue Sea 2 (2018)

Stronger. Wiser. Deadlier.

Brilliant billionaire Carl Durant has been experimenting on making bull shark more intelligent in his high-tech ocean research facility but is unsure as to why the main test shark is behaving so erratically. He drafts in a team of scientists to help him finish his experiments but shortly after they arrive, the super-intelligent sharks create an emergency which begins to destabilise the facility and it starts to flood. The survivors must then try to escape from the flooding facility whilst dealing with the sharks who have found a way to get inside.

 

It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the original Deep Blue Sea is a guilty pleasure. It’s got obvious faults but director Renny Harlin doesn’t dwell on them, opting to sail ahead at full steam and deliver thrills and spills at a regular pace and with a fair amount of suspense. LL Cool J tossing a lighter at a gas-filled room to blow up a shark. Samuel L. Jackson’s infamous out-of-the-blue death scene. Some impressive animatronic sharks. There’s a lot to love and it seems that people agreed, becoming a moderate success in the cinema. Now, nineteen years later (Why 2018? Oh yeah – the cinematic release of The Meg might have something to do with someone wanting to cash in on another killer shark bonanza) along comes a sequel that no one asked for and featuring none of the people behind the camera or any of survivors from in front of it.

Quite simply summed up, Deep Blue Sea 2 is a tragic, lower budgeted remake of the original, despite the ‘2’ in the title. It virtually follows the same story: a group of scientists on board a multi-million-dollar oceanic facility have been experimenting on sharks and making them super-intelligent (this time bulls instead of makos) when something goes wrong and the facility begins to flood. There’s a whole swathe of identikit characters, just this time portrayed by lesser-known actors. And a lot of the same set pieces are used, with lesser results. It just begs the question of why – surely the writers could have come up with something a little bit different?

In ripping off so much of the original, Deep Blue Sea 2 completely does away with any potential suspense it may have during certain scenes which have been directly copied. The audience is aware of where the sequence is heading, and this kills off any surprise. Only on occasion, does the script veer off and throw a curve ball to the audience – false set-ups including the shark in the plunge pool, one character attempting to make a swim to safety and an admittedly-decent jolt in the finale are too few and far between. This is where the script works best, taking the elements of the original that the audience would be familiar with and trying to keep them guessing. Let’s face it, most of the audience watching this will have seen the original so it was important to keep the surprises coming.

Surprises coming is the least of your worries with Deep Blue Sea 2 as it commits one of the biggest crimes known to a film – it’s boring. The pace is slow, there’s too much exposition at the beginning with little end product, and even when the facility begins to flood, there’s still too much eulogising and arguing amongst the characters who clearly seem less concerned with the fact that they’re trapped in a sinking structure and more about the villain’s intentions. Get out, then argue! The sharks kind of take a back seat for a large chunk of the film, particularly the first half, and whilst I can understand this from a budget point-of-view, it makes for dull viewing. Things do pick up somewhat in the second half but as I’ve already stated, too few surprises and too much familiarity stop this from ever gathering any steam whatsoever.

There is something a plot spoiler coming up so if you don’t what to know what it is, read on from the next paragraph. One of my major gripes here is with the serious lack of shark action. Deep Blue Sea 2 ends up coming off more like Piranha from the second act as it’s revealed that the big momma shark, Bella, has given birth to a whole brood of baby sharks who like to attack in a pack fashion akin to a shoal of piranha fish. So, whilst you’d be expecting a lot of the film to feature the big grown-up sharks, it’s the babies who are front and centre. This is highly convenient as they’re small enough to swim along in the flooded corridors without being seen, saving the need for expensive special effects shots of a bigger shark swimming along with some cheap bubbling water effects.

The Thomas Jane ‘shark wrangler ´role from the original is this time played by Rob Mayes, in a clear case of downsizing if ever I saw it. Michael Beach, as the billionaire Durant, is probably the only one who makes any sort of impression from the cast but that’s purely down to the ‘How long are we going to have put up with this guy spewing nonsense about some Terminator-style doomsday scenario before he gets eaten?’ There’s even room for the lead actress to get down to her underwear much like Saffron Burrows did in the original. Not content with the camera lingering over her whilst she undresses (the scene is literally her undressing, no one else there, no dialogue, etc), actress Danielle Savre then spends the rest of the film in a cleavage-revealing wet suit. She’s easy on the eyes but in an age of the #MeToo movement, to see such blatant exploitation is a little uncomfortable. And those wasted few minutes of ogling could quite easily have been devoted to more shark action.

Speaking of which, you’ll notice I haven’t really talked about the sharks much. That’s because there’s not a lot to really talk about. They don’t as much as you’d expect or hope, the little ones are hardly seen at all and the big ones look terrible whenever they have to do something. The gore is CGI and also looks terrible. For a film with such a ‘pedigree’ legacy as this, you’d expect special effects which are above par with the usual Sy Fy/Asylum dross.

 

Deep Blue Sea 2 is marginally better than the usual ridiculous killer shark stuff floating around over the past couple of years (Zombie Shark, Toxic Shark, Ghost Shark…) but it’s a sad waste of a licence which could have continued to make some serious money had Warner been more committed to a sequel. If you’re going to waste ninety-minutes, just re-watch the original!

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Tremors 5: Bloodlines (2015)

Tremors 5: Bloodlines (2015)

The giant, man-eating graboids are back and even deadlier.

The giant, man-eating Graboids are back and even deadlier than before, terrorizing the inhabitants of a South African wildlife reserve as they attack from below-and above. Only one man is capable of handling this threat: veteran Graboid hunter Burt Gummer. He has been struggling to make ends meet with his own online survivalist show but things go from bad to worse when his cameraman quits, leaving Burt really out on a limb. The arrival of Travis Welker, a brash upstart who performs stunts on his dirt bike, coincides with the arrival of a delegation from South Africa, who have come to Perfection to ask for Gummer’s help in dealing with the Graboids. After Travis secures some funding, the two men head off to South Africa. Having his weapons seized in customs, Gummer has to rely on his wits and new ways of killing the Graboid threat.

 

If there’s one thing to be said about Tremors 5: Bloodlines is that it’s infinitely better than the last two films and nearly as good as the underrated Tremors 2: Aftershocks. Eleven years have passed since the giant worm-like monsters did any damage on the screen and now they’re back trying to breath some new life into a franchise many had thought had finally been buried underground. Ditching Brent Maddock and S.S. Wilson, the writers of the original who had been involved with every incarnation of the franchise to date seemed like a bad move. Whilst the sequels clearly suffered from diminishing returns, at least Maddock and Wilson kept a sense of humour going and wanted to preserve their legacy by reinventing the Graboids in every film (well, as best they can in making sequel-after-sequel). The worry with new owners of a franchise is that they turn it into a cash-cow and sell any trashy new film on brand name alone (Hellraiser: Revelations springs to mind).

Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to be the case here. The key thing that Tremors 5: Bloodlines seems to inject back into the series is energy. Only the original was truly ‘scary’ in that it had some great moments of tension and a couple of boo scares amidst the comedy and silliness. But these only worked because of the good-natured fun and energy that the film showcased. The first sequel did a good job of replicating this energy but the third and fourth films were almost devoid of it, going through the Graboid motions with repetitive boredom. There is a clear link here with my next point.

Somewhere during Tremors 2: Aftershocks, it became obvious that Michael Gross’ gun-nut character was going to be the major player in the franchise and after Fred Ward bailed out, Gross become the series’ focal point. Well, he was a lot cheaper than Bacon and Ward and clearly needed the money more. Whilst Gross’ character was an awesome supporting player in the original, was he worthy enough of becoming a bigger character in the sequels? His lack of a good ‘wingman’ to bounce off became obvious in the previous films and Gross’ character became sillier and crazier to counteract the lack of a solid counterpart. Jamie Kennedy is the person who is going to surprise audiences in this, pulling out all the stops as the new sidekick. Rather than overplaying the comedy aspects (like the new comedy sidekicks in the previous films), Kennedy relies on the smart script to deliver some knock-out comedy punches. He can outstay his welcome at times but the pairing of him and Gross is easily the best one since Bacon and Ward in the original. The two men inject as much energy as they can into the film and it’s all the better for it.

Whilst the acting has never been the weakest point of the series, mainly thanks to Gross, it’s the monsters and special effects which have suffered greatly in the days of reduced straight-to-video budgets and the sub-standard CGI and relative lack of models and miniatures in the last few films have given the Graboids a real feeling of being second-string monsters nowadays. Thankfully Tremors 5: Bloodlines bucks the trend significantly, bringing the Graboids back to blistering form. Granted the CGI isn’t perfect and still a long way from the realistic animatronics of the original, but it’s not in your face and overblown, lending itself to a number of decent set pieces involving slow-motion flying Graboids. Tremors 5: Bloodlines still doesn’t have a knock-out action sequence though and a lot of the on-screen carnage is fairly unremarkable and generic. Despite moving the location to Africa, this novelty factor adds little to the monster dynamic which has remained relatively consistent over the past twenty-five years. It’s been about Burt versus the monsters and nothing has changed in that respect, only the ways in which he dispatches them.

 

Tremors 5: Bloodlines is a solid entry into the long-running monster series which really kicks some life back into the franchise and gives viewers the clearest indication that it isn’t finished yet. When you think of it another way, this is the fourth sequel in a franchise which has been rooted in straight-to-video hell for the best part of twenty years – what are you seriously expecting from it? It’s fun whilst it’s lasts and is a step up from the past few sequels.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Flying Monkeys (2013)

Flying Monkeys (2013)

Something bat-winged and bloodthirsty has arrived in Kansas…

Teenager Joan is constantly being let down by her workaholic father so, to make things up to her, he buys her a cute pet monkey which has been illegally smuggled into the country from China. However, it turns out that the monkey is one of only two remaining Xsigo monkeys, mythical monsters which were used by the emperor to kill everyone.  Upon nightfall, the monkey transforms into a horrific winged creature, killing everything in its path. Furthermore, it can’t be killed by conventional weapons and killing the monkey any other way causes it to multiply. It isn’t long before there are dozens of the monkeys terrorising the town in which Joan lives.

 

As soon as I saw the title for this one, I immediately thought of The Wizard of Oz. Surely that’s where Sy Fy got the idea for this ridiculous creature feature? Couple that with the underlying plot for Gremlins and you have Sy Fy’s most ‘original’ monster idea for some time – well it beats a mutated killer shark or giant crocodile flick! Just the thought of how Sy Fy would try and turn monkeys into insatiable killing machines with a thirst for blood was enough to pique my interest. Whilst they went with a fairly simple approach, rather than some genetically-engineered Frankenstein creations, it would at least be something different. And this is the key to Flying Monkeys – for all of the usual Sy Fy tropes present, it at least feels different.

The narrative runs like clockwork, with the monsters being introduced early on in a seemingly-unrelated scene which will be bridged into later, before we meet our main characters. The film introduces a typical dysfunctional father-daughter relationship at the beginning – what is the betting that a life-threatening confrontation with flying monkeys will repair this damaged dynamic by the film’s resolution? Yawn. It isn’t long before the pair get possession of the monkey and not long after that when the first transformation occurs. Flying Monkeys sets up as much character development as is needed before unleashing the monsters.

Once you get over the fact that you’re going to see lots of badly animated flying monkeys, then the film isn’t so bad – the fact the monkeys only turn into these killing machines at night at least allows a lot of the poor CGI to be masked by the dark. The flying monkeys are quite aggressive and do a lot of damage, much of which is not shown, only the bloody aftermath. There’s also a flying monkey Predator-like vision shot which is used to show when the monkeys are zooming in on a target. Yeah, it’s every bit as daft as it sounds. The real monkey used for the daytime scenes is pretty adorable, though I still wouldn’t like to have one as a pet. The nice Gremlins-like twist about them multiplying if attacked by conventional weapons poses a nice problem to the trigger-happy townspeople and gives the monsters a dangerous pack-like mentality. They get reasonably well-fed throughout and are given enough to do to make them appear a serious threat.

To make the mythology of the monkeys seem legit, the film parachutes in two Chinese demon hunters who have weapons to kill the monsters and have been hunting them down for years. They serve little purpose other than to pad out the running time with some footage of them hunting the monkeys in China before arriving in the States to assist. But this is an American-made TV-movie so the teenage lead must be the one to sort out the problem, not the experienced experts, and their purpose is null and void (well the body count needs victims).

Maika Monroe and Vincent Ventresca star as the daughter and father and both are ok in their roles – let’s face it, you could cast the best actors in Hollywood in something like this, yet the weak, rehashed scripts won’t give them anything to work with. Ventresca has starred in a couple of previous Sy Fy outings (Larva and Mammoth) which were both ‘different’ to the norm so at least he appears to choose his crazy monster outings a little more carefully than some of the other Sy Fy regulars.

 

Flying Monkeys isn’t going to blow anyone away, and quite frankly it’s so generic that it’s hard to remember much about it shortly afterwards, but the fact that Sy Sy actually tried something a little different makes it stand out a mile away. Maybe because my expectations of Sy Fy have fallen that low that a film like Flying Monkeys can appear greater than it clearer is, is not a good sign.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆