Tag 2010s

Crazies, The (2010)

The Crazies (2010)

Welcome to Ogden Marsh, the friendliest place on earth

Ogden Marsh is a small town in Iowa which is suddenly plagued by a series of spontaneously brutal acts of violence committed by its residents. A mysterious toxin has contaminated their water supply and with the infection spreading, the military is drafted in to quarantine the town. A band of survivors must escape through the area of the epidemic, dodging both the crazy infected residents and the trigger-happy military.

 

The original The Crazies was one of George A. Romero’s first post-Night of the Living Dead films and it shows with the similarities between the two – raw films both in the sense of the style in which they were made but with the social commentary that Romero was exploring with them. Despite the Romero connection, the original The Crazies is little known and rarely mentioned outside of the genre, so this makes it perfect material for a 21st century update.

However, this remake bears more similarity to Zack Synder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead than it does the original The Crazies – a more polished and refined effort which stays true to the original but isn’t afraid to throw a curveballs and sucker punches along the way. Whilst lacking in the hard-hitting social commentary of the original, The Crazies ramps up the shocks, the violence and the sheer scale of Romero’s 1973 film. It’s not fresh material in any stretch of the imagination – one whiff of the nightmarish quarantine scenario will have you thinking about everything from 28 Days Later to TV series Fear the Walking Dead – but it’s delivered in a way that makes it appear to be the first time you’re ever seen it on the screen.

Part of this is down to the transformation of the infected citizens from being merely crazy people using weapons to what appear to be slightly more intelligent zombies. With this transformation comes along a whole host of familiar zombie tropes – the quick collapse of law and order when the problem starts, main characters slowly turning into zombies and hiding it from others, groups of armed vigilantes hunting down the infected rather than the military, etc. As I’ve said, The Crazies is not exactly original but the way in which these common tropes are delivered is successful. With the infected being able to think rationally and use weapons, it adds a new element of danger to the film.

The Crazies is effective in staging some tense set pieces thanks to the energetic screenplay by Scott Kosar and Ray Wright which keeps the narrative straightforward and moves with pace from one predicament to the next with ease. In one, a woman strapped to a gurney is forced to watch as one of the infected slowly works his way through the rest of the helpless ward with a pitchfork. Another one involves the same woman being tied up in a chair, with a loaded gun pointed at her head whilst her husband is getting strangled to death right in front of her. There’s also a great scene involving a car wash which keeps the excitement flowing and the odds stacked. Rarely does the film become bogged down with exposition, though a couple of scenes are thrown in purely to explain everything that is going on and despite the constant situations the survivors seem to stumble from, it never gets repetitive.

The Crazies is not afraid to pull punches either, as the indiscriminate shooting and immediate torching of potentially infected victims shows. The violence is punctuating and visceral when it happens, yet the film isn’t as gory as you’d expect it to be. The nature of the aggression on screen is enough to disturb the viewer and so the need for graphic blood and guts isn’t there. But don’t expect to get through unscathed – there are plenty of sudden surprises and some jumpy moments which come out of nowhere. As always with the zombie/post-apocalyptic genre, it’s the earlier scenes of the outbreak slowly taking over and the citizens realising what they’re up against that are the scariest, with the later scenes providing the bulk of the action as things get out of control.

I’ve already mentioned the script and how this keeps things pacey and exciting but also worth mentioning is the characters it develops. They’re likeable and realistic enough to root for and get behind. Timothy Olyphant is more used to playing more unhinged characters but he’s great as the straight-up hero in this one as the local sheriff forced to take matters into his own hands to protect those he loves. Radha Mitchell does what she can as his pregnant wife, but the role is clearly designed to put her in peril due to the pregnancy. It’s Jon Anderson as the increasingly-paranoid deputy who Olyphant is most able to fire off and the two share a decent chemistry which nicely conveys the relationship the two colleagues have apparently built, adding some emotional impact later in the film when tensions between characters begin to appear. Not having too many main characters to focus on gives the ones you get plenty of room to breathe, making the events that happen all the more believable.

 

The Crazies is a lot darker and more depressing than the 70s original, improving upon pretty much every aspect of Romero’s vision to deliver a quality remake which is definitely worth watching. There is too much of a reliance on jump scares and the film does attach itself to the zombie sub-genre a little too much for comfort, but these are nit-picks – The Crazies is a slick, effective shock machine.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort (2014)

Wrong Turn 6: Last Resoirt (2014)

The family needs new blood

A sudden inheritance brings Danny and a group of his friends to Hobb Springs, a forgotten hotel and spa resort in the middle of nowhere. Here, Danny hopes to find more about the long-lost family he has never known. But what he doesn’t know is that an off-shoot of his family are deformed cannibals and the lure of fresh meat is too hard for them to resist when Danny and his friends set off to explore the hotel and surroundings.

 

Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort is another sequel/prequel to the surprisingly long-running Wrong Turn horror franchise. When I say surprisingly, I mean who would have thought that some mildly entertaining The Hills Have Eyes-style flick back in 2003 would become one of the longest surviving horror series of recent years? I can only really think of Saw with nine films and Lake Placid with six films that come anywhere close (and by this, I mean franchises that had their original film released after 2000 – I know stuff like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is still on the go with reboots, remakes, etc.). But what we have now with the Wrong Turn series is exactly the same thing that happened with the Hellraiser series – it has become a series of totally unrelated or tenuously-linked films featuring deformed cannibal families, each of which are becoming increasingly poor and desperate for fresh ideas.

Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort is not the worst in the series, but it tries desperately to claim that mantle. Five minutes of this sequel is all you need to know about what you’re getting yourself in for here – boobs and blood. A further five minutes or so and there’s hints of incest, which is a big theme in the film (and it becomes more than a hint later on). Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort is literally a film which has been stripped down to the genre bone and expects its audience to content themselves on the offerings we’re given. I didn’t even try to comprehend the whole inbred family tree plot that the film paints a picture of – some family look and act normal, others end up like the three deformed killers. Nor do I buy the fact that someone brought up in the ‘civilised’ world could, within the space of a few days, turn against his good friends and want to join up with the cannibal family he never knew he had. It is an interesting development but one which was weakly built-up and came out of nowhere.

There’s not much else to the story barring that – Danny’s friends get little development outside of usual stereotyping and are easy pickings for the cannibals. Given we don’t care in the slightest about any of them, they’re literally human fodder and so you’re just waiting to see how quickly and brutally they get taken out. There isn’t a much reliance on the stupid CGI gore as some of the earlier films relied on. The kills are generally done with old school effects – a nasty incident involving a barbed wire trap and subsequent beheading look good. The three deformed cannibals are little more than noisy henchmen here, popping up every now and then when they’re needed to further the plot with a kill. The make-up looks like little more than glued-on Halloween masks nowadays and has fallen a long way since the grotesque mountain men from the original film. Instead, the film focuses on the ‘normal’ brother and sister pair who run the hotel and keep the deformed brothers out of the way. In doing this, the film loses plenty of its novelty value as, just like in the last film with Clive Bradley’s Maynard character, the soliloquising human villains are less appealing than a bunch of grunting inbred mountain men who can’t be reasoned with. The simplicity of their brutality was something to behold – now there’s all sorts of plot threads and back story thrown in to the mix.

Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort is the raunchiest of all of the films so far and its obvious that director Valeri Milev and writer Frank Woodward are resorting to copious amounts of sex and nudity to keep the predominantly-male audience interested in the film. Every female in the cast removes her clothes at some point (not counting the old lady who dies!) and are involved in a sex scene of some kind, sometimes more than once. Whilst they’re all attractive ladies, its blatant sexualisation and sits uncomfortably with the incest narrative that the film peddles from the beginning. Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort does peel itself back to the basics of the genre a little too much at times and the frequent nudity becomes a distraction. I mean, who in their right mind decides to have sex in a grotty, delipidated and abandoned part of a hotel? There are hundreds of comfy rooms available, including the one where they’re staying!

 

With a new director comes new ideas and a new direction for the series (let’s face it, they haven’t finished milking the cow yet) and whether you like the route it’s taking or not, at least it’s an improvement over a few of the previous films. Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort will appeal to die-hards only.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Abominable Snowman (2013)

Deadly Descent (2013)

Attempting to track down a long-lost friend who went missing whilst climbing, a group of skiers head off into the snowy wilderness. However they find the cause of his disappearance to be a group of giant abominable snowmen and must find a way to escape the mountain alive.

 

There aren’t enough films about the legend of the Yeti. Hammer touched on it early in their heyday with the excellent The Abominable Snowman and the 70s saw TV movie Snowbeast make little impression. Unlike their hairy cousins Bigfoot/Sasquatch who have starred in countless horror films over the years, the Yeti were rarely considered to be horror-film worthy. That is until recently and the birth of the Sy Fy Original. Within the space of a couple of years, the channel has produced a number of Yeti-themed horror films including Yeti, Snow Beast, Rage of the Yeti and now Abominable Snowman. It has been renamed Deadly Descent in some countries. Some countries have allowed it to retain the original title. And some countries have just thought ‘screw this’ and given it the massive title Deadly Descent: The Abominable Snowman. Some countries have made the title plural. Bottom line is: it’s the same film and it still majorly sucks.

For those familiar with Sy Fy, watching Abominable Snowman will be like putting on an old pair of slippers. Granted a pair of slippers that have been worn and worn and worn and have become frayed, stained and generally useless. But old slippers none the less. The films all follow the same formula and it’s now tiresome beyond belief after about the hundredth time of asking. Abominable Snowman could have featured any killer animal or mythical monster and it would have been precisely the same film. The key to these films becomes the monster and the monster alone. Not having a shark or snake or crocodile in the piece, lovers of this type of rubbish will be tuning in solely for the novelty factor of seeing something different. Characters and plots become irrelevant and secondary to the monster action. Abominable Snowman doesn’t get this memo and spends a large chunk of time drawing out its back story before we get any giant furball fury. Do you like skiing sequences? Great, you’ll love the padding that this film throws in.

Actually, the padding makes little different in the long run. As per usual, the biggest disappointment with a Sy Fy film is when it comes to the monster. These are the reasons people like me watch these films and yet again we are short-changed. The CGI for the Yeti is poor and there are only about four animations which are repeated over and over again in the limited number of scenes in which they’re present. They look like overgrown Critters, gigantic balls of fur which roll around the place like the incoherent blur of black graphics that they are. Not sure which bright spark decided to give them black fur in the middle of snowy mountains. Evolution has told us that animals adapt to their surroundings so surely these legendary creatures would have blended in with the snow or else how have they been hidden away for so long? They’re also stunt Yetis and have the ability to do things like jumping tall distances and clinging on to the legs of helicopters like they’re starring in an 80s action movie. Can I emphasise again just how bad the CGI is in this? Straight from the PS One onto your TV screens in 2013. If you’re going to half-attempt to do a job, don’t do it at all and just design a monster suit for someone to prowl around in on set.

It’s not just the monsters which are poorly rendered on the computer but there’s terrible weather effects and a CGI helicopter which has to be seen to be believed. In trying to go all out and entertain, the film becomes too outlandish. It doesn’t help when the characters are particularly unlikeable and one-note. If most of them don’t irritate you, then you must have enormous patience. Despite wishing death upon the majority of the characters, they don’t exactly get killed off in style or deserving of their annoying personalities. The deaths are bland and something of a non-entity. If you’ve got giant ape-like creatures with sharp claws and teeth, let’s see the damage that they can do! The characters go all Home Alone on the yeti at a late point in the film, setting up a number of traps around the chalet to stop them. I’m not sure what it worse: the thought that these people would actually think the yeti would be as stupid as the Wet Bandits and fall for the tracks or the notion that little Kevin McAllister could wipe out the world’s native population with a bag of Micro Machines, some rope and a can of paint.

 

By far and away the worst of the recent yeti films, Abominable Snowman is just abominable. It has to rank down there with the worst of Sy Fy’s creature feature films. That is saying something!

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Colony, The (2013)

The Colony (2013)

When the earth froze, the rules of survival changed forever.

By the year 2045, humanity has been forced to live in huge underground bunkers, known as Colonies, due to the onset of a new harsh Ice Age which wiped out the bulk of the world’s population. The survivors face troubles controlling disease and food supplies – anyone with so much as a cough is placed into quarantine after a bout of flu could decimate a colony. After receiving a distress call from Colony 5, a group from Colony 7 make the perilous trek to the colony to establish what happened. There, they discover that the colony received a message from another group of people who claim to have fixed a weather machine and have started thawing the snow. The team return to Colony 5, without realising that a group of hungry cannibals have followed their tracks and now lay siege to the bunker.

 

In many respects, The Colony reminded me a lot of 30 Days of Night – both films featuring decent build-ups in desolate, snowy landscapes and then both falling apart reasonably quickly once the main threat has been established. Fortunately for 30 Days of Night, the film was at least gory and not afraid to splash the blood. The Colony starts out with great promise but fizzles out with a juddering tonal shift when they cross the cannibals. There was a vision here for something a bit grander in scale, but the low budget keeps the impressive ideas in the development phase, rendering the film rather generic and tame.

The post-apocalyptic future is well-presented here within the first fifteen minutes, with the eternal snowy landscapes invoking thoughts of The Thing and its harsh Antarctic isolation, and the underground bunkers and ramshackle way of life being very similar to something you’d find in The Walking Dead. The CGI used for the outdoor scenes is pretty impressive, albeit aided by the fact that the majority of the green screen is filled up with snowstorms. Scenes of the team crossing a frozen bridge provide the effects department with some excellent opportunities to showcase the reality of the situation the characters find themselves in. They have a very ‘Game of Thrones north-of-the-Wall’ type of atmosphere of constant biting cold and overriding evil dread just around the corner. It also helps that the production team were allowed access to a decommissioned NORAD facility in Canada, giving the colonies themselves a far greater sense of realism than the budget would otherwise have allowed. We get a glimpse into the lives that the survivors of this new ice age have had to adapt to, both is only a glimpse and we never become fully immersed into this futuristic setting before the film shifts gears.

The limited creative juices are quick to run out when the film moves into more traditional sci-fi horror territory. The team reach Colony 5, discover just what happened and then make a hasty retreat before things get too hairy. There’s some effective atmosphere as the team search around the now-abandoned colony but once the gang of cannibals make their presence felt, the film doesn’t know what direction to go in. There must be something about gangs of these mutants/cannibals/vampires and their leaders who growl, snarl and scream loudly every time the camera goes on them in films like this – Ghosts of Mars and 30 Days of Night being two of the biggest offenders. The cannibals are simply faceless villains, able-bodied minions designed to be thrown into a number of generic action sequences where the heroes shoot, scrap and struggle to survive. If you’ve seen them or any other ‘under siege’ style horror flick, then you’ll be in familiar territory in the second half of the film, where a bunch of the thinly-developed survivors are killed off, as well as a few extras who were loitering in the background the majority of the time. The problem here is that it’s not gory or violent enough for hardened horror veterans who no doubt will be making up the majority of the paying audience. There’s a big build-up but as soon as the cannibals start to attack Colony 7, it’s all very anti-climactic. The running time of ninety-five minutes doesn’t drag but considering how much time is spent building up the cannibal threat and the trip to and from Colony 5, you’d expect there to be more punch when it matters. The ending smacks of being rushed at the last minute – “You’ve got a minute of screen time left to round up the narrative” springs to mind.

Heavyweights Laurence Fishburne and Bill Paxton star as the feuding leaders of Colony 7 but both are woefully underused. Paxton fares the better out of the two and the film is more powerful during the opening third when they share plenty of screen time, stares and solemn speeches about how best to survive. In fact, with the murkiness of the corridors, the frenzied action scenes and Paxton looking increasingly worried, Aliens sprung to mind – The Colony plays out too seriously for self-awareness, but I’d have loved some throwaway line referencing one of Pvt. Hudson’s classic lines. Kevin Zegers has to carry the film for the most part and does alright, though his bland vanilla hero could have been played by any young male actor.

 

I’m not sure whether this was geared towards a sequel, with the ending being a little open-ended but The Colony would have made for a better mini-series than a full-blown feature. There are enough decent ideas floating around the production values belay the limited budget, its just that it falters badly right when it needs to be kicking into gear. A fair timewaster at best but don’t expect to be blown away by anything on offer.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Planet of the Sharks (2016)

Planet of the Sharks (2016)

When the world sinks underwater, one predator rises to the top.

In the near future, glacial melting has covered ninety-eight percent of Earth’s landmass in water and the human survivors are forced to live in floating shanty towns on the surface. Sharks have flourished, and now dominate the planet, operating as one massive school led by a mutated alpha shark.

 

I knew this one would be trouble when I read the synopsis and boy, was I right. Even worse, this was another of the unholy unions between The Asylum and Sy Fy, the two biggest sinners when it comes to the sheer number of ridiculous killer shark flicks that have been rolled out over the past ten years. It’s probably their most high-concept film to date but the underlying problems of their previous films are still evident here – the shark stuff is just woeful. They’re all trying to be as stupid and silly as they can to try and capture the lightning-in-a-bottle frenzy that Sharknado created – and they even did that to death. I’m still waiting for the day that The Asylum or Sy Fy make the inevitable ‘Sharks with Frickin’ Laser Beams Attached to their Heads’ schlock fest.

Planet of the Sharks is basically Waterworld with sharks. No Kevin Costner or Dennis Hopper. And about 0.001% of the budget (remember Waterworld was the most expensive film ever made at the time). It plays heavily on this fact and offers little else in the way of a plot. There’s a distinct lack of a story and I’m sat watching and trying to piece together the little bones the characters throw the way of the audience every once and a while. I’m guessing the script thought the audience would just sit and assume this is the end of the world as humans are all living on floating cities and wearing bedraggled clothes, and so avoid the necessary plot exposition usually delivered by a character. There’s some half-baked story about trying to refreeze the polar caps to reverse what has happened but this is really second nature to the novelty factor of sharks looking like becoming the dominant species on the planet – though Planet of the Apes (with sharks) this definitely is not!

Despite doing it’s best to try and immerse the audience in its post-apocalyptic future, during one scene, it appeared that two holidaymakers wearing Bermuda shorts were standing by idly in the background watching the costumed-up actors spear fish imaginary sharks (which would have been added in post-production). Talk about completely taking you out of the film. There’s little attempt to sell this post-apocalyptic world and establish any sort of rules or logic that we can recognise. For all we care, we’re watching some marooned tourists on a makeshift island who are trying to survive, rather than the remnants of the human race slowly dying off.

Shock of horrors, none of the sharks actually look or feel real in any scene they’re in. There’s no sense of realism or of actual physical presence, just bland computer sprites floating across the screen. I know there’s only so much you can do with killer sharks but considering the number of shark films over the past twenty years, there’s literally nothing new you can do with them. Even the recent big budget The Meg had the same problems with how they can feature this giant shark without regurgitating the same old tropes. And because there’s only so much you can realistically do with killer sharks, filmmakers are now getting them doing highly unrealistic stuff to keep the material fresh. Remember the shark jumping into the air and snatching a plane in Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus? Well there’s a lesser version here, with one of the sharks jumping up to attack a microlite.

There’s stuff about an alpha shark controlling the rest but it’s rather vague and how the sharks came to be like this is never fully developed – again it’s expected that the audience will just sit and buy it without questioning it. Planet of the Sharks also features the obligatory shot of a CGI shark cleanly biting the head off someone with hardly a flinch by the victim – this now-common death scene annoys me more than anything in the world. Sharks can’t just slice off body parts like they’re a Samurai sword, they have serrated teeth which saw bits of flesh off as the shark violently shakes its prey in its mouth. But hey, people think this looks cooler, so filmmakers are just throwing this into every killer shark film out there (and it’s even crept into killer snake and crocodile films too).

 

I’ve spent way too much time writing this review than the film deserved. The worst film I’ve seen this year by a long way, Planet of the Sharks is truly atrocious filmmaking. Sharksploitation has reached the ultimate low. I fear there is no return from this.

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Shallows, The (2016)

The Shallows (2016)

Not just another day at the beach.

Whilst surfing at a remote beach, Nancy is attacked by a great white shark. Unable to make the 200 yards back to shore, she finds herself trapped upon an outcrop of rocks in the middle of the bay. Whilst she is safe for now, the incoming tide will soon render her defenceless against the mercy of the shark.

 

It’s about time there was a more sensible approach to a killer shark film than Sy Fy and The Asylum have been using over the last few years with their never-ending supply of madcap mutated sharks with five heads, spewing toxic waste or simply being ghosts. I had been wishing for a return to normality and a return to the days when a killer shark film was actually scary and not stupidly juvenile. Thankfully, that day has come with The Shallows, a film which takes its cue from more realistic survivalist films like Open Water and 127 Hours and is far the better for it.

There’s not a whole lot of story involved in The Shallows, which keeps things nice and simple, and the focus on the situation at hand. However, it does take a while to get going as Nancy’s character is fleshed out a little. This is essential as the audience is going to spend the entire duration alongside her and so the better she’s developed, the more we’ll come to root for her. Blake Lively can act and manages to hold the film together on her own. She’s literally the only real character on show and hardly interacts with anyone else. The way she acts with her body, her facial expressions and some of her sound as she struggles through her ordeal speaks louder than any dialogue does. The pain, the stress, the exhaustion and the emotional torment that her character must endure is conveyed through non-verbal communication and it’s an impressive display. It doesn’t hurt that she’s incredibly attractive and looks amazing in a bikini, something which the camera does play on a fair bit.

Like a lot of these survival films where one character is rooted to a specific location, The Shallows needs to find new ways to keep the character in peril. After all, if she just sat and waited on the rocks for as long as possible, there wouldn’t really be much of a narrative to follow, would there? Right up until the finale, the script does a decent job of providing these new challenges, be it Nancy stitching up a wound on her leg, trying to reach a buoy or finding a way to climb aboard a dead whale carcass. Every new scenario poses new problems, and with the shark ever present there is constant sense of danger. Given that she’s the only real character, there’s a fair chance that she survives and so each of these different challenges, whilst difficult for her, amount to little more than extra pain and suffering rather than instant death. It does kind of take you out of the film from time to time, particularly towards the finale.

Her co-star, if you can call it that, is the killer shark. There’s no question that any killer shark in any film released post-1975 is immediately compared to the classic shark from Jaws. Most have failed to improve upon Bruce’s shock value the first time you fully see the shark, but some have tried. The shark here itself is a mixed bag of CGI. The best scenes of it are the brief but violent attacks it mounts when it breaches the surface – here, the shark looks scary. Particularly effective is the jaw and gum motion that great white sharks have when they bite, which is something pretty much all films featuring killer sharks have failed to replicate. There are some truly awesome shots of the shark which don’t involve a full body shot – the eerie shot of its silhouette gliding through the crest of a wave towards Nancy is not only chillingly realistic but reminiscent of some real-life photographs taken on an Australian beach a few years back involving a surfer and a shark hiding in the wave. Google them and you’ll see what I mean. The scenes of the shark swimming underwater, particularly during the finale, are less impressive. This is where CGI still needs to improve and become more realistic. I’d argue that the shark here is one of the most impressive put to film, third behind Bruce himself and the animatronic mako shark from Deep Blue Sea (that thing is magnificent). The fact you don’t see as much of it as you’d expect is a bonus.

If there is a problem with The Shallows, it’s in the final. The writers do such a good job in keeping things fresh that they seem to have written themselves into a box – how do you keep the same tone and low-key approach amidst a finale which, by the letter of the law in today’s movies, must be bigger and louder than everything else that has preceded it? The script resorts to cheap Hollywood tactics to increase the excitement and add in more high-octane action sequences which don’t exactly fit in well with the rest of the film and, to be honest, ruin the film.

 

The Shallows goes back to basics with it’s material and works well for the majority of it’s running time, using well-crafted set pieces and a sharp script to keep the main character in peril and the audience on the edge of their seat, effectively making the viewer scared of venturing back into water too deep. That’s a compliment too few films since 1975 have managed to attain.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Jurassic World (2015)

Jurassic World (2015)

The park is open

Despite the problems with the original Jurassic Park, the late John Hammond’s dream of an interactive dinosaur theme park has finally been brought to life. Running for over ten years, Jurassic World had been drawing in crowds from around the world with its thrilling exhibits but attendances have been slipping as the dinosaurs no longer provide the same excitement. Desperate to boost flagging numbers, the genetics team decide to create their own dinosaur using a mixture of DNA from other popular dinosaurs. The result, the Indominus Rex, is a bigger and badder alpha predator which looks every bit the crowd-puller for when it would eventually go on display. But when the dinosaur escapes from its pen, it heads straight towards the tourist areas, devouring everything in its path.

 

The last Jurassic Park film from the original run, Jurassic Park III, came out in 2001, yet the franchise never really died a death. Rumours were abound for years about a muted fourth sequel and every other month it seemed that a new director, cast or script was floating around. Finally fourteen years later, Jurassic World emerges from its embryonic state to unleash more dinosaur carnage upon the world. Would cinema audiences still have the same affection for big-budget dinosaur films when, in the years since 1993’s Jurassic Park, there have been hundreds of CGI monsters ranging from Godzilla to King Kong?

The original was a ground-breaking motion picture, one of the first films I can remember going to see in the cinema, and one that certainly changed the way studios looked at special effects. Spielberg’s classic still has the raw ability to mesmerise and wow audiences, particularly that awe-inspiring first T-Rex attack which is a masterfully-staged scene. The two sequels provided ample thrills and I don’t mind either of them to be honest – they both get far more bad rep than they deserve. However, if there is an overriding problem with the Jurassic Park films is that the central idea – that of dinosaurs escaping captivity – is rather limited in scope. People have to get onto the island and become trapped. The dinosaurs have to escape. That’s about it. Jurassic World sadly offers little alternative to that premise, rehashing the same story again. You’d think that these dino-experts would learn from their past mistakes!

Jurassic World reboots and remakes the original in equal measure. You’ll lose count of the number of nods to the original and some of the scenes are just flat-out lifted from it. At the same time, the film tries to establish its own presence in an attempt to build a platform for future sequels. The most interesting concept here is seeing how the grand vision of ‘Jurassic Park’ has finally been brought to life after the testing phase in the original. Watching the park burst with vitality as hordes of energetic kids rush from one attraction to the next, seeing Sea World-like exhibitions entertaining scores of tourists, going ‘aww’ at the petting zoos (only instead of goats and lambs they are baby dinosaurs) and laughing at merchandise stands going overkill with the novelty tat really hammers home the original intentions of John Hammond and the gang of suits sponsoring his plans in the first one. With CGI coming on in leaps and bounds since 1993, the actual park can be brought to life in this fashion and it’s to the film’s credit that you really can believe this is a fully-functional theme park. There are loads of nice touches, right down to the teenage slacker who works on one of the rides who really couldn’t care less about his job. These sequences really build upon and expand the original’s ideas, something the previous two sequels should have done.

Quickly moving on from this sickly Disney World-esque utopian theme park, Jurassic World gets down to the usual business of having the dinosaurs escape. Let’s face it, we don’t want to see baby dinosaurs hatching from eggs or being fed in a zoo – we want to see the big meat eaters causing havoc. Over twenty-two years since the original came out (saying that makes me feel really old) and it seems as though the dinosaur special effects haven’t got any better. The T-Rex in the original is still one of the most impressive movie monsters of all time. Ironically, like the notion that the theme park is struggling to keep people hooked due to its inability to impress them anymore, the film suffers from the same fate. T-Rexs weren’t good enough to keep people flocking back and so bigger and nastier dinosaurs were introduced – the Spinosaurus in Jurassic Park III and now the Indominus Rex. The Indominus might be gigantic compared to the T-Rex but it’s just another computer-generated dinosaur with little personality and character – something you might see in one of The Asylum’s overblown ‘mockbusters.’ Perhaps it’s the reliance on CGI to bring to life not only the dinosaurs but the surrounding landscapes and scenery which takes me out of the new special effects sequences. There’s nothing to immerse the audience anymore – look at how masterfully Spielberg crafted the T-Rex attack scene in the first film, shot outdoors with rain, effective lighting and mixture of animatronic models and post-production CGI. I’d kill for something half as exciting and engaging nowadays. Jurassic World has plenty of big, loud action set pieces but there’s just nothing you wouldn’t see playing a video game version. For such a landmark film series which raised the benchmark for special effects in 1993, Jurassic World falls back upon the terrible 21st Century Hollywood ‘bigger is better’ mantra which is destroying the summer blockbuster like never before.

Despite seemingly being everywhere right now, Chris Pratt does make for a likeable and charismatic lead man. This is the kind of role he’s beginning to do his sleep and Pratt adds a nice mix of action and humour in what is essentially a token hero role. Bryce Dallas Howard is pretty appalling in her role, though through a terrible script rather than any fault of her own. Throw in more stereotypes like the angry head of security or the Asian park owner, and couple that with two wholly uninteresting and annoying child characters, and you have one of Jurassic World’s main weaknesses. The characters are subject to all of these horrific situations, but you never really once care for their safety or well-being.

 

Jurassic World’s multi-million-dollar approach lacks the darker touch that Spielberg brought to the table and with it, an air of underlying menace to make the dinosaurs actually scary and the film thrilling. Maybe it’s just the cynic in me thinking that I’ve seen this all before somewhere – I bet if I was twelve-year old again I’d fall in love with the film like I did with the original. Jurassic World isn’t a terrible film but it won’t exactly do to Hollywood what the original did back in 1993 – if anything, it is more a sad product of the current blockbuster system than it is a pioneering force for change.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆