Released: 2014

Written and Directed by Megan Freels

Claire is distraught after walking in on her boyfriend and another woman. She quickly decides to move back home to Chicago. On the way, she encounters a good bit of bad luck.

Rebound is visceral and feels real, for the most part (more on this later). It goes a long way in capturing the gritty low-budget aesthetic that has long been dominated by found footage.

This film consists of three movements, each varying in pacing and tone. The first establishes Claire's emotional trauma and persistent instability. The stage is set by the opening credits where the cheating scene is played over and over in Claire's mind. That there are opening credits at all says a lot toward the low-budget aesthetic.

In the second, the tone changes from emotional to sinister. The audience feels that there's trouble afoot, but we're not sure where from. We are treated to an audio accompaniment in the style of John Carpenter, which both functionally and by allusion builds the tension (as explained by Kool Keith here).

The third movement is where Rebound is most modern. The mystery is over; the audience no longer feels around in the dark. While the final movement is less satisfying than the previous two, perhaps because the mystery is gone, it is still an enjoyable conclusion.

All this said, the problematic aspects of the film are its transitions between movements. These abruptly shift pacing, tone, and plot but are not well motivated by the story. It's beyond believable to chalk everything up to bad luck. Don't get me wrong; the kids in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre surely had awful luck. The difference is that their unfortunate events were more connected and felt less like cosmic injustice.

Rebound is more style than substance and accomplishes what it set out to do.

Rating: 5/10

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives

Written and Directed by Tom McLoughlin

 Released: 1986

Friday the 13th returns with (gasp!) another new direction. This time the film takes itself seriously only for the first two minutes; quite a pivot from the mild seriousness of the previous entry.

Let’s have no illusions; this is more of the same. Jason rampages through a summer camp dismembering anyone in his path. The often brutal slayings punctuate self-aware humor and genre specific satire. Despite following Tommy Jarvis for three films now, the audience does not have a deep connection to the character. To be fair, Tommy is, by far, the most developed teenager the series has seen thus far.

Now to the mythology of Jason. I’ve complained several times in the past that Jason is severely underdeveloped, even regarding the big picture questions as in ‘What the hell even is he?’ Jason Lives opens with Tommy digging up Jason’s corpse and unintentionally resurrecting him. There you have it: Jason is simply a generic killing machine. Ironically, this incarnation of Jason as the massive, haggard, machete-wielding, hockey-mask-wearing butcher is the one that was absorbed into popular culture. I have two possible explanations: 1. Previously, Jason wasn’t generic enough! 2. Jason never had a legitimate, concrete motive. Matters are different this time; Jason is out for Tommy’s blood.

The first two bits are the only scenes that stand out in this entry. In the first, Tommy reanimates Jason. The scene is comical, relatively plausible, and surprisingly tense. It is a satisfying way to depict Jason’s return. In the second, Jason confronts two (gasp!) camp counselors driving through the woods and (gasp! again) slaughters them. Prior to the spilling of blood, there is well executed dialogue between the couple about driving and directions. I wish those characters would have played a larger part in the film!

All in all, more of the same. Not great but not awful.

Rating: 5/10

The Babadook

Written and Directed by Jennifer Kent

Released: 2014

It’s not everyday that a respected member of the horror community gives to following sort of praise to a film that is not their own: “I've never seen a more terrifying film than THE BABADOOK. It will scare the hell out of you as it did me” - William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist and Bug. Needless to say, my expectations could not have been higher. Unfortunately, The Babadook did not meet these bloated standards. Let’s put the buzz aside and take a look at the film.

Amelia is a sleep deprived and frustrated single mother. Her seven year old son, Samuel, is disruptive and unruly and is terrified of the thought of monsters that lurk in the shadows as he drifts to sleep. Before bed, Sam picks a book from the shelf to read, one that Amelia does not recognize. The book is about the terrifying Mr. Babadook and is, indeed, quite terrifying.

Samuel is perhaps the most annoying on-screen child character that I’ve ever seen. While central to the plot, his persistent whining and talking...and mere presence is enough to wish the Babadook upon him. It’s either the case that this kid is an amazing actor or he is simply being himself. If the latter, then we should each be thankful that we’re not in Amelia’s position.

Putting the kid aside, we can now focus on what works. The use of a children’s book to introduce Mister Babadook adds much to an otherwise generic but creepy character. We usually associate innocence with children, so when this motif is turned on its head the result is thoroughly horrifying. Look no further than Ringu and The Omen for instances of how this works. I also couldn't let go of the feeling that Mister Babadook has some J-horror inspiration.

Essie Davis’ portrayal of Amelia is pretty damn spot on and does much of the work in selling the premise of the film. The rest is accomplished by genuinely interesting storytelling with a fair amount of depth.

While The Babadook falls short of its hype, it is a well executed and unique horror film that will make one question whether the bumps and thuds heard throughout the night are solely the result of inconsiderate, noisy neighbors.

Rating: 8/10

You're Next

By Brett Mullins

Directed by Adam Wingard; written by Simon Barrett.

Released: 2011

I went into this film with quite a bad attitude: I expected to watch a generic family get hacked to bits by equally generic masked assailants, The Strangers-style. After the opening title, my prejudice was beginning to be confirmed. Quickly, the film picked up and I realized that You’re Next did not come straight from the cookie cutter. Instead, it’s an action filled romp with well placed horror themes.

The synopsis: a wealthy family reunites to celebrate their parents’ milestone wedding anniversary. Once they arrive and sit down for dinner, tempers flare and all hell breaks loose.

To say that this is just another ‘Home Invasion’ film is to sell its novelty short. Sure, it has death, tension, and more death, but it also features depth. While the audience likely couldn’t care less about some of the characters, partly due to some uneven acting, the performances of AJ Bowen, Sharni Vinson, and Joe Swanberg are quite convincing. There’s even a short-lived part featuring Ti West (director of The House of the Devil).

There’s also the violence, and it’s rather satisfying. It is not simply violence for the sake of violence, you know, the difference between Saw and Saw VI. The violence is used as a device to convey emotion, develop the characters, and progress the story. Near the end, though, there’s a bit that feels needlessly excessive and somewhat disrupts the atmosphere.

Disregarding the action for a paragraph, this is a busy film. There are a handful of subtle yet notable stylistic elements going on: the CD set on repeat, the frequent cut to the front door to build tension, etc. Importantly, there is somewhat of a legitimate story to be told. Characters have and act on motives and, though a bit contrived, are relatable. This is surely not Funny Games where things just seem to happen without a particular cause.

You’re Next greatly exceeded my expectations and is perhaps the best home invasion film to date.

Rating: 8/10

V/H/S Series

The V/H/S series presumably presents us with a concept that I quite enjoy: a found footage horror anthology with a unifying story. After finishing the third installment, Viral, I’m beginning to feel a bit like the sorry sucker who sat through the first half of Halloween III: Season of the Witch wondering when Michael Myers was going to appear in the shadows. The truth: either we’ve been duped or this series is a trainwreck. I suspect both.

Since there’s no point in watching these shorts in a particular order, I’m going to list the best from each anthology and leave the rest to be forgotten.

Second Honeymoon, Directed by Ti West
The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger, Directed by Joe Swanberg

Safe Haven, Directed by Gareth Evans (this short makes The Sacrament, a decent film, look like a boring documentary)

V/H/S: Viral
Dante the Great, Directed by Gregg Bishop

Unfortunately, I will likely watch the fourth installment looking for the vague appearance of a unifying story. In the meantime, do enjoy a better anthology from this list.

Underappreciated Films on Netflix

It's been some time since I've posted a review, so I thought I would plug a handful of films I recently enjoyed from Netflix. By 'underappreciated,' I mean that we have not paid these films their dues with a proper review. The first two you've surely heard of, but the next four have remained under the radar.

Insidious: Chapter 2
The second installment of Insidious retains all of the thrills and chills of the original and develops the story sufficiently where one no longer feels like they are watching a modern-day Poltergeist. Don't worry, the influence from A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Matrix, etc. etc. is still apparent. It also helps that the cast is still excellent.

The Cabin in the Woods
The film is a masterpiece of Horror cinema. If you're well cultured in the Horror genre, prepare to appreciate the hell out of this one. If you're new to the game, spend some time with the classics and come back to this one in a few months. This film blindsided me in a good way; to be honest, I expected something between Cabin Fever and Cube.

A documentary crew stumbles onto an underground military bunker, is pursued by the mysterious Church of Lunology, and may be in the middle of a grand conspiracy. The detail and focus of the storytelling is incredible, and the film contains one of the best explanations of 'deja vu,' second only to The Matrix.

The Conspiracy
Much like Lunopolis, two filmmakers follow the life of a seemingly crazed conspiracy theory activist only to stumble onto the trail of a secret society following his disappearance. The presentation of the 'conspiracy logic' and its seduction is truly gripping and powerful.

Long Pigs
First, a confession: this one is no longer on Netflix. This does not mean that one should not seek it out with great haste. Two filmmakers follow the exploits of a serial killer who feasts on his victims. His mind and past are probed while the filmmakers wrestle with feelings of empathy and immorality.

Mon Ami
Finally, a bloody buddy film that will leave you with a sinister smile. But first, another confession: I viewed Mon Ami at the Atlanta Horror Film Festival in 2012 and have been really lazy about writing this review. Partially, it's because this one is difficult to describe without using too many generic words such as great, fun, entertaining, brutal, etc. I have the same problem with similar films, e.g., Shaun of the Dead. Check this one out ASAP; here is the link.

Friday the 13th: A New Beginning

By Brett Mullins

Released: 1985

Directed by Danny Steinmann

In the first four entries in the Friday the 13th series, I've taken issue with the incredible amount of filler that hinders an otherwise interesting story about a deformed, deranged man hell-bent on revenge. On one hand, Part V overcomes these worries with an interesting murder mystery that largely parallels the first film; on the other hand, the audience is disappointed by the lack of character development.

A handful of years following his gruesome encounter with Jason, Tommy Jarvis is shuffled around to a rural treatment center, a funny farm so to speak. Though Jason is supposedly dead, just as Tommy arrives, the murders begin.

This entry is largely focused on Tommy's psychological health which, as one can guess, is not too good. This is an interesting angle and breathes a bit of life into a formulaic series in which the audience passively wonders "which underdeveloped character will Jason butcher next?" While this film features its fair share of death sequences, there is an element of mystery and surprise present. The audience is somewhat kept in the dark, and a good bit of suspense builds as a result.

The film's undoing results from an anticlimactic resolution. Perhaps Chris Rock had this film in mind when he asked "What ever happened to crazy?" Despite its acknowledgment by fans and critics alike as the 'blacksheep' of the series, A New Beginning is an interesting attempt to do something different and is far from the worst film in the series.

Rating: 5/10