Review : Boarding School (2018)

Boarding School is a horror thriller directed by Boaz Yakin. This is his first attempt at a horror film and his lack of familiarity with the genre does come across throughout Boarding School. The film stars Luke Prael as the main character, Sterling Jerins and Will Patton.

Jacob is a young teenager subject to night terrors, which drive his mother crazy. Shortly after the death of his maternal grandmother, whom he never met, and an encounter at the funeral with an intimidating old lady who tells him a story about his grandmother during WW2, Jacob starts having visions of his grandmother’s WW2 traumatic experience. When his stepfather finds him dressed in his grandmother’s ball gown and dancing, he and the mother decide to send Jacob to a boarding school for troubled teens. However, the boarding school turns out to be a really strange place, ran by an even stranger couple.

Boarding School is, in my opinion, a wasted opportunity. The film remains intriguing throughout so it keeps you wanting to figure out what is going on in this mansion, but it seems like the director doesn’t know how to explore the themes he implements. Boarding School could have been great. Unfortunately, it is just an average film from an unexperienced director.

The actors are all obviously talented but what really transpires through their performances is the lack of direction. For instance, Luke Prael, who portrays Jacob, goes from mesmerizing performances to downright bad line deliveries from one scene to the next. Will Patton is having fun playing the scary headmaster / only teacher and it really shows on screen. The other child actors are good at portraying disabilities so the characters are quite believable. The only character I didn’t like is Christine, another teen sent to the school whom Jacob knew beforehand.

There is one aspect of Boarding School that is constantly hinted at but never fully explored and it really hurts the film. Jacob is a feminine boy and people around him keep telling him he is a girl or walks like a girl. The problem is, that’s all that is said on the subject. It seems the director wanted to touch upon the subject of transgender but didn’t know how to incorporate it into the story. It seems the only purpose of Jacob dressing up in his grandmother’s clothing was to make the kid have an interesting look in the climax of the film. I mean, Luke Prael can definitely pull it off but it doesn’t bring anything to the story.

The premise of the film is interesting enough and the reveal of the adults’ real intentions could have been a great twist but unfortunately, an good story doesn’t make a good film without good writing and good direction. Boarding School offers good visuals and a story that never goes beyond the surface.

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Review : Phenomena (1985)

Phenomena, released in 1985, was directed by Dario Argento. I must start this review by stating that I am not very familiar with Dario Argento and his body of work. In fact, Phenomena is the first Argento film I have ever watched. Unfortunately, Phenomena doesn’t entice me to watch more of his films, or at least, not in the very near future.

Jennifer (Jennifer Connelly) is the daughter of a famous actor. Her father sends her to a boarding school in Switzerland to offer her the best education possible while he is away working. Jennifer is not an ordinary girl : she has a telepathic connection with insects. Furthermore, there is a killer on the loose targeting the boarding school students. Did I mention we also get to meet an entomologist with a monkey nurse ? Feeling confused ? You should because the plot of this film is a mess.

From what I have read, Argento’s films are often praised for their score. At times, the music becomes an essential component of the unsettling atmosphere in Phenomena, especially when the music suddenly stops thus increasing the tension greatly. Unfortunately, the use of music in the film is extremely odd and the songs never seem right with the scenes they are paired with. Jennifer Connelly is slowly walking in the woods…with heavy metal blasting at full volume. The songs are always inappropriate and it becomes distracting and quite annoying.

I found most of the dialogs poorly written and poorly delivered. Jennifer Connelly gives a stiff and wooden performance and the rest of the cast doesn’t shine either. Donald Pleasance unfortunately isn’t in the film much and his character isn’t given much to do anyway. My favourite character (and the one who gives the best performance) is the monkey. I am not comparing him to the human actors of course, but given how difficult it must be to work with animals on set, his performance is incredible.

For a film featuring a killer targeting students of a boarding school, I never felt a sense of menace. It is almost as if the killings are a tertiary subplot. Phenomena lingers too much and made me lose interest in the plot rapidly to the point where I wasn’t what the film’s main focus was supposed to be. Phenomena doesn’t know what kind of film it’s trying to be : a thriller, a slasher or a supernatural mystery. The result is a bit of a mess.

The final act feels like a completely different movie. The killer is a character we have met earlier in the film but the reveal is a cheat as there were no clues pointing to the killer’s identity. And the killer’s motivation ? A huge WTF moment that comes out of nowhere and makes little sense. But I guess it doesn’t matter because I lost interest long before the third act began. The ending was also weird and is quite a disappointment. I will not spoil which character saves the day but it was definitely the final blow and got a final “WTF” out of me.

I clearly did not enjoy my first entry into Dario Argento’s filmography. The film is a mess, most of it makes little sense, the use of music is atrocious and the performances are not very good. I cannot say it’s a horrible movie, because it’s not and there is indeed good cinematography and a good atmosphere. Ultimately, and though I will wait to watch a few more of his films to have a definite opinion, I think Argento’s work isn’t for me.

Review : Assault On Precinct 13 (1976)

To celebrate the 40th Anniversary of John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, Second Sight is releasing a limited edition boxset on November 28th, 2016. When it comes to John Carpenter, who is one of my favorite directors, I am more familiar with his horror films. Halloween, The Thing, They Live…you name it, I’ve probably seen it and loved it ! I had never seen Assault On Precinct 13 so I was quite eager to finally discover it.

An LA gang’s revenge-fuelled killing spree leads them to a half-abandoned police station in the throes of closing down. Under siege with power and phone lines cut, lone cop Ethan Bishop, and his skeleton staff, including two secretaries, recruit a condemned killer from the cells in a desperate battle to survive the night (Source : Aim Publicity).
Assault On Precinct 13 is the film that catapulted John Carpenter into the mainstream which is not surprising since his talent and his style are already very apparent in this (almost) directorial debut. When you hear the first notes of the score, you immediately know you are watching a Carpenter film. In all his films, he finds a unique way to incorporate music into scenes transforming it into a vital element of storytelling. Assault On Precinct 13 is no different as sound plays a major role into creating a tense atmosphere.

The first half of the film focuses on the characters, introducing every single one and giving the viewer all the information needed. The assault actually starts quite late but when it does, you know the main characters by name and you already care enough about them to feel concerned by their fate. I really liked the main trio, especially Bishop (not an android) and Wilson (not a volley ball).

I was pleasantly surprised when the assault on the police station began. The assailants use silencers so despite the chaos happening on screen, it is all very quiet which is quite unsettling. The police station is located in a big city so the assailants’ efforts not to make sound and to go to the extent of hiding the bodies of their victims was a very smart way of creating a sense of isolation for our main characters despite being surrounded by the city life. The entire second act of the film is filled with tension. When the precinct is under attack, you are worried about characters getting shot and when nothing happens, you are worried the calm is just a sign of something terrible happening.

The film is directed by John Carpenter so of course, it is beautifully shot with some amazing ones such as the gun sticking out of the car window or the telephone booth  in a deserted landscape, just to name a few. Assault On Precinct 13 is a very well-made action thriller which relies on its characters rather than mindless action scenes. I highly recommend it.

Second Sight has done an excellent job with the restoration of the film. The 1080p transfer offers a great video and audio quality which allows you to be fully immersed in this fantastic action thriller. The limited edition Blu-ray boxset includes a CD soundtrack and art cards. I especially enjoyed the numerous interviews, especially the Tommy Lee Wallace one which gives a lot of interesting information about the production of Assault On Precinct 13 and working with John Carpenter. But that’s not all as you will find a nice little gem on this disc : John Carpenter’s student film, entitled Captain Voyeur.

Review : Green Room (2016)

Green Room, directed by Jeremy Saulnier and released in 2016, is an independent horror thriller which has been hyped by a lot of genre enthusiasts. Does it live up to its reputation ? Well, it’s not that simple.

After an unsuccessful tour, a punk-rock band is booked for one last gig at an isolated neo-nazi club. After the show, they witness a murder backstage and are trapped by the group of neo-nazis who will stop at nothing to silence them. When the leader of the neo-nazis and owner of the clup shows up, the violence escalates as the band fights for their lives.

Is Green Room a good film ? Absolutely. Jeremy Saulnier brilliantly creates tension, and once it begins, it doesn’t stop until the end credits start rolling. The movie is tense, suspenseful and very brutal. Whether it is psychological terror or gory violence, you will constantly be on the edge of your seat, biting your nails.

Green Room is extremely nerve wracking. Some scenes are unpleasant to watch and quite disturbing, and it’s all due to the great unnerving atmosphere of the film. The director did an exellent job and both Patrick Stewart and Anton Yelchin give excellent performances.

However, Green Room has weaknesses which cannot be overlooked. Though the level of tension never decreases once it is established, the first act of the film tends to drag a lot. The first half hour is slow-paced and some scenes feel unnecessarily long.

One of the the film’s biggest flaws is that there is no real emotional investment in the characters. There isn’t much character development and all we know for sure about the band is that they make a lot of dumb decisions. I wasn’t rooting for any of the protagonists so their fate had litlle impact. It doesn’t really matter who survives and who dies since we don’t know anything about these characters. What impacts the viewer is the gruesome violence they have to face, not who’s facing it.

The level of violence also feels quite exagerated in regards to the event that sets the movie in motion. It is not surprising to watch this group of neo-nazis be violent towards the band but it all feels a bit extreme in this scenario. It’s not the violence itself that bothers me (this girl loves her slashers so I’m quite used to this), but it simply doesn’t seem to fit in this particular storyline.

Once you remove the good visuals and the excellent atmosphere, the plot is rather basic : the bad guys try to kill the good guys because they saw something they shouldn’t have. Add to that the poor character development and you end up with an average storyline.

Green Room is a suspensful thriller that expertly balances psychological terror and gory violence. Though the story is rather thin, I highly recommend it for the atmosphere and tension alone.

Review : Hush (2016)

Hush was directed by Mike Flanagan and is available on Netflix. The main characters are played by John Gallagher Jr and Kate Siegel, who also co-wrote the script with Mike Flanagan.

Maddie is deaf and mute. In order to write her next novel, she retreats into her secluded house in the middle of the woods. One night, a man lurks outside, trapping her inside and threatening to kill her. A sadistic game begins as Maddie fights for her life.

Hush is the perfect example that great horror movies are not found in mainstream cinema nowadays. Don’t be put off by the fact that the movie didn’t get a theatrical release as it is one of the best recent horror thrillers you can watch.

The concept of home invasion movies is extremely scary to begin with. A home is a safe haven so the idea of a threat trying to break in is frightening. Add to that a character who cannot hear or scream for help, and you are in for a thrilling and chilling experience. Hush is a very well-made film. The sound (or lack of sound) is central to the atmosphere and the director uses it to perfection. There is not much dialogue in Hush and yet it doesn’t feel dull for one second. It is intense from beginning to end and will keep you biting your nails throughout.

The performances are also very good, especially from Kate Siegel. Her lack of reaction when the killer first enters the house is unsettling and terrifying. Her condition makes her vulnerable yet she is a very strong character while remaining believable and realistic. All the characters feel very real, even the killer who is not over-the-top and comes across as a real-life sadistic psychopath you could read about in the newspaper.

The killer takes his time and the physical violence doesn’t start right away. He lurks around the house and stays outside, reinforcing Maddie’s isolation. She becomes trapped inside her home just like she is trapped in silence.

Hush doesn’t rely on gore, which is quite minimal for a horror thriller. Instead, the director made the smart decision of creating an atmosphere filled with tension, mystery and fear.

In a film industry overflowing with remakes and sequels, Hush is a breath of fresh air and is one of the most creative thrillers I have watched recently. I cannot recommend it enough, especially if you already have a Netflix account !

Review : Goodnight Mommy (2015)

Goodnight Mommy is an Austrian film directed by Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz. It was released in 2015 and won numerous awards in various festivals. Marketed as a horror movie, Goodnight Mommy is actually a psychological thriller and as far as I’m concerned, a film d’auteur.

 

Goodnight Mommy tells the story of Lukas and Elias, twin brothers who live with their mother. After coming home from a face-changing surgery, leaving her with bandages covering her face, the brothers start questionning whether it is really their mother who came home.

The first aspect I need to address is the cinematography. It is simply majestic. The movie is filled with beautiful shots which you can’t help but be amazed by. It is a brilliant exemple of cinematography helping tell a story and enhance an atmosphere. The pace is quite slow and yet the movie is never boring. It is immersive and it keeps you intrigued from beginning to end as you wonder what is going to happen next or what is really going on in this secluded house.

The two young actors portraying the main characters are really twin brothers so their relationship and brotherly behaviour is of course very believable, which is really helping the story. Their performances were very good and never over-the-top, like it is often the case with young unexperienced actors.

The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Goodnight Mommy is : it is unsettling. It is suspensul and filled with a quiet tension. Some viewers have complained about some violent scenes but being used to horror movies, I found the film to have just the right amount of blood and violence. It is far from being a torture porn as some viewers have claimed online and I felt it was necessary to the story, to gradually lead the viewer to the heavy climax.

Lastly, the ending is quite haunting. Frankly, I did not anticipate the outcome so it was, in my opinion, very efficient. It is definitely the kind of movie which deserves a second viewing to relive this tale from a different angle.

I highly recommend Goodnight Mommy. It is an elegant, brutal and atmospheric thriller which explores the consequences of the lack of communication inside a family unit. It is the kind of movie you need to talk about as soon as the credits start rolling.