Movie Review ~ Oculus

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A woman tries to exonerate her brother, who was convicted of murder, by proving that the crime was committed by a supernatural phenomenon.

Stars: Karen Gillan, Katee Sackhoff, Brenton Thwaites, James Lafferty, Rory Cochrane, Annalise Basso, Garrett Ryan, Kate Siegel, Katie Parker, Miguel Sandoval

Director: Mike Flanagan

Rated: R

Running Length: 105 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: You’d be forgiven if you were to dismiss Oculus as another haunted house horror flick made on the cheap and released in theaters right about the time that audiences are clamoring for some springtime terror. Further, the trailer for Oculus sells the film as a scream fest surrounding an old mirror that has dark secrets. What Oculus isn’t, however, is your run-of-the-mill fright flick that saves its best scares for the final moments. This mirror is polished.

I’ll take a good scare any way I can get it…be it slow burn (Sinister), all out gore-fest (Cabin in the Woods), or failed attempt to cash in on a better concept (Silent House, The Apparition, etc) so I went into Oculus willing to receive it however it chose to present itself. I’ll admit at first I didn’t quite know what to make of the film as it bounced back and forth between a brother and sister exorcising some old demons and a flashback to 11 years earlier when the siblings dealt with some deadly family issues.

At the center of it all is a majestic mirror, said to be responsible for the death of close to 50 people since the 18th century and highly valuable. How a software designer (Rory Cochrane) had the cashola to purchase such a coveted antique is a plot point best filed away under “Don’t Think Too Hard” but it isn’t long before the past and present collide with some seriously spooky sequences where the line between reality and imagination gets hazy.

With an adequate amount of gore that plays second fiddle to bump in the night style scares, the film has the feeling of a sequel to The Amityville Horror (actually, an Amityville TV movie did deal with a haunted mirror now that I think about it) mixed in with dashes of fractured reality of the bloody Mirrors from 2008. Director and co-writer Mike Flanagan has thought out his film well, introducing not merely themes of post traumatic healing but of mental illness brought on by a tragedy. The film isn’t quite sophisticated enough to tie everything together but the effort is clear and purposeful.

Dealing with a small cast, the film could have been a pain to sit through had Flanagan not assembled such a strong group of actors. Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Brenton Thwaites (The Giver, Maleficent) ably handle the adult siblings while Annalise Basso and Garret Ryan (Insidious: Chapter 2) are impressive handling with their heavy lifting in flashbacks. The first shot of Gillan is her fire red ponytail swinging back and forth almost as if it’s possessed and both she and Thwaites work cohesively to build a believable bond. Cochrane and Katee Sackoff (Riddick) make good use of their slightly underwritten roles.

If there are cracks in Oculus, they are of the minor variety and truth being told I’m not sure if the film will hold up on future viewings. Though the ending rises to the occasion for making the goose bumps rise on your skin, a too short wrap-up left me feeling a little cold to the whole affair. Feeling just a tad long at 105 minutes, Flanagan working as his own edtior could have benefited from having someone else edit the film that was more objective to pacing.

More spooky than terrifying, Oculus earns points for restraint and solid performances. The scares are mostly satisfying and I appreciated that Flanagan developed material that felt fresh and not your average shriek-out.

The Silver Bullet ~ Oculus

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Synopsis: A woman tries to exonerate her brother, who was convicted of murder, by proving that the crime was committed by a supernatural phenomenon.

Release Date: April 11, 2014

Thoughts: First things first…I appreciate that this is truly a teaser trailer.  We all know how much I’m in favor of the less is more approach and while a longer version of this may be released before the film comes out in April, I have to say that this first look at another low-budget horror film from wunderkind producer Jason Blum (Paranormal Activity 4, Insidious, Insidious: Chapter 2, The Purge, Lawless, Sinister, Lords of Salem) gets the job done.  That being said, these movies tend to open big (usually without advance screenings) and then sink like a stone once word of mouth makes its way around.  One can only hope that Oculus will wind up being more ambitious than the rest and strike gold not only in the box office but with critics desperate for a good scare.

Movie Review ~ Riddick

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Left for dead on a sun-scorched planet, Riddick finds himself up against an alien race of predators. Activating an emergency beacon alerts two ships: one carrying a new breed of mercenary, the other captained by a man from Riddick’s past.

Stars: Vin Diesel, Karl Urban, Jordi Molla, Matt Nable, Katee Sackhoff, Bokeem Woodbine, Dave Bautista, Conrad Pla, Raoul Trujillo, Nolan Funk, Keri Hilson

Director: David Twohy

Rated: R

Running Length: 119 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:

You just can’t keep a good (bad) guy down…and this third outing for Vin Diesel’s muddled anti-hero proves that  point over and over (and over and over).

I was a fan of the 2000 low budget sci-fi thriller Pitch Black which introduced the Riddick character, finding it to be a schlocky B-Film with more than the usual dose of character development, setting itself apart from its contemporaries.  Seeing an opportunity to capitalize on Diesel’s rising star, Universal threw a lot of money into the 2004 follow-up The Chronicles of Riddick, only to see the film not make good on its prospects with its misguided attempt to give its central character a ton of back-story.  By doing this, they took a character that was interesting because we knew little about him and made him toothless, virtually indistinguishable from any countless other sci-fi heroes.

Now, with Diesel riding high after returning to the Fast and the Furious series (the summer 2013 installment, Fast & Furious 6 did crazy good business…and was pretty fun too) Universal is taking another chance on Diesel/Riddick with this modestly budgeted film that has the good elements from Pitch Black and some of the bad elements of The Chronicles of Riddick.

Abandoned on a barren planet, Riddick spends its first thirty minutes or so with nearly no dialogue as our light-averse ex-con struggles to survive the climate, his own inner torment, and a handful of icky creatures rendered with decent success to be a few notches above something you’d see in the SyFy channel.  Comparisons to 2000’s Cast Away are inevitable and not too far off the mark as Riddick learns how to survive and makes nice with a feral dog-like creature (which looks like the offspring of a zebra that mated with a Doberman), eventually winding up at a deserted outpost which could be his way to freedom.

Riddick uses the outpost to initiate a beacon that will alert bounty hunters to his whereabouts, figuring he’ll be able to overthrow any crew that comes-a-callin’ and steal their ship to do a little planet hopping.  That’s when the movie has to switch things up and introduce a crew of new characters that only serve as distractions rather than make their own contributions to advance the plot.

Two crews find their way down, battling not only the one man wrecking crew of Riddick but each other as well. These characters are drawn so broadly that I wondered if they themselves were CGI animated …because only that could excuse the inexcusably awful performance of head bad guy Jordi Molla.  Every line he says, every breath he takes, every desperate mug he makes renders Molla almost unwatchable…made worse by the film being projected on IMAX screens.  Matt Nable is the captain of a rival crew of mercenaries and it seems like the role was meant for a bigger name…while Nable is just fine in the part it just seems like he was the 25th choice for the role.

As for any female presence in the film, I counted about four women in the movie and three of them take their clothes off at one point, including Katee Sackhoff’s hilariously out of place topless scene.  Though Sackhoff’s character is supposedly a tough lesbian, that doesn’t stop the film from making her as weak a presence as the other females…seen either as a sex object or at the mercy of their male counterparts.

Diesel, for his part, seems to be achieving what he wanted by providing his character some good moments of growth…but it’s really time to hang up the night vision goggles.  As it stretches to nearly two hours, the film isn’t ever boring but you begin to feel the time creeping by before the conclusion arrives.

Best left for a watch in the comfort of your own home, Riddick should be the end of the series given its middling box office returns and a general consensus that the character has gone as far as he needs to go.  Vin, take my advice, focus on your other franchise series that miraculously still has legs after six outings.

The Silver Bullet ~ Riddick

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Synopsis: Left for dead on a sun-scorched planet, Riddick finds himself up against an alien race of predators. Activating an emergency beacon alerts two ships: one carrying a new breed of mercenary, the other captained by a man from Riddick’s past.

Release Date:  September 6, 2013

Thoughts: The character of Riddick must be one that haunts actor Vin Diesel (Fast and Furious 6) because he’s tried to set up a quasi franchise with the night-seeing anti-hero for well over a decade.  First introduced as a secondary character in 2000’s modest hit Pitch Black, Diesel returned to the character in 2004 (bringing Judi Dench with him!) for The Chronicles of Riddick.  I found that second film to be a bit of a mess so let’s hope that in the nearly ten years since the sequel was released this third film learned from the mistakes of its predecessor.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia

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Synopsis: A young family moves into an historic home in Georgia, only to learn they are not the house’s only inhabitants. Soon they find themselves in the presence of a secret rising from underground and threatening to bring down anyone in its path.

Release Date:  February 1, 2013

Thoughts:  Though it was originally titled The Haunting in Georgia, one only need to read the lengthy title of this sequel to the ho-hum 2009 original to see that there is some confusion in the air.  Before it goes straight to your local Redbox or OnDemand service, this is getting a small release for those that prefer to get their scares at top dollar.  I’m a total sucker for any kind of horror film so I’ll most likely be one of the foolish few that find themselves in a theater for this one. Though it does sport an intriguing slant to the menacing ghost tale formula, my expectations are low that the Ghosts of Georgia will have much in the fright department.