Saturday, 21 April 2012

The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black 2012 is the highest grossing British horror film of all time.[1][2]. It took £14.6 million in its first three weeks of release. The perspective is in the equivalence. That number equates to $140m in the US3.

2 ‘all time’ being the last 20 years when, surprisingly, such records began1.
 3 Sterling is worth $1.6 USD. The UK/US population ratio is 1:5. To buttress the point The Woman in Black was released on 457 screens in the UK and 2855 in the US; a ration of 1:6.
In actuality The Woman in Black has earned $54m in America4. That’s not bad but it’s not the highest grossing horror film in the US. Not ever and not even this year5.

Back in Blighty production house Hammer Films was so ecstatic they’ve announced a sequel6. The reader is to be reminded of similar ghost stories that were more successful –The Others 2001 and The Sixth Sense 1999 – and the sequels that followed them.

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill was published in 1983. It has since been adapted for radio and television. It is the second longest running stage play in the history of London’s West End7. If JK Rowling is indeed richer than Queen Elizabeth then why can’t other writers jump on that money train? Hammer Films have press ganged Susan Hill to collaborate on the sequel. There’s no police report to suggest that Hammer knocked her on the head but there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

In 1993 Demolition Man opened at #1. It went on to gross $58m domestic ($92m inflation adjusted). Its total international box office was $159m8 ($253m) Producer Joel Silver heralded it as a success but the LA Times9 reported production and marketing costs at $97m ($154m).

There hasn’t been a sequel.

Hammer’s boast is that of the tallest midget. In a century of cinema the records they cite go back a mere 20 years. They don’t even include Hammer’s own heyday of 1955-1974. The success of The Woman in Black is due to Daniel Radcliffe. This is a star driven vehicle – and stars demand star salaries. Whatever the production and marketing costs were Radcliffe is sure to have negotiated a percentage of the gross.

Without Radcliffe Hammer wouldn’t have had anything to boast about. This film is more The Haunting 1999 than it is The Innocents 1961. It is special effects, CGi and jump scares. Radcliffe brought in the Harry Potter crowd but he won’t be in the sequel. There won’t be a 30 year old novel and a 25 year old stage play to draw in the pensioners.

The Woman in Black is a conjuror’s trick but the kids at the birthday party can see right through it. The adult version was made for TV and can be seen on Youtube.

It’s worth the price of a computer.

Read more Thrill Fiction: Attack the Block
5 2012 box office chart Box Office Mojo
6 The Woman in Black sequel The Hollywood Reporter
7 TheWoman in Black Wikipedia
8 Demolition Man The Numbers
9 Demolition Man LA Times
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Wednesday, 18 April 2012

The Innkeepers

Horror can be divided into two broad strokes. The classic era began with the first feature length horror film The Golem 19201 and the modern era started with Night of the Living Dead 1968. The classic era was gothic. This modern period is contemporary. It’s the better for it. The world can thank George A Romero for that.

Other filmmakers took Romero’s cue and began telling stories of their time. Wes Craven directed The Last House on the Left 1972. Tobe Hooper made The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1974. John Carpenter helmed Halloween 1978. There are others; David Cronenberg and Dario Argento. These are the Masters of Horror.

Their tales of terror began with Romero’s debut and ended with John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness 1987. Wes Craven made a number of films after that but horror rested in a graveyard shift. It was when Craven directed Scream 1996 that the genre was revived and remains so. Alas none of the other Masters has made a great film since the 80s. Craven himself hasn’t made a great film since Scream. Their time is gone. It is time for new Masters.

There are good films. There are great films. There are cultural masterpieces. To be a Master of Horror a director has to excel at greatness and create at least one masterpiece. Tobe Hooper will forever be known as the man created Leatherface. Ergo ‘the Splat Pack’2 are not Masters. They are upstarts and charlatans who use shock and gore to fatten formula.

In contrast Guillermo del Toro directed the borderline horror Pans Labyrinth 2006. He directed The Devil’s Backbone 2001. He produced The Orphanage 2007. He has surpassed those who came before him and this is how it should be3.

3 This is not to say del Toro’s career in horror supersedes that of Romero. It is a reference to the current output of the old Masters.
Del Toro sits a solitary figure at the roundtable of horrormeisters. The veterans are (de facto) retired and only he has taken their place. There is space for a new master. Ti West captured everyone’s attention with House of the Devil 2009. Cabin Fever 2 2009 got everyone’s attention for the wrong reasons. I liked it. Everyone else – including West – hated it4. If nothing else it alerted the fans that this is a talented director committed to horror – unlike the Splat Pack.
Martin Scorcese’s Shutter Island 2010 suffered a delayed release then it opened to a $41million weekend. It’s the best opening in the director’s career. Such was not the case with The Innkeepers 2011. Its delay resulted in a Video-on-Demand premiere  on 30th December followed by a limited theatrical release of 25 screens on 3rd February. It ran for four weeks and grossed $78k5. It’s a shame Magnolia Pictures buried it in the United States because this is a film that was made to be seen in the cinema.

West’s camera is at a distance in this film. The result is scope that fills the frame as overview. It starts with the inventive title cards which integrate into the opening scene. This is an interior film much like The Breakfast Club 1985 and like the latter The Innkeepers houses a small cast within a confined space. It works because the technique is organic to the story.

The story is of two hotel employees who are waiting out the closure of The Yankee Pedlar Inn. The building is old and reputed to be haunted. Claire and a nonchalant Luke investigate to find proof of the ghost before they’re laid off.

In a near empty grand building West moves his camera and creates his scope. There are corridors and vacant rooms behind open doors. There are staircases and open spaces. This is a trick. It is a distraction for the audience because in seeing everything the viewer doesn’t see what’s coming.

metaphor as signpost

If Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) weren’t in this film they’d be in The Parking Lot Movie 2010. These two are card carrying members of the subspecies ‘geek’.  Such creatures are often associated with words like ‘quirky’ and  ‘kooky’. The reality is they are socially awkward and maladjusted. This is perfectly depicted in the ‘towel scene’ between Claire and guest Leanne (Kelly McGillis).

The Innkeepers feels not so much like a horror film but more like a film about horror. It’s not meta but it’s aware of the audience. It engages with the audience for so long that despite its technical prowess and involving performances there is torpor. West has fashioned a film with story but without plot. Whereas the geeks and hipsters may salivate over this in their misguided superiority it is alienating to mainstream genre fans.

The success of this film depends on what kind of viewer watches it. Those who find the dorks of this world endearing should love it. There are plenty of people who don’t like dorks. They won’t like paying £7 to watch them for 100 minutes.

The third act – such as it is – changes the whole perspective of the movie. What West accomplishes by the end is unnerving, disturbing and a desire to watch it again. The Innkeepers is not a masterpiece but West gets better with each film. He said in an interview6 he’s ready for a bigger budget. If so it should be another horror film. A $25m movie directed by Ti West could kick start a new period of creativity in the genre. Del Toro is a Master of the gothic. West tells of he horror of our time. He hasn’t changed the world yet but his throne is waiting at the Masters table.

The Innkeepers is on DVD 24th April in the US. It goes on general release in the UK on 8th June.

Read more Thrill Fiction: Attack the Block
1 The Golem available to download at the InternetArchive
2 The Splat Pack TIME
4 Ti West condemns Cabin Fever 2 Youtube
5 The Innkeepers Box Office Mojo
6 Ti West interview Youtube
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Saturday, 14 April 2012

The Awakening

Horror’s golden age in 1931-19461 begat Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolfman (werewolf).The boom of the 70s-80s birthed Freddy, Jason and Michael Myers. 21st century horror has witnessed torture porn and this current fad of found footage. It is yet to create an icon2.

2 There is an argument for Jigsaw but I contest he is not iconic. The ‘bad’ with the best potential is Sam from Trick ‘r Treat 2009 but until there’s a sequel his status will always remain ‘potential’.
bad icon/good icon
 The ghost story is a subgenre immune to fads. This is because it is beyond cinema. Ghosts are conspicuous in every culture in the world. Every culture in the world has its own ghost story to tell. Ghosts don’t die.

The ghost story is a subgenre by default but a genre by definition. It comprises romance (Ghost 1990), comedy (Heart Condition 1990) and kiddie flicks (Casper 1995) but despite its scope it is best told as horror. It is best told in J-Horror (Ringu 1998), in Spanish (The Orphanage 2007) and in ye olde English country manor.

The ‘haunted house’ is located worldwide3 but it is different in England. It could be because of the accent. Many people die in their beds but no one points to a 50 year old tower block as being full of (formerly unemployed) ghosts. A ghostly location – at least in the movies – is more secluded. It is more romantic.

The powers-that-be in Britain like to project this country to the rest of the world – especially America – as a ‘tally-ho old chap’ bunch of better-than-thous. This is an image most Brits find laughable. In order to hoodwink Johnny Foreigner the powers use film (& television4) propaganda to hark back to the past.

It is a specific past before the Windrush5 and when the working classes knew their place. It is a time of empire when the rich could still afford the upkeep of their country estates through crimes against humanity. It is turn of the 20th century to the end of the Second World War. It is a time of modernity; there are cigarette holders and telegrams and motor cars. It is the class system’s last hurrah.
posh ghosts
Ye olde English country manor is a small section of the haunted house subgenre. It is costume drama with ghosts and posh accents. Costume dramas in and of themselves are a huge market. Downtown Abbey is Amazon’s top selling DVD box set of all time6. With the success of The Woman in Black 2012 there will be more of these films. It could become a 21st century fad.

Ghosts don’t die. They live in a fantasy era.
Rebecca Hall: rather RADA
The Awakening 2012 opens with a curtain raiser to introduce lead character Florence Cathcart played by Rebecca Hall. The story is set at the end of The Great War where Cathcart is famous as a ghostbuster. This sceptic delights in exposing fraudulent séances wherein lies the problem. Cathcart has the arrogance of a 21st century construct channelled back in time by the screenwriters. Before the opening sequence is over she gets to play the bitch card: “Just because I’m a woman... (insert whine here)”

The Haunted House film is sometimes part of the woman-in-peril subgenre (The Others, The Innocents). This requires a sense of vulnerability from the lead character even when the role is played by a man (The Woman in Black, The Skeptic 2009). Florence Cathcart displays little if any vulnerability because the character is politically correct to the point she stops a school master from administering corporal punishment.

The Awakening takes place in a boarding school for boys. In order to keep production costs low the students migrate home for the holidays. The only people left are a solitary boy and a skeleton staff. Dominic West plays the love interest and nothing more. Imelda Staunton is matron as cipher. There’s a stock working class caretaker who would have been played by a black man had this been set in America. There isn’t a single character written with organic truth.

The story these characters populate is even worse. It is contrived, clichéd and coy. Nothing about this film has the strength of storytelling although it does look great. The performances are involving. The actors are engaging. The net result is akin to a royalist getting dressed up to watch the royal wedding in their sitting room. By the dénouement all coherence is lost.

The Awakening is a harbinger for the quality of films to come. The old English haunted house is a scant subgenre that used to deliver but like everything else in this country the glory is in the past.
Movie Review Intelligence
The Awakening is available on DVD in the UK. US release dates to be announced.

Read more Thrill Fiction: Babycall
1 Golden Age of Horror Films A Shroud of Thoughts
3 Haunted locations worldwide Wikipedia
4 Midsomer Murders race row BBC
5 Windrush – the passengers BBC
6Amazon top selling DVD set of all time Metro
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Saturday, 7 April 2012

The Divide

This film took a long time coming.

The trailer for Prometheus 2012 premiered in December 2011. That’s little more than five months before its UK release and Prometheus is one of the tent pole movies of the year. This begs the question why was the trailer for The Divide 2012 released 15 months ago?

It wasn’t marketing.

The Americans had Torture Porn. The French have their New Wave of Extremity1. The noted films in this subgenre are Ils 2006, Martyrs 2008 and Frontier(s) 2007. Torture Porn had one or two good movies (Hostel 2005, The Collector 2009) and so did the French (Ils, Captifs 2010). Frontier(s) isn’t one of them.

Frontier(s) was loud enough. It got Hollywood’s attention. The movie business is after all the rich relative of the carnival. Director Xavier Gens took his foghorn across the water and made The Divide.

No wonder it got delayed.

The Divide is not a horror film. It’s a post apocalyptic drama though melodrama would be apropos. The Breakfast Club 1985 had a concept: contain a disparate group of characters in a natural locale and their stories will intertwine and unfold. There is brilliance in the simplicity of this method of storytelling where the simplicity is buoyed by theme. The Divide doesn’t have one.

The best part of this film is the opening scenes. The marketing department recognised this and so used them in the trailer. What’s left is a purported exploration of when things fall apart – by way of the New French Extremity.

The explosion in the trailer suggests a nuclear strike. Michael Biehn’s character Mickie is adamant it’s the A-rabs. Circa 2012 the A-rabs don’t have a nuclear bomb. Circa 2012 they don’t have the ballistics to hit New York from A-rabia. Perhaps Mickie meant the Iranians who are no more A-rab than the Turks. Circa 2012 the Iranians don’t have a nuclear bomb but Xavier Gens won’t let the facts get in the way of a ridiculous story.

Mickie’s decked out his boiler room like the Führerbunker in the anticipation of the Third World War. The screenwriters must have forgotten to tell him the Cold War is over and the Militia Movement is so 90s. Nowadays every self respecting nutcase is a member of the Tea Party. Someone should have told Xavier Gens.

It doesn’t take long for this story to free fall. The radiation symptoms are inconsistent amongst the characters. The pretty girls get to keep their hair. A gunshot wound is  dealt with like a broken fingernail. Sexual perversity is celebrated under the guise of character development. The biggest folly is the wastage of talent like Beihn, Courtney B Vance and Rosanna Arquette.

Xavier Gens has had his Hollywood chance and he blew it. To compare The Divide with Frontier(s) is to compare a frozen pizza with a stale baguette. He’s been exposed and this should be the end of him.

The carnivals got rid of their freak shows a long time ago.

Read more Thrill Fiction: LaMeute aka The Pack
1 French New wave of Extremity Wikipedia
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