Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hostel (Unrated Director's Cut)

31 Days of Horror
I was not looking forward to Hostel.  Judas Pato claimed that it was pretty hilarious --- and I almost always agree with Judas --- but my horror movie guru, Danny O'D, pointed out that this was a movie about torture, which I share John McCain's attitude toward: it's a no-no.  Ugh.  But I'm pretty open to watching whatever someone suggests, so I chose to finally watch Eli Roth's Hostel.  I liked Roth's Cabin Fever, but this...?  This feels like something that is just outside my comfort zone.  Will that be a good thing or not?
Hostel begins with a few stupid Americans, Paxton (Jay Hernandez) and Josh (Derek Richardson), and their randomly picked-up Icelandic buddy, Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson), partying in Europe.  They like to party, Josh has no game with the ladies, and Oli wants to stick his penis in anything that moves.
Yes, even them, with their Eli Roth-nipples
The guys, being stupid Americans (and Icelanders), come back to their hostel after curfew.  Thankfully, a cool guy, who totally smokes pot and has a weird mole on his lip, lets them into his apartment.  There, he tells them that sure, Eurpose is okay for sluts, but Eastern Europe -- Slovakia, in particular --- will have them up to their necks in pussy in no time.  Failing to take the time to realize that "up to their necks" could be face-first or feet-first (let alone the desirability of such a state), the boys head to Slovakia.
"We do not fear vaginal asphyxiation"
On the train, they meet an unnamed businessman (Jan Vlasák) who is creepy as you can get, while still eating salad.  Nothing happens on the train, though.  Once they arrive in the Slovakian hostel, they are told that they are going to have to share a room with other people, which is totally lame.  Until those "other people" are total slut babes, that is.
If this was CSI, we would hear Roger Daltrey screaming "YEAAAAHHH!!!"
After a night of booze and sex with their roommates, Paxton and Josh awake to find Oli missing.  Well, maybe he walked his one night stand home, and he'll be back in time for breakfast.  Or lunch.  Or dinner?  That's weird.  Oli's a horn-dog, but he also loves to send text messages with photos of him boning random chicks, so it's especially odd for him to be absent AND silent via text.  You might think that a missing friend would ruin the party for Pax and Josh, but that's not the case; Paxton rationalizes that they will be leaving tomorrow (for Spain) anyway, so they can either be bored or have sex with beautiful sluts.  Emotional angst takes a backseat as the boys try to consummate that thesis.  There's just one problem...the boys seem to be getting drugged.  Pax accidentally gets trapped in an alley and passes out, but when he wakes up, Josh is also missing.  There's something sinister at work here, and Paxton is determined to get to the bottom of it.  That's a choice he's definitely going to regret.  Why? a hyphenated word, torture-porn.
If this looks too "edgy" for you, then it is

The acting in Hostel is surprisingly decent.  There are no good actors in this film, but Jay Hernandez was as good as I've seen him here.  Granted, he's usually pretty mediocre/awful, but even his limited acting ability didn't get in the way of his character's believable reactions and motivations.  Derek Richardson was fine as the bitchy, conservative member of the troupe, but that also made him fairly unlikable.  Eythor Gudjonsson, though, was the saving grace of the main cast.  Oli was awesome.  In a film filled with profanity and lewd remarks, Oli stood out, thanks to the joy and unique nature of his work.  Jan Vlasák was suitably creepy in a small, but important, role.  It could have been a more substantial part, but I blame that moer on the script than on Vlasák. 
"I'm the one paying them!" could have been epic with a better script
Barbara Nedeljakova and Jana Kaderabkova were absolutely perfect as the bait for this trap; both girls were sultry and sexy when they needed to be, but sinister and strung-out when they were outside their assigned playtime.  There are only two other (substantially supporting) roles worth mentioning in Hostel.  The first is the absolutely random appearance of Japanese director, Takashi Miike, who plays a member of the Elite Hunting group; this cameo is obviously a show respect for Miike's awesome Japanese horror movies, but I wish he had something more substantial to contribute in his few lines.  On the bright side, the special features interview with Miike was occasionally interesting, in a philosophical way.  The final noteworthy member of this cast is Rick Hoffman, who excelled at being a hateful stereotype of American business aggression; I think I liked Hoffman's performance, but he does such a good job of being unsympathetic that I'm not sure whether to appreciate or hate him.
"Hey, dick, I'm a little preoccupied here"

Hostel is only the second film directed by Eli Roth, but it shows a surprising amount of confidence on the part of the director/writer.  One thing at a time, though.   Roth's direction shows a talent for building suspense; the torture scenes bordered on masterful, with regard to suspense.  The overall pacing of the film is a little uneven, and it would have been better if that sense of suspense or dread was carried through more of the movie, but this is a torture/horror movie --- let's be honest, we're lucky to get anything this competent.  Roth's best moments lie in particular scenes; he does a fantastic job making uncomfortable moments feel absolutely excruciating.  That doesn't translate into the movie as a whole, which has an almost comedic tone at times, but those moments are what sticks out most in the memory.
In other words, you recall the torture more than the boobs
Roth's writing is, at times, a strong point in Hostel, but not so later.  If you like profane penis references, then Hostel has the script for you.  Personally, I don't care about dick jokes one way or the other, but I prefer it when they are legitimately funny, instead of just foul-mouthed.  Hostel doesn't have a lot of clever lines in it, but it is jam-packed with semi-comedic rudeness, disguised as the-kids-really-talk-like-this.  While that may be true, I would have hoped for funnier dialogue.  The script feels a little forced, like it's trying too hard to be edgy.  As for the plot as a whole, I think Roth missed the mark with the final act of the film.  I don't buy Paxton as a savior, even with his drowning story, and I definitely don't buy him as a ruthless kidnapper/probable killer.

[To be fair, that was my reaction to the Unrated Director's Cut, which has a different ending than the Theatrical and Unrated editions.  After seeing the other ending, I stand by my statement.]

Hostel is a movie about torture, so how violent is it?  Not as bad as you would think.  The first half of the movie is almost devoid of violence and gore, so it really isn't until Josh gets kidnapped that the viewer sees anything gross.  Even then, the violence is not nearly as unbearable as I had imagined it to be.  Of course, "not as unbearable" does not mean that this is a gore-free film.  The worst moments are probably when Josh has his Achilles' tendons slashed and when the Japanese girl gets her face torched.
I don't want to look for it, but I'm sure there is a Japanese fetish porn site that loves this picture
Well, okay, the dangling eye was obviously a makeup job, but the puss that oozed out of her wound was disgusting.  There just wasn't as much torture as I was expecting, I guess.  While a lot of people die in the film, most of them get their just desserts in action-ish sequences, where they are not helpless victims.  There is far more implied violence than there is actual onscreen violence; that doesn't mean this is a film that is violence-free, it just has a lot of dead bodies in the background of the main action.
Thankfully, the hunchback body-part-retriever doesn't deliver puns.  In English, anyway.

Eli Roth is famous for supporting both extreme violence and nudity in his movies, and Hostel is no exception.  If you are a fan of female nudity, there are over a dozen breasts pairs to ogle.  Are they gratuitous?  Mostly, yes.  However, they are gleefully gratuitous, which somehow makes it seem less sleazy, although I'm not sure I can explain why. 

What's the verdict on Hostel, then?  I fully expected that I would cringe my way through this movie, but I found it surprisingly watchable.  There are some elements in this film that I loved --- the fact that there were no subtitles added to the sense of isolation, the girls did a good job, and there was enough humor to offset the uncomfortable moments --- but there were just as many that I disliked --- the inconsistent tone, the "edgy" dialogue, the action movie final act.  If I could change only one thing in this movie, I would have had more suspense, even if that meant longer torture scenes.  The fact that the most memorable scenes are so short, and yet have such a central importance to the plot makes this an uneven story, at best.  Given the actors Roth was working with, I think this movie turned out surprisingly good for what it is.  "What it is," though, is a couple of graphic scenes wrapped in another hour-plus of stupid character syndrome.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch

31 Days of Horror
So.  The infamous Halloween III: Season of the Witch, AKA "The one without Michael Myers."  Yes, I was aware of what H3 was, but I decided to watch it anyway.  Over the years, I've heard a lot of things about this movie, with the most optimistic being, "It's not one of the worst movies ever made.  If you know the story behind it, it won't make you all that mad."  Quite the endorsement.  The story behind Halloween III, just in case you were not in the know, explains why it makes the jaw-dropping-in-retrospect choice to omit the main character of the series from an entire film.  I've read a few different explanations for this, but it boils down to John Carpenter and Debra Hill (co-creators of the franchise) being tired of Michael, and the idea of continuing his story felt like it would be too ridiculous to take seriously, as the future sequels would prove.  But the studio wanted to make more Halloweens, so Carpenter and Hill said that they would be involved in the project, but only if Halloween was transformed into an anthology title, where every film would have a different subject.  It's actually a pretty amazing idea, if they had gotten the talent to back it up.  Can you imagine a successful Halloween anthology franchise, where up-and-coming horror directors could go nuts and get widespread exposure?  Too bad they didn't go that route, eh?

Halloween III: Season of the Witch begins exactly as you think it would: with computerized graphics and a title screen that must have taken literally seconds to produce.
Looks like the entire budget was spent wow-ing the audience with the opening credits
Dr. Dan (Tom Atkins) goes to pick up his kids for the weekend from his nagging ex-wife, and he brought them a present: Halloween masks!  Because children love being told by their parent what they're going to be for Halloween.  It doesn't matter, though; mom had already gotten them the cool masks, proving once again that Dr. Dan is a terrible parent.  Dr. Dan represses the instinct to punch everyone in the house and instead responds to a call from work.  Apparently, Dr. Dan is the only doctor that works in his hospital, because he was brought in on a case of exhaustion.  Some bum passed out while clutching a Halloween mask and muttering something about people out to get him.  Shockingly, the paranoid guy was right.  Somebody was after him, and once they killed him, they committed suicide.
The suicidal man, showcasing the average emotional range of these actors
How could a guy who "looks like a businessman" do such a thing?  After all, people wearing suits are incapable of violence or evil.  Dr. Dan decides to investigate, and sexually harasses/flirts with the assistant coroner until she will help him.  What do we find out from the coroner lady?  The suicidal businessman must have been pretty strong, since he tore his victim's skull apart.  Meanwhile, Dr. Dan spends time drinking and watching the same Halloween commercial over and over again.
I'll be completely honest with you: that is what you take from this movie, more than anything else.  I hate that song SO MUCH right now.  Anyway.  Luckily, Dr. Dan is saved from the torture of spending time with his awful chidren and nagging ex-wife when he runs into the murder victim's daughter, Ellie (Stacey Nelkin).  She also thinks there is something strange about her father's death and is determined to get to the bottom of things.  Together, they leave town and go to Ellie's dad's failing toy store.  There, Ellie finds her dad's appointment book and determines that his troubles began when he went to the Silver Shamrock factory, which makes these stupid Halloween masks that all the kids are wearing.  Meanwhile, Dr. Dan is acting kind of pervy and creepy toward Ellie.
"Do you think your father would mind if I took that 'Free Mustache Rides' shirt?"
When they arrive at the factory, they take advantage of a very convenient case of mistaken identity to get a tour of the factory from the owner, Mr. Cochran (Dan O'Herlihy).  Why would the owner of a company run a brief and detail-free tour?  How can a mask company be tied into a murder plot?  And how do killer robots and witchcraft come into play?  And what does "Season of the Witch" refer to, anyway?  Some of those questions --- but certainly not all --- will be answered (poorly) if you choose to watch Halloween III: Season of the Witch!
Still not convinced?  I don't blame you

What can I say about the acting in Halloween III: Season of the Witch?  Well, Dr. Dan probably says it best in the film's final scene: "STOP IT!!!"
Tom Atkins was pretty horrible in the lead role, taking a role that needed sympathy and heroism and filling it with creepiness and a complete lack of motivation.   Dan O'Herlihy was a little better as the closest thing this movie has to a titular witch, but looking mediocre next to the rest of this cast is no big deal.  Stacey Nelkin was also halfway decent, if you like vacant stares and 80s hair. 
...and/or random lingerie appearances
Her part was pretty horribly written, but there was one scene that I just can't let go of.  So, Ellie and Dr. Dan have finally succumbed to the complete lack of sexual tension between them, and had themselves some sexy time.  In a post-coital embrace, Dr. Dan asks, "Wait.  How old are you?"  Her response is, "Relax.  I'm older than I look."  Just so everyone is clear, our hero had a sudden pang of conscience and worried that he had just committed statutory rape (very hero-like), and her response does absolutely nothing to clear the matter up.  If Nelkin had delivered the line with an eyeroll or a rib-jab, I would have taken that to mean that she is over eighteen.  Saying it in a breathy voice, however, makes her sound like a child prostitute: "As young as you want me to be."  Gross.

The less said about Tommy Lee Wallace's direction and co-writing, the better.  Let's just call it annoying and incompetent, and leave it at that.  Well, I guess that's where we can leave the direction.  The writing is pretty terrible.  I'll have to come back to that.
"Ah, yes, the joy on a child's face when he sees the same damn thing over and over again..."

How gruesome can a movie about Halloween masks and seasons be?  Actually, there are quite a few death scenes in Halloween III: Season of the Witch.  I would argue that there are more kills in this film than in any other Halloween, if you count the killer robots as victims.  Speaking of killer robots, did you know that normal humans can punch right through them?  It's true.  Hell, you can even decapitate them with little effort, provided the robot has the form of an elderly woman.  Halloween III also has some fairly unusual deaths in it.  My favorite, by far, is the laser-to-the-mouth kill.  There are no lasers anywhere else in this film, but poking the wrong thing with a paperclip takes you from bored and frumpy...
Luke Skywalker has had enough of her crap herpes-tacular in a matter of seconds!
Cold sores are disgusting
Halloween III is also one of the few horror movies I have seen where child murder is a large part of the story.  I'm not talking about a Mystic River type of story, I'm talking about a movie where the villain's stated purpose is child murder on a large scale.  What makes the child murder even more unusual is the form it takes.  The masks that are so prominent in the film kill the kids.  They go from having a headache... spontaneously shooting out bugs and snakes out of their skull remnants.
Tommy needs a bath
On the one hand, holy crap that kid just died and his head turned into bugs and worms and shit!  On the other hand, this is a movie that kills children?  That's surprisingly dark, given the Silver Shamrock's 8-bit oompah soundtrack.  Judge for yourself:

Oddly enough, Halloween III: Season of the Witch is not remembered for being oddly gruesome or having a darker tone than most other horror movies.  It is remembered for being spectacularly bad.  Why?  Maybe because this horrible, wretched song is replayed at least fifteen times in the damn film.  Maybe it's the lack of Michael Myers.  Or possibly the shitty acting.  Or maybe because the public reacted poorly to child murder.
Nah.  These punks are asking for it.
I'm going to place the blame squarely on the writing.  Well, the writing, and the Silver Shamrock song.  How bad is the writing?  The entire premise of this film is based on the idea that all children want to wear the same nasty-ass, petroleum-smelling Halloween masks.  Remember that time in elementary school where you decided to dress up as exactly the same thing as your best friend?  No?  That's because it doesn't happen.  The Jack-O-Lantern mask is the last refuge of the poor kid in class that doesn't take baths.  In that video above, most of the kids aren't even dressing in costume for Halloween --- they're just wearing their masks.  I love the fact that some of the pumpkin mask owners have added snazzy flair, like a witch hat or a Revolutionary War-era hat.  Of course, this plot also ignores logic.  I'm not going to bother dismissing the Stonehenge angle, because that was handled in such a matter of fact manner that I nearly wet myself.  I'm not going to touch upon the magic phone number that a civilian can dial to get multiple TV channels to not air a specific commercial.  No, I'm talking about the notion that a company that specializes in cheap seasonal masks would A) have television commercials B) have television commercials on nearly every channel C) update their commercials on a daily basis and D) hire vans with speakers to drive around neighborhoods, telling kids to go watch TV on Halloween.  Any one of those ideas at the core of a horror movie would make the film laughable, but when you combine them into one movie, the stupidity reaches such giant proportions that your brain starts to shut down.
Oh, I get it.  TV rots your brain.
And that's the worst thing about Halloween III: Season of the Witch.  There is simply too much stupidity in this film, so your brain becomes numb in an effort to keep from oozing out of your ears.  If the film was halfway competent, this would be howlingly funny, but it's just too much of a bad thing.
Oh, suck it up.  YOU read the script.  YOU know.

But does Halloween III: Season of the Witch truly deserve its place among the worst movies of all time?  I don't think so.  It's definitely bad, but there are worse movies, and there are movies in this franchise that I've hated more.  I think the notoriety surrounding this film is due entirely to it being the sole Michael Myers-less entry in this franchise.  If it was just called "Season of the Witch," it would be a bad movie, perhaps even a forgotten movie, but it wouldn't be notorious.  There are actually some elements here that I genuinely like.  I really liked the villain's motive, and I liked that he scoffed at needing a reason to do terrible things.  I liked that this movie took on the (fairly) taboo task of killing children in the story, and I was impressed with the implications of the ending.  Yes, it's a pretty amateurish effort and deserves to be mocked by all that see it, but there are some core elements here that could ("could" being the operative word) make for a truly frightening horror movie.  As a legit film, Halloween III receives a fairly generous:
 However, for the truly bold and sarcastic, Halloween III: Season of the Witch has enough pleasure and pain to make Pinhead happy.  I recommend jaded friends, Rifftrax, and/or a large bottle of rum.  Because scotch should be enjoyed.  Lefty Gold score of...

Saturday, October 27, 2012


When spending an entire month reviewing horror movies, you've got to revisit some of the classics, right?  I didn't watch Audition (or, Ôdishon in its native Japanese) when it first came out.  Once I had been exposed to the true awesomeness of Asian horror, though, I tracked it down --- and it left an impression on me.  There are not a whole lot of movies that make me physically cringe when recalling them, but Audition is certainly one.  Over the years, it has built up a solid reputation, making some best-of-the-decade horror lists and it was prominently listed among Bravo's scariest films countdown (that link is totally worth checking out, by the way), but I've never gone back to it.  Until now.  Wish me luck.

By the way, am I the only one who fins it hilarious that the Japanese word for "Audition" is "Ôdishon"?  It's spelled and pronounced the same way Jerry Lewis would have said it while doing a really offensive Japanese impression, back in the 1960s.  Is it racist to laugh at something because you realize it's racist?  I hope not.

Audition begins with Shigeharu (Ryo Ishibashi) playing the part of a hard-working widower.  He spends time with his teenage son, Shigehiko(Tetsu Sawaki), and they clearly care about each other, but...well, they're dudes, and dudes don't talk touchy-feely stuff.  Especially in Japan's emotionally conservative culture.  Still, they're as affectionate as they can be, although it often takes the form of awkwardness.
"Thanks Dad, I had hoped you would say something creepy tonight"
One day, Shigehiko straight up tells his father to find a girlfriend.  Apparently, all it took for Shigeharu to rejoin the dating pool was for his son to sign his permission slip.  But Shigeharu is not a young man anymore.  How is he supposed to find the right woman?  Bar hopping?  No way.  Shigeharu's work buddy has a bright idea, though.  Since they are in the entertainment business, they will find a pitch for a TV show and set up a casting audition for the lead part.  That way, they can have the ladies come to them, instead of the other way around.
"We're looking for women who like having their aspirations toyed with"
During the audition process, Shigeharu finds himself smitten with the very demure Asami (Eihi Shiina).  He asks her out, and they start dating.  The more he gets to know about her, the more he likes her.  And while Asami does seem very sweet, she also seems a  It's nothing concrete, but Shigeharu's friend notices it and tries to learn more about her.  No dice.  None of her references can be contacted.  None of them.  He can't even find any official record of her.  Well, that's probably not that big of a deal.  After all, it's not like she is obsessively focused on Shigeharu and spends her entire day doing literally nothing until he calls.
Even without the mystery sack, this shot creeps me out
Shigeharu continues his relationship with Asami until she abruptly vanishes.  Desperate to find his new love, Shigeharu starts doing his own investigation into her past.  And let's just say that what he finds, disturbing as it is, is nothing compared to what she has in store for him.
The store she shops at is Crazy Mart, and she cleaned them out

Audition is fairly unique among modern horror movies because it takes its time.  It's not just that the movie has a slow pace, either (although it does).  The entire movie builds up to the last fifteen minutes.  Up until that point, Audition feels more like a romance than a horror film.  If it wasn't for the single scene of Asami waiting for the phone to ring (and the reaction of the monster in her burlap bag), the last act would be a complete shock.  But with that single, short, bizarre scene, Audition whets your appetite and the suspense starts to build.  Most of the time, when a movie builds the suspense for over an hour, the payoff is a little underwhelming.  Not when the movie is a horror film from director Takashi Miike, though.  Miike is known for his absolutely ludicrous movies, and he doesn't skimp out with Audition.
To give you an idea of the horror, tongue injections are "the good old days" in Audition
This is the best storytelling effort from Miike that I have seen (so far).  As absolutely bizarre as Miike can get with his films, he did a pretty good job of constructing a convincing love story in the first hour of Audition.  All the characters are pretty likable and, in a typical romance movie, could have eventually been described as "precious."  But then Miike decides to bring the pain.  It's not what is done that is so horrifying --- although it absolutely is scary --- it is that Miike was able to get such a gleeful performance from Eihi Shiina while she was doing it.
This is her reaction to dismemberment
I've never thought of Takashi Miike as a director who gets good performances from his actors, but Shiina in those last fifteen minutes...?  Absolutely terrifying.

Audition hits a little close to home for me, because one of my greatest fears is that I will somehow upset a crazy woman.  I know it's an irrational fear, because I'm a nice guy and I've married a woman who probably wouldn't torture me to death, but movies about batshit-crazy, take-no-prisoners, nothing-left-to-lose ladies freak me the hell out.  Just thinking about the end of this movie makes me want to buy something nice for my wife, just to extend my miserable existence a few more days.
I probably won't buy her needles, though.  Just in case.

If you do not want to see a movie with freakishly believable torture in it, you might want to skip Audition.  The scenes are deceptively gory; you might flinch or close your eyes in those last few scenes, but there is actually very little gore in this film.  There is a high WTF quotient, though.
Case in point
Even with the disorienting nature of the randomly weird scenes, the torture can be hard to stomach.  It has nothing to do with the gore or the sound effects (although those are pretty great).  It has everything to do with Eihi Shiina's performance.  On paper, it might seem hilarious that the Japanese word for "deeper" sounds an awful lot like "kitty," but when Shiina is saying that with a smile, look out.  Rarely have I seen such an abrupt, yet believable, turnaround in a character, but she was terrific.  She was shy and humble at first, but there was just enough creepy desperation for her to feel inexplicably wrong; when she finally reveals her true colors, it is a surprise, but only in the degree of crazy she turns out to be.
First clue: she ordered a glass of Homicidal Psycho Bitch on draft

As much as I legitimately love/hate the payoff to all the buildup in this film, there are some issues with Audition.   The biggest is probably the abrupt way it ends; it's believable, but I was hoping for something to top the craziness that is the last fifteen minutes of the movie.  The other is the symbolic dream sequence that occurs just before the torture.  While I like its symbolism, it is fairly inconsistent by Western standards.  If it had stuck to revelations and insights into the characters, it would be fine.  However, it lets Shigeharu discover some clues that he could never have uncovered outside of the dream world, and I thought that cheapened the payoff.  Thankfully, the revelations were really, truly weird, disgusting, and totally worth fitting into the film however they could, but there had to be a better way to do it.  Japan seems to have a greater lenience for unexplained psychic phenomenon in their horror films, but that just felt out of place.
Kind of like asking "Do you like torture?" in an interview --- out of place, but probably worthwhile
One thing about Audition that surprised me during this, my second viewing: Shigeharu's friend never comes up with a convincing argument against Asami.  All he has are vague misgivings.  Really?  It takes Shigeharu just a day to track down some disturbing information on her, but his friend, who has allegedly spent weeks digging, finds nothing?  Hell, all he had to do was point out she was a dancer.  It is a known fact that all dancers fall on the sliding scale of scary-craziness; the scale goes from 1 to 10, with Staying Alive a 1, Black Swan a 5, and Audition a 7.  You don't want to know what a 10 looks like (hint: killer hammertoe).

As good as I think Audition is --- there are few movies that can build up to a single scene so effectively --- I can't say that it is a particularly fun movie to watch.  Of course, that's not the intent, I know.  But...I really mean it.  This movie makes me uncomfortable.  Part of it is the crazy lady core, and part of it is the torture, but I think it also has to do with the first hour.  I love how effective Miike is at building the tension, but he doesn't really give the audience a good picture of these characters in the first hour.  Shigeharu and his son are too good to be true, and we learn that in the dream sequence (for Shigeharu, anyway).  I think keeping Asami a mystery is a good choice, but making Shigeharu a genuinely compelling character instead of a fairly generic nice guy would have pushed Audition from "effective" to "fantastic."

Friday, October 26, 2012


31 Days of Horror
Do you ever hear about a movie, or see a trailer or something, and just know you will see that movie?  I'm not talking about movies that you're excited to see, I'm talking about ones that you know will be inescapable?  It doesn't matter how good or bad the movie looks, you know that you will eventually watch it.  I feel that way about the Resident Evil and Underworld franchises; I don't like either, but I'm pretty sure I've seen every single one of them, usually because someone else says, "Hey, do you want to watch the new ___?"  This is how I felt about ATM.  The trailer made it look bad.  But I knew I would be watching horror movies all October, and I knew it went straight to video-on-demand (always a good sign), so this was a date made by destiny.  The question is whether destiny likes me or not.

ATM begins with David (Brian Geraghty) and Corey (Josh Peck) being awful at their day trading job.  No worries, though; tonight is the office Christmas party, which means that the night is full of fancy cocktails and expensive whiskey!
Or...maybe it means "just like a frat party, but while wearing suits."  Red cups?  Really?  David recognizes the party is his last chance to hit on Emily (Alice Eve), because it is her last day at the company, so he makes the most of it, in a clumsy and mostly ineffectual fashion.  He does convince her to let him drive her home, since it is below zero outside and she can't seem to catch a cab.  And she lives pretty far away, and it's pretty late, so she'll probably feel obliged to invite him in and, you know, ease his throbbing man-passion.
A guy going out of his way to help her?  That's the most realistic part of ATM
There's just one hitch: Corey is a cheap bastard and a cock blocker, so he insists on David driving him home, too.  Even though he lives in the opposite direction.  And he wants to stop for food.  But he has no cash, so they'll have to stop at an ATM.
"I know, I know.  I'm a bastard.  I've got a reservation for the ninth circle of Hell."
Naturally, since David wants to get his friend home as quickly as possible, he stops at any one of the hundreds of drive-thru ATMs attached to banks the last freestanding ATM in America.  And I'm not talking about an ATM that is on a city street, or one that is in the lobby of a bank, or one that is inside a convenience store --- this one is a booth in the middle of an enormous parking lot.  It's not even close to the road, so how did David know it was there?  That's not important.  What is important is that, to punish Corey for being a complete dick, David parks the car a few hundred feet away from the ATM entrance.  So that whole "let's hurry" thing?  Not as important as it seemed a few moments ago.  Oh, but it turns out that Corey's ATM card isn't working, so David has to get out of the nice, warm car and loan his douchebag friend money so he can maybe get Emily home before she realizes he's incredibly boring.  So he does.  And then Emily joins them, because David turned the car off (Really?) and it got cold.  Once they get the cash, they are about to leave, when...
...they see someone else in the parking lot.  Holy.  Fucking.  Shit.  And he's just...standing there, like a psychopath!  Are they overreacting?  Yes and no.  Right when common sense was about to shame these morons into walking to their car like adults, the dude in the winter coat murders a guy who was taking his dog for a walk (through a parking lot?).  This winter coat guy clearly means business, and by "business," I of course mean "murder."  Thankfully, the ATM enclosure has heat, lighting, bulletproof glass, and a security door.  But can that stop someone who is capable of such horror?
Look into the face of appropriately clothed evil and despair!

There are only three real characters in ATM, so breaking down the acting here will be thankfully brief.  Brian Geraghty was timid and whiny when his character was supposed to be shy and likable.  I don't ordinarily dislike Geraghty, but he took a role that should have at least been sympathetic and instead played the part like a little bitch.  Alice Eve was more likable, but so is the killer.  Eve was decent before the trio stopped at the ATM, and once she was there, her character played the weak link in the group.  Her dialogue indicates that Eve did a decent job with the part, but her character was unrealistic and annoying.  This is the first movie I have seen Josh Peck in, but I will congratulate him for making it out of Nickelodeon-child-actor-hood and not being a ham.  He doesn't have nearly the weaselly charm that his character is supposed to have, but I thought he was a slight improvement over Geraghty's impression of a six-year-old girl with bladder problems.
"Why don't we have winter clothing, like that guy in the parking lot?"

While it is certainly not good, the acting is not the main problem with ATM.  Is it the direction, though, or the writing?  Let's look at the direction first.  This is David Brooks' first attempt at directing a feature film.  With a limited cast of characters, enclosed in a small space while someone tries to kill them, it would make sense for the director to have a firm hand on the tone of this film.  He does not.  There is no suspense in this movie.  There is no tension.  When a character tried to escape the ATM and wound up being clotheslined by some fishing wire in the parking lot, it should have been startling, or it should have elicited a gasp.  I laughed until I couldn't stop coughing, and then I rewound and played it again to make sure I didn't miss anything. 
...and this should look like terror instead of Alice Eve saying "hello" with a Kennedy accent
I blame Brooks for not seeing some of the problems in this script and trying to overcome them.  Three people are willingly staying inside an ATM vestibule because a killer is outside, and yet they constantly lose track of where the killer is?  How is that not a priority?  Wouldn't someone be assigned to lookout duty?  That is a very visual problem with this movie, which makes it a problem for the director.  As for the technical bits, Brooks was uninspired.  Aside from occasionally cutting to the ATM security feed, his style was boring and commonplace.  He did make an odd editing choice during the opening credits to intersperse shots of the crime scene at the end of the film with the introductory scenes at the very beginning of the movie. It basically served the same purpose as having the survivor of a horror movie recount the events in a flashback, but without singling out any particular character as a survivor.  It's not a terrible way to hint at the horror to come, but not give away the plot; of course, that horror movie trope is cheap and completely unnecessary to begin with, but at least he did a halfway decent job with it.  One thing that you will notice about ATM is how boring it is to watch. 
The action scenes suck, too.  Just sitting through a fire?  BO-ring.
That is only partly due to the subject matter.  The rest if dull cinematography.  How many times can you show the same camera shot?  I understand that the story takes place in an enclosed space with a small cast, but you have to mix things up to keep the viewer interested!  Buried takes place exclusively inside a coffin and used more interesting camera angles than ATM.
This shot is 80% of ATM's storyboards

As sub-par as the directing is, it is the writing that sinks ATMChris Sparling (who wrote Buried) received the writing credit for this movie, although I don't see anything to indicate whether he turned in a traditional script or if he handed in a stack of papers covered in crayon scribbles and boogers.  This is easily the worst produced script I have seen in a good long while.  Sucker Punch was better written than this movie, that's how dumb this script is.  How is this script idiotic?  Let's run down the list:
  • Three young professionals live in what appears to be the Wisconsin/Illinois area (judging by the killer's maps) in Winter, and yet none of them have a real Winter coat?  Or gloves?  And only the girl has a hat, and it's one of those fluffy ones that are more for looks than warmth?  That's not how it works in the American Midwest.  Nobody looks sexy outdoors in December in Chicago.  Everyone bundles the hell up.  Everyone.  Even those assholes who wear shorts all year long will wear a puffy down jacket when it gets below zero.
  • Every other character in the movie is wearing the exact same Winter jacket with a fur trim on the hood.  I live in Illinois, and I don't know a single man with fur trim on his jacket.  I also rarely see people with their hoods up, unless it's sleeting.  Hats, yes.  Hoods, not so much.  A string of men, all indistinguishable from each other because they all own the same damn coat and have their hoods up?  That's about as likely as three people failing to have Winter jackets at the same time.
  • All three twentysomethings left their phones in the car (or let their battery die).  All three?  I am just outside the smartphone generation, and I rarely leave my phone in another room, let alone get out of the car without it.  You're telling me that these three all did it at the same time?
  • Emily left her purse in the car (which was not her car, and was out in the open) when she got out to go to the ATM.  I'm no expert on women, but I give that a zero percent chance of happening.
  • The killer shows up with no weapons.  What the hell?  His original plan was to look menacing, until someone gave him the means to find a weapon?  Hell, he couldn't have done half of the things he did to the ATM vestibule without the tools he conveniently found in the trunk of David's car.
  • Who leaves a fire hose out overnight, let alone around Christmas?
  • David has a fully-stocked toolbox in his trunk.  He trades securities or something like that.  Why would he keep a few hundred dollars of non-tire-changing tools in his trunk?
There are several more examples, but those are the most mind-numbingly stupid instances of the writing in this movie.  In the other cases, you can blame horror movie logic for their choices, but these are  inexcusable.
"Now I have machine gun tire iron.  Ho ho ho."
It is also worth pointing out that the movie portrays the killer as a mastermind that planned all this.  Before the opening credits, we saw him writing on some schematics, planning his attack.  But here's the thing: while the killer was "clever" enough to SPOILER ALERT: not get caught on camera, his foolproof plan apparently depended on having the stupidest three people alive do exactly the right things to allow this plan to work.  Three people that decide not to overpower one person, even when they have proof that they could?  Check.  Three people with cell phones who all happen to leave their cell phones in the car?  Double check.  Three people who are made more desperate by the fact that they don't know what to wear when it is ridiculously cold out?  Triple check.  A group who parks their car just far enough away to have no chance of reaching it without the villain reaching them?  Quadruple check.
Finally!  Somebody parks their damn car close to the ATM machine.  He's helping!
If you change any of those conditions, all of which are extremely unlikely, this dastardly plan falls apart.  And if you think about any of those conditions, the movie falls apart.  But let's not be completely negative.  When David and Corey were having bro time, talking like normal guys, the dialogue was awkward and not terribly clever.  So there's a silver lining.

As bad as ATM is, I couldn't help laughing at its ineptness.  It takes itself so seriously that the obvious mistakes and plot holes feel utterly ridiculous.  I can't imagine a modern movie with recognizable actors that is stupider than ATM.  More pretentious?  Sure.  More frustrating?  Easily.  Simply worse?  Yes.  But dumber?  The only thing that could be dumber than ATM would be a sequel.  By the way, the ending clearly sets up a sequel.  Since this movie made about forty-two cents against a budget of three million dollars, it probably won't happen, but how sweet would it have been for ATM 2: The ATMining to have had the same villain, with the same MO, against someone who wasn't fatally moronic?
Even better: same coat, but in Florida
The fact that ATM got made is an insult to any unpublished screenplays out there.

That doesn't mean it's not fun to watch, though.  This movie has just enough stupidity to keep me interested in pointing out what the next mistake will be.  It was close, though.  There is a fine line between Lefty Gold and utter trash sometimes, I will admit.  ATM straddles that line for much of the film.  Thankfully, the fate of each character and the reveal of the killer as a "mastermind" was enough to make me belly laugh.  I wouldn't advise watching this sober and/or alone, but in the right state of mind, it's pretty solid Lefty Gold.