Dave Wain’s essential breakdown of this week’s cavalcade of straight-to-disc treats. Step inside the DTV Junkyard…
There was a veritable bounty of movies dropping onto the bloodstained DTV Junkyard doormat on Monday. As always, ZH tends to favour the outsiders of the group, so while films like Cherry Tree, Night of the Living Deb, Mercury Plains, Synchroncity and Yakuza Apocalypse may ordinarily warrant a place in these column inches, the focus drifts instead onto a quartet that could do with a leg-up, with Zombie Hamster being the first website to cast a critical eye over two of them.
David Marconi seems to have left a Malickian length of time between directorial outings. His debut was the little seen The Harvest, a highly recommended crime-thriller from ‘92 with Miguel Ferrer; easier to acquire on Laserdisc than on DVD, it’s worth scouring eBay for a VHS of it. In the years that followed he focused on screenwriting, landing some high-profile gigs in the shape of Enemy of the State and Live Free or Die Hard. His second directorial outing, COLLISION, was made three years ago, and finally hits British shores this week thanks to the keen-eyed acquisitions department at Koch Media.
A well-heeled couple seem to be enjoying their honeymoon in Morocco, but bubbling under the surface is the wife’s desire to murder her husband with the assistance of her secret lover. However, their foolproof plan quickly goes off the rails, and after a tumultuous car crash, this awkward threesome find themselves stranded in the desert along with a smuggler, an undercover cop, a kidnapper and a baby.
Underpinned by the melting desert vistas of Morocco, Collision grips you straight off with a plot that feels ripped from the pages of a dime-store pulp fiction paperback. That, coupled with a crunching car crash of epic proportions, and Marconi has you in the palm of his hand before the end of the opening reel. There’s a fascinating cornucopia of devious characters here, all combining to deliver double-crosses galore in a pot-boiling sizzler of deception.
Newlyweds Scott (Frank Grillo) and Taylor (Jaimie Alexander) are excellent throughout; both manage to be thoroughly unlikeable, yet you find your propensity to favour either one switching relentlessly. Set largely in one barren, humid location, Marconi’s script zips through its running time with ease, with a hypnotic intrigue guiding you through every bluff and betrayal. Even the weary tones of David Gray as the movie builds to a climax, can’t put a dampner on this one.
Urban Horror is that rare genre whose definition differs on both sides of the Atlantic. In America, you’d associate movies like Ernest Dickerson’s Bones with it, or Albert Pyun’s Urban Menace. In ‘ol Blighty though, we’re talking working-class horror set exclusively in the world of council estates, tower blocks and tenements. The highlights of the last five years are many, but if you were to curate an evening devoted to this oeuvre, then Menhaj Huda’s Comedown would be there, as would Jason Ford’s Community, and Ciaran Foy’s Citadel. Now though, and proving that these movies don’t have to start exclusively with the letter ‘C’, we can add THE FORGOTTEN to this natty little clique.
When fourteen year old Tommy (Clem Tibber) and his father (James Doherty) are forced to take shelter in a derelict housing estate scheduled for demolition, Tommy finds himself terrorised by strange noises coming from the boarded-up flat next door. After he makes an unlikely new friend in street-smart Carmen (Elarica Gallacher), the pair break-in to investigate, but they are unnerved to find the place empty. As the hauntings escalate, Tommy soon finds himself alone on the estate, and must begin to unravel the chilling truth behind the eerie disturbances before it’s too late.
What really elevates The Forgotten above the majority of its contemporaries, is the reserved and almost furtive manner of the narrative. There are so many questions; Where is his mother? What is his father involved in? The overwhelming issue though is how much of what Tommy hears is in his own mind, and is what we’re seeing the result of his mental fragility or is it actually reality? He’s a fascinating character; introverted, damaged and oh-so delicate, yet instantly you feel a benevolent sympathy for his situation.
Writer / director Oliver Frampton, in his debut feature, manages to deliver clear and concise answers to everything that he poses, which makes The Forgotten a work of great maturity. On the face of it, it’s a movie about a kid who hears things in the adjacent apartment, but there’s an intelligent undercurrent here which gathers topics like mental health, homelessness, and the stress of being an economically disadvantaged teenager, and weaves it seamlessly into a powerful genre movie.
With the cover of EXORCIST: HOUSE OF EVIL being adorned with a priest, briefcase in hand, standing outside a property at night, it’s pretty obvious to see just were this schlocker is being pitched. Billed as being ‘Based on the events that inspired The Exorcist’ AND laying claim to being filmed in the actual house where the occurrences that inspired William Friedkin’s film took place, it really could do no more to ride the great one’s coattails other than reanimate Jason Miller and push him down a set of steps.
Amy returns to her old family home that has remained empty since an infamous exorcism fifty years earlier, and discovers the evil spirit never left. She turns to a local Priest for help to deal with the strange noises and unusual things happening in the house, as well as inexplicable markings that she has on her body.
I have to admit, I slid David Trotti’s film into my DVD player with a sense of weary resentment, but the opening scenes certainly tried hard give my naysaying a sharp slap around the chops, as the early pre-credit sequences set in Missouri in 1949 are impressively crafted. With Trotti’s long career as a 1st AD on top-level TV fare like Burn Notice, Chuck and a variety of Star Trek incarnations, it’s obvious he’s no slouch. However, fast-forward to present day and we’re dealt a jarring change of tone that only succeeds in crushing those slightly raised expectations, as we welcome in a world of piercing blandness alongside the definition of a by-the-numbers narrative that offers little in the way of intrigue or surprise.
Amy’s house that has apparently lain dormant for over half a century must be the most impeccably preserved residence in history; such poor set decoration certainly stifles the believability of the whole concept. Meanwhile, the actual exorcism takes up less than six minutes of screen time, and leaves you with an ending that will undoubtedly summon a roar of frustration, if you’re one of the few that will give up ninety minutes of your spare time to endure it.
In my bulging ‘to watch’ pile this week, I must admit I left PROJECT 12: THE BUNKER to last, as a glance at the cover art left me presuming that it was in that over-saturated sub-genre that Outpost, Dead Snow and Frankenstein’s Army populate. While it does use some aspects of those pictures, it has enough originality to stand a few feet to the left of them, surviving in its own – if not entirely successful – little microcosm.
At the height of the Cold War, Russia was working on a secret scientific mission, which, if successful, would have changed the course of history. The mission, Project 12, was ultimately deemed too dangerous to continue and the scientists involved were to be exterminated. Three scientists escaped, and Project 12 was sealed in a well-guarded bunker, never to be seen again… until now.
Brief tangent, but I can never get my head around IMDb bio’s written in the third person, especially when it contains fist-chewing sentences like “Working with Jaime Falero guarantees results of the highest standard” says Jaime Falero. Bug bear aside, Falero’s latest is a valiant but unsuccessful fusion of round-the-world thriller, Expendables-esque action and Soviet-themed sci-fi.
An ADHD-tinged twelve minute pre-credit sequence moves at an impressive pace, but it’s hard not to get a little lost at the dizzying array of characters we’re introduced to. Captions crop up throughout the picture telling us we’re Washington D.C, Miami, Syria and Tajikistan, but on a budget of only a couple of million quid, its ambition is a little overwhelming, something that its second half finds difficult to balance. The last few reels drift into formulaic territory, and with the globetrotting shenanigans curtailed, it’s a section of the film that seems a bit too remote from the flair that started the ball rolling.
James Cosmo – despite his Russian accent, is a joy to watch, as is the ever-present Eric Roberts, but such acting royalty can’t hide the general blandness of many of the other cast members. Despite its flaws, I’m loath to shrug Project 12 off like a bad case of fleas, as I genuinely feel there’s a great DTV’er in there somewhere. For now, file it under ‘chewing gum for the eyes’, and pick it up when it drops to a discounted price. I think you might just grow to appreciate it.