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Final Destination 5 (2011)

Final Destination 5 (2011)

by Craig Thomas

It’s not uncommon for a movie with an interesting idea in the horror genre to be milked for all it’s worth. What is uncommon however is for the fifth in a series to be a worthy addition to the series. This is what happened in the case of Final Destination 5, the follow up to The FINAL Destination.

What the creators of the series have tried to do to keep it relevant is to focus on entertaining, something far too many films fail to do. Having transitioned away from the existential questions of the original, they have relied more and more on the gruesome deaths as the main marketing tool. Unfortunately, this means putting all of them in the trailer so watching the film becomes somewhat redundant. If you watch this film, do not check out the trailer first.

So, here is the plot for all Final Destination films. A terrible accident occurs and loads of people die, but due to one character having a premonition of what is going to happen they change the future and a small group of them survive. The result of “cheating death” is that he comes back around and kills the survivors one by one, in a series of needlessly gruesome and convoluted ways.

All the films are the same, aside from the character interactions, none of whom you particularly care about because you know most, if not all of them are going to die. So why watch? For the humour. Whilst the original was a horror with some laughs gained from the death scenes, they have evolved into a series of grizzly comedies. The only part that holds any interest is the ridiculously over-the-top manner in which death gets his revenge.

The great trick in this is the blatantly willful use of misdirection. We watch as we see a series of unlikely events converge to create a series of deadly hazards, only for the victim to step back from the brink at the last second, only to perish moments later in an even more unlikely freak occurrence. We know that each setup isn’t going to kill them, but it’s hard not feel the tension build as we know that death is coming. When it does finally arrive it is often a laugh out loud funny slapstick moment.

The creators know what the audiences want and have no hesitation in giving it to them. Even so, the writing is not terrible. Sure, it doesn’t reach the heights of Shakespeare or Aaron Sorkin (in my mind, interchangeable), but it is serviceable, for the most part. The plot is pretty much internally consistent.  The shoe-horning in of the detective who initially suspects the guy who had the vision caused the bridge to collapse due to breaking up with his girlfriend an hour before, is a bit much. But once the moment passes he is a vaguely useful character.

Final Destination 5 (2011)

There is a vague love story sub plot that doesn’t really have any relevance and quite frankly if you think moving to Paris for six months is the biggest problem in your life, then don’t expect much sympathy from me.

The acting is not brilliant and that doesn’t help to make you care about the characters any more. The only real exception is David Koechner as the boss you love to hate who brings his comedic talents to every scene. It’s also nice to see Tony Todd reprise his role as creepy coroner and plot expositionist (if that’s not a word, it should be), William Bludworth.

Despite my earlier praise for the series, it is no secret that it was a case of diminishing returns and that the number of people looking forward to Final Destination 5 was about five. Still, it has pumped life into a cherished franchise with wit and creative death and would be a worthwhile swan song for a series of films that have very nearly overstayed their welcome.

However, success can have its drawback and the rumour mill is on full turn suggesting that not only will there be a Final Destination 6, but also a 7th, both of which are to be filmed back-to-back. Whether these rumours are true is debatable, though less likely things have happened.

The kids in these movies can’t escape death forever, but seemingly the franchise can.

Grade: C-

Final Destination 5 is available on Blu-ray and DVD.

The Tunnel (2011)

The Tunnel (2011)

by Craig Thomas

The Tunnel is a 2011 film from Australia which purports to be a documentary about a news investigation gone horribly wrong. As the title suggests, it shares a number of similarities with another horror movie, called The Descent, in that they both involve people trapped underground with unidentified monsters.

This is basically another found footage horror film with ideas above its station. Whilst big ideas are laudable, you have to be able to pull them off, and that just doesn’t happen here. The biggest twist on the idea is that this is actually a documentary, made after the supposed events. This means there is lots of people talking to camera about what happened and whilst this is a nice idea, it commits the cardinal sin of being relentlessly dull. It also removes any tension regarding whether or not certain characters will die, as they clearly didn’t. Despite this being a work of fiction, the actors actually do a convincing job that they are recounting events, which is somewhat of a rarity in such movies. So you can get on board with the whole idea.

It is, in theory at least, an interesting concept. A similar technique was used to much better effect in the not very good Mila Jovovich alien abduction movie, The Fourth Kind.

The biggest problem with The Tunnel is that it is a really good idea, for a TV show. By which I mean, as a special at a length of 45 minutes to one hour, it had the potential to do something really good. However, with it being 90 minutes long, there just wasn’t enough material to sustain it, therefore there is a serious drag for the first half of the movie, most of which is superfluous. The first 30 minutes, a whole third of the film, could easily have been cut down to five minutes, without any loss whatsoever. It would seem the only reason it was all there to begin with was to take up time. After that, it takes another 15 minutes for anything interesting to happen. So straight away, we’re halfway through the film without anything of value or interest happening.

The Tunnel (2011)

After that it does improve dramatically. The actual horror part of the film is pretty good. It builds and maintains the suspense and there are a good couple of jumpy bits. But by this point a lot of the audience’s goodwill has been spent so it needs to work really well to justify the first half of the film and unfortunately it doesn’t quite get there. If they had managed to extend the actual horror elements of the film, then it would have been significantly improved.

In its defense, it is not too surprising how little is actually shot in the tunnels, in what would appear to have been a fan-funded film. What they have done here is impressive and the last half outstrips many larger budget films. The problem is the rest of it doesn’t work.

Considering the budgetary constraints, everyone comes out looking good and if they had found a way to make more of it a horror, or made the non-horror bits in any way engaging they could have had a good little film on their hands. Unfortunately, what they’ve got now half a film and an interesting idea. Hopefully the people involved will be able to use this as a stepping stone to greater things, of which I am confident they are capable.

Grade: D

The Tunnel is available on Blu-ray and DVD.

The Raid: Redemption (2011)

by Craig Thomas

Indonesian films do not usually get much coverage in the UK. So it was with some surprise that I noticed The Raid: Redemption seemed to feature prominently on a variety of shows. Not only was it reviewed by the film critics, but it also appeared in features on general interest TV and even the news. The level of coverage for a non-English speaking film was somewhat perplexing. As a nation, we are not great consumers of the subtitled. So what was all the fuss about? Well, there was a lot of praise both for the film and it’s writer/director, the distinctly un-Indonesian Gareth Evans. The coverage was not so much about the film, but rather the story of a boy from Wales (For those who might not know, it’s a country next to England. Birthplace of Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Anthony Hopkins and technically, Christian Bale) who grew up, studied Scriptwriting in university, moved to Indonesia and made a successful movie full of non-stop action and horrendous violence. A proper kid done good story. And if there’s one thing we Brits like more than revelling in the failures of others, it’s undeservedly basking in their glory.

So what of the film? Well, it’s non-stop action in the truest sense. There’s two minutes of back-story for one of the characters, then five minutes of exposition in the form of a mission-briefing to a truckload of heavily-armed police officers, which can be summarized thusly; a very bad man owns a building and rents out the rooms to other very bad men. The police are going in to get the very bad man, but to do so have to go through all the other very bad men.

The next 90 minutes is a full-on assault of violence that would make Tarantino blush. People are shot, stabbed, garrotted, exploded, hacked, and subjected to non-stop barrages of the Indonesian martial art, pencak silat. That is pretty much the whole film, except it’s not. There’s a number of sub-plots that keep the momentum going and turn it into something a bit more interesting than people just beating each other up. I won’t go into these as it doesn’t add anything to the review and might detract from the film, but there are numerous twists and turns to give the violence some context.

It is always difficult to judge the quality of dialogue in a subtitled film, but it seemed well-written. Each line served a purpose, but also seemed natural, not just an attempt to shoe-horn in a plot point. There were also more than a couple of moments of black humour. It is very much a post-Reservoir Dogs action film, in that the juxtaposition of comedy and violence derives from the predicaments the characters find themselves in and is used to lighten the mood momentarily before plunging you back into the horror of the situation. This contrasts strongly with the action movies of the 1980s, which are seemingly (some might say unfortunately) making a comeback now, where throw-away quips are used to detract from, and almost legitimize, the extreme violence on display.

The script, like the film in general, is very lean. There is nothing here that is unnecessary or causes it to feel bloated. The editing is very quick and the camera movement means that the fight scenes do no blur into one another, and that the longer ones do not become a chore. This brings me to the most obvious thing about this film, namely the choreography. In a word, it is excellent. Making up the bulk of the movie, these scenes are expertly crafted and never feel stale nor repetitive and part of that is down to the good writing. There is a great deal of variety, without it drifting into the totally preposterous. As the tension increases, the weapons decrease (from machine guns, to hand guns, to knives, to whatever’s at hand, to bare hands) and the action becomes more elaborate, but somehow avoids becoming a farce. I can’t imagine the physical strain performing all those routines must have had on the actors, all of whom were perfectly cast and who make the characters compelling, even though there is virtually no back-story presented to the audience.

This is a very enjoyable film and manages to sustain the high-octane pace for the duration without outstaying its welcome. Visually, it is very impressive and the fight scenes are immense. Yet there are also a number of themes bubbling under the surface it which prevent it from becoming one-dimensional. This is a great action film with some brilliant fight scenes. That it was made by a fellow Welshman makes it doubly sweet.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, I can confirm there will be both an English remake and an Indonesian sequel.

Grade: B

The Raid: Redemption is available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Chillerama (2011)

by Steve Habrat

Ever since Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse ripped through movie theaters back in 2007, there have been multiple attempts to emulate that film’s underground success. Far from a huge hit on release, Grindhouse found an audience in fans of cult cinema, trashy horror, and sleazy exploitation, and has since become something of an unsung classic. A classic that happens to feature melting penises, a serial killer who dispatches his victims with a hot rod, gooey zombies, and go-go dancers with machine gun legs. As a fan of that wasteland of cinema, I have praised Grindhouse for its attempt to transport its audience back to the good old days of sleaze and doing it quite well. Credit should go to Tarantino and Rodriguez, who did it with plenty of gusto and a strong understanding of what made those films so fun. The sleaze films they were paying tribute to weren’t perfect, but they had their hearts in the right place so it was easy to forgive them for the flimsy production value and shock tactics. While some of the copycats have been okay, there is one out there that should have never seen the light of day. Behold Chillerama, another attempt at celebrating sleaze and trash but going about it the complete wrong way. From the wrapped minds of director’s Adam Green (director of 2006’s Hatchet), Joe Lynch (director of 2007’s Wrong Turn 2: Dead End), Adam Rifkin (director of 1999’s Detroit Rock City), and Tim Sullivan (director of 2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams), this D-squad of B-movie fans try to recreate the glory days of the drive-in but end up with an insufferable stink bomb of a movie that complete misses the mark.

Chillerama begins on the closing night of the last drive-in in America. This drive-in, run by Cecil Kaufman (Played by Richard Riehle), is gearing up to show its faithful patrons one final night of long lost horror movies that are so rare, it is the first time they are ever being shown on American soil. As Wadzilla (a 50’s style giant creatures attack flick directed by Rifkin), I Was a Teenage Werebear (a 60’s beach party meets The Lost Boys directed by openly gay filmmaker Sullivan), and The Diary of Anne Frankenstein (an Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS meets Universal Movie Monster knockoff directed by Green) roll on the screen, the audience members begin to suffer from strange symptoms that are turning them into sex-crazed zombies. As the place is overrun with the undead, it is up to Tobe (Played by Corey Jones), Mayna (Played by Kaili Thorne), Ryan (Played by Brendan McCreary), and Miller (Played by Ward Roberts) to band together and try to save the drive-in before it closes its doors for good.

Lacking the big name draw and subtle humor that Grindhouse had, Chillerama is trying so hard that it is almost painful to watch. It is riddled with nonstop movie references that are weirdly distracting or have absolutely no place in a film like this (What is with the Orson Wells nod?). Presented as a collection of short films (they all run about twenty-five minutes), Chillerama is preoccupied with being a relentless knee-slapping romp with so much strained sleaze that it seems like these guys are trying to convince us that they with can outdo what Tarantino and Rodriguez did. Unfortunately, they can’t nor will they ever be able to. The film begins with necrophilia and from there, the directors seem like they are locked in a gross-out competition rather than attempting to make a complete vision. Wadzilla finds its actors sprayed with gallons of fake semen while the homoerotic I Was a Teenage Werebear has a man killing another man with his erect penis. While exploitation films got weird (Have you ever seen Burial Ground?!), a little wild, and more than a little disgusting (Cannibal Holocaust anyone?), they were NEVER this cartoonishly foul. There was still a serious side despite the cringe inducing acting and the pointless nude scenes that filled out there runtime.

When you aren’t fighting back gags, you’ll find Chillerama is a severely disjointed and inconsistent thrill ride. Grindhouse benefitted from smooth sailing from the first frame of the Machete trailer to the final frame of Death Proof. There was never a dry spot in Grindhouse, although the argument could be made that there were a few slower moments, moments necessary to build story. Chillerama does have a bit of momentum in Wadzilla, even if it is a little too disgusting for its own good. It does have a few jokes that land and the hokey special effects really make the film what it is. It is the highlight of the picture but once we hit I Was a Teenage Werebear, things fly wildly off the rails and the handful of giggles that were found in Wadzilla evaporate from the screen. I have to give the idea credit, a beach party thrown by gay werewolves does sound pretty intriguing but the execution is such a disaster that you can’t wait for it to end. This short is done in by poor musical numbers that are eye rolling and severely unfunny. It also has tons of misdirected raunchy moments that blow up in its face. And then there is The Diary of Anne Frankenstein, which is a mind numbing monster movie that features its actors yelling gibberish while making contemporary jokes in a film that is supposed to be dated. Everything culminates with the idiotic orgy of Zom B Movie (directed by Joe Lynch), which finds gangs of sex crazed maniacs roaming the drive-in for an undead roll in the hay. It is here that Riehle gets to really cut loose but the amateurs around him keep things stuck in the entrails.

There really isn’t much to say about the acting in Chillerama. It is purposely “bad” but the irony is that it is really bad “bad” acting. As far as familiar faces go, outside of Riehle, the only other recognizable thespians will be Eric Roberts, Ron Jeremy, Kane Hodder, and Joel David Moore, all who should be busy scrubbing this filth from their résumés as soon as they get the chance (yes, even Ron Jeremy). The sets and production design are also pretty bad too, but I’m sure it was on purpose (at least I hope). It seems like the four fanboys who are responsible for this didn’t properly divide up the money and it appears as if I Was a Teenage Werebear got screwed, as it all takes place on the beach with barely a set to speak of. This might hit the funny bone for some but to me, Chillerama just seemed too disorganized, with four people pulling in opposite directions. Furthermore, not one of these men knows who to write a funny joke and should consider stepping away from comedy immediately. If you happen to be a fan of the Golden Age of Trash cinema, my advice is stay away from Chillerama. Instead, pop in your Grindhouse Blu-ray or consider revisiting your 42nd Street Forever Collection. Hell, go with the real thing if you must but just promise me you will never watch Chillerama.

Grade: F

Chillerama is available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Video Review: Absentia (2011)

Thor & Captain America: The First Avenger Reviews/Live Avengers Midnight Showing Coverage!

Hey readers,

In case you haven’t checked out my reviews of last summer’s Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, you can check them out before you head out to see The Avengers by clicking the links below! Also, throughout the evening I will be posting some updates from the midnight showing. I may post some pictures, comments, and just general coverage of one of the biggest films of the year from one of the places it was shot: Cleveland, Ohio. The updates will be attached to this post, so just scroll down under the two attached reviews! Who knows what I may get and keep your eyes on the Anti-Film School Twitter (Follow us if you haven’t already!) for updates as well. So, let’s kick this summer off with a bang!

-(Theater Management) Steve

Click here to read the Anti-Film School review of THOR

Click here to read the Anti-Film School review of CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER

The Innkeepers (2011)

by Steve Habrat

After 2009’s The House of the Devil, I was curious to see what director Ti West would do next. Turns out, he returned to the horror genre and made a film that was even better than his awesome if a bit flawed 2009 retro offering. The Innkeepers improves upon what West did in The House of the Devil, still brandishing the slow burn intensity but here, West doesn’t begin to fall apart in the final stretch like he did in The House of the Devil. The Innkeepers is old school horror, one that pokes fun at the jump scare approach in the opening moments and then quickly assures us, by the distant thumping and ghostly whispers, that this isn’t that kind of a horror film. Sure, West does slip in the obligatory fake out scare once or twice but it’s his images, ones that are incredibly spooky and borderline traumatizing, that really make this a film that you will hesitate to watch when the sun goes down.

The Innkeepers invites us into the Yankee Pedlar Inn, an old hotel that has been in operation for over one hundred years. We are introduced to the two slacker employees, Claire (Played by Sara Paxton) and Luke (Played by Pat Healy), who moonlight as amateur paranormal investigators, determined to find out if the Yankee Pedlar Inn lives up to its haunted reputation. The hotel is in its last days of operation and Claire and Luke are determined to find hard evidence of Madeline O’Malley, the woman they believe is their resident ghost. After a handful of old guests return to the Yankee Pedlar Inn, strange noises are heard and Claire has one hell of a close encounter, sparking the two amateur paranormal investigators to double their efforts. The more they begin to uncover about the hotel’s undead inhabitant, the more they put their lives in danger.

Director West knows how to expertly pace the events within his film, leaving us hanging on what will come in the next frame. He teases us here and there, a whisper is heard, a piano key suddenly plays, and then he backs off and dares us to ask for more. Like fools, we do and that is when he REALLY delivers the goods. The Innkeepers has a ghostly encounter that almost that turned me into an icicle. This scene let me know that West means business and in every tense scene after, my knuckles were white. To some, The Innkeepers may be boring or too slow, but the patient pace adds to the old school feel to the film. Throughout the run time, I was reminded of such otherworldly creepouts like The Innocents, The Haunting, The Changeling, and The Shining, all films that would be incredibly proud of West’s effort here and compliment The Innkeepers on a double feature night. West also pulls off the impossible and gives us a climax that doesn’t completely underwhelm or fly wildly off the tracks. The film remains consistent, something that most horror films of today fail to do, and boldly resists giving in to overkill, which was a trap that West himself tumbled into with The House of the Devil.

The Innkeepers features some incredibly convincing performances from its young leads. Sarah Paxton is a real treasure, possessing a cute girl-next-door pep while also sighing through disgust and exasperation over her dead-end job. She is incredibly charismatic and will charm your pants off. She works great with Pat Healy’s Luke, who slumps over the check-in desk and sips Schlitz beer while tinkering with his paranormal website. Luke seems like the American twin brother to Simon Pegg’s Shaun in Shaun of the Dead, as I kept getting the strangest feeling that they would have a ball together chattering on about video games, zombie flicks, and pot, all while Healy informs Pegg that he has red on him. Their performances coast on the waves of West’s solid dialogue that rolls off the tongue like real conversation. Their highlight moment comes when they decide that they are going to investigate the ominous basement, Claire calling out questions to Madeline O’Malley as West’s camera vacillates back and forth between Luke’s face, the recorder, and Claire’s face. West doesn’t give us multiple fancy camera angles or any flowing movement around the room. West jumps back and forth until finally he freezes on Claire’s wide-eyed stare at something behind Luke, just off screen for our imaginations to be sent into overdrive. Luke asks if she is here and Claire informs Luke that she’s right behind him. Talk about a new classic moment for the horror genre! The Innkeepers also welcomes in Witness’s Kelly McGillis as a former star with a drinking problem and who may have more of an understanding about what is going on in the hotel than the two kids do.

Throughout The Innkeepers, West paints terrifying images that will lock themselves into your brain until it is time for you to shut the lights off to go to sleep. His ghost has got to be one of the creepiest apparitions to haunt the screen in recent memory (and I was fairly convinced that the spook in The Woman in Black was pretty darn creepy). This thing is the stuff that nightmares are made of and West keeps her just hidden enough in the shadows, only showing her briefly so we can never truly process her. At one point in the film, Luke describes a paranormal experience that he once had and he says that it is hard to remember exact details of what he saw. West applies Luke’s description in the final frames when the guests who never left the Yankee Pedlar Inn come out to play with Luke and Claire. West either douses them in shadows or only briefly illuminates them with Claire’s trembling flashlight as they reach out for her to come join them.

Unlike The House of the Devil, I really didn’t find any aspect I was disappointed in while watching The Innkeepers. Usually, newer horror films let me down in some way, shape, or form, but The Innkeepers is an exception. With all the hype that surrounded this film, I was afraid that it would fall short of my expectations but I was steadily impressed every step of the way. The Innkeepers joins the ranks of some of the best recent horror films that I have seen and West is a new hero of the genre. I hope that he continues to operate just outside the major studio system, making smaller and tighter pictures than CGI laced garbage for the preteens to see on a Friday night. It’s safe to say that West knows how to really scare us, to leave out firm explanations that other horror films of today are so fond of. With The Innkeepers, West has earned my full respect and in the process, he has made a film that down the line will become a celebrated horror classic. Trust me.

Grade: A-

The Innkeepers is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.