Saturday marks the day of Halloween, the time of year to engage with all things, ghastly, ghouley and frightening. One of the best ways to do so is through the numerous horror flicks that the movie world has kindly unleashed upon us. To mark the event this year, I have themed a snack-time post with my thoughts on three films which dabble in horror in their own distinct ways. One is through straight up spectral happenings, another through Gothic romance. And one by being just so a horrifically terrible movie. I’ll leave you to guess which is which.
Pan (Dir: Joe Wright)
Well, what the fuck happened here? The story of Peter Pan is one which has charmed children and adults alike for over 100 years through various forms. J.M. Barries’ timeless creation of a story of a boy who refused to grow up has had many a different take, from more traditional Disney fare to a ‘What if?’ scenario in Spielberg’s Hook. A true origins tale is not one that has been translated to screen, but one does exist in Barrie’s own writing, a dark tragic tale of a boy who ran away from home, only to be replaced by another child. What it doesn’t have is white-washing, ugly visuals, Southern Captain Hooks, or a cocky little shit as its lead. Just why all that exists here is anyone’s guess.
Peter (Levi Miller) is an orphan living in an Orphanage in World War 2-era London, an institute run by the cruel Mother Barnabas (Kathy Burke). With children mysteriously disappearing, Peter soon finds out that Barnabas has made a deal with a gang of Pirates from another world, Neverland, a world in which Peter believes he may find his long lost mother (Amanda Seyfried). Once he is captured himself, Peter enters the world of Neverland to discover that he may be the prophesised saviour of the Indian tribe, driven into hiding by the dastardly Captain Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). Teaming up with the rogueish James Hook (Garret Hedlund), Peter sets out to discover his destiny and to find out what really happened to his mother.
There is potential in delving in to the origins of Peter Pan, but quite why it proceeds in this fashion is boggling, considering there is already a version of the origins worthy of adapting. Joe Wright, who is by no means a talent-less director, shoots everything in an incredibly stage like fashion, meaning that the proceedings end up feeling cheap, tacky, and garish.
The visual effects range from competent to utterly appalling, as we stumble through noisy set piece after noisy set piece. There is the odd thrill, particularly once Peter learns to fly, but it does not compensate for the bizarre decisions made throughout. Hedlund’s performance is baffling in its Indiana Jones-lite fashion, while Rooney Mara’s controversial casting as Tiger Lily is only made worse by the fact that the character is so thinly drawn and rarely allowed to kick ass as she should, simply becoming an object of affection for Hedlund’s Hook.
The only member of the cast that seems to be in on the joke is JAckman, who crafts an entertainingly campy pirate through Blackbeard, although many of the stylistic choices attributed to him remain ill-advised (‘Teenage Spirit’ as a work song? Why? Is it post-modern? I don’t even know any-more). The young Miller delivers an incredibly forced performance, over-annunciating every line, and crafting Peter into an obnoxious, smug and irritating hero who never does anything to prove himself worthy of being a hero, he just simply has everything handed to him.
The film becomes incredibly laborious very quickly, amounting in cinematic venture to Neverland that lacks true invention or anything all that worthwhile. It may distract kids with its garish imagery, but its script that is riddled with plot holes and its lazy design which rips off everything from Pirates of the Caribbean to Avatar drown an admittedly talented cast. Nearly everyone involved in this film has proven themselves to be incredibly talented in the past, but everyone seems to have taken an off day with this one, producing one of the most arduous cinematic experiences I have had this year. Congrats Pan, you get my first one-star review of the year. 1/5
Crimson Peak (Dir: Guillermo del Toro)
Now before you say anything, I know that this, Guillermo del Toro’s fifth English language movie as director, is not strictly a horror movie, what with it only having shades through its Gothic lashings within a dark tale of romance. Marketed as such though, Crimson Peak may disappoint those looking for much in the way of scares this Halloween. That being said, it is not without its creep-tastic imagery in the form of the ghosts which visit our heroine, budding author Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), who is swept away to a crumbling mansion on top a clay mine when she falls for the charming yet mysterious Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). Living with both her new husband and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain), Edith embarks on a dark tale that rival her own imagination.
Crimson Peak may well stand as the most ‘del Toro’ picture he has made in the English language, with much of the Gothic overtones recalling The Devil’s Backbone, and as a result is a delightfully gruesome and ravishing picture to behold. It is an utter master-class of production design, with the set designs brimming with pulsing life. Nearly every frame could be held and examined to discover more about the world in which del Toro populates his romantic characters. Allerdale Hall, the house atop the titular Crimson Peak, ripples with life, with clay seeping like blood from the walls of the hall that once held much grandeur but has since shed its life with the decline of the Sharpe name. The designs of the ghosts as well are capable of being quite terrifying when given their moment to shine, resulting in an incredibly unsettling atmosphere throughout.
Where Crimson Peak is not quite so finely tuned is within its screenplay. A great deal of time passes before we actually get to Allerdale Hall, with mystery surrounding the Sharpe’s being somewhat obviously established. While it is not afraid to delve into some dark corners, the film proceeds as you would expect, rarely pulling the rug from under your feet whilst you wonder the sumptuous halls of the Sharpe’s fallen estate.
The story maintains your interest due in large part to the design, but also due to the fine work from its three leads. Wasikowska is very much suited to this type of Daphne de Maurier Gothic heroine, leading us through the proceedings with wide eyes and a candle stick in hand. Hiddleston is suitably charming and appropriately allusive in his approach. It is Jessica Chastain that steals the show however, bubbling with a sinister spirit before truly letting rip with a gloriously mad performance in the final third.
Guillermo del Toro thankfully has once again refused to compromise to more conventional ‘horror’ techniques, allowing this film to stand firmly as a Gothic Romance, marking it as a somewhat unique text within the pantheon of modern screen horror. It is first and foremost a romance, one which becomes warped and doomed as it proceeds via the nature of its atmosphere and the dark pasts of its characters. It is a visually rich and utterly ravishing piece of cinema, a richness which should only prove more rewarding on repeat viewing. 4/5
Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (Dir: Gregory Plotkin)
The Paranormal Activity franchise is one that I have actively supported since the first instalment came along and gave a kick start to the flailing found footage sub-genre of horror. While further instalments in the franchise have not been particularly well received on the critical spectrum, but I have found all of them to be rather affectingly diverting and frighteningly fun (with number 3 actually standing as my favourite of the franchise). Yet, however, there has always been a common issue with every instalment. While many of the episodes do enough to increase interest in the mythology of Toby the Demon, all ultimately have quite underwhelming endings as it simply leaves another loose end to be tied. Well, now, we have The Ghost Dimension, the film that promises to be the final chapter, revealing the activity in full bodied glory. Was it worth the wait and dedication? Unfortunately, not quite.
A new family becomes victim to the prophecy that looks to see the demon Toby come to full bodied life. Yet, this time, the family happen upon a camera which allows them to see the demonic presence on tape. Now they only have to find a way to stop it.
The Ghost Dimension sells itself on the notion that there is now a camera that allows the activity to be seen. While an intriguing idea, the actual execution leaves much to be desired. For starts, the camera comes very much out of nowhere, with no information given to us as to who designed it (considering it’s nowhere to be seen in any previous instalments). While this could be forgiven if the film provided some truly fresh and scary imagery with the gimmick, but sadly the cheap as chips budget aggressively shines through, presenting terrible CGI forms in amateurish 3-D.
That being said, there are moments that work. The cast of unknowns work a treat, with the child performance particularly proving effective. There are also some rather successful moments of creepiness, mostly through plays on perspective and creepy child performances. It does things very competently, as it seemingly builds to a big and intriguing climax set within the titular ‘Ghost Dimension’, yet when the film gets there, its over incredibly quickly. The film does not allow us to bask in this new and exciting realm, one thinks because of budget restrictions. It results in a film with a significant amount of build up with limited pay off in what is supposed to be the culmination of this franchise. Time wasted. 2/5