A Quiet Place: a horror masterclass

The ‘what if’ question is often a good way to start the process of creating a story for a writer. To come up with a meaty concept. In A Quiet Place it’s: what if alien type monsters arrived on earth and could hunt us based on the tiniest sounds we make?

So with the inevitable when (and it’s always a when) of when you break the silence, you’ll find it’s game over moments later, because these predators are insanely fast and nigh on indestructible.

The only way to survive is to be utterly silent.
At all times.
Or die.

Which is where we start.

Searching for supplies in an abandoned town we meet Lee Abbott (John Krasinkski) and his family. It’s clear the slightest noise they make is a BIG DEAL. So they use sign language and move around barefoot, walking from their farm to the town and back on trails of sand they’ve painstakingly put down everywhere.

Whilst Lee and his wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt) are highly aware of what might happen should they make a noise, the kids are slightly less mindful of the danger (being kids), except maybe oldest daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds).

The thing that struck me in these opening exchanges is how Krasinkski as director allows us into the characters’ world with such ease. He sets out the roles within the family dynamic and how they interact in such a simple, effective and visual way. All in the first few moments, and all in silence.

And this is made particularly impressive by the fact that the majority of modern mainsteam studio films start guns blazing… all dialogue, action, music, mayhem turned up to 11.

So it’s refreshing, palate cleansing almost, that Krasinski starts the way he does. Showing a confidence in his material and commitment to his vision as a filmmaker.

This in spite of the fact that it’s only his third outing as director and, being a contributing writer as well as one of the leads, it seems like it should be too much for him (or anyone) to handle, but he appears right at home.

It probably helps he brought part of his home with him – at least in terms of acting (for the first time) opposite his real-life wife, Emily Blunt. As this makes for an easy and believable chemistry (you’d worry if they didn’t get this bit right) and, to be honest, if you can get Emily Blunt in your movie, then get Emily Blunt in your movie. I’m a big fan and she brought a lot to the role.

The best parts of this film, unsurprisingly, come in the quietest moments.

By this I mean not necessarily the sound, but the little details, the grace notes, the thought and care the filmmakers put into creating this world. From the VFX people and how they created the monsters, to the design and layout of the farm and even down to the clothes the characters wear (all rugged, chunky knits in rich, earthy, natural colours).

There is also delicate detail in the way the tension builds slowly and feels real. Opposite to how – with most horror – you’re expecting a monster or killer to jump out and eviscerate one of the expendable characters, or even a lead character, often quite early in proceedings. Here you’re hoping and praying the family don’t suffer the same fate.

I found I cared a lot more about the Abbott family then I have ever done for a group of attractive teens trying to evade a slasher killer, for example.

And this probably comes down to the message the movie is trying to put across about how difficult it is being a parent in the modern world. After a traumatic incident early on that sets the stakes and illustrates the danger, the rest of the movie is basically Lee and Evelyn trying their hardest to protect their kids and just live their lives.

Evelyn even says to Lee at one point, ‘Who are we if we cannot protect our kids?’.

And talking of kids, special mention should go to the actors that play the two eldest children, Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and Marcus (Noah Jupe). Both put in superb performances, particularly Millicent, who blames, and is angry, at herself, after the incident early on, and just wants her father’s love, but doesn’t feel she deserves it.

For me, Krasinski was also something of a surprise. I’ve not really seen him in anything before, just knew his name. He was almost Captain America at one point, and you can see why. He’s a commanding presence and holds the screen and has handsome, everyman hero written all over him. He’s also very expressive without having to say anything. One to watch as both a director and a leading man. I’m keen to see what he does next.

In terms of A Quiet Place though, it’s superb. Even if you aren’t really into horror, it’s so much more than that really. It’s emotionally very affecting, tense, tender and will leave you thinking about its themes for days after.

What’s harder, horror or comedy?

Lately I’ve seen some shockers on both sides. Sitting on the sofa as the credits rolls I’m trying to pinpoint exactly what the issue is and why I didn’t engage with the characters or the story.

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Take horror for example. The problem is there’s – and I know many would contest this – only a certain number of ways to do horror. If you stray too far from tried and tested methods you risk getting too meta on the audience. However, if you stick too closely to stock scares and tricks people get bored. They’ve seen it all before. It’s not scary.

So as a genre it’s a tough nut to crack. A good example I’ve seen lately would be Stoker and an average one would be Silent House. The former a stylish and creepy tale deftly directed by Korean director Park Chan-wook. The latter an underwhelming remake of a Uruguayan film, La Casa Muda. Both films make reference to – and to some extent directly draw from – the great Hitchcock. Some of what they do works, some doesn’t.

On the comedy front I’m hard pushed to think of anything I’ve seen lately that particularly tickled the funny bone. This year quite a few comedies have flopped: A Million Ways To Die In The West, Sex Tape, Neighbors, The Other Woman… the list goes on. I hear 22 Jump Street was good and, whilst it wasn’t as hilarious as people said, I found The Lego Movie reasonably entertaining. Both were earlier this year though and in the last six months it’s been a bit barren.

So what’s looking promising coming up?

HORROR
High-Rise
This J.G. Ballard novel of a tower block cut off from society gets the Ben Wheatley treatment. Stars Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans and Elizabeth Moss.

At The Mountains Of Madness
Guillermo del Toro directs this H.P. Lovecraft tale of an expedition to the Antarctic gone wrong. This one’s still in production limbo but it might happen soon.

Maggie
A teenage girl contracts an infection that slowly turns her into a cannabilistic zombie. Her father, Arnie, stays with her whilst she changes. A change of direction for the Austrian Oak.

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COMEDY
Mortdecai
After dabbling in a few other genres recently Johnny Depp is back to what he does best, namely weird wackiness. Adapted from a series of novels this looks promising.

The Jungle Book
Yes, this is happening as a film. With Scarlet Johansson and Bill Murray and Jon Favreau directing it’s bound to be funny. Hopefully.

Pitch Perfect 2
Anna Kendrick and the gang are back in the sequel to this 2012 sleeper hit. Expect big songs, big laughs and Rebel Wilson stealing scenes.

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Walking Dead: No Sanctuary

Rick Grimes. I wonder if any of the gang call him Grimey? With each season of The Walking Dead Rick’s group of survivors get filthier and filthier. For the start of this season Rick (Andrew Lincoln) has reached borderline tramp levels of filth. An unkempt beard, lank hair, dirt and blood all over his face and clothes that look not so much worn, as worn to breaking point.

The reason to labour on about the sartorial appearance of the group is, simply put, you can use how they look as a barometer of how worn down they are, how much trouble they’re in, and indeed, how desperate and determined they’ve become.

nosanctuary

A large chunk of the previous season focused on the group’s desire to reach Terminus. Hoping against hope that it was a safe haven for survivors. This being Robert Kirkman, of course we knew this wouldn’t be the case. In fact, it was about as far from a safe place as you can imagine and was more akin (spoiler!) to some sort of Eli Roth wet dream.

Some might say the last season – or least the latter half of the last season – was fairly low key. Following events at the prison the group had become divided and were all gradually making their way – albeit unknowingly – to the same destination. I actually enjoyed this change of pace and tone. Prior to this, so much screen time had been devoted to the claustrophobic atmosphere of the prison that, as a viewer, it felt refreshing to see the group out and about. Despite the fact that it was a concern that they had become divided. Will they reunite or get slowly picked off? It was a worry.

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This is testament to the fact that they’re a great group of characters. Well written and well played. We care deeply about their fate. So much so that the makers of the show hit us square in the face with an incredibly tense opening sequence (and episode) which sees Grimey and the gang face certain death. Much like Game of Thrones this show isn’t afraid to kill off big names, so you genuinely fear for them.

I don’t want to say how it plays out, but it’s an impressive opener. So that we’re not entirely put through the emotional wringer there is some respite towards the end, with various characters being reunited for the first time in a long time. And so, as viewers, we’re fairly satisfied – and somewhat relieved.

Continuing from last season there’s still a running storyline where some of the group are trying to get a scientist to a place where he can release a cure to the zombie problem. Whether or not the group make it there in this season or more manner of horrors are thrown in their path remains to be seen.

Whatever the case it’s heartening (in a gory sort of way) to have the show back and for Grimey and the gang to (mostly) be back together again. If the opening episode is setting the tone for this season then we’ll be in for a belter.

Go Grimey!

 

The Guest: introducing the English Ryan Gosling

The latest Downton Abbey export to head to Hollywood is Dan Stevens. I don’t watch the show, but I hear his character is a nice guy who’s good at seducing the ladies.

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Now actors often like to break the mould when it comes to roles – to avoid being typecast and all that. So if people think you’re a nice guy, what do you do? Turn it on its head, subvert people’s expectations of you.

And so we have The Guest, a film which starts with Stevens’ soldier, David, introducing himself to a grieving mother, saying he served with her son in the army. Naturally she invites him in, keen to learn more. After all, he’s such a nice young man. He called her ma’am for a start.

maika

The Guest is an interesting sort of thriller, and a lot of it is down to Stevens’ performance. You need someone who can be warm and likeable then, in an instant, be utterly frightening in a stone-cold psycho way. In that respect Stevens does well.

It helps having piercing blue eyes of course (a must if you’re going to make it as a leading man in Hollywood), and he uses them to his advantage. He’s got good screen presence too and conveys a convincing sense of coiled menace – the sort you might expect a special forces soldier to have.

THE GUEST

So… If you have a scary guest in your house you’ll need someone to question why the hell he’s there (particularly when the rest of the family think he’s lovely). Step forward suspicious daughter Anna (Maika Monroe, looking and acting considerably more grown up since last year’s Labor Day).

Another interesting point to note with this film is that it keeps you guessing. You’re never entirely sure of David’s motives – at least for the first half of the movie – and he switches effortlessly between nice guy and bad guy. Part Jason Bourne, part Ryan Gosling a la Crazy Stupid Love.

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The final act has teen slasher franchise Scream written all over it – or perhaps other references, given the ’80s-tinged soundtrack (there’s shades of Drive, Hanna and Alice In Wonderland in this film with the lurid, neon colours and fairytale horror feel). However it carries it off with panache and a loving nod to the time of year with the Halloween setting.

So if you’re looking for an engaging thriller with a few scares, a cool soundtrack and England’s answer to Ryan Gosling, look no further than The Guest. Incidentally, a good date movie too.

Penny Dreadful: first episode review

timmyModern TV shows, they have to begin with a bang these days. Well, to be fair, old ones did too, yet new ones tend to come with an A-list cast of actors, as well as an acclaimed director and screenwriter.

Penny Dreadful is no exception. The man who put pen to paper, John Logan, is the wordsmith behind this one – in case you didn’t know, a look back through his impressive filmography shows he’s given us Any Given Sunday, Gladiator, The Aviator, Skyfall and many more. Quite a talent. And, if we’re mentioning Bond it won’t escape many of you that this show has two alumni: Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm Murray and Eva Green as Vanessa Ives – both inspired bits of casting.

Ever since Hot Fuzz in 2007 Dalton appears to have had a new lease of life and looks to be having an immense amount of fun with each project he now takes on (perhaps the most since his Bond days). As well as a wry smile and a wink he also brings a good dollop of gravitas and sincerity to the part.Episode 101 With only the opening episode to go on it’s fair to say he put in a compelling performance as a man on a quest in the darkest parts of London.

And then there’s Eva Green as Vanessa Ives. Green has spent most of her career playing sultry, sensual, seductive parts. She also suits the occult quite well (she’s been a witch twice), so Ives was a natural fit. There’s intrigue there too, why is she beholden to Sir Malcolm? What debt does she owe him? Where do her witchy powers come from? Or are they religious ones? We see her twice in the episode praying to a crucifix. We also have an actor (Josh Hartnett) who, much like his character jaded gunslinger Ethan Chandler, has lost the love for his profession, having been pretty quiet since 30 Days of Night in 2007.josh1 The story is told largely from his character’s point of view, introducing us to the worlds between worlds.

Harry Treadaway as Victor Frankenstein makes up the rest of the team. Young, articulate, creepy and intense. Treadaway’s performance was, for me, unexpected but eminently watchable, often stealing scenes from the likes of Dalton (no mean feat) and then rounding off the episode with a beautifully monstrous yet touchingly tender scene.

Despite having seen umpteen vampire shows in the last few years, this has a different tone and feels fresh, with the focus on the human characters rather than the supernatural ones (bear in mind it’s not just vampires but they feature in the first episode).ustv-penny-dreadful-s01-e01-4 It’s also beautifully shot.

Some credit has to go to Juan Antonia Bayona, director behind The Orphanage and, quite recently, The Impossible for the way he’s portrayed Victorian London. Without knowing the budget for the show he’s given it an expensive look and feel and the sets are thoughtfully designed with nice detail.

So, a promising start. All the pieces are in place and the first episode was sufficiently gripping and well paced. Looking forward to seeing how the season unfolds.

Who loves a good chant?

rufio__oPtWhether it’s for comedy purposes or to build the tension in a thriller or horror, a nice memorable phrase repeated over and over has a certain unrelenting quality to it – something is going to happen and chances are it won’t be good for the person on the receiving end. Here are some of my favourites:

Warriors… come out to play!
Picture the scene in this 1979 cult classic, The Warriors: framed for the murder of Cyrus (the most powerful gang leader in New York) the Warriors battle it across the city to get back to their home turf on Coney island. Only to find their bitter rival, Luther – leader of the Rogues and the man who actually killed Cyrus – blocking their path and demanding a fight. Director Walter Hill masterfully cranks up the tension with Luther creepily tapping bottles together and chanting in a bizarre and deranged manner.


Rufio versus Pan

What’s the best way to make an entrance at the end of the ’80s/early ’90s? On a skateboard of course. Then onto a trapeze and into a backflip. Then draw a sword. Who wouldn’t want to be leader of the Lost Boys? Growing up, Spielberg’s Hook in 1991 was a treat and Rufio was super cool – every young lad wanted to be him. In these scenes Rufio makes his entrance and taunts Pan (Robin Williams), then loses to him in a battle of words; a point where Peter begins to believe and the Lost Boys switch their allegiance.


The greater good

Mmmm, a murderous cult. What we learn in this scene is that killing is ok if it’s for ‘the greater good’ and said in chanted unison. Here Sergeant Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) faces off against the town’s village council in Hot Fuzz (2007), having worked out that they’d been behind a slew of killings… all in the name of ‘the greater good’. Creepy, yet brilliantly funny.


Frank the tank

‘You know it! When it hits your lips!’ When Old School was released in 2003 it was a bit of a sleeper hit. The modern brat pack of Vince Vaughn and co were just getting going, but one man stood out beyond all others. Will Ferrell aka Frank the tank. Gaining his name downing beer at a frat party. Reminds me of that alcholic’s phrase, ‘one is too many, two is not enough.’


Kali Ma

Growing up most of us remember Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (great title); specifically the moment Indy witnesses human sacrifice with a guy getting his heart torn out. Quite horrific to watch as a kid, but mesmerising. Here’s an idea… Chant ‘kali ma’ in a creepy way whilst moving your hand towards a friend’s chest and see if they freak out.


Give him fur black as black

Hocus Pocus in 1993 was – and still is I guess – a bit of a guilty pleasure, with Bette Midler on fine form as the head of a coven of witches (one of which included a young Sarah Jessica Parker). In this scene early in the film she turns a young chap into a black cat with a nice little, suitably witch-y chant. ‘Give him fur black as black just, like, this.’


Beetlejuice… Beetlejuice… Beetlejuice

‘Jump in the line, rock your body on time. Ok, I believe you!’ There’s so many great scenes, songs and dialogue from this film. From the possessed dinner party chanting and singing ‘Day-O’ dance to the aforementioned ‘Shake Senora’ calypso finish, it’s movie gold. Beetlejuice is also let out to play by saying his name three times. Go on, try it.


You shall not pass

Not sure if this counts as chanting, more booming. But it’s Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf against a Balrog, c’mon! I think just before his immortal line there’s a chant. I mean, I wouldn’t mess with someone that says they’re the servant of the secret fire, would you?

If you go down to the woods today…

The Cabin in the WoodsHands up, who likes a bit of horror? Let’s be honest, who doesn’t? Even the meekest amongst us doesn’t mind a good scare from time to time, it gets the blood going.

Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but The Cabin in the Woods is probably more entertaining than scary, perhaps because what starts as a standard horror film – good looking teens heading to a secluded cabin for the weekend – soon transforms into something else entirely. The usual set up is in place, typecast teens (jock, sensitive guy, stoner, good girl and slut) head to some ‘off the grid’ cabin, however inter-cut with their journey are scenes of two guys (West Wing’s Bradley Whitford and the increasingly ubiquitous Richard Jenkins) going about their daily jobs in some vast laboratory complex, clearly discussing the fate of the teens in question.

cabin labBig brother is watching
This gets your brain ticking. How do the teens relate to the lab guys? Are they part of an experiment or reality show? What’s the deal? For me, I started to picture The Running Man, Truman Show, that sort of thing. Whilst de-constructing horror is not a new concept – think back to Wes Craven’s Scream for example – there’s always room for another take.

What Cabin offers is lively entertainment and zinging dialogue, with a few scares and well-paced action. This is down to the writing team of Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, the former behind Buffy and Avengers and the latter behind Lost and Cloverfield. From that you can get a pretty good idea of what to expect.

An army of nightmares
In terms of cast, stand-out performances include good girl Dana (Kristen Connelly) – looking a little like a younger Scarlett Johansson – and stoner Marty (Fran Kranz), assuming the role of comic relief and the most perceptive of the group. Between the two of them they begin to make sense of their predicament and influence their fate.

Cabin-In-The-Woods-endingCurt the jock (Chris Hemsworth aka Thor) holds the screen well, having filmed Cabin a couple of years before his career took off but, due to studio issues, the film only saw release this year. Perhaps no bad thing, as his star power now carries weight.

As the story plays out it becomes clear that the teens are being manipulated for a much greater purpose – something hinted at throughout. This leads to an epic monster-filled finale, something that will delight horror nuts and casual fans of the genre alike. Ultimately, this is a great Friday night movie, not that scary, but hugely entertaining nonetheless.

Misfits series 4: First episode review

I got introduced to Misfits a few months ago, loved it and blasted my way through the first two series. For those not in the know, it’s a science fiction comedy drama about a group of young offenders sentenced to community service. On their first day of work they get hit by lightning from a strange storm which gifts them supernatural powers.

A huge appeal of the show on release was how well written the main characters were and the overall tone. Dialogue was realistic, gritty, funny and very sharp. The plot was often very dark, balancing some great dramatic scenes with almost comedy horror at times.

In the first two series it achieved a perfect combination of a brilliant script and story arc, coupled with great chemistry between the actors playing the main characters. Indeed, the first series won a BAFTA for Best Drama in 2010. If you’ve missed it thus far, I urge you to go out and get the box-set to catch up. If you’d like a quick overview of the plot for each series to date, check that out here.

Back to basics…
I have a confession to make, I’ve yet to see series three. I loved the first two but have yet to see the third. With this kind of show I don’t think that’s a problem. Whilst some characters have continued from the third series, enough has changed for the fourth to be seen as a fresh start.

New characters Jess and Finn have been introduced and three characters (Alicia, Simon and Kelly) have left. The new group have another new probation worker (the life span of probation workers in this show is somewhat limited).

Key to the appeal of the show was the balance of the darker, horrific story elements with sharp comedy. In the original series actor Robert Sheehan – who played Nathan – was truly exceptional at getting this right. An incredibly talented actor. Check out some of his best bits here. A major spoiler if you’ve not seen the show, be warned!

New faces
Stepping into his shoes as the comic relief in the third series was actor Joseph Gilgun (who plays Rudy). Some of you will know him as Woody in This is England. Gilgun was well cast, but he was always going to struggle taking over from Sheehan, an actor who really made the comic relief aspect of the show his own and defined the first two series.

Gilgun’s character remains in this fourth series and seems to be taking a more central role as leader of the group. From what I gather he was perhaps not as dominant in series three, but will grow in influence in the current series. I’ve always been a fan and think casting him helped refresh and progress the show from the shadow of Sheehan, who arguably dominated the first two series at the expense of other characters.

For this new series I liked the introduction of Jess (played by excellently named actress Karla Crome) – she reminded me a little of a blend between characters Alicia and Kelly – smart, sassy and intelligent. Although we’ll have to see how she develops as the episodes progress.

Finn (actor Nathan Mcmullen) was a bit of a mystery to me. Not instantly engaging as a character. He sort of sat between being dark and comic, like a diet coke version of Rudy. That said, there was a small scene near the end of the episode that suggests his character may have a darker side and the possibility of an interesting back-story developing.

For me, it’s nice to have this show back. I’d forgotten how much I liked the concept, the tone and the sharp dialogue. I look forward to this current series. If you haven’t seen the first episode of this new series you can watch it here. Or get a taster with the episode trailer below.