Cabin Fever (2016)

Director: Travis Z (2016)
Starring: Gage Golightly, Matthew Daddario*, Samuel Davis
Find it: IMDB

A girl takes selfies all the time. A gamer guy bemoans the lack of Internet and GTA 5. The Deputy is now a lady but still really wants to party. Such are the most notable additions to Cabin Fever 2016, the remake nobody wanted, expected or needed.

Look, I am all for remaking movies to include less Eli Roth, but Cabin Fever is not a good place to start with the erasing of his Bro legacy. Not only is Cabin Fever Roth's second best movie (next to the masterful Hostel 2, which I really do like that much), but it also contains his only tolerable slash good performance in Pothead in the Woods character Justin (who I think I only like because of Doctor Mambo). It also doesn't help that his Cabin Fever is a fairly timeless horror film - a genuinely witty precursor to Cabin in the Woods that I much prefer to Cabin in the Woods.

The plot is, quite literally, the same as the first one. Pretty young college kids travel to cabin in the woods. Encounter local drifter, sick off his face with a mystery illness. Accidentally murder local drifter. Get sick. Squelch. If you've never seen Roth's Cabin Fever, you're bound to have a lovely time with this slick, sick horror movie. Everyone else however, will be left bored, nonplussed and slightly angry.

Cabin Fever: now with added CGI that looks worse than CGI from 2002.

It's not a shot-for-shot deal, like the infamous Psycho debacle or Funny Games US, but it is close enough as to be pointless to anyone with a half-decent memory and horror education. It's the same movie but with less jokes, more gore and slightly sharper visuals. The odd surprise is thrown in here and there - an effective jump scare where there wasn't before - but largely it's just longer, gooier versions of the same old splatter sequences. Where it's at its best is during the second half, when the action takes over and the pace ratchets up, at least being quick and easy to watch in spite of the all-encompassing deja vu. Dare I say it, I did actually enjoy this version of the bathtub scene a little bit more than the first time around.

Those sparse flashes of brilliance, however, do not hide the fact that Cabin Fever 2016 is perhaps the laziest remake ever (re)made.

*Related, but he's certainly no fucking Alexandra

Goodnight Mommy

Director: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala (2015)
Starring: Lukas and Elias Shwartz, Susanne Wuest
Find it: IMDB

Speaking as a self-confessed and unapologetic mummy's boy, there is no idea more terrifying in life than the love between a son and his mother going un-reciprocated. It's this primal (yeah, alright soppy) fear that informs Goodnight Mommy, an Austrian horror film about a violent battle of wits between a mother and her sons, both parties doing their damnest to hurt the other most viciously.

Face all bound up in bandages, Mommy (Wuest) returns from a major cosmetic procedure - literally - a changed woman. Now cold and cruel to her twin sons (the brothers Schwartz) - even refusing to acknowledge little Lukas - Mommy's sudden change in demeanor leads the boys to question whether this woman is even their mother at all.

It's a question which drives Goodnight Mommy, and one that writer/directors Franz and Fiala are in no hurry to answer. Indeed, Mommy spends most of the film looking like an archetypal slasher movie villain and acting like an abusive asshole, (allegedly) murdering cats and repeatedly slapping her one kid about the face while being downright negligent towards the other. And yet the kids aren't exactly alright either; a pair of weirdos who collect giant bugs, pickle dead cats for some reason, and dress almost exclusively in vest tops and three quarter length shorts. To say nothing of their behaviour in the second half, which verges on being the best Let's Go Play at the Adams' adaptation never made.

One's sympathies dance all over the place in a chilly, elusive narrative which refuses to stay still or take the easy route. Like the thematically similar The Babadook and The Witch, it positions itself as one thing but turns out to be another, game-changing twist and all. A twist I guessed ten minutes in, granted (as will anyone remotely versed in horror cinema), but isn't so much hiding in plain sight but rather brazenly swanning about all over the place. Thankfully, that revelation (however soon you work it out) serves only to enrich the story, making the cruelties of the second half feel even more upsetting.

And such upset it is. Goodnight Mommy is not a particularly violent and gory film, but its brutalities hit home hard, making for genuinely, profoundly difficult viewing. A film that will test viewer patiences on many levels, it's a creepy, unsettling and difficult picture with serious mommy issues.

Girl House

Director: Trevor Matthews, Jon Knautz (2014)
Starring: Ali Cobrin, Adam DiMarco, Slaine
Find it: IMDB

Online strippers live in a house together, constantly and intimately filmed by a Big Brother style setup recording their every move. Angry spurned mysoginist Loverboy (a man allegedly called Slaine in real life) breaks in, wreaking brutal violence upon the women he deems to have mocked him. Girl House opens with a quote from Ted Bundy, but it's the (paraphrased) one by novelist Margaret Atwood that seems more appropriate here: "Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them."

And so Girl House opens with little Loverboy (Isaac Faulkner) mocked by two very young girls, who pull down his pants and laugh at his chode. A sequence which culminates with Loverboy smashing up Camren Bicondova's (little Catwoman from off've Gotham) face and booting her to her death from a great height. It's as troubling and memorable an opening for a horror film as one could wish for, and that level of violence rarely lets up. 

And therein lies (no pun intended) the rub. On the one hand, Girl House in no way glorifies its killer, being an outright condemnation of an angry weirdo and his online ilk, a genuine threat and a bitter portrayal of hateful misogynists convinced that womankind owes them something. On the other, however, there's so much glee there in depicting his crimes that one has to wonder where the filmmakers' loyalties lie. Or, indeed, if they should lie anywhere. Girl House is no feminist opus. But does it have any obligation to be?

No-one ever expected a cheap exploitation movie like Girl House to be at all forward thinking, but by having its antagonist be a very specific sort of male threat, it does open doors to equally specific criticism that could otherwise and ignorantly be ignored with a shrug. The boyfriend character, for instance, who casts aspersions upon Final Girl Kylie's choice of lifestyle and frequently suggests that she quit, displaying a (much milder) form of entitlement the likes of which are responsible for Loverboy's killing spree in the first place. Mixed messages much?

Girl House doesn't know upon which side of the fence it's sitting; whether to be empowering (it isn't) or exploitative, whether to leer or shy away, greedily attempting do everything the same time and just winding up muddled as a result. Even a confused cross between Halloween and My Little Eye has its moments though, and Girl House is always gripping, even as it grasps dimly at its messages, distracted by all the boobs sometimes, often and nearly on show. It's not even properly explicit - being surprisingly prudish for a film about strippers living in a house together.

Ultimately, it's this inconsistency which does the film in for me, a horror film which takes in important, relevant and modern ideas about misogynists and online pornography... and then proceeds to make it so that the male audience can still have a good fap over it at the same time.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Director: Zack Snyder (2016)
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams
Find it: IMDB

A Dream Sequence

In one of the more troubling nightmares I have had in my life, Batman and the Joker were both tramps, living in an alleyway. Burdened with the realisation that the Joker wasn't going to just stop, that he was going to get progressively worse, Batman beat the Joker to death with a brick in the back of an alley. Slowly, and in vivid detail. I woke up distressed and sad (well, I did have to get up for work), as though I'd just watched my childhood hero beat someone to death with a brick.

And that is a little bit like how it feels to watch Batman and Superman fight in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Now, some context:

I grinned like an absolute buffoon as Thor and Iron Man came to blows in The Avengers. Again, I sat erect in my seat and giddy with happiness as Hulk versus Hulkbuster went at it, pounding face like there's no tomorrow in Age of Ultron. I think I may have seen Freddy vs Jason ten times by now, and I love it more on each occasion. Most recently, Daredevil fights the Punisher in series two of the Netflix series - like Batman v Superman, it's a dark and serious take on the characters but, nevertheless, cuts to the heart of what makes those men who they are. Each of those fights have a coherent, plausible reason for being, and never negates from the characters themselves.

Batman v Superman, however, opens with a Batman who has spent two years plotting the straight-up murder of the Man of Steel. A Superman whose plan of recourse is to talk Batman down... unless he can't, in which case, he'll go Ozzy Osborne on his ass (head). As Batman and Superman finally - the 29 year culmination of being a Batman fanboy and lover of all things DC and Marvel - came to blows, I felt only sadness inside. Batman smashes Superman over the head with a sink and I'm sitting there feeling oddly miserable.*

With Apologies to Ben Affleck

Back to the start: following the city-levelling events of Man of Steel, Superman is a controversial figure, to say the least. Just as many hold him responsible for Metropolis as those worship him for saving billions. Unfortunately, while Superman can claim Lois (Amy Adams) and The Daily Planet as friends, he's made some even more powerful enemies - billionaire Batman (Affleck) and demented genius Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), both determined to rid the world of Superman.

It's an interesting foundation for a Batman/Superman movie - the latter perceived as a threat to humanity, the former taking steps to protect humanity - but is frequently let down by its writing. Superman is unapologetic for the whole Metropolis debacle and Batman is, until the last twenty minutes, arguably the villain of the piece. Luthor is there with his jar of piss on the sidelines, but he's too much of a silly shit for us to take seriously, especially given his lack of motivation and Zuckerberg-ian tics; Lex Luthor, idiot savant.

With its distant, unsympathetic, unsympathising Superman and its murderous bastard Batman, Batman v Superman is not a good Batman/Superman movie. It's depressing, over-serious, mumbled and awfully paced. Its finale is a CGI mess, most reminiscent of The Incredible Hulk (with a Doomsday abomination who looks all to much like The Abomination). And yet....

Sexy Alfred

... It is also the most ambitious superhero film I've seen since The Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy. If it feels cut to bits and its pacing is terribly off, that's because it's always firing on full cylinders, darting from Metropolis to Gotham to Smallville to dream sequence to outer space and back again, spinning so many plates it can't help but drop a few in the process.

Affleck's Batman is a murderous asshole, but in doing so he recalls my absolute favourite version of the character - and for that, I can't bring myself to hate him or his Bat. It's like Michael Keaton resurgent, with his love of mounted machine guns and smashing people's heads into things. Even better is his Alfred, played by Jeremy Irons, and perhaps my favourite portrayal of the character to date, continuing the Nolan-esque tradition of having Alfred get all the jokes in a Batman movie.

Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman shines in the few sequences in which she appears, the only one of the Trinity who isn't trying to murder a fellow superhero at some point or other. Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman don't get much time together, but it's far more exciting to see them team up than it is watching them try to beat each other's faces in.

As one would expect, Zack Snyder has a good eye for the action, making Batman v Superman look gorgeous in spite of the doom and gloom. The opening ten minutes are a masterful (re-ish)introduction to Batman, at last giving us a Thomas Wayne with a moustache followed by a discovery of the Batcave and ground level view of Man of Steel's Metropolis mayhem. His Bat in action is a thing to behold too, even if its a bit too much like watching someone play Arkham Knight at times.

Another of the film's successes is in its nightmare and fantasy sequences, which give us Desert Storm Batman, a bizarre Justice League setup and Pa Kent on a mountaintop, trying to backtrack on his shitty parenting in The Man of Steel. There's a definite concerted effort to grow from the mistakes made in that movie - in fighting Doomsday, Superman does the most Superman thing ever at one point - not least characters constantly talking about how uninhabited the to-be destroyed bits of city are.

As a Batman movie, it's acceptable. As a Superman film, it's almost a complete and utter failure, seeming to misunderstand Superman at best, and actively hate him at worst. But as an Elseworlds tale for a dark and bizarre DC Universe populated by shitheads and reluctant Space Jesuses, it works. It shouldn't - like Luthor's ridiculous jar of piss or bizarro Zod Doomsday plan - but it does.  

Works Like a Jar of Piss.

Who wins when Batman and Superman fight? Certainly not Batman, definitely not Superman and, as an audience, our victory is only Pyrrhic at best (Wonder Woman and Alfred come out of it alright though). Batman v Superman is not a good movie, but it is one I enjoyed nevertheless.

Like watching two nightmare tramps fight each other to the death in an alleyway with bricks, it's curiously compelling and a little bit sad all at the same time..

*More context: movie characters hitting people over the head with bathroom masonry is one of my favourite things ever, so I should theoretically have adored this.