Cheap Thrills


Director: EL Katz (2013)
Starring: Pat Healy, Sara Paxton, David Koechner, Ethan Embry
Find it: IMDB

Essentially, the movie adaptation of that stupid game you and your dipshit buddies used to play where you'd stand around asking each other questions like "how much would somebody have to pay you to chop off a finger?" and other such deep, existential dilemmas. This film is what happens when you throw Champ Kind from off've Anchorman and a serious amount of money into the mix.

In Cheap Thrills, down-on-his-luck dad Craig (Healy) hits a gloomy dive bar in order to drown his sorrows. There he runs into old friend Vince (Embry - looking a lot like Tom Hardy) and heavy drinking commences. There they encounter rich couple Colin (Koechner) and Violet (Paxton), out celebrating the latter's birthday. As you might expect from a drinking session with a man who resembles The Rich Texan from The Simpsons, a quiet night in the pub is not on the cards.

I had heard good things of Cheap Thrills, but still I approached with caution. After suffering through umpteen-or-so movies called Truth or Dare (or some variation thereof), I must admit to fatigue when it comes to films about people being forced to sit around mutilating themselves each other for some weird bastard's sadistic pleasure. Thankfully, Cheap Thrills is not that movie. Make no mistake, people do sit around mutilating themselves and each other for another's sadistic pleasure, but the story is infused with much more wit and energy than you'd get from any film called, say, Truth or Dare. 

Perfectly cast, frequently hilarious and even more frequently nasty, it delights in subverting expectations at every turn. To go into too much detail would be to spoil the fun - the highlights of which involves a dog, trying to take a shit and a crucial photo of David Koechner on the mantelpiece. Best of all, nobody is 'forced' to do anything. I had expected a scene in which Champ Kind pulls a gun and tells our heroes that "no-one can leave. Now cut off a testicle" - but it never comes. A lesser film would have the action descend into a nonsensical gorefest, but Cheap Thrills does a great job of handling its own logic and 'rules'. It's consistent, which is underrated, in this day and age.

A barnstorming bruiser of a movie, Cheap Thrills is tremendous fun. To employ the laziest of movie reviewing cliches, it's a film that does exactly what it says on the tin.    
 

Magic Magic


Director: Sebastian Silva (2013)
Starring: Juno Temple, Michael Cera, Emily Browning
Find it: IMDB

Mumblecore turtleneck hipster icon Michael Cera stars in this psychological horror film, driving poor Juno Temple around the twist over the course of what will surely turn out to be the worst holiday of her life. Visiting her cousin in Chile, the nervous young Alicia (Temple) is abandoned among a group of people she barely knows in a claustrophobic, remote country house.


Not-so-gradually, the already bewildered Alicia begins to lose her mind, bullied by the aloof Barbara (Catalina Sandino Moreno) and harassed by sleazy, weird Brink (Cera). Add to that a terrible bout of insomnia, definite mental health issues and chronic moodiness, and we're left with the most uncomfortable holiday since that one time I was trapped on a fucking houseboat with a cretin who identified himself as a standup comedian. Temple does a good job with a thankless role, but it's Cera who will win the lion's share of the applause. And rightly so; he's magnificently malicious in it, like a more drawn-out version of his role in This is the End.

Everything else is so purposefully odd that it almost hurts. This is horror for the mumblecore crowd - a darker version of Youth in Revolt. Sadly, Cera didn't bring the moustache back for this one, although he does rock a series of great jumpers. Browning is less effective as cousin Sarah, surrounded by terrible people and having little to do but look tired and react resignedly to her friends' shitty behaviour. Augustin Silva is cool as the only guy in the group who's not an unbearable arsehole, but that just makes his decision to hang around people who are seem all the more conspicuous.

Not being the sort of horror movie with ghosts or chainsaws or even horror, Magic Magic jumps to a Kill List change of pace in the third act, but it's no game changer. Those who hate the film will likely hate it even more, while those who were enjoying it will support its arty dive into nonsense.

Magic Magic is a convincing portrayal of a girl suffering a mental breakdown while surounded by shitheads and Michael Cera. It's grim and dirty in all the right ways and has a great villain in Michael Cera (as far as anyone can be anything in this sort of thing) but remains about as enjoyable as holidaying with a gang of bickering hipster numpties could ever be.


Which is to say, 'not very'.


Faults


Director: Riley Stearns (2014)
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Leland Orser, Lance Reddick
Find it: IMDB

A more serious version of that episode of The Simpsons in which Homer joins a cult and has to be de-programmed by Marge and Reverend Lovejoy. Well, slightly more serious anyway. Starring the always awesome Mary Elizabeth Winstead and That Guy actor Leland Orser, Faults is actually very funny also.

Their daughter apparently brainwashed by a mysterious cult named 'Faults', a pair of worried parents enlist disgraced cult expert and de-programmer Ansel (Orser) to help the girl see sense. Grabbed from the street, tied up and thrown in the back of a van, Claire (Winstead) is smuggled away to a quiet motel room where Ansel plans to spend the next few days undoing Faults' influence. We're soon left wondering, however, just who is in charge around here. Hint: probably not Ansel.


Faultlessly (geddit) acted, well-written and enjoyably surreal in places, Stearns' directorial debut is a fine piece of darkly humorous food for thought. Its work with Ansel is particularly impressive; a character who starts off reprehensible and pathetic before transforming before us into a figure both sympathetic and oddly likeable. Very well done to Winstead too, giving a subtle and nuanced performance which manages to be believable both in vulnerability and later strength. Lance Reddick also appears periodically, serving to boost the cool quotient even more.

Playing at Film4 Frightfest, Faults was one of the festival's more interesting releases - not horror, nor even really a thriller, with minimal violence and gore, it nevertheless emerged as one of the weekend's best. Sure, it's a little slow and even mildly predictable in places, but we can forgive its minor faults (get it!) when everything else is so well done.


Zombeavers


Director: Jordan Rubin (2014)
Starring: Lexi Atkins, Rachel Melvin, Cortney Palm, Robert R. Shafer
Find it: IMDB

I hope you like 'beaver' jokes, because you'll be hearing a lot of them. Recovering from one of their number's bad breakup, a group of girls take off to a relative's cabin in the woods for a weekend of boozing, bitching and setting the world to rights. What they don't count on is the arrival of two groups of uninvited guests - their dipshit boyfriends and the titular zombeavers; zombie beavers.

Yeah, zombie beavers in a movie that is (a) not a fake trailer, and (b) stretched out to feature length. There are only a handful of filmmakers I can think of offhand capable of making a halfway watchable film out of such a concept. No matter the talent involved, there's no-one could make Zombeavers worth watching - not at 85 minutes, anyway - and Rubin doesn't disappoint in that respect; it makes the jump from harmless distraction to far too fucking long in a remarkably short space of time.

The plot, as it is, sees zombified beavers attack when a pair of careless truckers accidentally dump toxic waste in a river teeming with the little fluffy bastards. What follows is like American Pie crossed with Cabin Fever, complete with all of the stupid juvenile humour that entails. Expect, then, gratuitous nudity, an obsession with lesbians, brainless behaviour and endless 'beaver' gags. YES, I GET IT, BEAVER IS A EUPHEMISM FOR 'VAGINA'. Robert R. Shafer pops up to offer the film some of its few genuinely amusing jokes and the kids do die pretty horribly, but it's an otherwise worthless affair.

The beavers themselves look intentionally horrible and shoddy, but the joke is lost in translation by the film also being (unintentionally) horrible and shoddy. It's like the new Grindhouse movement all over again - you have to be very good to pull off a great bad movie, and Zombieavers is just a bad movie. Honestly, if it were between watching this again and Mrs. Brown's Boys D'Movie, I would give serious thought to the latter...

...before watching Zombeavers again, because fuck that noise.

In spite of any good intentions it may have had, Zombeavers is a wretched mess. Unfunny, irritating and badly made (both purposefully and not) it's a dam waste of time.