Hostel: Part III

Director: Scott Spiegel (2011)
Starring: Ed Helms, Bradley Cooper, Kip Pardue, Brian Hallisay
Find it: IMDB

Men on a stag party in Las Vegas run into trouble when one of their number goes missing. They attempt to retrace the previous evening's footsteps in the hope of recovering their disappeared compatriot. By the end of it, a punch in the chops from Mike Tyson is going to be the least of their worries. "Not much of a party," says an observant hooker of the group's crappy stag do. Not much of a party indeed. In relocating the Hostel Hostel to Las Vegas, this threequel loses a lot of the franchise's Eastern European creepiness and just feels like an episode of CSI.

Instead of the torture being a private affair between torturer and tortured, Hostel 3 turns it into a group exercise in which rich bastards bet upon the variables of violence. One game has the participants attempting to guess how long it will take for a character to give the "I have a wife and kids" speech. It's an interesting concept, but beyond that one game, it's barely touched on again. Another game sees the rich bitches guessing how many arrows a character will take to the body before he dies. It's hardly a game of chance though, since the killer then goes and shoots him in the face. The bad guys in Hostel III are essentially John Cleese in Rat Race, taken to the extreme.

There is some amusement to be found in the movie's first half, which playfully and continuously toys with the audience's expectations. Some of the red herrings there are strikingly predictable (the opening, for example) but others work well. But the problem with all of the Hostel films is that once the action reaches the torture basements, there's nowhere left to go. Like part 1 and 2, Hostel III blows its load three quarters of the way through, and has to make with a predictable and passionless escape sequence, just for convention's sake.

It helps not a jot that the characters are mostly terrible. The lead character (Hallisay) is a blank slate; supposed to be sympathetic and relateable because he treats prostitutes like people and won't cheat on his fiancée (again). Best man Carter (Pardue) is just as much a nonentity. John Hensley looks like Ant or Dec from off've Ant or Dec and hits a man with his crutch. To be fair, he's the least punchable person in the film. But there's little schadenfreude to seeing them die, since the torture scenes are dull too.

The concept is interesting, the set-up fun, and Hostel III does have its moments - there are more ball gags than you could fill a ball gag ball bag with - but mostly it's silly, needless and plays like a rip-off of itself. The build-up is well done, but the action within the Hostel is boring and graceless. It's the least gruesome entry so far. You may be better off staying on the hotel roof instead.

The Devil Inside

Director: William Brent Bell (2012)
Starring: Fernanda Andrade, Simon Quartermain, Suzan Crowley
Find it: IMDB

Seeing a movie on the big screen with a large audience, can vastly improve the moviegoing experience. It's been suggested that my indifference to Insidious was because I saw that on a tiny television screen, alone. And thanks to its audience, I could've sworn blind that Spider-Man 3 was a good movie. In the case of The Devil Inside, the entire audience were laughing their collective and individual arses off. I laugh at most horror, but this is one of the few times everyone else in the room has joined me in a cheeky LOL (the other times usually having something to do with a Night Shyamalan).

The Devil Inside starts off pretending to be a documentary (with talking heads and everything) and then descends into being the Paranormal Activity rip-off it is at heart. Isabella Rossi (Andrade) and documentary maker Michael (Ionut Grama) travel to Italy to investigate a crime her mother committed years ago, during an exorcism gone wrong. Isabella's priest friends determine that Mother is still possessed. They invite her to join them in a series of unauthorised exorcisms. Meanwhile, the funniest demonic horror movie since Repossessed.

There's a scene in which one of the priests baptises a baby 'John Thomas'. Calling your newborn son John Thomas is only marginally more acceptable than calling it Richard Head. And during the possession scenes, there's some brilliant swearing. But demonic swearing only works if your movie is actually scary. And since The Devil Inside is fairly incompetent in its horror, the swearing just comes across as hilarious filth; the sort of thing you'd see scripted in a Todd Phillips movie.

There's some nearly scary stuff (all in the trailer, mind). Suzan Crowley does bug-eyed well. I even jumped once (at the cheapest scare, involving a dog). And Italy looks nice. The Devil Inside is essentially a found footage version of The Rite, rite down to an act of violence committed upon an unsuspecting child. But beyond its two fairly impressive exorcism scenes, the rest of the film makes little sense. The last quarter has the urgency of [REC] without any of the scares and too much predictability. It becomes completely manic, over the top and incredibly implausible. There's demonic transference and then there's taking the piss. Kitchen sink transference. It's not remotely believable as a faux-documentary or otherwise, and the ending is just as bad as everyone says it is.

Going in with very low expectations, I enjoyed The Devil Inside. It's a hilarious movie up until you realise that by paying to see it, you're keeping a cynical half-arsed approach to filmmaking in business.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Director: Lynne Ramsay (2011)
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, John C. Reilly
Find it: IMDB

Spoiler: nobody talks about Kevin. Maybe if they'd stopped and said something like "our son is a bit of a twat. You should smack him more often, John C. Reilly," or, "Kevin, stop being a cunt," some of the lad's more horrifying acts might have been averted. Or maybe if Franklin (Reilly) had told his wife something like "you know, you shouldn't tell our toddler son that you resent him. Kids tend to hold onto that shit, later in life." But nobody really ever talks about Kevin, although Eva (Swinton) is very concerned.

The titular Kevin is a serial killer in the making. It's what would have happened if Harry Morgan had bought Dexter a longbow and said, "yeah, whatever" instead of teaching him not to go around being an arsehole. Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly completely flunk the 'bringing up a psychopath' parenting class. Buying your possibly crazy son a longbow for Christmas may not be the best course of action. Why not a chainsaw or a set of kitchen knives while you're at it?

The epistolary approach of Lionel Shriver's novel is abandoned, although the film takes a very non-linear path, jumping in and out of flashbacks in its telling of a story about the most problematic of problem children. Kevin needs not so much as a naughty step but a whole naughty staircase.

It's a difficult film to watch, despite there being virtually no bloodshed or violence ever shown. Instead, it is implied through the use of meaningful colours, like a competent I Know Who Killed Me. At times it makes the artifice of the production seem evident - nothing pulls you out of a story like Tilda Swinton standing in front of a stack of tomato soup tins with 'LOOK, SUBTEXT' practically tattooed (or slathered, with tomato soup) on her forehead. I love tomato soup as much as the next fellow, but do you really need that much on the shelves at one time?

We need to talk about this supermarket's stock ordering system.

But We Need To Talk About Kevin is a powerful, disturbing piece of cinema, gifted with the most malevolent sneer I've ever seen. Kevin's snarl is an expression most parents will have seen in their time ("what do you mean, be home by nine? Ugh") but then, most parents won't be at risk of being shoved down a trash disposal system after being on its receiving end. Not that Tilda Swinton's face is anything to be sniffed at. She does a fine line in "I'm not angry, I'm just disappointed." Between her and Ezra Miller, it's no wonder John C. Reilly makes so little impact.

We Need To Talk About Kevin is fine, as long as you don't intend on having children at any point. It's scary, very well-directed and genuinely shocking. We do indeed need to talk about Kevin. Specifically, how good it is.

Paranormal Activity 3

Director: Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman (2011)
Starring: Christopher Nicholas Smith, Lauren Bittner, Chloe Csengery
Find it: IMDB

The most videotaped family in all America returns; this time nearly twenty years ago, in a 1988 that doesn't look remotely like 1988. The ill-fated Katie and Kristi are young children, bunking together in a possibly-haunted house whilst stepfather Dennis (Smith) videotapes their every move. The quality is pretty good for a 1988 home movie. Especially when one stops to consider how most real movies from 1988 look like shit, let alone You've Been Framed clips.

Little Kristi's (Jessica Tyler Brown) invisible friend Toby turns bastardly bully after a game of Bloody Mary exacerbates the situation. Cue the usual furniture flying around the room, doors slamming and innocent children being tossed around the place like cheap confetti.

Following the disappointing Paranormal Activity 2, this second sequel/prequel is something of a return to form for the franchise. The scare scenes generally work better this time around, (perhaps due to the cheap trick of having two sweet children at peril, rather than obnoxious adults) with more time devoted to building tension than its slapdash predecessor. Still it fails to recapture the original piece's sense of menace - although I'm unsure whether it ever can. We're wise to the demon's tricks now - learning that its name is 'Toby' does it no favours.

Toby chucks furniture about the house, terrifies babysitters and locks little Katie in a cupboard. It's a wonder that wee Kristi and Katie grow up to be so well-adjusted, given their treatment in Paranormal Activity 3. I daresay a later instalment will explain why they never seem to remember any of this ever happening. Stalked by demons and cameras since they were children; I wouldn't be surprised if the poor little dears didn't just repress it all away. Whatever the case may be, Paranormal Activity 3 is further proof that the women of this particular family have exceptionally sucky taste in men. Dennis is nowhere near as annoying as Paranormal Activity's Micah, but Julie (Bittner) could do a lot better. What is it with the men in this franchise and their stupid fucking camera fetish? Those two poor girls have been videotaped more than the Osbornes.

It's a pretty poor prequel in that it doesn't feel at all like 1988. I was hoping to see ghastly haircuts, revolting clothes and a Vice City soundtrack. But aside from some beautifully clunky VCR technology (the technique with the fan motor is a nice touch) there's nothing to suggest any particular place or time. Indeed, the film-makers themselves occasionally forget their own modus operandi - there's a piece in the script where characters talk about Virgin Mary toast; a fairly recent phenomenon.

How much life is left in the franchise is unclear. Already it seems a little lost. But Paranormal Activity 3 does offer some genuinely chilling moments, and an endgame that's new to the series (even if it doesn't make much sense). Myself, I look forward to seeing what possible reason they can find for shoehorning the cameras into Paranormal Activity 4.

Fright Night (2011)

Director: Craig Gillespie (2011)
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, David Tennant
Find it: IMDB

All-American teenager and sometime Chekov Charley Brewster (Yelchin) discovers that he might be living next door to a vampire. And not just any vampire. Colin Farrell in full Bullseye mode, making eyes at his mom. He seeks the help of useless TV personality Peter Vincent (Tennant) and together they set about taking down the beautiful bloodsucking bastard.

As a remake of one of my favourite 80s horror movies, I approached Fright Night with some hesitation. I was hopeful - the cast was intriguing (Chekov! Bullseye! McLovin! Doctor Who!), the story ripe for re-visitation. Thankfully, it lives up to the promise. Any urge to go Twilight with its vampires has been resisted. Colin Farrell is sexy; but it's scary sexy as opposed to sparkly sexy. Well, as scary as one can be whilst wearing a wifebeater vest and gurning at every opportunity. Yelchin makes for a good Charley. He's less goofy than the 80s' William Ragsdale, but is a likeable protagonist, playing it relatively straight whilst all around him chew the scenery. David Tennant's Peter Vincent is less Peter Cushing and more Russell Brand. The constant overacting will annoy some, but I thought it was enjoyable. And as a fan of Doctor Who, I found it endlessly hilarious to see the most cuddly Doctor dropping F-bombs and calling people "douchebag".

The action, too, has been upped considerably. There's a great sequence in which Colin Farrell explodes a house and throws a motorbike at a car. It has a lot less time for Charley's paranoia than the original film. But who needs slowly building tension when you can have Colin Farrell throwing a motorbike at a car? There's a great fight scene between Evil Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and Charley, and the re-do of the nightclub scene really works. And there's a part of me that's always wanted to see Colin Farrell and David Tennant duke it out. That fight scene is something of a letdown, as is the finale as a whole. Farrell throws a pebble at David Tennant's head, and that's it. At least it brings the film's funniest line, though.

Where 80s Peter Vincent was a cowardly type, Tennant is more of a selfish arse. His helping Charley actually feels disingenuous. There's also a personal connection to Jerry and Vincent that has been added which seems pointless and tacked on. The CGI gore too, is a distraction. But as a whole, Fright Night overcomes its flaws enough to be a very entertaining ride. Well, Colin Farrell does throw a motorbike at a car.

Fright Night is not as good as its predecessor, although it is still a lot of fun in its own right. After all, Colin Farrell throws a motorbike at a car.

The Hike

Director: Rupert Bryan (2011)
Starring: Zara Pythian, Lisa Marie Long, Barbara Nedeljakova
Find it: IMDB

A group of friends retire to the woods for the weekend to indulge in a little camping (or glamping, as I believe the technical term is nowadays*) and the terrible delivery of rubbish lines. There is a little hiking in this film called The Hike, but a lot more camping. In an attempt to replicate The Descent, the characters are all female and are intended to be perceived as 'strong'. But where The Descent showed strength through good writing and characterisation, The Hike simply has its characters kick the shit out of Tamer Hassan during the film's opening moments.

And where The Descent was wonderfully acted, The Hike features the biggest display of group incompetence I have ever seen in a film. Even Shauna MacDonald is terrible during the one scene in which she appears. Of the women, they're mostly indistinguishable from one another. The only characterisation is given to Lady Rambo (whose dead army boyfriend backstory is ridiculous) and the glamour model who happens to be dating Tamer Hassan. Tamer Hassan gives the movie's best performance. If that isn't a damning indictment of The Hike, then I don't know what is.

The horrible acting becomes less noticeable during the horror and action sequences. But maybe I was just distracted by all the rape. Where most backwoods horror flicks tend to give their Hillbillies or their monsters a more colourful motive (usually cannibalism), The Hike is just a rape film. Rape is to The Hike what a chainsaw is to Leatherface. The Hike is a film in which four main characters are raped; with three of those rapes happening at the same time. And one of those victims is actually dead at the time. It's incredibly unpleasant and tremendously dull. It's like Deliverance, except there's no underlying point to any of it, it lasts about twenty minutes and the rapists all deliver stupid monologues as they go. Also, Deliverance was good. This is not good.

What does work: there's a nice twist just before the film gets all rapey. Tamer Hassan (in one of his two appearances) calls a man a fuckin' slag. The poster is really funky. The woods look really nice. You'll actually see a male penis at one point (and not in the context of a rape scene). Whilst I'm not a fan of peni, I do like to see them in horror films, as a counterbalance to all the boobs (mind you, this goodwill is spoiled somewhat by the amount of sexual violence directed towards the ladies later on). Oh, and then I watched The Descent afterwards. Anything that makes me watch The Descent again is a good thing.

Awfully acted, intolerably scripted, offensive, dull and stupid, The Hike is a disappointment. Take a hike, The Hike.

*Amongst idiots