Monthly Archives: August 2011

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark Movie Review

[Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
Directed by Troy Nixey
Starring: Bailee Madison, Katie Holmes, and Guy Pearce
MPAA: R – For Violence and Terror]


Sometimes, the best way to get attention in the horror crowd is actually not really doing anything original, but rather to be a welcoming throwback to the good ol’ days. This is one of the many reasons why everyone, including myself, loved Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell. Yet, for some reason, critics have been getting relatively mixed on Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. Why?

At first, I couldn’t really see why. An old-school throwback of the Haunted House genre but with Lovecraftian monstrosities rather than ghosts, starring Guy Pearce and Bailee Madison of the under-appreciated Brothers remake, and it is being produced by Guillermo Del Fucking Toro? Oh man, that’s just, like, all the things that I love in one thing. It’s a Christmas morning where all the presents are replaced with tigers, and everyone rides on them in Disneyland while chocolate syrup is smothering Natalie Portman’s naked figure as everyone danced on the corpse of Miley Cyrus and Yahtzee Croshaw narrates the whole incident. How in God’s name can this go wrong?

Apparently…plenty of ways.

Okay, okay, let’s get this out of the way: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is quite good. It’s got a strong atmosphere, Del Toro’s signature visual flair is all over it, the performances are top notch, it has a nice slow burn, and it’s just nice to see a classic haunted house film; a sub-genre which I always love when done well.

That being said, there are some things that keep it from truly being anything note-worthy, rather than just having the “solid rental” status it currently has.

Let’s get into our synopsis first. Bailee Madison (Brothers) plays Sally, a young girl with a vivid imagination who has to move in with a new parent in a new location that just so happens to have creepy monsters lurking in its vicinity. Hey, sounds an awful lot like another Guillermo Del Toro movie, rite gais?

Whenever she’s alone, Sally can hear creepy whispers from the walls which ever so creepily state how they “just want to play and be friends”, and lure her into the basement. When these new friends end up being hostile towards her, she keeps warning her father (Guy Pearce, Memento) and his girlfriend (Katie Holmes, Batman Begins) that there are terrible monsters. As per usual, they are reluctant to agree with her at first, and you can just tell that one of them is going to totally get it bad at the end.

The creatures of the film, have one weakness that Sally can use to her advantage: Light. Her only means of fending herself from the monsters is by shining a flashlight at them, Alan Wake style.

Speaking of Alan Wake, there seems to be plenty of subtle video game inspirations spread throughout Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. Not only does the flashlight as a means of a weapon bring up Alan Wake, but when she doesn’t have a flashlight, Sally resorts to, no joke, a fucking polaroid camera. If that’s not a shout out to Fatal Frame, I dunno what is.

The plot is as traditional as traditional can be.

“Dad! Dad! There are monsters under the bed!”

“Sweetie, it’s all just in your imagination.”

“BUT YOU GOTTA BELIEVE ME OR THEY’LL EAT ME UP, DAD!!”

It never feels like it’s being derivative however. Guillermo Del Toro and director Troy Nixey obviously seem to have affection for this classic formula, and pay sweet homage to it rather than aping it. This is thanks mainly to the performances and the solid direction of the picture.

Atmosphere is what you’d expect out of a Del Toro produced horror film. There’s a gothic flavor to the house. It’s big with many secret doors, passageways, gardens, perfect for a little girl with an unfortunate curiosity to be easily lost in. The days are gray and cloudy, the nights are pitch dark, the house is secluded from the more modern city-scapes apparently twenty minutes away, the stairs creak, the hallways echo, what more do you want?

Where the movie falters is that it usually becomes too traditional to a fault. It’s really cool to see these classic building blocks permeate the film, but it becomes a one-trick pony. Once you’ve seen one shot of a darkly lit room you’ve seen ’em all. Strong as the atmosphere is, director Troy Nixey doesn’t offer enough variety or underlying tension to give each shot suspense, thus making the more dialogue-heavy sequences a drag.

The main thing that disappointed me the most about DBAotD, however, was the creatures. This being a Guillermo Del Toro produced film, one would expect some imagination and life put into the creature designs, but rather, the buggering monsters here look more like humanoid rats with cheesy whispery voices (Cheesy, but still undeniably creepy, I must add). Even more disappointing was the extensive CG used to portray the creatures.

I’m pretty sure I’ve already bitched about this before…so I’ll bitch about it again.

CG is both one of the best and worst things to ever happen to the film industry. When done right, it can take moviegoers to places beyond our wildest dreams in stunning detail, bring eccentric, magical, mysterious beings to life before your very eyes, all that magical shit. When done wrong, it can be horrendously cheesy, painful to watch, and remove any sense of immersion from the experience.

While Don’t Be Afraid has some good CG (Good, not great, I might add), remember: This is a horror movie. And as a general rule, horror and CG mix about as well as having Justin Bieber open up a Dethklok concert…no wait, that would actually be pretty fun to watch, but my point still stands.

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Yes. Those creepy glowing eyes are a thousand times scarier than the actual monsters.

One of the main attributes of good horror is the sense of the unknown. The less information we’re given, the more the audience is taken out of their comfort zone, making for the right moment to strike with Jack Nicholson axe-ing up the nearest door. This is especially true when you’re doing a monster movie, no matter how small the monsters may be. Jaws doesn’t even have an actual monster; just a god damn regular shark, and it’s still terrifying because of how little information is being processed.

To quote (for the umpteenth bazillionth time) Roger Ebert, “…what really scares us is the stuff we can’t see. The noise in the dark is almost always scarier than what makes the noise in the dark.”

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, however, frequently shows the little buggers scurrying across the house, sometimes doing mega close-ups on their old, wrinkly faces. Strong as the atmosphere is, it can’t distract us from the fact that the creatures aren’t scary because we see enough close-ups of them to get a good sense of what they are, and we are put back in the comfort zone.

So far it would seem that Don’t Be Afraid isn’t worth your time at all, just from reading up to here in the review. I’ve complained about monotonous atmosphere, lousy creature designs, even lousier uses of CGI for said creatures, and even the good stuff only seems to come from how much it reminds you of those old Haunted House movies you love so much. Is there anything good about this movie that actually brings a new element, to the table?

Actually yes…

If there is anything that makes the movie effective in any way, shape, or form, it is Bailee Madison in the lead role. Not just in terms of her acting, but her entire character is vital to the success of this film.

Usually, centering a child as the main protagonist of a horror film would be considered exploitative, manipulative, and just plain not fun to watch. And, let’s not kid ourselves here, it is a really cheap way to raise the stakes in a film when you have a character who is as helpless as an orphan puppy, actually even more helpless than an orphan puppy, at least orphan puppies have the tenacity to bite assholes in the balls every now and then.

This is why children are rarely ever killed off in a horror film, unless it is done off screen, before the actual plot starts to give a parental protagonist some conflict, etc. And even then, the children usually aren’t the main characters. This is why nobody liked The Good Son. It was cheap, manipulative, and a prime example of how not to use child protagonists in a horror film.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is probably one of the first and only examples I can think of that does this well. This is mostly due to both the defining of Sally’s character and Bailee Madison’s performance. Watching a child suffer through unrelenting terror is hard enough to watch, but it becomes manipulative because they have practically no way to defend themselves.

Madison doesn’t have this problem.

Bailee Madison, of course, doesn’t have much to defend herself with, either, but she’s far from helpless. She’s, at least, smart enough to know what is going on around her, the kind of predicament she’s in, what she can do to protect herself, and most importantly of all, she’s brave and determined enough to have the audience root for her, without making her too invincible nor too vulnerable.

This creates a character we can care about, and adds much needed tension without ever feeling cheap, even though it just might be cheap. Doesn’t really matter though. The film retained its scariness on the weight of Bailee Madison alone. She’s able to pull off a difficult balancing act well, and she’s probably one of the most underrated child actors working today (Again, I mention Brothers). She’s scared when she needs to be, reasonably so, but when it’s time to take action, she’s brave enough so the audience can care about her.

I will also say that the climax is really well done. It almost makes the incredibly slow build-up worth it. It’s suspenseful, it ends on a wonderfully bitter note, and contains plenty of creepy imagery to give you some mild, but still rather effective nightmare fuel.

Final Verdict: It doesn’t exactly fulfill on the promise of all the talent behind it. The atmosphere is good, but repetitive; the creatures are not well-designed, nor is their CG used to good effect; and most of the bits involving dialogue and character interaction can be a drag to sit through. What saves it are a handful of creepy moments and a wonderfully effective performance from child actress Bailee Madison.

But wait, we’re not finished yet. There’s one last thing I’d like to bitch about that isn’t too related to the movie.

3D. You’ve heard of it right? No? It’s that annoying gimmick studios use to raise ticket prices by giving their audiences headaches by applying lower brightness levels, bad blurring, gimmicky “throw stuff at the audience” moments into their films. But hey, as bad as most of it is, I don’t really mind. I can always have the option to just see my movies in 2D.

I mean, it’s not like 3D films are ruining my 2D viewing experiences…right? Right? RIGHT?!?!

I’ve heard plenty of stories of this, mainly from Roger Ebert (Man, I read a lot of Ebert…), in which theaters would project 2D films through 3D projectors, thus making the picture dimmer, blurrier, muddier, etc. However, I haven’t experienced it until now, and it what made it all the worse was that it happened during, of all movies, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. Which, obviously, contains plenty of darkness levels that made the 3D projection all the more discomforting to view.

Almost all of the night scenes were so incomprehensible to view it was maddening. It’s one of those films that relies on darkness, and visual trickery to make things in the background stand out, but the damned projector made everything darker and I probably missed out on some cool moments.

Sorry, that kinda went nowhere, but yeah, I got pretty pissed. So to theater projectionists: Remember to switch the fucking projectors every once in a while.

Sincerely,
Everyone

That is all.

See ya next time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I gotta get a snapshot of those stupid bed bugs. ONLY WITH PHOTOGRAPHIC FATAL FRAME EVIDENCE WILL MY PARENTS BELIEVE ME!!

And yes, that scene in which she’s crawling in the bed is even more pants-shitting in a theater with good sound.

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Climbing The Tree of Life

It’s been months since first viewing Terrence Malick’s magnum opus The Tree of Life, and it still lingers in the mind. It’s a metaphysical pilgrimage, a wonderfully nostalgic ode to childhood, a haunting mood piece, a surrealist drama, a meditative slow burn, and it’s the only film I can ever remember that handles the balancing act of being both incredibly disjointed, and wonderfully fluid.

So if you didn’t get the memo that I pretty much love everything about this movie to death, let’s repeat it: I love everything about this movie to death, the afterlife, and so on and so forth. And since it’s been spreading to more and more theaters each week, and it will inevitably be going to be releasing on DVD in one or two months (Hopefully in time to get recognition this coming awards season), I’ve decided to analyze the film in depth. Some things I will mention are quite obvious to anyone who paid close enough attention to the film, but there are a few shocking revelations that I’ve interpreted myself that should interest anyone who’s seen the film.

**WARNING: Spoilers Abound. DO NOT READ IF YOU DID NOT WATCH IT. BOLD, UNDERLINED, CAPITAL LETTERS.**

The most obvious comparison that everyone likes to make for Malick’s The Tree of Life is another magnum opus: Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, I personally find that it’s one of those strange paradoxes where it’s simultaneously so similar to a film, yet so completely different.

What they share is an ambition that skyrockets to places that most films wouldn’t dare to venture into. 2001 dealt with the infinite scope of the cosmos, while The Tree of Life deals with that and even more. It also deals with the entire human race feeling lost in chaos, the essence of faith, the creation of all of life forming into something miraculous and beautiful, and that’s just the big stuff. In between, the film’s scope gets micro as it voyeurs into the life of the O’Brien family (Featuring Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain as father and mother) in the 1950s, specifically the birth and life of the eldest son, Jack (Hunter McCracken).

While the biggest talking points are the Dawn of Time sequence and the seemingly abstract ending, the unanimously best part of the film is the focus on Jack O’Brien and company. What Malick does is something that no other film maker has done nearly as well: He captures the essence of childhood perfectly. And I don’t use that term lightly. He captures it in the most perfect, honest, haunting way imaginable. All told with little to no dialogue, using a distinctly visual language that speaks volumes more than any mere words can convey.

These excursions into childhood have an extra layer of nostalgia when you realize that they are flashbacks of the older Jack O’Brien played by Sean Penn. Many have considered his scenes the weakest of the film, but I think that without him, the film would fall apart. The film’s jumbled structure makes sense in the context of a man sifting through his childhood memories, trying to put the pieces together, and attempting to discover what it was back then that made him feel so empty today.

We immediately identify with him, because those going into the film with the right mindset will feel the same nostalgia that Penn’s Jack O’Brien feels when he looks back at his childhood, and the main reason for that is because the film’s immersive quality makes you feel like you’re looking back at your very own childhood.

Everything is painted in a broad enough stroke for you to easily identify with at least one aspect of the childhood sequence, but because the canvas is so huge in size and scope, there is still an intimacy and sense of microscopic, minute detail that resonates all the way through, as Jack and his siblings explore the world around them.

When I think about it, I can spot similarities with my childhood. I obviously wasn’t born in the ’50s, nor did I have any male siblings. I was however, the oldest of two younger sisters, and there once was a time when my shut-in ass actually liked going outside. I like the relaxing walk every now and then, mind you, but if you visit me and I’m not hunched over my computer screen, watching a movie in the theater or otherwise, or holding a 360 controller in my hand, something is usually wrong.

As The Tree of Life was unraveling, I felt like I was slowly beginning to know this neighborhood the O’Briens lived in. A simple street in the greener parts of Texas, with one story houses, white picket fences; where everyone knew each other and kept their windows open for all the world to see.

I grew up and still live in a suburb an hour away from downtown Los Angeles. My house was on a cul de sac, and I was told by my protective parents to never exit the bend and venture outside the circular dead end I called home. Remember when kids used to make the most out of their limitations rather than whine more to their parents if they didn’t get what they wanted? I still had plenty to do in the enclosed space. Mostly, it was just riding bikes all day long until dusk hit. Other times, it was hide and seek with the neighbors. Looking back, I’m grateful for how quiet our part of town is. With the exception of the rare passing car that can be heard in a hill above, or a plane soaring in the clouds, it was otherwise peaceful to the point of being unreal.

The Tree of Life perfectly captures the feeling of a lazy Sunday afternoon, wandering the neighborhood streets looking for something to do. Everything from the melancholy, longing undercurrent that flows beneath the surface, to the look, feel, and atmosphere of the small O’Brien suburb, to the small interactions the boys make with each other, it all echoes a time when the world seemed to move more slowly than it actually did.

The other major component of the childhood sequence is, of course, Brad Pitt as Mr. O’Brien. One common complaint I’ve heard from a lot of people was that the adult Jack felt incredibly traumatized and regretful about his relationship with his father, despite the fact that Mr. O’Brien wasn’t “all that bad”. This statement is absolutely true, but it is not something to complain about. Mr. O’Brien was not a pedophile, he never threatened death to his children, he still loved them dearly, and his aggressive nature was reflective of the strictness of almost all ’50s father figures. He never did anything to agregious, but there were some flashes of abuse. Abuse that wasn’t fatal enough to seriously injure the children, but forceful enough to give these children a distinct image of their father. The image that their father possibly didn’t accept them, that he will only accept them if they’re “real men”.

The fact that Mr. O’Brien is not a terrible person is key. He is still a believable human being who understandably loves his children, and wishes them the best even if it means punishing them when they don’t appreciate his authority or the risks he made to raise them.

I’ve made this observation in my review of the film and I will repeat it once more: Sean Penn’s regret over how he treated his father parallels that of a man who loses his faith in God, another father-like figure. He searches both for meaning in how to set things right with dear old dad, and meaning on why the universe wouldn’t give him the second chance to do so. He wonders whether his dad even ever acted like a good dad at all, and more importantly, begins to ask why God has seemingly abandoned him.

I am not a religious person, but this is something I think anyone can relate with. If it was all about the religious aspect of the film, many non-religious folks–including myself, and especially atheists–wouldn’t connect with it. By presenting it in the context of a father-son dichotomy, it immediately becomes more identifiable. That isn’t to say that you can watch this film without noticing the religious undercurrents of the film, but anyone can relate to a time when you felt guilt over disobeying your father, begging to start it over, begging to start anything you may have regretted over.

Mr. and Mrs. O’Brien obviously represent two halves of a whole. Jessica Chastain’s first lines explain to the audience the two ways through life: The way of nature and the way of grace. Each parent embodies one of these ways of life. Mrs. O’Brien represents the way of grace: Always forgiving, always kind, unconditionally loving towards all things. Mr. O’Brien represents the way of nature: Disciplinary, strict, wants to please only himself, but still keeps the balance of things in check. As I stated before, it’s key to note that Mr. O’Brien wasn’t meant to be perceived as a callous individual. He still deeply cared about his children, because in a way, his children are reflective of himself. If nature wants only to please itself, what if nature’s children beared a striking similarity to their father?

The final piece of the puzzle is the ending, which has been single-handedly been able to turn off even some of the viewers who were getting into the movie. It’s abstract, artsy, but deeply poetic. Since I assume you’ve read the spoiler warning on the top, The Tree of Life ends with Sean Penn experiencing…something. He begins traversing a barren desert wasteland chasing a younger version of himself, only to be transported into a heavenly beach where all of the people he’d ever known and loved are standing. They all wait for him in silence, forgiveness, and empathy, like they’re welcoming him to their home after waiting hundreds of years.

The most obvious interpretation is that Sean Penn experiences some form of Heaven. As Richard Matheson theorized in his novel What Dreams May Come, Heaven is whatever your heart’s greatest desire is, and for Sean Penn, it is to be with all the people he loves, and simply say sorry.

However, it is just as easy to view the ending as a subconscious experience rather than a spiritual one. Sean Penn is standing in the elevator, but doesn’t have the energy to make it through the day. Something needs to give him an extra budge. So he begins to have an epiphany. He imagines going to the heavenly beach, and saying sorry to all the people he’s ever loved, including his father, discovering that while they may be physically gone, he can always find them in his heart.

When I discussed the film on the CinEffect Podcast with my cohost, Alex, I briefly mentioned the ambiguous flame imagery that the film constantly cuts to every now and then, and that I had a heart-breaking realization about what that ambiguous, colorful flame was. He asked what it was, and I refused answering because it is up to your own interpretation. Since I’m currently discussing my personal interpretation of the film’s events, I’ll spill the beans on what I thought.

The movie begins with the Big Bang, which looks, of course, like natural light. However, it keeps going back to the flames at many points in the film, while characters softly whisper their monologues to the colors. I started noticing a pattern in the film. We saw the beginning of Jack’s life and the entire universe. And though we were given an ending to Jack’s story, the Universe is just as much a character in The Tree of Life as the humans living inside of it. And it hit me. The film ends Jack’s life, and conversely, ends the Universe. That is what I found the flames to be. The remnants of the universe after its complete destruction. Where, even in death, there is still a spark, an afterglow, just lingering in the blackness.

One primary connection I noticed throughout the film was the theme of daddy issues and parental struggles in general. Young Jack just wanted to be loved by his father, Adult Jack wants to make amends with his father, Mrs. O’Brien is Young Jack’s only sanctuary of forgiveness, and Adult Jack wishes to tell his mother how much she truly meant to him. All of this is meant to represent all of mankind’s own parental issues. The two ways through life, and the two parents that embody them, represent the two sides of God. The loving side that created wonderful miracle such as life itself, and the strict God that allowed a family member to be run over by a tractor right outside the barn. Humanity has always searched for meaning in all of life, whether it be in the cosmos searching for new forms of life or by tracing back the origins of the planet, excavating old life forms that were never given a chance to experience the future. Why do we deserve to exist? Why do we keep on living? Why do we deserve to die? And is there a father figure above who truly loves us?

This encompassing theme brought me to this surprising conclusion: The Tree of Life is without a doubt a nostalgic ode to childhood, a haunting mood piece, a surrealist drama, and a meditative slow burn; but more importantly, it is a coming of age story. Not just in the sense of Young Jack O’Brien’s transition from childhood to adulthood, but also in Adult Jack’s transition from Earth to Heaven, mankind’s transition from life to death, and the planet Earth’s transition from Creation to Destruction.

Before I leave, I have one final observation that shook me to the core, when I thought about it.

The main crux of the film’s chain of events is the revelation that one of the O’Brien children has died. The news shakes Mr. and Mrs. O’Brien, and the film goes forward in time to reveal Adult Jack still commemorating his brother’s death. He even admits in a phone call with his father that he still thinks of his death every day.

Now, here’s something odd that I’ve never really understood until now. While the death of one of the O’Brien boys is an important factor in the story, it is never revealed to you which one of the brothers actually died. Why is that?

Let’s go back to Sean Penn. He lives as an architect, working in a huge corporate building that menacingly looms over him, its metal bars looking almost like a cage…or a prison.

We see him call his father, but we never get to hear the other end of the line. And soon after that, he just quickly, without warning, descends into his own memories through flashbacks. Why? Why can’t we hear the other end of the line when Jack is calling Mr. O’Brien? What was it, after years of monotonous grief and anguish, on a regular day that isn’t too different from any other, that triggered his flashbacks? Why does the film keep constantly cutting back to the ambiguous flames?

I’m not going to say that this interpretation is “correct” per se, but the pieces are there. It’s never revealed which of the brothers kicked the bucket, you never hear the other end on the phone during Jack and Dad’s conversations, and the flames always butt in the way of the flow, almost as if it’s trying to remind you of something.

Now, let me ask you this: How do we know that what Jack is experiencing in the present day is really the present day? And if we’re going with the assumption that the flames represent the death of the universe, why does the film keep cutting to them at random moments? How do we know that the world, as we see it, is even tangible, or alive, for that matter? How do we know if Sean Penn’s flashbacks are actually flashbacks, or something else? And if Richard Matheson is correct, and Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory are really just a state of mind, how do we know if what we call reality is just a tiny spark in the blackness that is our subconscious?

And the final question: We know for a fact that one of the O’Brien kids died, but how do we know for sure that it wasn’t Jack that took the blow?

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Analyzing LIMBO

**WARNING: Spoilers Ahead**

I’ve recently been reading Richard Matheson’s novel What Dreams May Come, which is the story of a man who experiences the afterlife, and what separates this story from other afterlife stories, is that it depicts the concept of Heaven as something both spiritual and subconscious. In the novel, Heaven is a state of mind, as is hell.

This had me thinking of a quote that I don’t remember the source of that goes along the lines of, “Hell is what you make it out to be.” I’m paraphrasing, but you get the gist of it. It basically means that our most undesirable form of hell is that which breaks us on a personal level. The stereotype that hell is a place in which red men with horns and pitchforks make you eternally burn is simply just a description of how it makes you eternally feel. However, that state of mind can come from anywhere. Some people find that the worst thing on earth is being force-fed milk because of their lactose intolerance. Some people find rape to be the worst thing one can endure. Whatever each different person is experiencing in their own personal hells, they all share the feeling of being thrown into an eternal fire forever.

And thus strikes the tone of Playdead Games’s LIMBO, which can be interpreted in many ways, but if you want my viewpoint, it is not of eternal salvation (Heaven) nor is it of eternal suffering (Hell), but rather, it is about an eternal longing (Purgatory). And in this eternal longing, our nameless, young protagonist is trapped in a state of mind that is the equivalent of a dog chasing a bone without realizing that the bone is attached to a fishing rod that has been tied on top of the dog.

Many have considered Braid, another brilliant XBLA game, to be the Eraserhead of video games. I beg to differ, and say that LIMBO is more in line with David Lynch’s abstract masterpiece. It even gets the black and white aesthetic to the tee. And while Braid had an ending that could be seen in many different interpretations, LIMBO is the same, but it is not just the ending that is open-ended. The entire game is open-ended. Braid contained scraps of text that gave you some backstory on the protagonist’s state of mind and lust for his princess. With LIMBO, however, everything is told in a visual language that is so subtle that you just might miss it, and many have missed it.

I was discussing the game with a friend of mine one day (He is one of the co-hosts of the CinEffect podcast I do /shamelessselfpromotion) and he found it to be overrated. He thought it was a decent puzzle platformer, but didn’t get what people were saying about it’s story, because he did not think that there was any semblance of a story to begin with. I see where he’s coming from, but at the same time, I think he only looked at it from a surface level. And on a surface level, it is a series of disconnected locations in a black-and-white color palette that are high on atmosphere, but have nothing to do with each other. Again, that’s only on a surface level.

Let’s begin with the opening of the game. Your protagonist wakes up in a field, and you are quickly thrust into this world with little in the way of preconceived expectations. If you were smart enough to know that the title LIMBO referred to the Latin phrase of “limbus” meaning “the edge of hell”, and see that our child protagonist begins his journey as he’s lying down in an ominous forest with his eyes closed; it’s easy to determine that your character is dead.

And that isn’t the only case of symbolic imagery that pertains to death. One memorable sequence in the game is when you ride a boat through a foggy river to a nearby bank. It’s one of those moments like the train sequence in Spirited Away in which so much melancholy is evoked with absolutely zero dialogue. The river has been seen by many as a representation of the River Styx in Greek mythology, in which you had to take a ferry to reach the Underworld. This theory is reaffirmed by the fact that the game officially opens up once the boat ride is over.

As I stated before, this is where the game truly begins to open. If we are to go with the insight that the strange setting you’ve been thrown in is, in fact, a subconscious state of mind, analyzing what all of the seemingly disconnected events and environments in the game have to do with our protagonist’s own state of mind, we could uncover the mystery of what exactly is the frying pan we’ve just landed in.

After encountering the spider for the first time (we’ll get more in depth with him later), you begin to spot something that hasn’t yet been seen in the forests until now: Tree houses. In them, you can spot other figures you look like they’re about our protagonist’s age. The only difference between you and the other children is that they are hostile. And they’re not hostile in the same way that a bully is hostile when he kicks sand in your child’s face. They’re murderous. They throw burning tires at you, attempt to claw at you with bear traps, and even try to set up a giant rock to fall right on top of you and crush your bones into the ground.

If we’re to accept that this is our protagonist’s state of mind, what exactly is it saying? That kids can be jerks at times? Actually…that’s a valid, but simplified answer. What the real answer probably is is that the kids that the Boy has encountered throughout his life had caused him endless suffering during his childhood. In his living state, the Boy was bullied and tormented by other children, and this afterlife depiction of these very children is a much more exaggerated outlook on the trauma the Boy had to live through. Through his eyes, they were more than just bullies, and we see that through his perspective.

The next thing you encounter is the infamous spider, which chases you, and even wraps you in its own web, until finally collapsing to the ground. When it’s killed, you have to pull apart it’s one remaining slender leg, then roll his carcass to fill up a spike gap and form a bridge.

This is something I figured out easily because it is something I can honestly relate to. I’ve always had a fear of large insects. I’m not the kind of guy who freaks out when an ant crawls on him, but when I realize that there’s a tarantula crawling up my spine, I panic like I’m trapped in Hiroshima as it’s being blown up. Assuming that we’re still in the Boy’s childhood stage as he’s sifting through memory after memory, I could imagine the spider representing the Boy’s arachnophobia. So why did he have to pull apart its leg and roll the carcass? We’ll get to that in a bit.

Next up is a strange puzzle. In order for the boy to cross a gap, he has to fill it up with water so that a log can act as a bridge for him. In order to fill it with water, the Boy traps a strange animal into a wheel mechanism, make it run inside it like a hamster, and then…it somehow allows it to rain. The rain helps maintain a steady flow of water to fill up the gap and traverse safely.

The creature running around in the wheel resembled that of a hamster, but there was one thing that I noticed in my second playthrough: The animal dies once his job’s been done, and it starts raining. Considering the creature’s resemblance to the hamster, I could only assume that it represents a pet that the Boy had, which died before his very eyes. When it died, the rain began. Another thing I started to notice is that right after that puzzle, the setting shifts to an industrialized area.

I interpret that this represents the Boy’s maturation. He experienced the death of a companion, his pet, and was stricken with grief (the rain starts to pour). It is at that point, that he stop being a child and he becomes a man.

The next sequence of the game garnered a lot of confusion from gamers. The setting shifts to an industrial cityscape that’s much different from the forests and tree houses we traversed earlier. The player has to solve puzzles using the many mechanisms at his disposal, and one of which really caught my eye. In one of the puzzles, you’re in a factory and you have to make a tire cross a long gap by moving these platforms above, and traversing it to the other side. You push the button to make tire after tire pop up if you keep failing, and you’re pushing platforms around to no avail just to progress to the next stage.

Given the factory setting, it feels almost as if the Boy is working at the factory. Each of the industrial stages seem to represent his adulthood, and many of them look like they represent different jobs the Boy might have taken in that stage of life. When you’re trying to outrun the rising water levels, you’re a plumber who has to maintain the flow of water. When you’re zipping a long cables on top of rooftops, you’re an electrician. And when you’re moving the platforms and tires at the factory, yes, you’re a factory worker.

Many people criticized this portion of the game because the earlier stages kept hinting at other human beings and creatures to interact with (the spider, the bullies, etc.), but the industrial stages stripped that away and made you feel really alone. And that’s supposed to be the point. You feel alone.

Considering all the traumatic incidents the Boy experienced in his childhood (bullies, spiders, dying pets), I can assume that he wanted to run away from that life and start a new one in seclusion, where he can keep working to keep living, and not have anyone bother him.

This feeling of lonesomeness is quickly turned around when, during one peculiar puzzle, you spot a young girl playing in a field. You step closer and closer to her radiance and light, when all of a sudden, the glowing worms make you step away from the girl. When you return to that area, the girl, and the field for that matter, have disappeared, and in its place stands more machinery.

Many have speculated on who this young girl is. If you look up the game’s plot description, it states that it’s the Boy’s sister, but I don’t buy that. There’s a good chance that it’s the Boy’s sister, and you can interpret it that way. But that’s only one interpretation out of thousands. The girl can represent anything. The second he sees her, you now wish to escape the industrial setting to go after her. She can represent the hope for a better life, a more meaningful life. She can represent a lustful desire that the Boy chased after as an adult. And she can represent a family member long deceased, like a sister. The possibilities are endless.

The most peculiar stage of the game comes when you’ve exited the industrial setting. It seems as if you’re back in the forests, but there’s still some industrial pieces that obstruct the nature. They do have a forest-y vibe to them, and there is plenty of foliage, but there will also be power plants that protrude from the ground, and elevators to get you up from one hill to the next.

Considering the forest took up his childhood stages, and the industrial city took up his adulthood stages, it’s safe to say that this is where the two collide. The Boy, now an adult, is chasing after the girl, and in order to do so, has to go back to where he came from (represented by the forest), but it isn’t the same. He notices the changes of modern technology invading his childhood home. It’s like how you wish to go to that park you loved going to when you were a kid, and when you visit it as an adult, you realize that it’s been replaced by a f*cking Wal-Mart.

Finally, we approach the last level of the game. The ending has riled up lots of gamers, for good reason. It ends on an incredibly abrupt note that many found anticlimactic. And while I’m not arguing that it isn’t anticlimactic, I think there’s more to it than what people are seeing.

Let’s look at the final level as a whole. In this level, you have to bend the laws of gravity to your whim and time jumps correctly to when gravity shifts to a different level to avoid turrets (Yeah, I have no explanation for the turrets). Your sense of placement becomes disorienting when you constantly bump up and down from the floor to the ceiling due to these gravity shifts.

The final set-piece of the puzzle comes when you have to time a jump correctly so that you can fall upwards, towards a spinning sawblade, and if it’s timed correctly, you’ll fall back down to the ground before you hit the buzzsaw. In mid-air, you have to activate a switch that makes you fall to the right side, and when you do, you crash into a large window in slow motion. When the crash finishes. You’re back at where you started, only this time, you finally meet the girl in the field.

Many have attempted interpreting the ending in which the Boy slowly approaches the Girl, only to be abruptly cut to black. However, that’s only a small piece of the ending. The entire level as a whole represents its meaning.

In the level, you’re constantly bumping from ceiling to floor, only to crash through a huge window. You wanna know what real life event is similar to that? A car crash. Bumping up and down, and then thrown out the windshield, smearing your brains across the pavement.

What LIMBO does, is take one of the oldest interpretations of what you experience when you die, and shows it to you through a fresh perspective: It documents one soul’s entire life flashing before his very own eyes. Everything from his childhood being bullied, to the day to day drudgery of working, to the sense of longing he feels when he wishes for a better life, the nostalgia when he goes back to his childhood forests only to find it run over by technology; his entire life is literally experienced again in a matter of mere hours.

All of the easy-to-miss traps make you die many times throughout the journey. In this game, dying isn’t the same as another game where you hit restart. You are literally punished and punished for all of your mistakes, but given second chances to live them over again, since you’ve already died.

Who is the Girl in the field? His sister? A representation of a life he’s always wanted? The nostalgia and longing for a simple time, a simpler childhood? Or perhaps…the girl represents Heaven. Caught in this purgatory, this Limbo, standing at the edge of death, he wants to move on. When he meets the girl on the field, a ladder can be seen at the top that ascends into a bright light. When the game ends, and the credits roll, you see that same field and that same ladder again, only this time, the Boy and the Girl have been replaced with rotting flesh with flies. They no longer exist in LIMBO, and they are together in a place more comforting.

The life that flashes before the Boy’s eyes can be seen as a test. In order to ascend into Heaven, he had to confront all the fears of his childhood (Like rolling the spider’s carcass to form a bridge to the next stage of life), and trudge through the monotony of his working years (the factories). Then, he had to leave behind his old life, so that he can go somewhere new.

To quote a song from Arcade Fire, “My Body Is A Cage”. The Boy’s body was his cage. It was probably his refusal to accept that his life was gone that kept him chained to his memories of the past. And when he finally accepted his fate, the cage opened up, and the ladder was just waiting for him. His entire life, flashing before his eyes before giving it all up.

If you liked this post or thought it was utterly pretentious, leave a comment. Also leave a comment if you’d like to hear me analyze more games that have meaningful aspects to them. If you’d like to see me analyzing Red Dead Redemption, click here. Also share it with other people who are interested in the meaning of Limbo, and others. It helps spread the word around and what not.

That is all.

See ya next time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to cry in a corner for a few hours because this game is so f**king depressing. Bye!

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CinEffect Episode #8: Catherine, Crazy Stupid Love, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Future


Welcome to the CinEffect Podcast. In this podcast of constant douchebaggery, me (Chris), Alex, and Brady talk about film, games, and everything in between. This week, we discuss Atlus’s newest game Catherine, the awfulness of Lee Daniels’s Shadowboxer, Andy Serkis’s exceptional performance in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and conclude with a review of the latest ensemble romantic dramedy Crazy, Stupid, Love. Yes, we hate the word “dramedy” just as much as you do.

Subscribe via iTunes.

EPISODE TIMELINE

(0:00) It’s A Golden Show – Catherine OST
(1:05) Introduction

What We’ve Been Playing
(5:55) Brady – Mortal Kombat, Bastion
(8:47) Alex – Bastion, From Dust, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet
(12:08) Chris & Alex – Catherine (Spoiler Discussion)

What We’ve Been Watching
(35:23) Brady – Kill The Irishman
(41:01) Chris – Twin Peaks Finale, Breaking Bad, Mad Men
(48:03) Alex – Shadowboxer, Risky Business

REVIEWS
(53:47) Chris – The Future

MEGA REVIEWS
(59:00) Brady & Chris – Rise of the Planet of the Apes
(1:11:11) Alex & Chris – Crazy, Stupid, Love

CONCLUSION
(1:26:23) Links and Where To Find Us On The Internet
(1:28:29) What We’re Watching Next Week
(1:32:02) Blood by The Middle East – Crazy Stupid Love OST

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The Future Movie Review

[The Future
Directed by Miranda July
Starring: Miranda July and Hamish Linklater
MPAA: R – For Some Sexual Content]

Ever since the rise of independent film making, one thing has become a yearly tradition: Quirky indie comedies about relationships. We’ve had Juno, the works of the Duplass Brothers, Little Miss Sunshine, etc. However, if I had to pick my favorite one amongst the pile of quirk on display, one of my main choices would be Miranda July’s Me and You and Everyone We Know, a film which she wrote, directed, produced, and starred in; that works not because it is quirky, but because it adds a level of honesty and preciousness in its quirk that few films in the sub-genre don’t do nearly as well.

Now, 6 years after her directorial debut, she has finally given us her follow-up: The Future. And the most perplexing thing about The Future is that while it retains Miranda July’s signature style and charm from her previous film, it feels like an almost completely different movie for this main reason: It’s a quirky indie comedy about relationships that uses those light, strange, quirks to explore much darker, more mature themes.

The Future is the story of Sophie (Miranda July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater), a couple that lives in a state of perpetual boredom and undemanding repetition. In need of something to bring commitment to their lives, without having to bear children, they decide to adopt a sick cat that they can take care of. This cat, by the way, narrates the story in a hauntingly poetic fashion.

Sophie and Jason can’t adopt the cat just yet, and have to wait thirty days in order to take it home. While waiting for their new cat, they realize that their lives should evolve. Once they receive that cat, it will be a full-time commitment, and they won’t be living freely anymore. Jason decides to sell trees throughout all of Los Angeles, Sophie decides to post dance videos on YouTube, and all the while, the cat awaits patiently for its new owners.

Upon first hearing this synopsis, it sounds like a rather typical indie film, with the talking cat being the only really unusual quirk in the quirk bucket. When you see the film however, The Future‘s insane ambitions begin to bloom, and you realize just how many things this film wishes to address to its viewers…as well as realize how freaking weird the end result is.

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Without spoiling much, there’s a crawling shirt (Yes, a crawling shirt), a little girl who decides to bury herself up to her neck, and the moon begins to speak to Jason after he has successfully learned to completely stop all of time.

That’s right. What begins as a cutesy relationship dramedy evolves into the entire fabric of time and space collapsing on itself.

While Me and You and Everyone We Know was a quirky and weird movie, it was still grounded in reality. The Future, however, is abstract fantasy. Much like Charlie Kaufman’s masterful Synecdoche, New York, it blurs the lines between the realities of its characters, with their desires, dreams, and fears, until they all become one and the same. Synecdoche‘s Phillip Seymour Hoffman was able to have reality and art collide with one another until all of New York City was absorbed in Hoffman’s massive theater production. In The Future, Hamish Linklater’s Jason character must take hold of his meandering lifestyle to make time for his commitments by completely stopping time itself.

The film is just as challenging as it is rewarding. The abstractions provide food for thought to chew on for weeks after viewing, while still maintaining it’s core of humanity. The film’s main theme is the way we live our lives, and how we sometimes desire to change up the monotony, and all of the distractions, and hardships that come in doing so.

To change their lives, Sophie and Jason change the fabric of time and space. We obviously can’t do that in real life, but we sometimes wish that we could make similar changes to make our lives more fulfilling. The longing to stop time so that you can go to the meeting, and still make it to your child’s baseball game. Perhaps the wish to teleport so that we can see the world in the blink of an eye, without the trivialities of taxes and lengthy flight travel to get in the way.

The Future is, ironically enough, about the present and the longing for the future, rather than the future itself. One line that you’ll find in the trailer is when an old man tells Jason, “It can be hard in the beginning.” To which Jason replies, “We didn’t have those kind of problems in the beginning.” And the old man says to him, “Well, the thing is you’re just…in the middle of the beginning, right now.”

Miranda July’s Me and You and Everyone We Know was about the beginning of a relationship. The Future is about the middle of the beginning.

Final Verdict: Beneath the film’s central relationship and deceptively quirky tone is a dark, mature look at human existence and the things we do to live our lives so we can reach our desired futures. Is it better than Me and You and Everyone We Know? I personally enjoyed Me and You more, but The Future is a much more mature and thoughtful film, that touches its themes with a gentleness that, strangely enough, hits hard.

That is all.

See ya next time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to play in my shirt….that doesn’t make sense with or without context. Bye!

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes Movie Review

[Rise of the Planet of the ApesDirected by Rupert Wyatt
Starring: James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, and John Lithgow
MPAA: PG-13 – For Intense and Frightening Sequences of Action and Violence]

If there’s one thing you’re going to hear me say a lot whenever I mention Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it’s that it’s one of those movies where the performance is better than the movie itself…

Andy Serkis is pretty much the king of motion-capture acting. His credits include Gollum in the Lord of the Rings Films, King Kong in Peter Jackson’s King Kong, hell, he played Monkey in the video game Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. Now, he plays the leading primate of Rise of the Planet of the Apes and, I have to say, this is the role that he was born to play.

Caesar (Serkis) is an ape who becomes the test subject of a special serum that is made to cure Alzheimer’s disease. The effects, on the other hand, become much more than curing Alzheimer’s, however. Soon, Caesar gains increased intelligence, can learn to communicate through sign language, play chess, and understand his master (James Franco).

After a misunderstanding, Caesar is put into a monkey “sanctuary” run by low-life animal abusers (One of them being Tom Felton, who you may remember as Draco Malfoy of the recently ended Harry Potter franchise), and he soon begins to witness the darker side of humanity. Torn with a newfound contempt for the human race, he plots a primate uprising against the humans.

Usually, in a good sci-fi movie, all of the interesting elements (the aliens, the spaceships, the time machine, the intelligent apes, etc.) are given short shrift in comparison to the human characters. The opposite is the case here. The interactions with the apes are the scenes that are given depth and dimension, whereas all of the human characters and scenarios are one-note and not particularly note-worthy.

The film has plenty of talented actors such as James Franco, Freida Pinto, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, etc., but each of them are all short-changed with a script that doesn’t offer them much to do except advance the plot more so that the apes can have their due.

When the apes are on screen, however, the film shines. This isn’t just in part with all the mo-cap performers, with special mention to Andy Serkis, but also because of some of the most impressive CGI to appear from a film in a long while. Rise of the Planet of the…uh…

Okay, seriously that title is so fucking long and wordy, it feels like a chore just to type up. So, for the sake of making this review easier to write, I’ll just call it by it’s funnier acronym: RotPotA or RotPotApes.

RotPotApes‘s visual effects work is up to par with James Cameron’s Avatar in that it is one of the few works of Computer Generated artistry to actually surpass the Uncanny Valley. The CGI from the WETA company brings tons of life and emotion to all of the chimps in the film, that the real spectacle, and the best part of the whole movie in general, is seeing their CGI creations interact with believable emotion. The fact that their CGI characters have more dimension and personality than the human characters is a testament to their talent.

Does the motion capture effectively replace the amazing make-up effects used from the Tim Burton remake, however? Well…as much as it pains me to say it (especially since Burton’s remake is a far more inferior film), I’m still more impressed with the make-up than the CGI. Not to discredit the amazing work that WETA did, but as impressive as the CGI is, you can still tell that it’s CGI, and that there aren’t any real apes in the film. With the make-up effects, on the other hand, the actors playing the apes practically disappear behind the make-up, and there is a sense of tangibility and realistic-ness (no that’s not a real word, but just go with it, okay?) that CGI, even the best CGI, can never really replace. I appreciate WETA’s effort, however.

Everything else is pretty standard, and there isn’t much in the way of surprises in the plot. As I stated before, the human cast isn’t given anything particularly memorable to do, with special mention to Freida Pinto, who is practically non-existent in the film. And Tom Felton’s character is just cringe-worthy to watch, not because of how cruel he is depicted as, but because he is such a stereotypically-written animal abuser villain that is so poorly written and completely disconnected from our plane of reality, even in a film with hyper-intelligent chimpanzees.

The action is…decent. The film-makers did a great job of keeping everything clear and concise (None of that Battle: Los Angeles shaky cam bullshit), and there are some really cool moments such as witnessing the spectacle of watching a gorilla beat the shit out of a helicopter, but it isn’t anything that will make you ecstatic in your pants like, say, Kick-Ass or even How To Train Your Dragon, for that matter. Hell, even Transformers: Dark of the Moon has better action, and that’s a far worse film.

Do I recommend this film? Of course I do. Do I recommend to see it in theaters? Eh…depends on your preference, but if the one thing that made you most excited about this movie was that you get to see a gorilla fight a helicopter, then knock yourself out. Andy Serkis’s strong performance is definitely what makes RotPotApes worth the viewing, but almost everything else is pretty meh. The stuff that works in this film really works, and the stuff that doesn’t work isn’t particularly memorable, but far from outright horrible.

The one thing I can honestly say I hated about the film was the ending. Not because it is a bad ending, in and of itself, but because it is obviously trying to set up a sequel, and in doing so, has absolutely no sense of closure whatsoever. Right when the movie is riding up to the high point as the apes are annihilating San Francisco, it makes a dip back down into mediocrity before it can reach the very top.

I understand they wanna start a new full-fledged series of films with this as a starting point, but you still need a resolution. Even the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter films provided a clear, definitive arc that contained a satisfying conclusion, and each of those films were all made with the intent of being a full-fledged series. A film should still stand on its own merits, rather than the potential of future releases.

Granted, it isn’t necessarily too much of an insult when a film leaves you wanting more, but still, get a proper ending next time, Rupert Wyatt.

Final Verdict: RotPotApes isn’t especially note-worthy in most spots. Everything from the human characters to the plot is about as standard as standard can get. When the focus goes to the chimps however, the film skyrockets in quality thanks to some near-groundbreaking visual effects and an excellent performance from Andy Serkis. There’s been lots of hype for Serkis to receive an Oscar nomination, and to be honest, I wouldn’t mind seeing him take one home. He worked hard and brought us a very memorable character. He deserves it.

That is all.

See ya next time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to surrender to our highly superior primate overlords. Bye!

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The Top 15 Movies You Probably Haven’t Tried (That You Should Try)

Some movies unfortunately don’t get the recognition they deserve. Whether they end up getting a horrible distribution line-up, terrible marketing, or a straight-to-DVD release can determine the fate of a movie that remains to be completely unseen by the general public. Thankfully, there are lots of hardcore film nerds that like to give the smaller films support, and some of them end up becoming cult classics. But, believe it or not, there are movies that even the biggest movie snob has never heard of. And even if they heard of it, there’s no guarantee that they’ve even actually tried it. So this is a list that is dedicated to the dark horses of the industry. 15 films that even the most knowledgeable movie snobs can admit to not really trying, even if they may have heard of it.

With that in mind, let’s begin our odyssey into the unknown…

Honorable Mention: Timecrimes (Nacho Vigalondo, 2007)

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What It’s About: In this Spanish thriller, a man named Hector moves into his new house with his wife in tow, ready to make a new life for themselves. Things turn to shit, however, when he witnesses a murder and a mysterious man with pink bandages starts to chase him.

Why You Haven’t Tried It: The Foreign film department generally does poorly at the box office in general. Not only that, but it is one of the many films that are gonna be on this list that have been unfairly dumped onto Straight-To-DVD hell.

Why You Should Try It: Timecrimes is by no means great, and my main problem with the film (that is keeping me from actually putting it on the list) is that once the big TWEEST is revealed within the first half hour, you’ll likely start to see where the plot is headed. Still, though, it’s a remarkably well-done and clever thriller that has more than its fair share of twists and turns. Even if you can see some of those twists coming, it’s still an enjoyable time to sit through.

Available On Netflix Instant: No.

#15: Joshua (George Ratliff, 2007)

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What It’s About: Joshua (Jacob Kogan) has high hopes from his mother and father (Vera Farmiga and Sam Rockwell) to go to the best schools, play the piano, all that rich-kid stuff. Once Vera Farmiga gives birth to a new baby boy, however, a jealousy in Joshua begins to erupt from him, and demons emerge.

Why You Haven’t Tried It: The film is a very typical “demon child” movie, that doesn’t do too much new. However…

Why You Should Try It: It’s still very well-done, and that’s thanks in large part to the performances. Vera Farmiga and Sam Rockwell are two of the most underrated actors working today, and they both shine as the parents of Joshua. The film is understated and creepy, and the performances elevate it from its cliches.

Available on Netflix Instant: No.

#14: Grace (Paul Solet, 2009)

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What It’s About: A mother (Jordan Ladd) is preparing to give a stillbirth after a fatal accident takes the life of her unborn child, only to be caught in yet another fatal accident that not only kills her husband, but also forces the stillborn into early labor. When she gives birth to the baby, a miracle occurs and the baby amazingly comes back to life. Now left to take care of this miracle baby by herself, she begins to notice some strange things about her new child, who she ironically named Grace. Flies begin flying all around Grace’s crib, Grace won’t drink her milk, and when she’s breast-fed, Grace, rather than feeding on her mother’s milk, feeds on her bare flesh and blood.

Why You Haven’t Tried It: This film made little more than 6,000 dollars at the box office. Yikes, that’s harsh. Even then, marketing a movie with a crazy concept such as an evil vampire baby is hard enough, especially when the movie actually takes it’s ridiculous premise surprisingly straight rather than satirically.

Why You Should Try It: Like I said, Grace takes its ridiculous premise straight, for the most part. The film is a surprising slow burn that has one of the most interesting concepts for a horror film you’ll see in a while. The main problem with it is that the ending is unfortunately brief and anticlimactic, but everything leading up to that is very well done, with special mention to Jordan Ladd’s convincing performance as Grace’s mother. Not perfect, but an interesting horror film that any Stephen King fan should enjoy.

Available on Netflix Instant: Yes.

#13: Enter the Void (Gaspar Noe, 2010)

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What It’s About: Oscar is a drug dealer in Tokyo living with his sister in a relationship that hints on incest (Charmed, yet?). After a drug deal gone bad, Oscar ends up being killed, but that doesn’t mean that the camera doesn’t stop following him. Soon, we see everything through Oscar’s perspective as a ghost as he observes how his friends and family are taking his death, and he looks back at key moments in his past through flashbacks. Gratuitous sex, graphic drug use, and psychedelic imagery ensue…

Why You Haven’t Tried It: Gaspar Noe’s films in general are some of the most punishing experiences a viewer can hope for. This is the same man who brought us Irreversible, which gave us a hellish descent into a horrific S&M club, a graphic depiction of a man’s face being pounded with a fire-extinguisher in the most excruciating detail imaginable, and a 9-minute long, single-shot rape scene that feels like an eternity. The fact that Enter the Void is Gaspar Noe’s most graphically accessible film to date despite still being absolutely shocking in many points is a testament to his ballsy-ness. Also, it’s downright weird, but that’s just a small part of why many have and will reject it.

Why You Should Try It: Despite still being rather unpleasant at many moments, this is one of the most technically impressive films you will see in a long while. Absolutely stunning cinematography and a few gorgeous visuals make the film pop, and while the film does drag on a way too long, the ending does leave a strange, emotional impact that I will never forget, in its own weird way. Not for everyone, and not without its flaws, but an interesting, existential look at the world around us.

Available on Netflix Instant: Yes.

#12: The Living and the Dead (Simon Rumley, 2006)

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What It’s About: Wealthy Donald Brocklebank is in a tough predicament. His wife is afflicted with a terminal illness, his house is in risk of being taken from the family, and he unfortunately can’t take her with her to an important business trip that can save their property. And if that’s not enough, not only does he have to leave her alone in the house, he has to leave her alone in the house with his schizophrenic son James (Leo Bill). He calls a nurse to take care of both his ill wife, and his mentally ill son, but James, after not taking his required medication, starts to think he can be the man of the house. So he locks the nurse out, and begins to take care of mommy himself. A descent into madness ensues…

Why You Haven’t Tried It: While the film was successful in a robust amount of film festivals, the film didn’t have a good enough distributor, and even some positive word of mouth wasn’t enough to expose this obscure, British title. Also, audiences in general don’t really feel pleasant when faced with a film that deals with mental illness such as schizophrenia in such a gut-wrenching depiction.

Why You Should Try It: The first half of this film is one of the most hard to watch moments you will ever experience…and I do mean that in a good way. Seeing this man-child attempt to take care of his mother is surprisingly stomach-churning, as he ultimately makes things worse for her. You can see thousands of limbs dismembered in all the Saw films, but watching James (With an exceptional performance from Leo Bill) force feed ten pills too many to his frail mother is even more disturbing. And what makes it so terrifying is the innocence the character of James Brocklebank keeps on his face. When he is force feeding those pills, that face shows that he is honestly doing his damnedest to help his mother, unaware of all the pain and misery it is all causing her. The second half of the film isn’t nearly as successful, but the movie as a whole is still a demented journey worth taking.

Available on Netflix Instant: Yes.

#11: Rubber (Quentin Dupieux, 2010)

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What It’s About: A sentient tire wreaks havoc using its psychic powers to blow people’s heads up. That’s really all you need to know.

Why You Haven’t Tried It: Have you read what I typed up above? This movie is about a killer psychic tire. Even amongst the most jaded cinephiles BEGGING for something original, this premise is far too out-there, and no one in their right mind would wanna try it even if the film ends up being good…

Why You Should Try It: …and that’s a real shame because this movie is good. REALLY good. Much better than you’d expect a killer-tire movie to be. It’s completely ridiculous and entertaining throughout, and the film adds an element of self-awareness that keeps things fresh and funny, even if it sometimes doesn’t work. It’s simply just a blast to watch. It’s funny, gory, original, absolutely silly, and totally aware of just how silly it is.

Available on Netflix Instant: Yes.

#10: Goodbye Solo (Rahmin Bahrani, 2008)

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What It’s About: A taxi driver (Souleymane Sy Savane) and a grumpy old man (Red West) form an unlikely friendship when the old man asks the taxi driver to be his personal driver for a few days until he is ready to go on a mountain hike.

Why You Haven’t Tried It: The premise doesn’t sound too interesting on paper, and it sounds like a quintessential indie film about friendship. And it kind of is, but it’s exceptionally well-done.

Why You Should Try It: The performances are absolutely stunning. Regardless of the fact that you can’t pronounce Souleymane Sy Savane’s name, he’s one guy that you have to remember because he takes what could’ve been an annoying character and makes him one of the most likeable and friendly men you will ever see in a film. That description kind of describes everything about the film in general. It takes well-worn ideas, concepts, and themes but reinvigorates them with life, honesty, and remarkable emotional weight. The ending in particular is powerfully done, as it takes the unusual route of looking at the Red West character’s predicament (which I won’t spoil) with perspective and understanding, rather than feeling the need to intervene. A well-done drama that deserves a larger audience.

Available on Netflix Instant: Yes.

#9: Home Movie (Christopher Denham, 2008)

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What It’s About: The Poe family is having a strange disconnect after having moved to an upstate New York home in the middle of the woods. The kids have been performing inexplicable acts of violence to their many pets, and their parents (Cady McClain and Heroes‘s Adrian Pasdar) want to get to the bottom of their strange behavior. The wife, being a psychologist, decides to document their children (Yup, this is another mockumentary–HEY, DON’T YOU CLOSE THIS PAGE!) and examine their behavior. The revelations they bring up are more terrifying than they can even imagine…

Why You Haven’t Tried It: Another one of those unfair Direct-To-DVD dumps.

Why You Should Try It: In the tradition of other small mockumentary films such as The Blair Witch Project, Home Movie takes full advantage of its mock-doc style by heightening the realism, making the terror feel more intimate and close to the viewer, and, much like Joshua mentioned above, it gives us some surprisingly authentic and believable characters that the audience can sympathize with. Cady McClain and Adrian Pasdar are really underrated as the parents of these troubled children. Unlike other demon-seed films such as The Omen and Orphan, the film doesn’t treat the evil children as a gimmick, the parents act like normal parents who are terrified not only because of the horror that unleashes, but also because they still love their children deep down inside, and it’s never explicitly explained why the children behave the way they do, leaving enough room for interpretation on whether they’ve been possessed by a demon, if they’re just screwed up, or if there’s some sort of trauma that is buried inside of them. I’d actually rival the absolutely horrifying climax of this film with how horrifying The Blair Witch Project‘s climax was, and while many already say that Blair Witch is a snooze, this film is much more accessible, to be perfectly honest.

Available on Netflix Instant: No.

#8: The Nines (John August, 2007)

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What It’s About: Ryan Reynolds, Hope Davis, and Melissa McCarthy play multiple roles in three intertwining stories. I’m not telling you what they’re about, though. The best way to go into this mind-fuck of a movie is to go into it as blind as humanly possible. Don’t watch the trailer (Seriously, the trailer gives away almost everything), and don’t read any plot synopses. Come into the movie clean, and let the strangeness wash over you.

Why You Haven’t Tried It: Despite making a splash at Sundance 2007, the film had a tough distribution. It’s hard to give away plot details when you can’t spoil anything major, and even in spite of a big-name star like Ryan Reynolds, it didn’t catch on in limited release or through word-of-mouth the way the filmmakers hoped.

Why You Should Try It: I hate to give out the cliche’d “If you love X then you’ll love Y” saying, but if you loved Donnie Darko, you can’t go wrong with The Nines. Think of it as a metaphysical, philosophical web of characters that are connected in a strangely cosmical way. Whereas Richard Kelly’s Darko doesn’t really give too much explanation, this film does reveal most of what’s going on, if rather vaguely, and it still ends up feeling rather satisfying. This is in large part to Ryan Reynold’s ridiculously strong performance. The way he inhabits each of the different characters in this film is remarkable considering how different each of them feel, and he brings a surprising amount of emotional depth to the mix. It’s unique, it’s strange, and it’s always compelling.

Available on Netflix Instant: Yes.

#7: Martyrs (Pascal Laugier, 2008)

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What It’s About: Lucie is certain that the family she just murdered was the one responsible for torturing her as a child. She calls up Anna to clean up the bodies, but the plan goes awry and…that’s about all I’ll give away.

Why You Haven’t Tried It: The film has become rather notorious for it’s explicit violence and torture sequences, for good reason. This film is not a fun one to watch, and leads to some of the most sickening cinematic moments you will find in a film. I mean, look at this MPAA rating. Rated R for disturbing/severe aberrant behavior involving strong bloody violence, torture, child abuse and some nudity. AND THAT’S JUST THE EDITED VERSION.

Why You Should Try It: If you have the stomach for it, Martyrs is a fascinating film. Beneath its depravity is a surprising amount of religious questions that provide ample food for thought. The final scene in particular is one of the most compelling philosophical enigmas I’ve experienced in a while. Also, while it’s easy to write the film off as “torture-porn”, the film’s infamous 20-minute long torture sequence doesn’t have too much gore (except for the last bit of it, which I shan’t spoil) but it is emotionally violent and sickening. This is especially thanks to the strong performances of its largely female cast. Once again, see it if you have the stomach for it, but to the queasy movie-goer, this should be avoided like the Black Plague.

Available on Netflix Instant: No.

#6: Noroi: The Curse (Kôji Shiraishi, 2005)

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What It’s About: In this Japanese mockumentary–HEY! DON’T SHUT THE COMPUTER OFF!! *Ahem* A documentary filmmaker whose expertise is investigating the paranormal tracks down the supernatural occurrences of the fabled demon Kagutaba. Considering it’s one of those “Found Footage” films, you can tell things don’t end well for him and the rest of the gang…

Why You Haven’t Tried it: Unlike all of the films in this list, this one has a fair excuse for being rarely seen: It hasn’t even been released in the U.S. yet. The only way to watch it is through YouTube, an imported copy, or something along those lines.

Why You Should Try It: Much like most Japanese horror offerings (Ringu, Pulse, Ju-On: The Grudge, etc.), this film is utterly terrifying, thanks in large part to its sound design and some of the creepiest visuals you’ll ever find (Seriously, just look at that mask! What the hell!). One shot in particular involving ghost babies has been engraved in my mind for years.

Available on Netflix Instant: It’s not available on Netflix. Period. The best way to get your hands on this one is through probably YouTube, unfortunately…

#5: Session 9 (Brad Anderson, 2001)

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What It’s About: Asbestos cleaners have to do work on an abandoned mental institution and, as you may expect, things slowly start to turn to shit for them.

Why You Haven’t Tried It: While Brad Anderson’s low-budget creep-fest has earned somewhat of a cult-following, it’s still remarkably not too well-known in the movie space, mostly because it was more of the kind of horror film that emphasized atmosphere and slow-burn tension rather than copious amounts of gore.

Why You Should Try It: Atmosphere pretty much OWNS this film. Session 9 was shot on location in a real abandoned mental facility (One that is said to be the first one to use frontal lobotomies in real life. FUN FACT HIGH FIVE!!), and the decrepit and decaying look and feel of the place brings an insane amount of dread and foreboding to an otherwise standard psychological thriller. Though there are still some above-standard moments involving a revelation involving the main character that can be taken with multiple interpretations, as well as an utterly insane climax. If these Asbestos cleaning characters were cleaning up Silent Hill rather than an abandoned mental asylum, it wouldn’t make much of a difference, the atmosphere is that strong.

Available on Netflix Instant: Used to but not anymore. No.

#4: Never Let Me Go (Mark Romanek, 2010)

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What It’s About: Kathy (Carrey Mulligan), Ruth (Keira Knightley), and Tommy (Andrew Garfield) have lived sheltered in a seemingly idyllic English orphanage as children in the late ’70s. Now grown up, they face new challenges that involve pre-destined demises for each of them. They all slowly realize how detached they are from the normal, human world, and even more slowly begin to realize an even stranger feeling: That perhaps they weren’t even human to begin with…

Why You Haven’t Tried It: It’s rare for a British period piece to make money to begin with. But when the period piece in question starts adding subtle, but defining sci-fi elements to the mix, it’s an even tougher sell.

Why You Should Try It: I don’t usually like British period pieces in general. I found Pride and Prejudice to me ridiculously boring, The Victorian is just blah on top of blah, and both of the Elizabeth movies have failed to captivate me. The only ones to really strike a nerve with me so far have been Atonement, The King’s Speech, Barry Lyndon (Though that’s not your traditional period piece), and Never Let Me Go. Never Let Me Go captures a heartache that few films capture nearly as well. Each of the performances are grade-A, with notable kudos to Andrew Garfield, and the way the film gently incorporates the sci-fi elements is wickedly smart, as the film never truly feels like you’re watching sci-fi. Added with some absolutely gorgeous cinematography, Never Let Me Go is a melancholic film that delivers some heart-wrenching blows.

Available on Netflix instant: No.

#3: Dogtooth (Giorgos Lanthimos, 2010)

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What It’s About: Three teenagers live in the confined space of their isolated country house, where their parents make all the rules…literally. They are told that the word “sea” means “leather armchair”, the word “keyboard” means “vagina”, that a “zombie” is a yellow flower, that the outside world is filled with dangerous man-eating cats, and that in order to be allowed to hug their mother, they most win a blindfolding game. Because these children have absolutely no normal sense of outside human interaction, their only means of pleasure is hurting and sometimes “pleasuring” themselves.

Why You Haven’t Tried It: Have you read the synopsis I gave you? This movie is INSANE!! With a double-capital “I” and two large exclamation points!! To unleash this monster into the public would cause controversy, chaos,
and the space-time continuum to collapse upon itself
and a bunch of other stuff!

Why You Should Try It: I’m not entirely sure you should try it. It’s not a film for the faint of heart. It is weird, disturbing, sometimes absolutely sickening, and filled with the blackest of humor. It’s easy to write it off as “just a bunch of random weird shit”, but the film does encapsulate the theme of “nature vs. nurture” and how every facet of our lives is truly dictated by our parents. There is food for thought to go along with the madness that is displayed on screen, and the film deserves to be seen by those with the balls to do it.

Available on Netflix Instant: Yes.

#2: Triangle (Christopher Smith, 2009)

What It’s About: Jess and her friends just wanted a peaceful yacht trip for the day, but unfortunately get shipwrecked in an oncoming storm. Their only means of survival is an abandoned cruise ship that just so happens to be sailing by them. Once inside the ship however, all is not well.

Why You Haven’t Tried It: First of all, let me just say one thing: THIS is the DVD’s box art. It’s one of those covers that just screams “I’M A HORRIBLE MOVIE! DON’T WATCH ME!” It also doesn’t help that it was dumped in Direct-To-DVD hell and the initial plot synopsis just sounds like a slasher film set on a boat (Insert Horrible Lonely Island Joke Here).

Why You Should Try It: I will assure you, however, that Triangle is not just a slasher film set on a boat. It is actually one of the most deceptively smart sci-fi psychological thrillers I’ve seen in ages. As much as I hate to overhype this film, I honestly believe it is one of the most clever thrillers since Memento, in that it truly takes every advantage it can get with its insane premise that I am not going to spoil. Once again, it’s one of those movies that’s best going into it clean and without much in the way of expectations, other than expecting the unexpected. If Triangle was just about it’s neat little concept, it would’ve just been a must-see rental. But when it gets to the final act, it leaves a surprisingly strong emotional impact and thematic resonance that elevates the film much higher than it should. This is thanks in large part to Melissa George’s exceptional performance, who is able to go through many character changes throughout the film (some of them a little preposterous) and make them all very convincing. If you want a film that is full of surprises, Triangle is one of the biggest surprises you’ll see in a long while.

Available on Netflix Instant: No.

#1: Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold, 2009)

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What It’s About: Mia (Katie Jarvis) is an angsty 15-year-old trapped in the slums of Britain with a penchant for stealing her mother’s booze, and dreams of becoming a hip-hop dancer. Trapped in a bleak world that does everything in its power to corrupt her spirit, her life takes a drastic change when her mother begins dating a new man (Michael Fassbender).

Why You Haven’t Tried It: Fish Tank is the kind of film that sounds like cliche on top of cliche when you read it on paper. A coming of age story with an angsty, rebellious teenager, who begins to experience a change of heart when a new parental figure comes along doesn’t sound like much of a winner in the originality department. And the comparisons with Precious don’t help either…

Why You Should Try It: I’ll be perfectly honest with you all right now: Fish Tank has quickly become one of my top 10 favorite films of all time. It is one of the most emotionally devastating experiences I’ve had with a film in a long while, and it features two of the most pitch perfect performances for a film. Michael Fassbender plays a man who is equal parts charming and sleazy, and never gives way to one over the other. Katie Jarvis is the real star of the show, however, as she plays Mia with a fierceness that is rare in female actors today. She’s a bitch and a whiner at surface level, but she plays the role with amazing dimension and depth that makes you sympathize with her even if she doesn’t explicitly want you to. Andrea Arnold directs the story with an honest unflinching eye that never holds back at even the ugliest moments of the film. One scene in particular involving a young girl in a pink scooter becomes a surprisingly shocking and tension-filled scene that lingers on with you months after seeing the movie. Fish Tank transcends its cliches by treating everything as real and honest as humanly possible. Not in a quirky way like the Duplass brothers, but in a way that feels grim and empty. And despite all this, the movie ends on a beautifully hopeful note. Equal parts beautiful and ugly, just like it’s main character, Fish Tank peers into the lives of its main characters in just the right way.

Available on Netflix Instant: Yes.

That’s all the movies I have for you. If you got any movies that you think deserve to be on this list, leave a comment and whatnot. If you agree or disagree with anything on this list, once again, leave a comment.

That is all.

See ya next time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I shall proceed to act like a hipster douchebag to all of you. You guys prolly just don’t like these movies because they aren’t mainstream. Bye.

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