REVIEW: The Sacrament (2013)



The Sacrament: B

This is a found footage film that follows a couple of journalists who make their way into an isolated Jonestown-like settlement, triggering its implosion, red Kool-Aid and all. There are some chilling moments of cult fervor and some scenes that capture what some parts of Jonestown life must have been like with a sociopathic “Father” watching your every move with Orwellian enthusiasm.

The movie is produced by Eli Roth, but it is different from his other movies. This film isn’t the torture porn of Hostel or the splat-stick of Cabin Fever; the fear in this movie is psychological and it really builds up to a fucked up ending.

The cult leader is played by the gas station owner from No Country for Old Men who, for this film, impressively transforms from a cowardly redneck into a part-evangelist faith-healer, part-Kim Jung Il terrifying idol. The guy kills it. He dresses like a Florida retiree and he wears tan aviators that magnify his eyes to an almost amphibian golem-level.

The monologues are mesmerizing. “Father” has this fucked up delivery that is a mixture of southern drawl and game show host while he peers though his shades and quotes psalms to justify the way of life in his compound. You feel like he could start drooling at any second but that he also has a 250 IQ. He does these great shifts in and out of creepiness; one sentence will sound like your kindly old grandpa telling you a joke, and the next sentence sounds like Chairman Mao ordering your execution.

My biggest beef with the film is that is takes a little too long to get moving and the end takes overly-elaborate pains to insist that what you just witnessed was a documentary and not manufactured fictional “found footage”. They really lay the exposition on thick to make sure that you know you are headed into a Jonestown situation with seriously brain-washed people. And the montage of “found photos” at the end is fucking lame. After it gets rolling though, you won’t be able to look away.

There are some cool found footage tricks in this one. People drop the camera or have the camera taken away from them. Sometimes, the protagonist is filming. Other times, you get footage from the bad guys’ point of view. Actors sometimes set the camera down and you get these long takes that are framed really well. Sometimes there is ambiguity about whether or not someone is filming at all.

It was a fun watch and the best found footage flick I’ve seen in months.


REVIEW: Oculus (2013)


Oculus: C-

There’s this mirror that kills people. Ghosts also come out of the mirror and fuck with people. The mirror can also “possess” your reflection (which, I guess “possesses” your body too) and make you do bad things to yourself or others. It’s a lot like that movie Mirrors, which also focuses on mirrors that do the aforementioned mirror bullshit in almost the exact same manner.

The Oculus mirror can do a few tricks that the Mirrors mirrors can’t, including:

  • Inducing hallucinations
  • Playing stupid pranks on people
  • Fucking with space-time

Oculus switches between two stories and then squishes them together.

The past (10 years ago): One of the stoners from Dazed & Confused is married to Starbuck and their kids don’t like the new mirror in daddy’s office. There are ghosts and escalating scenes of confusion and terror culminating in the double murder of the parents.

The present: The kids are all grown up and have SOMEHOW tracked down the mirror, the supernatural potential of which they plan to assess. There are ghosts and escalating scenes of confusion and terror culminating in a predictable ending to a horror movie about a killer mirror.

The stories start overlapping and you see adult characters interacting with their child selves. Time and location become ambiguous. There are mirror ghosts everywhere.

The “research” one character does on the mirror is impressive. She single handedly traces the mirror’s ownership back centuries and manages to deduce all of its ghost-trick powers.

There’s this one scene where a character bites into an apple, which turns out to be a light bulb, which then turns out to actually be an apple. This sequence is the perfect embodiment of this movie; it’s one long dream within a dream within an “oh, it wasn’t a dream!” within a dream. And then someone wakes up. Within a dream. Times infinity. First there’s a ghost, then nope, it’s just a crazy person, BUT WAIT, a ghost that makes the person crazy, then a flashback, then characters displaced in time, then someone wakes up, then everyone is a ghost, then no one is… or are they? I swear this cluster-fuck was created by writers throwing darts at a board full of plot points.

Produced by WWE and yet there is not a single wrestler cameo. I was hoping Rowdy Roddy Piper would be a mirror salesman or Scott Hall would be someone’s stepdad or something. No one even gets hit with a folding chair. What a wasted opportunity.


REVIEW: Hannibal Rising (2007)


Hannibal Rising: D-

This movie will totally scare the shit out of you if you think that a killer who looks like Geroge McFly (from Back to the Future) wearing too much hair mousse is scary.

The film is rotten with ineffective storytelling (I hope you like flashbacks), ineffective characters (flat characters galore), and ineffective scares (unless you are scared by ominous smirking). However, it does one thing effectively: it sucks the life out of the Hannibal Lecter series [grotesque sucking sound, fava beans]. No surprise that Hopkins stayed away from this one.

Once upon a time, Hannibal was an ordinary un-demented 8 year old, and he was subjected to all this gruesome trauma: his loving parents are killed, his adorable sister is killed, he is terrorized by Nazis. There is cannibalism. There are even explosions!

He is a sad orphan who gets pushed around a lot and you have to watch about 30 minutes worth of it. Just start the movie like half way in; you won’t miss a thing.

40 minutes later (yes, 40), Hannibal is a McFly-ish looking 20-something and he finally kills someone! It’s not even cool either. He cuts a guy’s head off with a sword. There is no harrowing psychoanalysis or cannibalism involved. Sorry.

The rest of the movie is him hunting down the Nazis who killed his family. The end.

I don’t really get the “Rising” part of the title. What is he, a fucking soufflé? The character doesn’t “transcend” in any way. He doesn’t “rise above” any obstacles. I do have some suggestions for alternate titles based on what he does do:

  • “Hannibal Crying”
  • “Hannibal Leering”
  • “Hannibal Whining”
  • “Hannibal Using Too Much Hair Gel”

What a mess. The cover art for the film is a close-up of Hannibal wearing his famous muzzle. I think this was partially to hide the identity of the actor playing Hannibal in the movie; it’s a pretty big let-down when you realize Hopkins isn’t showing up and you are stuck with some George McFly looking asshole.