Monday, 18 June 2012

'Don't Be Afraid of the Dark' (2010)

A young girl sent to live with her father and his new girlfriend discovers creatures in her new home who want to claim her as one of their own.  (via IMDb)

We've come to expect good things from Guillermo del Toro (who co-wrote the film), but I was a little bit apprehensive going into Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, wondering how the little creatures I'd seen in the trailer could actually be scary. But they are, which is usually a good thing in a horror film. I don't think I'm alone in working out exactly what they are in the first few minutes, but I figure you're supposed to and it doesn't detract from the movie in any way - if anything it adds to it.

The plot is fairly basic House Horror, with a child being attacked and the adults not believing a word she says, attributing everything to bad behaviour. So on that level you could say it's fairly one-dimensional. But as I said about The Grey, sometimes a basic plot can allow for a complex story.

We instantly relate to 8-year-old Sally (Bailee Madison), whose Mom "gives" (her words) her to Dad (Guy Pearce). So she doesn't want to go home. But then Dad cares more about his job than his daughter, so she doesn't want to stay put. Throw in the New Girlfriend/Replacement Mother character (Katie Holmes) and poor little Sally is stuck between a very large rock and a very hard place.

A very compelling and emotional performance from Madison is what takes the film to a higher level - she really does a fantastic job at scared, upset, distraught, unwanted, happy, curious, sad, and much more. Guy Peace is predictably fine, giving a solid performance for as much as one is needed (the story isn't really about him). Katie Holmes is on good form as well, really getting to grips with the subtlety of her role and exploring it on various levels.

All in all, it's a good film, with more focus on character and emotion than a lot of modern horrors. There are a fair amount of jumps and only the odd niggle to complain about (I thought Holmes' character was going somewhere it didn't, which is a shame). Del Toro brings a sprinkle of the Fairy Tale magic seen in Pan's Labyrinth and the film is beautifully shot. The ending may divide viewers (but don't all good endings?) and things are left a little ambiguous, but there's lots of fun to be had. Recommended.

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Thursday, 7 June 2012

'The Grey' (2011)


Once more into the fray. 
Into the last good fight I'll ever know. 
Live and die on this day.
Live and die on this day.

Take a bunch of men and dump them in a really cold place, miles away from civilisation and in wolf territory. That's basically all The Grey is. Which is why it's so good. A totally stripped-back plot allows room for a compelling, emotional, raw story of survival, that works on multiple levels.

A band of plane crash survivors must trek through Alaska, constantly hounded by a pack of killer wolves. So the wolves themselves may not be portrayed in the most accurate light, but The Grey is essentially a horror film for the most part so this doesn't distract from the story. And it does its job on that level - I jumped more than once!

There's just enough development given to secondary characters throughout the story and they quickly drop like flies. Liam Neeson is on perfect form, hammering home a performance that should (but won't!) earn him some awards recognition. He plays John Ottway, a man who seems to want to die but is forced to take charge and keep others alive. This is where the film really shines - in the layers. Balls-out wolf vs. man violence and death-defying jumps tick the fun-factor box and wolves keep the tension coming. But the details of the story - exploration of Ottway's father and wife - allow for discussion on faith (religious and personal) and the nature of survival.

It's hard to say just how good this film is without going into specific details which would ruin it completely. It's near-perfect through and through. Yes, you can kinda see where things are leading from the first 15 minutes, but that doesn't seem to matter. If anything, it makes the inevitable even more compelling.

It's raw, primal storytelling - no lengthy plot developments or character twists, but simple and emotional. Through a simple plot comes a complex story. And even if survival stories aren't really your thing, it's worth seeing for Neeson's performance alone.

I can't urge you to see this film enough - The Grey is definitely a strong contender for Film of the Year in my book. Highly recommended!

NB: there is a post-credits scene you should watch.

Read more of Neil's movie reviews.