[REC] - 2007 - 3.5/5 - Directed by Jaume Balaguero & Paco Plaza - Starring Manuela Velasco and Pablo Rosso
"There's something more to this place. Our cells don't work. Neither does the T.V. or radio. We're isolated."
This was recommended to me by Letterboxd's Javier back in October of last year for Halloween, and unfortunately I just didn't get around to watching it until now. There's really only a few films in the found footage genre that I really like, and I can now add Spanish horror film, [REC] to that list. [REC] follows Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) a television reported for a documentary series called "While You're Sleeping". With her cameraman, Pablo (Pablo Rosso) report the night shift of one of Barcelona's fire stations. What seemed like a slow night, the firehouse gets a call and heads to an apartment complex where an old woman is trapped in her apartment. With the police present they enter the apartment and find the old woman hysterical, only to turn aggressive and start attacking everyone. Shortly afterwards, the police and military begin to seal off the building, locking in the firemen, police officer(s), Angela & Pablo and the remaining tenants in the building.
Most found footage films follow a repetitive formula and have no sense of style. [REC] totally makes use of the camera style as a sense of dread and uses it to create tension. It's a highly atmospheric film, which is a rare thing to come by in this genre, but from beginning to end, it's intense as hell. Once we get the apartment complex, literally, the fun begins. There's always something happening which warrants in the camera still rolling, which happens to alleviate it from quickly becoming stale. These people slowly become infected with a virus and turn into mindless crazies, bordering on zombies, but more akin to something along the lines of 28 Days Later. It isn't until the ending where it's revealed everything, the infection, is the result of a demonic possession, which i applaud, because it really changes a lot of the film. Instead of being basically 28 Days Later Found footage style, we get something that takes a left turn and changes nearly everything.
If there's a complaint I have with REC], it's that it's very, very predictable. There's several times during the film where I told myself what was going to happen next, or guess which character was going to die next, etc. I was right, every single time. I feel this really pampered on my viewing, but because all the other elements, including the direction and action were so good, it didn't completely kill the film for me. [REC] is a very well made film in an otherwise, stale genre. It doesn't breath any new life into the genre and even reinvent it, but it manages to do something almost every film in the genre fail to do: Be terrifying.
"There are incredible security measures in place. We know nothing. They haven't told us a thing. We saw special forces, health inspectors wearing suits and masks, and it's not very comforting."
Wild - 2014 - 3/5 - Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee - starring Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern
"If your nerve, deny you - go above your nerve. Emily Dickinson."
I won't lie to you so I'm going to be upfront. I wasn't a fan of Jean-Marc Vallee's previous film, Dallas Buyers Club. I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it, it was just sort of average. That's sort of the same thing with his follow up film, Wild, though while I think thematically speaking, it's above Dallas Buyers Club it still suffers from Vallee's part arthouse, part conventional filmmaking that I don't think suits a film like this, and he too, bites off a bit more than he can chew. Wild is another true story film, taking place in 1995, Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) has been through a lot. She divorced her husband of seven years, Paul (Thomas Sadoski) due to her infidelity. Her mother, Bobbi (Laura Dern) passed away, and her subsequent reckless lifestyle with strange people and lots of drugs. To cleanse herself and get on the right path, she decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, a journey of 1,100 miles.
Vallee's style isn't a turnoff for me, but I think it's not entirely all too special. I don't think it worked with Dallas Buyers Club and there's parts of it in this film where it doesn't work either. The film is at it's best, when we're following Cheryl through her hike and her survival across 1,100 miles. While the flashbacks really show us her previous life from all angles, it doesn't slow the film down, but it really loses the emotional and dramatic punch that was carried. In the beginning of the journey, especially the opening scene, Cheryl is an amateur, she has no idea what to do on such a grueling hike like this and she has no business, over the course of the hike, she gets better and through time, becomes a better person and learns to let go of things. There's no sugar coating Cheryl at all. In the beginning we like her, but it's through the flashbacks where we really find out how much of an awful person she was. However it's the hike that kept me interested in this character in her goals to conquer her problems and start life anew. I wouldn't say I was rooting for her, but that I was hoping she would learn from her mistakes and start over, and by the end it's that. While it's not a feel good/happy ending, it isn't warranted either. The ending is serviceable and does the film well.
Visually, Wild is perfect to look at. The film looks the best during the hiking scenes, and the real beauty and pain is brought out in this new environment for Cheryl. However the visuals to go too far in some instances, as the imagery becomes a little rapid and unnecessary. Some of which involves blending the flashbacks into the hike, which was unnecessary. It was distracting. The performances are serviceable, however it's Reese Witherspoon's performance that's easily the highlight of the film. I wouldn't call it a brilliant performance, but it's better than some of her other roles. She is good in the lead role, but it's not a masterful performance. I'm not sure why Laura Dern got an Oscar nomination, but she isn't given much to do and is flat.
At the end of the day, I did like Wild, though judging by my review you can say otherwise, but honestly I liked it. I think it's better Dallas Buyers Club, but still flawed. It's really just the perfect three star film. I'm sure if I was to ever re-watch this this, I would probably find more issues to gripe with. But thankfully, like Dallas Buyers Club, I have zero interest in a re-watch.
"I've always been someone's daughter or mother or wife. I never got to be in the driver's seat of my own life."
Quarantine - 2008 - 2/5 - Directed by John Erick Dowdle - starring Jennifer Carpenter and Jay Hernandez
"Tape everything, you hear me, tape everything!"
I figured after checking out [REC] I'd sit down and watch the American remake, Quarantine and see what the fuss is all about. The best way to look at Quarantine is like Gus Van Sant's remake of Psycho. It's nearly shot for shot, line by line the same. Quarantine wasn't god-awful, as there's some differences in the story and how some things play out, but ultimately it's really just the same film as [REC]. The plot is the same, we follow reporter Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter) and cameraman, Scott (Steve Harris) as they cover a firehouse in Los Angeles, California on the night shift. What seems like a slow night, they get a call (medical emergency) about an old woman in an apartment complex. If you've seen [REC] then you know what happens, if not, just read the synopsis I wrote for [REC]. It saves me from having to write the same thing again.
Had Quarantine followed a different route, than I might have enjoyed this, but it didn't. There's some difference, mainly in certain scenes that have been newly added, such as this added elevator scene which was actually quite frightening. The ending is also a bit different, but I liked it. To me, what separated [REC] from being basically 28 Days Later-Found footage style was the added twist that it was all a demonic possession causing this. Here, it's changed to a mutated rabies virus. Thus, forcing this to become 28 Days Later-Found footage style. It wasn't slow or anything, and being just ten minutes longer or so, Quarantine manages to be just as fast paced as the vastly superior Spanish original film. There's however, too many parts to it that are the same as the original. I'm not fond of remakes. If you're going to do one, at least keep the spirit of the original, and deviate enough to where it's still the same name and tone, but different. We all know Hollywood loves to remake superior foreign films, but what's the point of doing so for a film that's literally 95% the same? A quick buck or two?
If there's a one major saving grace, it's Jennifer Carpenter, who's excellent in this. There's smaller points to it that aren't entirely bad, but in the end [REC] is again, vastly superior.
"They're not gonna let us out of here alive, are they?"
Pandorum - 2009 - 4/5 - Directed by Christian Alvart - starring Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster
"A little f****** solidarity goes a long way."
This was quite a surprise really. I thought this was going to be just another ordinary science fiction film, but it turns out that Pandorum is an enthralling ride from start to finish. Though it may have some flaws, it's original storyline, strong performances, and outstanding effects outweigh the few problems present. Earth has reach it's exceeding population amount, forcing humanity to search for another Earth-like planet. In the year 2174, an interstellar ark, The Elysium, is carrying 60,000 people on a 123-year journey to Tanis. The passengers and crew are in hypersleep, with a rotation set for different flight crews. One day, two crew members, Corporal Bower and Lieutenant Payton (Ben Foster and Dennis Quaid, respectively) are awakened from their hypersleep with slight memory recollection. Bower begins to suffer from a psychological illness called Pandorum, but nonetheless, proceeds forth with his mission on reinstating power. However, Bower and Payton are not alone, as the mission has gone south and there's something more terrifying on-board with them.
The film is at it's absolute best when it focuses on Ben Foster's character, Bower, more than Quaid's Payton. Though with Foster's side you get more of a survival-horror feel, mixed with a dark twisted cyberpunk-esque backdrop. It's not an blatant Alien rip-off, as the mental illness, Pandorum is what mixes things up. It keeps the film fresh and interesting, as you really start to question all the characters and their sanity & health. It doesn't slow down when it's focused on Quaid, but it definitely isn't as interesting as Foster's side is. It plays off like something gone wrong in the middle of a space venture, though the last half hour or so is where it gets really fun. That's where we begin to really learn about what happened on this voyage and the crew, as well as the psychosis known as Pandorum with some of the characters (not going to spoil it, though you can probably guess). Pandorum has a great balance of action and horror, while still being grounded in the realm of science fiction. There's plenty of scenes that will leave you entertained and scared. It's quite an atmospheric film.
If I told you the budget was only $33Million, you might call me crazy. The effects, created by Stan Winston Studio, are absolutely great. The creatures on board are all designed well and have a unique look to them. Each set piece has a great look and feel to it, despite being incredibly dark. While it is indeed a dark film, the film uses it to it's advantage and creates a visually appealing film. It's a technical or visual marvel, but it is impressive to a degree.
Pandorum is a great, original science fiction film to come out in recent memory. Crazy how time passes considering it's been nearly six years. Shame this didn't well and reach an audience, it's quite good.
"You're all that's left of us. Good luck, God bless, and godspeed."
Renaissance - 2008 - 3.5/5 - Directed by Christian Volckman - starring Daniel Craig and Jonathan Pryce
"First we find her, then we sleep."
Renaissance takes place in the year 2054 in the city of Paris. A woman, Ilona Tasuiev (Romola Garai) who works for Paris megacorperation, Avalon, has been kidnapped. Paris cop, Barthelemy Karas (Daniel Craig) is assigned the case of the disappearance of Ilona. With the help of her sister, Bislane (Catherine McCormack), Karas navigates through the seedy underworld of Paris, as a much more sinister and bigger plan unfolds.
On paper, the story is actually sort of basic. An average detective/mystery thriller with traces of noir and science fiction present. Renaissance starts out very strong but by the third act, it doesn't fall apart, it just loses it's steam. What makes Renaissance so good is it's animation style. The performances are all done through motion capture and the world of Paris, 2054 is brought to life through animation. It's entirely black and white with high contrasts and lots of shading and shadows, and it works all too well for this film. The animation allows the film to achieve a look and feel that would most likely deem too expensive for live action. It's a beauty of an animation film to watch. It has a Blade Runner feel to it and at times can feel like something out of a graphic novel. The tone in the beginning of the film is very much a whodunit with a touch of noir, all while being in a highly sophisticated sci-fi city. By the middle and end of the film, it almost becomes a sort of a conspiracy by tone, which is where it drops down a bit. Renaissance is quite an engaging animated film, with great voice work, and beautiful visuals. There's really not much else I can say other than I was very much captivated by the animation and overall style of the film. The animation alone is worth a watch.
"Without death, life is meaningless."
Chronicle - 2012 - 3.5/5 - Directed by Josh Trank - starring Dane Dehaan and Alex Russell
"I'm an apex predator"
I had a friend some years back tell me about this and saying that it was quite good, for being found footage. I never got around to seeing it until now, and I'll have to agree with him. Chronicle is a film that really makes the most of the found footage gimmick, especially for being a non-horror film and more of a science fiction/superhero film.
Taking place in Seattle, Washington, Chronicle follows Andrew Detmer, a senior in high school who is the subject to excessive bullying at school and verbal and physical abuse from his alcoholic father, Richard (Michael Kelly). Andrew decides one day to start videotaping his life, be it at home and at school, or just anywhere. His cousin, Matt (Alex Russell) invites him to come to a party with him to try and cheer him up and meet new people. At the party, Andrew and Matt, along with Matt's much more popular friend, Steve (Michael B. Jordan) come across a discovery in a hole which then causes them to black out. They wake up and discover they have telekinetic powers and the ability of flight. The three spend more time together and cause mischief, but Andrew begins to use these powers far more dangerously and becomes a threat to his friends, family, and those around him.
I've seen some people say that Chronicle would have been better if it was shot traditionally. I have to disagree, because I think it would've taken an interesting idea and just made it into a mediocre affair. The found footage style manages to the make the film a little more engaging and makes it surprisingly fun to watch. As far as superheroes go, there's obviously no capes in this, and the trio don't seem like heroes at all. With these powers they just use them to cause funny S*** to happen. Just being obnoxious teens is all, instead of thinking they can fight crime. It isn't until the third act of the film where it becomes more superhero and less found footage.
With the third act, the found footage style then takes a left and we start viewing the action through CCTV cameras, Camera's on helicopters, cell phones, etc, not to mention at time a small traditional filming approach. It loses the effect by switching to different styles of video and cameras, as we watch superhero action. The filmmakers probably thought it was going to be a unique way of presenting the action, but I feel it let it down a notch. The effects are rather decent, especially for being low-budget, but could've used touch ups in other spots. Chronicle uses the found footage gimmick to it's capacity and makes the most out if it with it's script, direction, and acting. Definitely a well made found footage film. Still not sure why I didn't see this sooner. Probably because of the track record I usually have with found footage films. Anyways, Chronicle is worth a watch.
"Can you not film us? It's kind of creepy."