Movie Review: Resident Evil – Afterlife 3D (2010)

Resident Evil: Afterlife
Credit: Rafy / Davis Films & Impact Pictures

Take a group of survivors. Have them hold out hope for a safe paradise in a zombie-ridden dystopia. Add Alice and Claire to the alliance, and a new Resident Evil is born. In the visual department, Resident Evil: Afterlife is undeniably a stunner. The effects in actual 3D are naturally impressive. More points go to the style factor in its neat creature designs.

Whilst exceeding in style, the film neglects substance in its storytelling, or lack thereof. A mission takes place on a rapid pace that leaves unanswered questions in its trail. Where did The Executioner come from? Does ammunition come without limits in the future? Are the coins bursting out from the monsters a homage to the Mario games? (Probably not.)

So it seems, director Paul W.S. Anderson has accomplished a visually competent video game adventure with nothing else to rave about. Most scenes only exist for in-your-face action, while there is virtually no room for heart.

None of the side-crew are very likeable, while they do not seem to like each other much either. There is also the unappreciated fact that they seemed to be built on racial and gender stereotypes, whether unintentional or otherwise.

The main draw remains to be the returning cast of experienced zombie killers, Ali Larter and Milla Jovovich. New addition Wentworth Miller makes a good soldier for the team. Ironically, he is once again the only man who knows the way out, only this time zombies are the walls of his cell.

Immediately discrediting their acting is a ludicrous script, though they sure as hell did try. “It’s a trap,” the characters announce with a straight face in the conclusion of a tough fight. Right before they strut through the ominous doors without a chance of hesitation, to our dismay.


Movie Review: Hunger (2009)

Credit: 5 States / Global Empire Studios

Not to be confused with Steve McQueen’s masterpiece, the Hunger in question is a Fangoria Frightfest entry. Murder intent fuels its typical horror plot, where six strangers wake to find themselves in a dry well as unwilling subjects of a twisted experiment.

The sextet gradually reveals potential reasons behind their captivity and at the same time, their varied personalities. The manipulative, the fearful, and the rational find commonality in their past. Amongst them, five have committed murder despite their reluctance. An unfortunate control subject rounds up the team… So far, so Saw.

But forget torture devices. There is a little twist to the game. In 30 days, they will starve to death, unless they kill. Any form of violence is a choice they have to make. Hope begins to fade, when the pain of hunger starts to take its toll. Cannibalism becomes an increasingly tempting option.

In face of desperate deprivation, how far are you willing to go? The abductor finds his voice in writer L.D. Goffigan, who explores human psyche in the face of scarcity and withdrawal. The script is not exactly strong, nor do the visuals aid in upping the ante in the horror genre (due to a visibly low budget). But the gradual unfold of an intriguing mystery sustains on a tightrope of lasting tension in the atmosphere.

Hunger, despite its technical flaws, thus ends up an interesting study in the questions it poses: How much is morality worth? Is murder justified if it preserves the life of another? Would you kill another to survive? A fatal game built to scare shows great potential in baring humanity’s raw limits.


Movie Review: Paranormal Activity (2007)

Paranormal Activity
Credit: Paramount Pictures / Oren Peli

A year ago, I saw the original Paranormal Activity and enjoyed it. Natural acting boded well for a film that depended on its documentary style. While the idea was nothing new, its realism brought across the intended terror. The characters were also considerably well-written, with bits of unpretentious humour to boot.

Drawing parallels to a typical home, the story is enough to deter you from waking for a midnight trip to the bathroom. As a result, the tense suspense felt reasonably believable. It was no Exorcist, of course, but it did surpass the similar cinematography (or rather, the lack of it) in The Blair Witch Project (Sorry, Blair Witch fans).

Upon second watch, Paranormal Activity feels plainer. An angry Bear Jew is possibly much scarier than all 90 minutes of an empty and predictable plot. There is nothing particularly threatening about a trite demon who opens and closes doors for reasons undisclosed. No one really knows what it is doing during the night, with knocking noises unexplained yet again.

Just like every other box office success, a sequel is now in place. The 2 minute trailer shows how much they will be leeching on the success of the previous film, and how unnecessary it will be. Every second is filled with questions: What is going on in the writing room?

Paranormal Activity 2 seems like a poor excuse to use a tiny budget for minimal story-telling efforts, solely leveraging on our irrational fear of horror in real life and deceiving us into placing more hope in a lacklustre ghost tale.


Series Review: Supernatural Season 5 (2009)

Credit: CW Television Network

They say the Supernatural fandom is mostly insane, sometimes creepy. They say that the overt obsession have quite regularly frightened both cast and crew. This is all true.

While it sounds unsettling, what it really means for the show is an undying viewership that has kept it going all these years. Such successful ratings are rare for a horror series, and credit is largely due to the charismatic Winchesters who make every second of the ghost-busting journey worthwhile.

It has been years, and the brothers have come far from where their father’s journal pointed to. Facing infinite demons both physical and their own, they have seen hunters kill without blinking and bloodthirsty demons act on good conscience.

The new season had been an equally intriguing one, with Lucifer hounding the brothers for souls and such. The finale slows down with Chuck’s chapter on the Impala, an honorary lead on the show. Endings are never easy and Kripke knows. He reaches straight for the heartstrings (how dare he), and brings us back to where it began – family – as past memories of the Winchesters flash on screen.

Great shows seldom grace the small screens, much less manage to stay off the cancellation danger radar. But Supernatural, like the Winchesters, is resilient and has survived for a good five years. The writing isn’t always the best, but it never fails to entertain, interest and touch the heart. Constant intrigue follows the strong plots that invoke thoughts on questions like how we define morality.

With tears and sacrifice, Swan Song would have been a perfect ending even if the series was never coming back. Though by god, we will miss it. From the endless movie references, hail to Led Zeppelin moments… And how can we forget its amazing catalogue of classic rock from Kansas to Warrant?

Of course, the fans are “always gonna bitch”. Somewhere, some time, we will always be hearing shouts of “Damn it, Kripke!” as the credits roll. But hell, with this satisfying finale, this might just be one of those quieter Thursday nights.

Movie Review: The Descent Part II (2009)

The Descent: Part II
Credit: Lionsgate / Oliver Upton

Sarah Carter (Shauna Macdonald), the sole survivor of a cave expedition accident, is forced to return to the scene of the crime in search of the other missing girls. Only that it was never an accident, even if no one believes her.

The Descent: Part II is a direct sequel that nobody asked for, without the strengths of the previous film. From expository dialogue to weak characterisation, it struggles with typical clichés and falls back on poor imitations of its predecessor.

While first-time director Jon Harris makes clear attempts at an effective atmosphere, there are rarely any real moments of thrills in the slow-moving b-movie. After all, blood for the sake of blood gets old quickly, especially for a horror veteran.

On at least four counts, a crawler predictably jumps from within the dark. Jump scares strung together do not a horror film make, much less those within expectations.

Pacing issues meant the plot barely progresses even if the hour has. Seemingly forced into existence, The Descent sequel suffers the usual problems of part-twos in the genre – lazy plot lines that borders on illogical, and the thorough lack of originality that fails to entertain.


Movie Review: Shutter Island (2010)

Frequent collaborators Martin Scorsese and Leonardo Dicaprio have delivered an impressive melange of masterpieces. From Boston-set crime drama The Departed to real-life biography The Aviator, their varied body of works finds unity in reverberating realism and powerful performances.

The team-up greets excitement as they take on Dennis Lehane’s neo-noir Shutter Island. The titular remote enclave seats the hospital for the criminally insane, where US Marshals Teddy Daniels (Dicaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) investigate the disappearance of a patient.

They soon uncover a more sinister conspiracy at work as covert experiments take place at the ominous lighthouse. As with asylum-set thrillers, the threat of lobotomies or the mere prevalence of surgical contraptions never fail to unease. Secret wards reinforce claustrophobia on an isolated island, made ominous by the cold and grey of the aged fort.

Horror draws an intimate connection to the past of Teddy Daniels, who seems to struggle under the weight of his past. The death of his wife is as intriguing as it is, evocative. His interspersing war-time visions contribute anxiety, multiplying clues shroud the mystery in thickened fog. Tension fills the air as haunting imagery contorts reality.

Unrestrained in its bleak darkness, Shutter Island surrounds its residents with a lasting sense of paranoia. All of which pays off in its steady pace towards a powerful end, harrowing in a single line.