Darke Reviews | Project Almanac (2015)

Excellent, another review for 2015. I was starting to get worried I’d make it to Valentines day without another interesting film in theatres around here to review. I also had the added benefit of seeing the film with a friend who appreciated all the facets of the film I did and reacted to many of the same parts as I did. It’s fascinating to enjoy a film with someone like that. The post film discussion as the credits rolled ensured that my views were both challenged and reinforced where required allowing for a better review for you to read or skip to the TL;DR of.

That said, some people may notice the produced by Michael Bay credit in the trailer. This is not a damning factor. Point in fact his influence seems largely absent, unlike TMNT. Post film we also discussed how a production credit by either talent (DelToro) or …whatever Bay is does not indicate the quality of the film. Many other facets must be considered such as budget, writing, acting, and direction. It also depends on how much the studio wishes to interfere with the director and project (see Hellboy or X-Men Origins: Wolverine). Here it appears influence was at the barest minimum from the likes of Bay, however production studio MTV was in full swing and influence with what appears to be a 10 minute music video for some bands and a concert event. Also production consideration from GoPro.

The director is Dean Israelite, who has this movie as his debut feature film. It is worth mentioning that Dean is the cousin of Jonathan Liebesman (director of TMNT); coincidence? I honestly don’t know, I lean towards a strong no. The question is how does he do? The short answer is not bad, but not good. It isn’t that he is a “meh” either, so much as that he has some interesting successes but some areas of the film that fall flat. The Chronicle-esque teen found footage shooting style is inconsistent and as with many found footage films lacks logic at a certain point. There are times no one would be filming what is being filmed and others where its just a bit too smooth and steady to be believable. That is an odd critique given my disdain for shaky camera work, but if you provide me a conceit you need to stick with it and there are times its just too clean to be real and it takes you from the film. A lot of this comes down to his choices and his determination so I must lay the blame with him. The same goes for the performances, which are a mixed bag through no fault of the performers themselves, so much as what they were given and how they were guided to deliver it.

As an example, our MIT applicant David (Jonny Weston) performs solidly throughout and only has a minor bit of de-evolution of his IQ as the plot progresses. His sister Christina (an uncredited Virginia Gardner) is forced to deliver some completely unrealistic lines to be the audience foil. Without verging into spoiler territory I am expected to believe a girl who would go back in time to see Star Wars Episode IV, has zero clue who Dr. Who is? That she, who has a brother who is a certifiable genius and a best friend who might be smarter has no idea what the word temporal means? We also have the ‘girlfriend’ with Jessie Pierce (Sofia Black-D’elia) who serves quite literally no purpose other than to be the girlfriend and to create a romance in the film. While their performances are solid enough, the characterizations of these two women are on the best of days weak and the worst utterly pointless. I almost have the feeling they were added to keep this from being Chronicle again with the focus on the male protagonists alone.

That being said, the writing has successes and flaws as well. First time screenwriters Jason Pagan and Andrew Deutschman may fail on writing females, but they at least succeed at science – somewhat. They are wise enough to not try to explain the temporal mechanics of the time machine and to use hand-wavium to go DARPA and leave it at that. The incessant movie pop culture references are distracting at a point; which I have found in my own writing to be a victim of, shows the signs of novice writers or the studio. Though I suspect a bit of both. They also have clearly watched other films along these same themes such as Primer, Looper, A Sound of Thunder, and Butterfly Effect. They succeed at handling time travel better than half of them and overall tell a better story than that same half. Though I would have preferred to hear a Philadelphia Experiment mention either as pop culture or history – take your pick. From a purely narrative perspective they didn’t do bad with a reasonable rise in escalation and even a nice slow start showing reasonable scientific progress, they just sort of failed on the character design a bit.

TL;DR?

As found footage films go, this isn’t the worst of them. As time travel movies go, it also isn’t the worst. It was actually fun and even a bit honest what teenagers would do with a time travel device which is a bit refreshing. It’s wise enough to not explain its science (which tends to fail) and dumb enough to ignore the science it was trying to show early on.

Ultimately this is a perfectly serviceable and mediocre film which has some fun to it. It’s not great, it isn’t bad, but at least it isn’t a meh.

  • If you were at all interested in it, I would say matinee it at the very most.
  • If you weren’t interested but at vaguely curious Redbox/Netflix it later on.
  • If found footage, MTV films, or time travel aren’t your thing I have no idea why you are reading this review; unless it’s to see if I try to eviscerate it in prose.

That said, I don’t feel I wasted my time or money on the movie and found it a bit fun. Maybe you will too.

Darke Reviews | The Devil’s Pass (2014)

So where last year I was doing a vampire movie every other day, this year I think I shall do a classic every other day. As we started the month with a classic horror, let’s jump to something a bit more modern. It is also quite likely something you haven’t heard of or seen yet. Added bonus for me to get to introduce such films. I should mention, I am a supernatural mystery junkie. Ghost Hunters, Fact or Faked, Unsolved Mysteries, etc all were favorites of mine. I have a shelf in my library around such topics. Now a few months before even hearing of this film I came across the Dyatlov Pass incident from 1959. The story of 9 hikers who were found in an unusual state some weeks after vanishing in the Ural Mountains. There are dozens of plausible explanations for it, but I love the idea of mystery.

The Devil’s Pass takes this mystery and applies the found footage genre to it. Made famous (and nigh inescapable) in 1999 by the Blair Witch Project this style of film is designed around the conceit of someone using a camcorder, cellphone, or some other recording to capture every moment of an event or experience. These films also are particularly known for shaky cam due to the nature of the work, which is a turn off for some watchers.  Night vision is also a regular trick of the camera work but is usually far more bearable and tends to add something to the film. The found footage aspect really isn’t wasted and the film utilizes it as one of the tools of storytelling rather than a style. The film was written by an unknown, Vikram West, but directed by a very well known Renny Harlin. Harlin has a strange career and aesthetic to his work, but most people know Die Hard 2, Long Kiss Goodnight, and Cutthroat Island.  This sort of film seems deeply out of the norm for him.

Since this one is definitely newer, I am retaining normal spoiler free territory.

It focuses on a group of college students from the University of Oregon trying to uncover the mystery of what happened in 1959.   The mystery and tension continues to build amongst the group and the environment around them as it bothers to explore some of the psychology of these events.  The actors, while falling to similar stereotypes, don’t really get too annoying.  They are overall rather smart and came with all preparations in mind. The only mistake they make is the one not to leave when things get odd. The individual characters themselves are all relatively interesting and worth watching. They do figure some stuff out on their own that made me smile and showed some awareness usually lax in teen/twenty something films. I believe the interactions between them and watching their own fears become manifest in the performances. Regretfully, I do lose track of who is who a few times as we have a cast of Abercrombie models, but it’s negligible with only a total cast of twenty in the film.

From a technical standpoint the movie has solid practical effects where possible and they sell themselves well. It doesn’t rely on a lot of gimmicks in the effects and lets your imagination do the work. The CG that is used occurs sparingly but is limited by budget and I can tell. The best is the avalanche that had to occur in any mountainy/snowy terrain for a movie like this. Yes, you can blow it off as the sounds it makes coming down, but at the same time they really did a good job of bringing the raw force of nature to life.

TL;DR?

I was really surprised by this film. I found it on a lark one day when I was searching my Netflix. I was reminded of the actual incident and thought I’d give it a once over. It was absolutely worth it. It is a slow burn that builds to a satisfying climax that is worth discussing with whomever you watch it with.

If you have issues with found footage though, give it a pass because the camera work is pretty normal for the genre and could make you nauseous. There is little blood or gore in this one – which I suppose hits some spoiler territory – but also in prep for the film you need to know.

All in all Devil’s Pass is a fun little horror movie and an enjoyable ride. It’s fun to think what if sometimes…

 

Darke Reviews | As Above, So Below (2014)

There isn’t a lot that scares me when it comes to putting my own life in danger. I think I’d try anything  (relatively) reasonable if I thought it would be fun. Among those hobbies Urban Exploring. In many cases it is breaking and entering/trespassing – yet not always. I *love* the idea of exploring these old abandoned places. Finding history, truth, and perhaps a bit of mystery in them. So when I saw a movie about a group of individuals urban exploring a part of the Paris catacombs I knew I had to see it.

It’s also worth mentioning that of the jobs that exist out there if I couldn’t be a successful writer or what I am doing now didn’t pan out – my dream job is archaeologist. Much for the same reasons of the Urban Exploring. I love history, mythology, ancient cultures, and finding that which was lost or forgotten. So when the movie starts and there’s an archaeology element to it I am now even more interested.

How does it pan out?

This may be director John Erick Dowdle’s best original film. Along with his brother Drew, who co wrote the movie, I think they hit something new. Their earlier work together is Quarantine; which is just a lackluster translation of the superior spanish film REC. John alone directed the abysmal “Devil” (2010). They elevated some of the previous work , but are showing definite trends, which leads me to the technicals first.

I wish I could have watched the film. I had to keep my eyes closed half of it due to motion sickness from the hand held camera work. That is unusual for me, but it is a problem for some members of the audience who would want to see this. Odd camera angles as well as a preference for handheld cameras are showing in the history of his work and finally – it’s to his benefit. When I could watch the film the camera shots were well framed and added to the tension and emotion appropriately.

This being a horror film in the 21st century I have no anticipation that anyone will live, so I am kept on the edge of my seat wondering. Another technical that works really, really well is the fact with only a few exceptions the movie was filmed in the catacombs, even the piano from the trailer was filmed down there. You can’t fake good atmosphere and it shows in this movie. It was a good decision and I am happy that they made it. The dangers for the location scouting alone were real and it adds to the film to realize so much of it is not a set and that the lights in the shots are the ones on the head cams.

The acting was spot on with only a handful of logical fallacies and failures throughout. Ones that almost have to exist to be a successful horror film. Perdita Weeks does well as the driving force and catalyst for the events. Ben Feldman (Cloverfield, Friday the 13th) sadly has a character I just want to smack, but does as well with it as the trope he is playing allows for. François Civil’s Papillion is probably one of the most enjoyable to watch – and the most honest in his reactions.

I think what the movie does best is that, from a story perspective, it openly acknowledges the supernatural. People don’t spend (waste) time denying it exists when blatantly confronted. They react with horror yes, but within the confines of the narrative accept it in all its dark glory. This to me is a pleasant change of pace, especially when tied to an area of study I enjoy.

TL;DR?

Well this review should have gone up last night, but I was left so nauseous that I couldn’t finish. Overall the film is good and for horror fans worth seeing. The audience I was with genuinely seemed to enjoy it.

I just have trouble recommending it due to the camera work.

If you don’t ever risk the sensation of nausea from shaky cam work in excess *and* enjoy horror, absolutely go see it.

If there’s a risk, sorry, just not worth it. Sad that as the attention to detail by using the real catacombs was such a brilliant choice.