Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Triskaidekaphilia: '13Hrs' (2010)

On the 13th of each month, I write about a movie whose title contains the number 13.

There's a sort of cool idea at the very end of the low-budget British werewolf movie 13Hrs (unimaginatively retitled Night Wolf for U.S. release), about how a werewolf's attempts to protect their family from their monstrous nature might only put the family in greater danger, but it's barely an afterthought to this annoying, mostly tension-free horror movie. Thanks to the U.S. title, it's pretty obvious that the mysterious monster in this movie is a werewolf, but the low budget means that director Jonathan Glendening keeps the monster offscreen until the movie is nearly over, and the characters express confusion over what is chasing them even long after it's become readily apparent to the audience. Glendening represents the monster almost entirely via red-tinted POV shots and sound effects, which makes its kills tough to depict (he settles mostly for showing the gruesome aftermath with some mediocre gore effects).

The movie takes place at an isolated English country house, where Sarah (Isabella Calthorpe) has just returned to visit her family after moving to the U.S. for work. She finds her three half-brothers and a few of their friends getting wasted in the barn behind the creaky, spooky family house, but their evening of drunken obnoxiousness is cut short when they discover that Sarah's stepfather (the father of her half-brothers) has been murdered and mutilated. Soon whatever creature killed the family patriarch is stalking the irritating young people as well. They all behave like idiots, setting themselves up for easy kills, but without seeing the attacks, the deaths of the unpleasant characters aren't particularly satisfying.

The cast includes Harry Potter's Tom Felton along with some British TV stars, none of whom distinguish themselves in any way (although Glendening does find plenty of ways to showcase model Gemma Atkinson's generous bosom). The characters spend probably half the movie in a cramped attic crawl space hiding from the monster, meaning that the filmmakers fail to make use of one of their only real assets, the creepy old house. It's often hard to tell where the characters are in relation to each other and in relation to the monster, which diminishes the already minimal suspense. By the time Glendening actually shows the werewolf, the build-up has just gotten tiresome, and the makeup effects are laughable at best (the aftermath, with the werewolf changed back to human, features one of the most obvious bald caps I've ever seen in a movie). With a sharper script and more engaging characters, 13Hrs could have overcome its low budget and maybe even offered a new approach to the werewolf movie. Instead it aims for the bare minimum, and can scarcely even manage that.

Friday, September 08, 2017

VODepths: 'The Atoning,' 'Fugue,' 'Unleashed'

The Atoning (Virginia Newcomb, Michael LaCour, Cannon Bosarge, dir. Michael Williams) The real atoning in The Atoning should come from the filmmakers, for making such a slow, turgid, obvious supernatural "thriller" that takes forever to get to its belabored point, with absolutely no creepy atmosphere or suspense or surprises along the way. The entire movie takes place in a creaky old house, where Vera (Virginia Newcomb), Ray (producer Michael LaCour) and their young son Sam (Cannon Bosarge) experience strange phenomena that suggest a haunting. The movie spends the first 40 minutes building to the most overused twist in horror movies (yep, they were dead all along!), which is really just a way to kill time until getting to the actual focus of the story, as the family members must come to terms with how they died in order to move on. The explanation for what happened to them is nearly as predictable as the mid-film twist, and writer-director Michael Williams draws it out as long as possible, spending way too much time on the mundane existence of ghosts in purgatory. There are some silly-looking demons that show up near the end, but mostly this is dull, soap-opera-level family drama, poorly acted, with some supernatural nonsense thrown on top. Available on iTunes.

Fugue (Sophie Traub, George Towers, Tristan Cowen, dir. Jorge Torres-Torres) A woman wanders through the Puerto Rican island of Vieques acting erratically, and Fugue starts by placing the audience inside her disorientation, with no explanation of who she is, where she came from or what she's doing there. Director and co-writer Jorge Torres-Torres creates an impressionistic narrative that mirrors the internal state of protagonist Claire (Sophie Traub), at least at first. Eventually the story comes together, in particular via a clumsy device of Claire, post-recovery, working with a hypnotist (co-writer Tristan Cowen) to reconstruct her memories. It's a mix of straightforward mystery and more experimental storytelling, with a jumbled chronology, and the movie is more intriguing the less it explains. Traub (who also contributed to the story) delivers an immersive performance, but even she stumbles over the chunks of exposition that the movie pauses to deliver periodically. The resolution is too esoteric to be satisfying on a narrative level, but too concerned with explanations to succeed as a piece of purely avant-garde cinema. Available on No Budge.

Unleashed (Kate Micucci, Justin Chatwin, Steve Howey, dir. Finn Taylor) I've enjoyed Kate Micucci in quirky comedic supporting roles, but I'm not sure she's quite up to playing the lead in a romantic comedy. It doesn't help that Unleashed's premise is so dumb and seems like a relic of late '80s/early '90s rom-coms: Lonely singleton Emma (Micucci) wishes there were men out there as wonderful as her cat and her dog, and thanks to some nonsensical magic whatever, her cat and her dog are transformed into people (played by Justin Chatwin and Steve Howey, respectively). There's a lot of strained comedy about these two dudes behaving like a cat and a dog, and their whole attempt to seduce Emma (who doesn't know that they're really her pets) is more creepy than funny (I can guarantee this movie will satisfy someone's very specific fetish). Emma is really meant to end up with well-meaning contractor Carl (Sean Astin), but Carl has almost no personality, and Astin and Micucci have no chemistry. The cutesy music, frequent montages and pseudo-hip workplace setting (Emma is an app developer) make the movie feel like a 2010s riff on movies like Mannequin, and I don't mean that as a compliment. Available on Amazon and elsewhere.