Directed by: Ivan Kavanagh
Starring: Rupert Evans and Antonia Campbell-Hughes
Review by CinemAbysmal
This is a genuinely mean and frightening film. You look at the picture above, and you’ll probably think it’s a typical ghost flick where the submerged body comes floating to the surface to haunt the living. Truth is though, this movie is a straight ripper. Rather than relying on jump scares and things that go bump in the night, The Canal presents a story floating face down in a murky puddle of grief and infidelity.
I am not saying that there are no horrific parts in this. There are some absolutely chilling scenes brought on by ghosts haunting a house. There is a disgusting public bathroom that is repeatedly revisited causing a great amount of discomfort as a Shiningesque score wobbles and whines in the background. There is a tale of a family that was killed by their patriarch in 1902 in the house in which the main character now lives. The director, Kavanagh knows what he is doing to make the viewer as uneasy as possible.
Back to what makes The Canal brutally scary though, is the weaving story of the main character and his wife. The movie begins with them looking at a house, deeply in love and childless, their whole lives together ahead of them. Several years later the film jumps ahead and we are led to believe that the main character’s wife is cheating on him, leaving him with their son. His reaction is genuine and awful and heartbreaking, and I feel this is where the horrible fright of this film lies: everyone’s worst fears coming to life causing an unrelenting descent into madness in the face of infidelity.
For those into haunted house movies, this movie should be quite enough for you. But if you’re looking for a really depressing film that will most likely just absolutely devastate you while some ghosts tease the living, this one is definitely for you. Check out this bad boy on Netflix now. I promise it will affect you in some way.
The Amityville Horror (2005)
Directed by: Andrew Douglas
Starring: Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George
Review by Eric Scot Lemons
Ah, Amityville Horror. What do you say about a film that has nothing to say? I have never seen the original but this one, starring Ryan Reynolds before he was likable, talented Ryan Reynolds, and was still trying to wash himself of the fetor heaped upon him by Two Guys and a Girl and a fucking Pizza Place.
Ryan Reynolds is a step-father in the 70’s, married to Melissa George. That is pretty much all we know. The set up is pretty cliche, for which I won’t really fault it considering this is a remake of the original “family moves into house and is terrorized by ghosts” story. But it definitely doesn’t expand or redefine the genre in any interesting way, instead opting to fester in its own mediocrity while borrowing heavily from films that did it much better; most notably Poltergeist and The Shining.
Speaking of The Shining, I had heard King disliked Kubrick’s casting of Jack Nicholson because he felt it wasn’t a stretch to see him going crazy. This is how I feel about the choice to make Ryan Reynolds a stepdad. When shit starts going crazy, and he starts being physically and verbally abusive toward his family, I didn’t suspect a supernatural force was behind it, because I just think that’s how stepdads are.
Ultimately, the film is the type of film you have seen a million times if you watch horror flicks. Family moves into house, things get wacky, child speaks to ghost, there is some demon that gets stronger, family tries exorcism or intervention which doesn’t work, then they have to fight for their lives, and they leave the house. It isn’t interesting and they show the ghosts far too often and with comically long takes. The key to a good horror flick, especially one dependent on jump-scares, is to keep shots of the monster very short, so that our brains can register the danger, yet not unravel its flaws. And this film had many, many flaws.
We Are Still Here (2015) – Horror | Drama
Directed by: Ted Geoghegan
Starring: Barbara Crampton and Andrew Sensenig
How I Watched: Blu-Ray
Best Line: “You’re not leaving here. You stay, you satisfy the darkness.”
A good haunted house movie is defined by the house itself. It has to use the house in a way that it stands as its own character, impacting the story in a way that you, as the viewer, do not want to be in that house. It has become a difficult feat in modern horror cinema, something that was taken to heart back in the 1970’s. The Shining and The Exorcist both used their surroundings to scare the living hell out of their audiences and first-time director Ted Geoghegan knows this well.
We Are Still Here‘s house is a prime example of how to use the setting as an effective character. The movie begins with the characters driving up to the house and then shots of the lonely rooms inside of its antiquated shell. Each great shot is dripping with dread and it really does not let up from these first few moments for the rest of the film. Setting this in the 1970’s was extremely effective as well. The absence of cell phones in We Are Still Here plays a big part in this story and I think Geoghegan knew this when he wrote it.
The cast is not especially incredible but it does not really need to be. Barbara Crampton plays the grieving and ever-optimistic mother role pretty well, carrying a few scenes that really needed a convincing performance. Andrew Sensinig does a convincing enough job as her husband and Lisa Marie plays a pretty damn good hippie with self-professed mental gifts. Monte Markham has a particularly good turn as the film’s menacing antihero, growling his way through some pretty dark scenes.
We Are Still Here‘s standout performance though, comes from Larry Fessenden. Evoking a stoner Jack Nicholson from The Shining, Fessenden grabs the screen from his first appearance as Jacob Lewis, husband of Lisa Marie’s bohemian telepath. He seems immediately lovable, providing the film with its first hints of levity from the opening credits. His ultimate scene though, is one of the most intense in the movie, reminiscent of The Exorcist at its most extreme. This scene will cause you to grit your teeth and sink into the safety of your couch and was really the standout of the film, for me at least.
Though We Are Still Here is set in the 70’s, the movie feels like it was filmed in that decade as well. It seems purposely low budget, not dirty, but not very polished. Scenes are awash in a sea of grey and earthy tones, making the red in the especially gory scenes stand out that much more. CGI is used sparingly, Geoghegan springing instead for physically acted frights. There are not many jump scares to speak of and darkness is used cleverly by the film’s cinematographer. The score is not overbearing and its electronic elements remind me a lot of Fulci’s films, as well as Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.
I think why I enjoyed this movie so much was due to how they used the house. One of the most repeated quotes by multiple characters in We Are Still Here is, “This house needs a family,” suggesting ultimately, that the house itself is an active character. This idea has frightened me since I saw The Shining for the first time, imagining that an inanimate object can bend the will of humans. It gives me shudders and this film carries this idea out masterfully.
We Are Still Here definitely isn’t perfect. It precariously rides the fine line between B-Horror throwback and haunted house hall of fame. Some may understandably find the low budget schlock angle off-putting and even a bit silly. What the film lacks in polish though, it returns in a deliciously vicious mountain of dread. It takes quite a bit of love and dedication to make a haunted house movie this well, and to learn that this is director Ted Geoghegan’s debut is very impressive. I really can’t wait to see what he has for us next.
Final Score: 3.5/4
Similar Films: The Innkeepers, The Evil Dead, The Shining
Crimson Peak (2015) – Horror | Drama
Directed by: Guillermo Del Toro
Starring: Mia Wasikowska and Tom Hiddleston
How I Watched: Amazon Instant Video
Best Line: “A house as old as this one becomes, in time, a living thing. It starts holding onto things. Keeping them alive when they shouldn’t be.”
Let me begin by warning you that this movie is not scary in the way that you’d expect an R-rated haunted house flick directed by Guillermo Del Toro to be. Crimson Peak is at times, uncomfortably frightening but it just manages to avoid terrifying you into oblivion. Its story instead grows increasingly insidious as it progresses and is almost surgical in its mental burrowing of the viewer. What it will not do however, is cripple you into fear like some scenes in The Conjuring or The Exorcist. Crimson Peak is a classically well-told ghost story built upon the back of a Victorian era love affair.
Those of you that are now planning to avoid this one due to the words, “Victorian era love affair,” hey, I don’t blame you. From the trailers, I could tell that this one was possibly more Jane Eyre than Del Toro’s exceedingly brutal Pan’s Labyrinth or The Devil’s Backbone. When all is said and done though, trust me, it works. Fear not, thy testosterone. There’s enough tense moments in Crimson Peak to get at least a couple nods out of even the most jaded Horror film aficionado.
If you’re familiar with Del Toro’s track record, you know he’s made some pretty solid films. Including the two mentioned above, he’s credited with the insane Cronos, the Hellboy series and Pacific Rim. Sure, Mimic and Blade II weren’t exactly Citizen Kane, but c’mon. Everybody is allowed to slip up once in a while. While The Devil’s Backbone is his only other true ghost story, there were plenty of horrifying scenes in Pan’s Labyrinth, as well as movies he helped produce like The Orphanage and Mama, so I was not worried that he could handle the task of scaring us again.
For a little background on the film itself, the story features a young American writer that is swept off her feet by a mysterious entrepreneur that lives in a haunted British estate. For a bit, I felt the movie was going to be like 2012’s The Woman in Black. English accents swept over the lines and it started to seem as it was going to be a costume-themed period piece, until it really began to pick up once the story moved to this British estate. Those that have picked up on it might have already realized that the estate is called ‘Crimson Peak.’ I won’t tell you why but really, the more I think about it, the stranger this story gets.
The cast in Crimson Peak is pretty good, but it’s not exactly something to write home about. I was a bit disappointed that Del Toro didn’t manage to slip stalwart Ron Perlman anywhere in the movie, but hey, Doug Jones made it in so I guess I can forgive the man. Leads Wasikowska and Hiddleston do enough the keep the story going, but I really think this one belongs to Jessica Chastain. Del Toro is famous for his absolutely stone cold, evil villains and Chastain does not break this chain. It’s pretty refreshing to see her play a character that is not emotionally or morally confounded in a muddled thriller and she definitely steals the show from the rest of the cast.
As I mentioned above, this movie isn’t going to turn your blood cold. A few scenes will have you gripping the arms of the couch (if you’re in the right mood), but honestly, Crimson Peak is just more of a really cool movie. The cinematography is absolutely stunning and though I felt Guillermo was a bit liberal with some of the CGI effects, it was not enough to take away from the tale itself. Del Toro weaves his story intricately with those scares and avoids the easy jump-frights that a good number of recent horror films are guilty of. He instead takes the opportunity to build the terror like a layered cake, until those final few moments when he knows he has you roped in and invested in the storyline.
Final Score: 3.5/4
Similar Films: The Others, The Devil’s Backbone, The Shining