Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Strangers (Bertino, 2008)

I think there's a chance that people who don't normally go see horror films might find this film scary all the way through. Anyone who has seen more than, oh, I don't know, three decent horror films, won't.

The premise is simple - a couple in an isolated home are terrorized by three masked individuals. Hardly original, but plenty of room for a filmmaker to make their own mark. Alas, these film makers did not. The film starts with a 'based on real events' spiel and starts at the end - the discovery of a scene of horrific crime. So far, so 70s.

Then, we get to meet the poor, unfortunate couple who will end up the victims of that crime. Now, I confess I can't stand Liv Tyler in the slightest, but her character was not endearing in the slightest to me. Scott Speedman fares slightly better, but after 15 minutes of exposition and making us 'care' (hmm, not quite) for our protagonists, I was seriously itching for something to actually happen.

And when it finally did, the tension did rise. There are some good jumps and a decent atmosphere of dread...but no pay off. The director relies so heavily on sound and music to create any semblance of fear that you wonder if anything will actually happen at all. After several SCARY MUSIC CUES, the following five million SCARY MUSIC CUES become no more than irritatingly predictable. It doesn't help either when what should've been a very creepy early moment was rendered useless by the fact that it's the damn poster for the film.

Even with the film's naturally brief running time, it feels laboured. What the film promises to be a brutal climax falls short - if you're going to set up brutal slasher-movie stabbing, deliver it, please. It's nice that the three strangers remained mostly faceless even having removed their masks, but to me it continued to dehumanise very human monsters. And the final scene? Cheaper than cheap, and not scary.

Personally, I didn't like the direction. The annoying attempts at simulated hand-held shots felt forced. If Bertino wanted his film to feel real, he should've filmed the whole damn thing that way and with a handheld camera, not mix it up with polished shooting and cutting.

Scary masks were done far more effectively by El Orfanto and hell, Batman Begins. Supposedly, a sequel to the film is in the works, with the hope of launching a Saw-like franchise. Um, no thank you. The Strangers lacks the vaguely interesting characters and actual scares needed to sustain one, 85-minute film, never mind a franchise.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (Cohen, 2008)

When you go into a film expecting bad and end up getting worse, you hope that actors as cool as Jet Li got a damn fat pay cheque for lending their talents to it.

I am known for enjoying some crappy films. I like big, dumb action and big, dumb stories, but the third installment of this franchise is both big and dumb but so devoid of character or fun that it fails in every respect.

One good thing about the film: Yetis. They're cute and I want one as a pet - however, I'm not sure this was intended, but heck, they should be glad that there was at least one creature to root for in the film.

The lack of chemistry between everyone in the film is one of its biggest problems. That there is more chemistry between John Hannah and yak he shares a seat with than between any of the other couples or pairings in the film says a lot. Maria Bello is a fine actress but is woefully wrong as Evie - there's an obvious reason Rachel Weisz did not sign on to appear again. There is zero chemistry between Evie and Rick, even once their 'passion' for each other has been rekindled by the spirit of adventure. Their son, who has mysteriously become an American, is subjected to an implausible and charmless love interested (who has so much potential to be a cool character it hurts to see her fall short).

The only real moment of chemistry is when Jet Li and the fabulous (but underused) Michelle Yeoh face-off in the one decent set piece of the film. For a film boasting two kung fu heroes, the action is particularly dull and stilted, on a small and large scale. Neither army is that impressive, no battle is enthralling; there is simply nothing on display to excite or entertain.

The dialogue is terrible, the acting worse, the score distracting...but the set design was quite nice. Set design, and some cute CGI yeti. That's all this film's got going for it.