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What Did You Watch This Week? (Reviews Of ‘Blair Witch’, ‘Girl With All The Gifts’, ‘Don’t Breathe’, ‘Train To Busan’, ‘Green Room’)

What You Watched This Week Short reviews of the camera-collecting ‘Blair Witch’, the not-at-all-like-28-Weeks-Later ‘Girl With All The Gifts’, blind panic thriller ‘Don’t Breathe’, zombies on a train is a good idea ‘Train To Busan’ and Captain Picard turns Trump supporter ? in ‘Green Room’.

Blair Witch
Starring: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott
Director: Adam Wingard

Found footage direct sequel to ‘The Blair Witch Project’. After a new tape of the 1999 disappearance is found in an unsearched area of the Black Hills Forest, Heather’s brother leads three friends to Maryland to try and discover what happened to her 15 years prior. The couple who found the new tape demand to accompany them, but once in the sinister woodland the six campers start to become disorientated and are soon at the mercy of the Blair Witch… 16 years after failed sequel ‘Book of Shadows’, the franchise has been revisited by the very capable writer/director team of ‘You’re Next’ and ‘The Guest’. The movie was made in secret, falsely-titled ‘The Woods’, and only revealed in July as being ‘Blair Witch’. It’s nicely scripted, acted, filmed and concisely edited, but is fatally flawed in its conception and ending – (1) It’s close to being a beat-by-beat remake, but while ‘Blair Witch Project’s innovative found footage video-camera style discovered a new way of scaring us, it also kicked off a wave of similarly-shot films which has made the technique feel like old hat today. Furthermore, camcorders now are little different to film cameras and being well-made is part of the problem since the basic-ness of the original allowed many to be fooled into thinking it was actual lost tape (assisted by a brilliant online campaign at a time when the public were naive toward the internet). (2) The original laid out an oral legend as they documented the townsfolk, and then we watched it playing out in the woods. Here legendary names are thrown about but no clear legend is laid out for them to fall into, instead it’s jump scares, frantic running and being swept away one by one. (3) The Blair Witch, who was never seen in the original, is on camera here, but instead of being anything like described previously she has a generic and unsuitable look… So while in many senses it is a good remake, a modernising of the scenario, with nostalgia appeal, there’s nothing groundbreaking about it and without a clear legend to follow the finale fails to send a chill up the spine as it did first time round. Grade: B-

The Girl With All The Gifts
Starring: Sennia Nanua, Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine, Glenn Close
Director: Colm McCarthy

In a British military base a sweet-sounding girl with genius-level IQ lives in a cell and is shackled by soldiers (Considine) before daily classes with a soft-hearted teacher (Arterton). Behind the border fences is a mass of zombies. One doctor (Close) is gradually dissecting the other half-zombie children in an effort to cure the fungal disease, but before she can get her knife into the special girl, the base is overrun. The group flee into London in hopes of a rescue, and on the perilous journey the hybrid girl must come to terms with who she is… Adapted from the 2014 novel by its author, this comes from the veteran TV director of ‘Peaky Blinders’. ‘Gifts’ is a mash-up of previous genre ideas that’s reasonably effective but not as sharp as any of its influences. Primarily it’s ’28 Weeks Later’, matching the look, enemies (running zombies, here called ‘hungries’) and setting (kid who’s key-to-the-cure heads into London with military escort after camp collapses, where hybrid subject was being tested), and with the ‘Children of Men’ notion that a child is the only hope of humanity’s survival. Later the fungal-zombies sprout seed pods and it incorporates bits of ‘Day of the Triffids’ and ‘The Last of Us’. As with mash-up movies, the less you’ve seen the originals, the fresher this will all seem. The lead girl presents an intriguing character study and it’s interesting to see Glenn Close in the genre. Arterton starts strong but there’s no arc for her. The wild zombie-kids are too ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ stage production, and the ending left me hating the selfishness of the character(s) involved. Still if you fancy a re-run of the movies mentioned it’s entertaining. Grade: B-

Don’t Breathe
Starring: Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Stephen Lang, Daniel Zovatto
Director: Fede Alvarez

The son of a cop (Minnette, ‘Goosebumps’) who crushes on a trailer-trash dreamer (Levy, ‘Evil Dead’) joins her and her streetwise boyfriend to rob houses in rundown Detroit. A tip leads them to the home of a reclusive, blind veteran (Lang, ‘Avatar’) who won a big payout after his daughter was killed in a hit and run. But rather than being an easy target, they discover he’s a highly-trained psychopath, relentless in his desire to pinpoint and execute them using his refined sense of hearing… ‘Don’t Breathe’ reunites the director of the ‘Evil Dead’ remake with its producer Sam Raimi and star Jane Levy (who does the best “terrified face” in the business). The plot is near identical to this year’s ‘Intruders’, with agoraphobia being swapped for blindness, though conceptually it works better because of the “rules” that blindness and threat of sound creates. Sporting the most memorable villain of the year, and a bit of ‘Cujo’ remake thrown in for good measure, it’s nail-biting throughout. The script is tight, tension and jumps are expertly done, and there’s one gruesomely unforgettable slow-motion death. Also note: Never has a stray hair caused such revulsion… Grade: B+

Train To Busan
Starring: Gong Yoo, Kim Su-an, Jung Yu-mi
Director: Sang-ho Yeon

A selfish, workaholic father takes his 10 year old daughter on the bullet train from Seoul to Busan just as a zombie apocalypse breaks out. As the infection spreads down the carriages they must work with other suspicion-filled passengers to ensure the train reaches its destination… ‘Busan’ has been the biggest movie of the year at the S.Korean box office with 11 million tickets sold. Horror films from Asia have been dominated by the supernatural, but this is the best physical realisation of zombies in many years. The characters have authenticity and you really care what happens to them, from the young daughter who goes through considerable emotional turmoil, to the charismatic tough guy passenger who steps in to rescue the situation when the father lets them down. It’s not groundbreaking ala ‘Night Of The Living Dead’ or ’28 Days Later’ but does an excellent job of refining/remixing what’s out there while adding a few new rules of its own (such as how zombies react in tunnels) which work wonderfully. The director picks his shots and crafts a suspense sequence like an old master despite this being his first live-action film (having previously worked in animation). There’s not much in horror more entertaining than a zombie-breakout movie done well, and there aren’t many better than this. Grade: A-

Green Room
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Patrick Stewart, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat
Director: Jeremy Saulnier

A young, struggling punk rock band (including Yelchin) are booked to play a secluded white supremacist venue and accidentally witness a murder in the green room backstage. Trapped and under siege, they’re pitted against an ice-cold neo-nazi (Stewart) and his gang of skinheads, intent on murdering them… Chekov has really upset an N-bomb dropping Captain Jean-Luc Picard in this ultra-violent edge of your seat horror-thriller. What puts this into horror territory is the doomed atmosphere, ensemble eliminations, and the gruesomely realistic, stomach-churning nature of the violence. When a box cutter is introduced you know you’re going to see what a box cutter can actually do to someone. This viciousness makes the film extremely tense (particularly the first half). And that naturalism is applied to performances overall and the desperate fight scenes. The choice of villains is a chillingly strong one, with deft little touches skilfully separating the different “types” in the neo-nazi group. To nitpick, it’s not too credible that the skinheads would abandon the green room door for chats in the car park, the staged “accident” crime scene feels implausible given the number of dead, and while Patrick Stewart is extremely watchable, his cold, calculating performance doesn’t quite do enough to throw off his warm persona baggage – seeing him going mental and losing his sh*t in this controversial role would have been something to behold. Anton Yelchin (in his last film to be released before his death) does a fine job as the director’s signature “inept protagonist” who’s in over his head and would need years of therapy. Grade: B+

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  • gd smith said

    I thought I would really like Don’t Breathe, but it was gap model burglars being menaced by a buff old blind dude with a back story that undercuts the horror. I think the Nieghbor is a much better movie with much better actors.

    Green Room I really liked, because the characters were likable and believable especially if you’ve ever been in bands. One of my favourite movies of the year.

    Blair Witch was alright. Nothing special. Again nearly everyone in it was too pretty be convincing. I just didn’t buy into the idea that these were the kind of people who would go looking for a local myth. Also The direct family connection to the BWP felt forced and did not really add much to the set up because the age cap was too large.

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