Friday, February 21, 2014

Horror Off-Season: Oculus: Chapter 3

Ok, so the Oculus short hit my radar a few years ago when I first saw Absentia.  Director Mike Flanagan had mostly focused on character dramas until that point, though he had dabbled in horror before.  First as DP on 2004's amazing cult cheesefest Chainsaw Sally, and then again as writer/director in 2006 with his own short film Oculus: Chapter 3 - The Man With the Plan.

Originally planned as a 9 part short film anthology focused on the film's Lasser Glass mirror, only Part 3 was made due to budgetary constraints.  Following the success of Absentia, Flanagan was able to direct a feature length adaptation of the story.  That version premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in Sept of 2013 and Relativity Media secured distribution rights for an April 2014 US release.  Unfortunately, that deal seems to have included pulling sales of the original short, which I feel is a tremendous missed marketing opportunity but rumor mill has it that the short will be included as bonus material on the DVD/BD release of Oculus.

Filmed for about $2,000 over the course of 4 days as primarily a monologue and clocking in at roughly 32 minutes Oculus: Chapter 3 is an amazing example of a less-is-more horror ideology.  And beyond that, it's goddamned scary.

The film is set entirely in a single, white room with a small table and a battery of cameras on tripods at one end and an easel at the other with the very imposing mirror on it.  The single character, Tim Russel (played by Scott Graham), wears jeans and a grey baseball collar t-shirt.  To say sparse would be an understatement.  Tim is here because his father was one of the previous owners of the Lasser Glass and also its most recent victim.  Tim believes the mirror is haunted/possessed/evil and somehow compelled his father to kill his mother and himself.  He's set up an experiment to prove the mirror has supernatural powers in order to clear his father's name.

During the run of the movie Tim explains the nature of the experiment he's running as well as external controls and checks.  A system he feels will protect him from falling victim to the mirror as well.  He also recounts the mirror's bloody history and the tragedy that fell on each previous owner.  These are simple stories, but quite eerie.  As the experiment goes on Tim becomes increasingly erratic, losing time, yelling at his friend on the phone, rambling, etc.  The cameras in the room are all hooked to monitors on a table, and the perspective jumps between them and an omniscient camera leading to great creepy shots where Tim is in frame and a monitor doing something different.  It throws into question assumptions of truth...which image is real?

Flanagan relies fairly heavily on his tight depth of field and editing to obscure elements making what really should be dumb instead very scary due to context and execution.  Both tricks he would also use in Absentia to make the not-very intimidating Daniel Riley freaking frightful as the gape-mouthed ghoul.  The final sprint is an absolute bedlam of amazing that begs me to never look at alarm clocks the same way, and the repeating line from the trailer ("I've met my demons and they are many, I've seen the Devil and he is me...") is really disturbing when it finally appears.

It's not a great looking movie, which isn't surprising given its budget and time.  But it looks good for what it is, and the execution is stellar for a scary movie.  The compressed insanity at the end left me actually speechless for a bit after the short ended, it was kindof a drive-by.  Though it is very tight, I feel like bits could have been shaved off earlier in the movie to make Tim's decent a little less breakneck, but it still works very well as is.

That said, there's very little wrong with the movie and I'd highly recommend it.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Horror Off-Season: Banshee Chapter

Banshee Chapter is a late 2013 independent horror movie with a somewhat Lovecraftian bent that just recently got a limited theatrical release.

We grabbed this from Amazon Instant because the theatrical release was only in the Hollywood area.  We start with archive footage from the disclosure of some of MKUltra, but quickly switches gears to a young investigative journalist being filmed by a friend so as to have an accurate record of his activities while tripping on a special kind of DMT, which is in some way related to secret government experiments.  He's more or less unaffected until he starts hearing a radio and begins to get increasingly paranoid and uneasy.  He continues to claim that "they" are coming and want to wear him and the cameraman, at some point he vanishes from view until bumping back into the cameraman as a ghastly black-eyed monstrous version.

And now the movie switches off of the found-footage angle and goes to an omniscient camera as we start tracking another journalist who's pursuing the story of the special DMT and the death of the first journalist, who was a classmate of hers while in college.  After an initial encounter in the desert, she gets involved with then enlists the help of a Hunter S Thomson-like figure played by Ted Levine.

The story is very close to Lovecraft's "From Beyond", however it's the DMT itself rather than any wave-generation machine that allows the other side to sense and interact with our side of reality.  It's a little confusing regarding the origin of the compound, but the twists are interesting enough.  There's a little of it that reminds me a bit of John Dies at The End, which makes sense given that JDaTE is basically Hunter S Thompson + HP Lovecraft + Poop Jokes.  Banshee Chapter is obviously much more serious, but Ted Levine's character keeps it somewhat light.

While having a lot of very nice moments of creepiness and tension, I feel like it may have been a bit rushed or at least poorly allocated.  The nice scary parts seem like they go past very quickly while less important character interactions linger, leading to an ending sprint that is crammed and maybe a bit too much of a sprint.  Sitting with some of the revelations from the climax before the actual climax would've probably made the whole thing feel a bit weightier.

That said, I really enjoyed watching it and have given some thought to renting it again, or claiming a more permanent copy.  So if a decent adaptation of "From Beyond" with colors of "Fear and Loathing" sounds interesting, check it out.