It’s always something of a curiosity when you see a trailer and it sez something like “From the producers of Paranormal Activity” or “From the production company that brought you Sinister” as if these things matter. But in some cases they do, and horror certainly has a history of that sort of thing. We just covered some of Universal’s Monsters, and Hammer Horror made a name for itself by doing something similar. William Castle was a reliable draw in his day and if you ever saw that Dimension Films produced a movie, you knew it would be disappointing (zing!) Enter Blumhouse, an independent production company founded by Jason Blum. His model is based on an idea we’ve all had (especially when you hear about how some $400 million movie bombs at the box office), which is that instead of betting it all on a handful of huge budget potential blockbusters, take that same amount of money and make dozens of smaller, more ideosyncratic films. As a genre, Horror is able to do well under those constraints, so most of what Blumhouse puts out fits in that mold. Most make their money back too, but it’s the handful of breakout successes that really buoyed the company. Notably, the Paranormal Activity movies have been a reliable source of success, and they use it to put out some weird, micro-budget stuff. I don’t know that there’s any sort of specific aesthetic theme here, but there’s definitely a group of horror filmmakers that are feeding off of each other, and Jason Blum is giving them a chance to shine. So I watched three Blumhouse movies this weekend, ranging from the wide-release suprise success, to smaller, more obscure films. I ended up enjoying these movies more than I ever thought I would, so maybe “From the producers of Paranormal Activity” does mean something…
- You’re Next (trailer)
- Rick & Morty’s Purge (clip)
- The Day After the Purge (short)
- The Purge – The Purge is an annual, government sanctioned 12-hour period in which any and all criminal activity (including murder!) becomes legal. James Sandin makes a healthy living selling security systems that lock down the house during the period, but when his dumbass son lets in a stranger being hunted by bloodthirsty purgers, we find out that his security systems are basically useless. Also classism.
So yeah, this is one of the dumbest, yet catchiest ideas with which to base a horror franchise on. I mean, yeah, sure horror movies often rely on obvious symbolism and thematic parallels, but this is ridiculous. The concept feels like its making fun of itself and is incredibly ripe for parody. This first film plays it small scale though and essentially becomes a home invasion thriller. It takes a while to get going and the kids are really annoying, but the third act is actually a lot of fun. Well executed, small-scale action set pieces and plenty of gore.
There are some rather predictable twists and turns, but it’s all reasonably well executed. I’m told that the sequels take the series in a more bonkers direction, as befits the ludicrous premise, so I’ll probably make time for them in future 6 weeks marathons… For now, this was a decent enough watch, but nothing particularly special. **
- Paranormal Activity (trailer)
- Paranormal Pactivity (Robot Chicken)
- Shining (fake trailer)
- The Bay – A found footage film about an ecological disaster in a small Maryland town where normally small parasites are mutating and growing at abnormal speeds. So remember back when I said that most found footage loses the opportunity to really take advantage of the mock documentary format? This one kinda, sorta does it. But they’re only interviewing one person throughout the film, and she’s basically just providing a running commentary on what’s on screen. We do, however, get some talking heads, as that is part of the footage that has been “found”. So we get to see CDC video calls and doctors and oceanographers and whatnot, and it all works surprisingly well.
Thematically, it’s a bit heavy handed, but after having just watched The Purge, it felt like an ambitious and subtle exploration of ecological concerns (ok, not really, but it’s not as egregious as some other efforts are). It’s found footage, but most of it is plausible and well shot. Minimal shaky cam here, and most of the movie looks pretty good. Its biggest flaw is that, well, there’s not really anywhere for the story to go, and thus it just sort of ends. Not badly, really. It just feels like one of those SNL skits where they have a neat idea and execute it well, get their laughs in, but have no idea how to finish it off. This movie gets its jump scares in, throws some light body horror your way, and then peters out… Still, it’s the journey, not the destination that matters here, and it’s a suitably creepy one. ***
- The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror V: The Shinning
- Mute Witness (trailer)
- The Strangers (trailer)
- Hush – Maddie is a deaf author who leads a reclusive life in the woods until a masked killer arrives at her doorstep for some good, old-fashioned home invasion horror. So this isn’t the most original premise, even for the sub-sub-genre of home invasion horror featuring a protagonist with a disability of some kind. We’ve been seeing stuff like this since at least Wait Until Dark (1967) and we’ve seen lots of variants (an obscure Kaedrin favorite is 1995’s Mute Witness). And yet, this proves to be a worthy entry in the canon and an exceptionally well executed spin on the typical tropes. Maddie (played by co-writer Kate Siegel) walks the horror protagonist line perfectly, not doing anything tremendously stupid while being plausibly resourceful. The killer (played by John Gallagher Jr., who seems like an unconventional choice but actually does well here) also works that line, being menacing and competent, but not omniscient or indestructible. You could argue that he’s a bit too reluctant to just start breaking windows, but I was able to go along with his clear desire to play cat and mouse games with his prey.
The movie wisely avoids giving him backstory (and it’s implied that he’s surprised by Maddie’s deafness, making it clear that he has no specific vendetta against her) and while he does play cat and mouse games, he does reveal himself in relatively short order (a bold choice that keeps things moving rather than devolving into indulgence). The film takes ample advantage of sound (and, importantly, the lack of sound), and that just ratchets up the tension considerably. Director Mike Flanagan (perhaps best known for that movie Oculus a few years back) clearly knows how to push the audience’s buttons. The film is mercifully short, but it doesn’t feel rushed or underbaked. It’s just well paced and tight. Look, I’m not going to call it a classic and it doesn’t feel like the sort of movie that I’d want to rewatch over and over again, but it’s a rock solid take on the sub-genre that was exactly what I needed at this point in the marathon. ***
Phew, it’s hard to believe that we’re in week six already! Time flies when you’re terrified out of your gourd. Still a couple of posts in the pipeline, so stay tuned for some more season’s readings and the usual Speed Round to close out the marathon…