Thursday, March 1, 2012

Sick Girl (2009) review


Leslie Andrews (Izzy), Charlie Trepany (Kevin), John McGarr (Barney), Stephen Geoffreys (Mr. Putski)

Directed by Eban McGarr

The Short Version: Yet another horror-exploitation picture that models itself on the crop of cruelty that was being splattered and shotgunned across drive in and sleazepit theaters across the nation back in the creative cesspool of the savage 70s. This grubby little cinematic disease gets the gore and shock value right, but mucks up whatever artistic potential this 79 minute endurance test possesses with the worst acting this side of an Andy Milligan movie. Incredibly nasty and offensive, if you want to see kids being forced to murder each other, nuns being pissed on, a modern version of the 'Adultery Punishment' scene from CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and an incestuous mass murderer, then this cruds for you.

Izzy is a disturbed young woman who cares for her little brother and unhealthily pines for her older brother who's a marine fighting in Iraq. With no parents to watch over them, a kindly biker friend named Barney occasionally looks in on the two. Terribly protective of her younger sibling, Izzy spends her spare time moonlighting as a mass murderer either ruthlessly butchering random people or torturing victims in her barn.

This independent feature has a good deal of potential as a character study dealing with the mental capacity of an extremely disturbed sociopath and her beyond brutal actions. Instead, the absolutely atrocious acting renders a major amount of this films power to barely a notch above any number of the shot on video shit stains that were excreted on the home video market during the mid to late 1980s. All that we're left with is a sincerely nasty mean-spiritedness that words can barely describe. Even when saddled with worse acting than your average Ed Wood extravaganza, it's nigh impossible to not wince at the sight of children being forced to murder one another, or a savagely creative rape scene that one ups the 'Adultery Punishment' sequence from CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1979).

But then, with such a catalog of cruelty marching out at regular intervals, one gets the impression the filmmakers had no interest in delivering engaging performances, but as much gory offensiveness as possible; on that, they succeed beyond expectations. After you've seen a helpless nun being urinated on, the execution of a handful of people on a bus, a human Christmas tree, a child forced to drown another, more child murder, suicide, a titanically gruesome castration scene and a bizarre "sewing scene" that recalls THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (2010), the viewer is emotionally spent. Screaming for the camera is easy, but making the audience "believe" in the characters and what they're seeing is not. And with this lack of conviction, or inexperience from the actors, the lingering, graphic depiction of savagery is made all the more disgusting. If one were to make a comparison to porn, that application fits this film comfortably.

Take the child drowning sequence for instance. Izzy sets up the murder of three bullies that have been tormenting her little brother and delivers this twisted parental speech as to why bullying is bad. Like everything else, this scene has zero emotional gravitas. It simply makes you sick to your stomach that somebody filmed something like that. Fans of FRIGHT NIGHT (1985) and 976 EVIL (are there fans of 976 EVIL?) will rejoice in seeing Stephen Geoffreys as a quirky teacher. He's the single performer on hand here who can hold your attention when folks aren't begging for their life or being tortured to death. McGarr simply seems content with shocking the viewer and nothing more, which is a shame as there's a modicum of depth residing within the bowels of this turgid tumor of sadism and gore.

Written by director Garr, whatever purities he may have been going for are cruelly gagged, raped and butchered by Izzy's frequent murderous mood swings. Some of the photographic shots are mesmerizing in capturing the isolated expanse of rural America, but again, the atrocities devour whatever artistic integrity this 79 minute endurance test can muster. There's also a shock reveal at the end that you may already sense is coming much earlier on. Aside from its dangerous level of barbarism and taboo stomping, I didn't care for this film at all. Fans of graphic violent torture flicks will get their kicks here, but little else. SICK GIRL is simply a SICK MOVIE.

This review is representative of the Synapse DVD.

Mother's Day (2010) review


Rebecca De Mornay (Natalie Koffin), Patrick Flueger (Ike Koffin), Jaime King (Beth Sohapi), Warren Kole (Addley Koffin), Deborah Ann Woll (Lydia Koffin)

Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman

"Mother's here...she's not gonna be happy..."

The Short Version: This holiday horror succeeds in marrying its grotesque violence with a psychological subtext. Rebecca De Mornay dominates as a disturbingly doting mother of four equally unhinged children who would do anything for their mama. Bousman does what so few have managed and that's deliver a respectable remake that, despite some thoroughly disgusting moments, benefits from a better than average script, incendiary performances and a good score to go along with it. A highpoint of the torture-home invasion sub genre (if such a thing is possible), this is polished repugnance at its finest.

After a failed robbery, three brothers make a run for their old home only to discover it has new tenants after the house was sold as a foreclosure. With a party going on in the basement, the insane brothers take the entire gathering hostage and wait till their even more sadistic mother arrives. Needing money to get out of the country, it's learned that the Koffin matriarch unknowingly had a sizable sum of cash sent there by her sons in the interim after she lost the house. Asking for her money, the new homeowners claim to know nothing about anything sent there in her name. From there, Mother and her boys proceed to torture, brutalize and murder the house guests all the while turning some of them against each other as a tornado looms over the nearly vacant town. Desperate to make it out alive, the remaining captives plot and plan to free themselves before they become the next victims of the maniacal mother and her disturbed brood.

The director of SAW 2, 3 and 4 turns to remaking one of the 1980s cleverest, if remarkably geekshow quality horror pictures. The original MOTHER'S DAY (1980) was a rape-revenge movie with some not so subtle social subtext beneath the surface and an unusually strong level of characterization. The new version eschews the originals black comedy, but retains its nasty violence and even adds a psychological slant not unlike that of the SAW features, but explored in greater detail.

The performances are fine across the board and there's more than enough characters; some may find juggling the breadth of the victim population a bit staggering, while those seeking gory thrills will feel right at home. Clocking in at nearly 110 minutes, the landscape for exposition and exploitation is vast and ably handled by Bousman and his crew. In fact, considering this is essentially a home invasion-torture movie, it's a lot smarter than the bulk of this ilk. It's so well filmed, it's surprising that this never got a wide theatrical release in America. As with Aja's HILLS HAVE EYES do over, this update is the way more remakes should be mounted. Bousman pays great respect to Charles Kaufman's film even importing several memorable lines of dialog and also some of the death scenes. Queenie, the animalistic crazy from the 1980 picture is even on board, but utilized in an entirely different fashion. Addley still hates disco, too.

"If someone's lying, there will be consequences...I can guarantee it."

If for nothing else, this movie is worth checking out solely for Rebecca De Mornay's skin-crawling performance as Natalie Koffin. She is absolutely terrifying here. After her first appearance, she owns the film even when she isn't onscreen. Wholeheartedly insane, at times she displays an honorable, if twisted attitude towards certain familial values even if she has created a brood of disturbed savages who do everything and anything to appease their morbid mother. Even though she states she only desires the return of her money, a few scenes echo a deep seated resentment for the loss of her home and how the new owners have "destroyed" it. De Mornay pulls off some creepy nuances during the pot stirring moments before she boils over; this adds a lot to her character without blatantly revealing an entire backstory. It also strangely drudges up minor sympathetic emotions for her children despite the brutality they incur. All of them, in some way or other, want their mother's love and acceptance. Some of them turn into the equivalent of a frightened child that fears a scolding after breaking a cookie jar when trying to take it down from a shelf that's too high up.

This dysfunctionality isn't just relegated to the sadists, either, but to some of the captives as well. Scott Milam's script is exceptional for this kind of material. Mixing the psychological with the graphic torture motif is a difficult mix considering the violence usually overtakes the often thinly veiled cerebral moments. But here, there's a bit of a balance between the two. Granted, some of this toying with the characters feels borrowed from the SAW franchise (such as Mama Koffin making two husbands battle over whose wife is saved from being raped by her virginal, but dying son), but other situations have members of the cast making drastic decisions to escape their captors which always ends up being the "wrong" choice. Regardless of this being just another torture picture, if ever one honestly, and brutally explored the nature and desperate need for survival, this one is it.

The gore itself isn't as extreme a display as in the SAW films and other recent horror outings, but it's definitely unsettling. Scenes where victims have scalding hot water poured into their ears or have their heads set on fire are far more squirm-inducing than the more splattery moments. There are some bonafide chilling moments, too, that don't necessarily revolve around De Mornay's interpretation of a psychotic head of household. Towards the end, things go a little overboard with the 'Battling Bitches' angle when two of the last females tussle using everything and anything that's breakable to pummel each other with.

The filmmakers obviously have affection for the original which help make this one of the best remakes I've seen in some time. It takes a familiar plot and makes it fresh all the while paying tribute to some of the more memorable moments from the source material. Yes, a can of Drano and a television set play into one of the death scenes. About the only fascinating script idea from the 1980 original that isn't trotted out here is the flip flopping of the meek into the strong and vice versa.

Also, the script devises an ingenious method by which to keep this full house in believable peril with its impending tornado barreling into a continuously emptying neighborhood. Even when the victims manage to escape, there's no one around to help them. If the increasingly tired torture-home invasion sub genre leaves a bad taste in your mouth, you may experience the same here, but the depth of the script and the performances make it a worthwhile cinematic experience despite the overall tastelessness of the material.

This review is representative of the Studio Canal R2 DVD.

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