Sunday, 15 March 2020



It's always nice when films try and do something a little different. I mean, I don't mind movies that dance familiar steps if they're danced well enough, but there is mileage to be gained from a new idea, or just an unexpected variation on the old one. Sadly, it does still have to make sense and in the case of this film's specific reversal on a very old and well-known theme, it doesn't actually hang together once you think about it.

The very old melody being played in The Hunt goes all the way back to The Most Dangerous Game and The Hounds Of Zaroff - rich bastards target poor slobs for sport, peasant rather than pheasant. A miscellaneous gathering of apparent randoms wake up in woodland and are almost immediately machine-gunned from a bunker further up the hill - but why? Turns out that this time the concept is given a political spin: it's left vs right, yeehaw rednecks vs wet lefty liberals, Reps vs Dems (though the parties and major figures are never actually named). Inevitably, the few survivors quickly realise they're going to have to man up very quickly...

The reversal, and the film's main problem, is that the predators are the smug lefty types and the victims are the rightwingers, which puts you in the position of rooting against the woker-than-woke and for the Magahatters. If one has to go back to that famous bit of Nietzsche - "he who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster" - in the process of slaughtering a handful of "deplorables" the supposed nice guys actually end up as even more reprehensibly evil than their prey; throwing away the moral high ground by stooping to their level with a sneering "see how YOU like it". (Even then, the film cops out when it comes to actually having an overtly pro-Trump victor.)

The other reason I wrestled at length with the movie was that I wasn't sure how much of it was supposed to be a comedy. And I think I've concluded that it is substantially conceived as satirical, with most of the lefties portrayed as an insufferably right-on bunch of sitcom handwringing liberals worrying about misgendering, cultural appropriation and the high sugar content of soda, which only reminded me of that recent Tracey Ullman "Woke Support Group" sketch. That comedic tone sits strangely with the graphic eyeballs-and-entrails gore as well as the political aspects, making us wonder how seriously we're supposed to be taking this, and whether the makers know how seriously we're supposed to be taking this.

On the plus side, the early stages set up a few likely potential survivors before gleefully splattering them, leaving us unsure who to empathise with, and the final confrontation between the Last Woman Standing (Betty Gilpin) and the Number One Villain (Hilary Swank) is pleasingly vicious and violent. Postponed from its original release last August because of yet more mass shootings, it carries a bit of controversy with it but in the end it's absolutely nothing to get excited about, even while watching it. John Woo's Hard Target managed it all, social comment as well as crunchy violence, so much better.


Monday, 9 March 2020



Is it really surprising that 3 From Hell is an intolerable bore? The third part in Rob Zombie's trilogy after the tedious House Of 1000 Corpses and the crushingly repugnant The Devil's Rejects turns out to just more of the same: a Mom's Basement Manson wank fantasy that, at fifty five years old, Zombie really should have grown out of my now. It's every bit as obnoxious as the first two - possibly made slightly worse by the fact that Zombie has clearly realised he's got nothing else to do but get the band back together Ten Years Later to just dance the same steps again, to relive the past glories that weren't glorious then and certainly aren't now.

3 From Hell's main riff is on Mickey and Mallory Knox as the Natural Born Arseholes end up in jail having miraculously all survived the bullet frenzy at the end of Rejects. Otis Driftwood (Bill Moseley) escapes and, with the help of a previously unmentioned brother Winslow Foxworth Coltrane (Richard Brake), plan to spring Baby Firefly (Sheri Moon Zombie) and go back to doing what they usually do - meaningless slaughter of pretty much everyone they meet.

Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) is only in it briefly because Haig was too ill to do the whole film - you could wonder why most of the Family are named after Groucho Marx characters when the new brother Coltrane sounds like a yuppie dickhead from a mid-80s Bratpack comedy, but that would suggest a level of interest that the film doesn't justify. Zombie's weird belief that these worthless vermin are cool, exciting and funny characters whose adventures make for cool, exciting and funny movies (despite the evidence to the contrary in the first two films) remains unfounded. They're not folk heroes, they're not rebels, they're not colourfully crazy, they're not fascinating in any way and the less time I have to spend with them, the better.

So why bite into the rotting apple again? Zombie's other, non-Firefly movies have largely been terrible - 31 is awful, Halloween II is awful, Halloween is mostly awful except for the bits where he's pretending to be John Carpenter - and it's not as if the third part in the trilogy was going to suddenly skew into different and more rewarding territory. But there's always the possibility, there's always the hope. Lurking in the shrieking, nihilistic nonsense of Zombie's back catalogue is The Lords Of Salem which isn't great but it is different, odd and suggests that he might be capable of something better. 3 From Hell, however, suggests more clearly that he isn't, and most likely never will be again. Garbage throughout.


Saturday, 7 March 2020



I admit it: way back in the mists of time, I used to have a passing interest in UFOs. I wasn't an obsessive or anything, but I did feel it was at least possible that Earth had been, and still was, visited by beings from other worlds for reasons utterly unfathomable to mere humans. This was around the time of the alleged alien autopsy video, Mulder and Scully, and the tinfoil hat brigade building huge Geocities websites to expose all the Area 51 conspiracies and decode the crop circles that always appeared about an hour after closing time. We even had a talk from the bloke from the Ministry Of Defence once night. The Truth Was Out There. Except that it wasn't: once you've sat watching slow-motion replays of wobbly night-vision footage of green blobs hovering somewhere over Mexico City, and overheard a couple of earnest Trekkies theorising that the reason the blobs disappeared into the sub-VHS murk was because the alien ships had activated their cloaking devices, it suddenly all seemed very silly. I never went back.

Still, I'm a sucker for a good alien movie: not so much the full-on CGI destructo porn of something like Battle: Los Angeles or Independence Day, more the mysterious presence in the woods like Fire In The Sky. Dark Encounter happily plays more on that smaller scale: individuals rather than continents. Exactly a year after an eight-year-old girl vanished without trace, her family are assailed by a series of bright lights, noises, objects moving, electrical disturbances and creatures Not Of This Earth in the basement - and half the family similarly vanishing. Were these creatures involved in the child's disappearance? Is there a reason for this latest visitation?

Set in Pennsylvania but shot in Yorkshire with a mostly British cast playing American, Dark Encounter's central setpiece is a terrific extended home (rather than planetary) invasion sequence for which writer-director Carl Strathie breaks out the huge beams of fiery orange and icy blue lights shining through curtains and blinds, giving the whole thing the feel of the similar sequences in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. This is easily the best scene in the movie and there are moments when it definitely hits that Spielbergian sense of awe (it's a pity the score isn't up to John Williams though), but the trouble is that the rest of the movie isn't that interesting. Moreover, the reasons for the mysterious beings' presence and interference is just plain nonsense: if they've gone to all this trouble for this, why not for all other instances? If they're so wise and benevolent, why do they terrorise people with bright lights and abductions? (This last question could also be asked of Close Encounters, of course.)

Result: the more you think about it the less sense it makes - was it a dream? Were they really aliens? One whizzy special effects moment (similar to the final shot of Men In Black) and the superb siege/invasion sequence aside, the film doesn't really hang together well enough, you don't really care and by the end you're just bemused by the silliness. The good doesn't entirely outweigh the not so good, but at its best it's interesting and thrilling enough to scrape through.