12 Years A Slave (2014)

12 Years A Slave (2014)

A few weeks back I derided the fact that December-February brings about an onslaught of films that I deemed to be Oscar fodder. You know the types of film that I refer to: ones that focus on race, prejudice or persecution. Or generally a mix of all three components. I won’t lie – I’ve been cynical of these types of movies, as sometimes it seems that they were conceived only to give the writers, directors and actors a chance of accolade. Indeed, I’m still sure this is how the studios see these films; I doubt they’re concerned with the pathos or poignancy of a piece, merely how much revenue it can bring it. After all, it’s a business! Awards buzz = more ticket sales as people clamor to see what the fuss is all about. Then something happened to make me repeal my cynicism. That “thing” was 12 Years A Slave.

12 Years A Slave (2014)

12 Years A Slave tells the tale of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) in the pre-Civil War USA. Solomon is a freeman, living up in the North East with his wife and two children. This all changes abruptly when he’s kidnapped and sold into a life of slavery with no proof as to his true origins. Over the next 12 years he sees himself overseen by various “masters”, from the more benevolent and forward-thinking Mr. Ford (Benedict Cumberbach) to the more oppressive and ill-tempered Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). Solomon must witness all the untold horrors of slavery, whilst also keeping his past a secret lest he be lynched… slaves are paid to work, not to read, write, or think.

And 12 Years A Slave doesn’t pass up the opportunity to show you the horrors of slavery in the US. From what’s been told by director Steve McQueen, they actually chose to omit some of some of the acts that Solomon described in his memoirs (yes, this is a true story). Truth be told, you’d be surprised that that was the case. 12 Years A Slave is intensely visceral and sometimes makes for very uncomfortable viewing. It almost feels like you’re watching a snuff movie at some points. I defy anyone not to be unnerved by McQueen‘s unflinching decision to hold the camera on Ejiofor during a lynching scene… the cinematography, the noises and the background acting truly makes you want to look away or hide from the screen. Similarly, the scenes of lashings are also particularly harrowing. This isn’t a movie for the feint of heart, but is for people that want to acknowledge what actually went on in the past.

12 Years A Slave (2014)

Steve McQueen has done a fantastic job of sculpting arguably one of the finest movies in recent memory. The pacing of the film is sublime and the 120+ minute run time evaporates before your eyes. There’s no filler in this movie – it’s all top notch quality film making. And acting. Yes, a movie can only get so far on direction and story alone. The ensemble cast that’s been put together for this movie is beyond reproach. Although trailers and posters would make you believe this is a Brad Pitt fronted film (he does feature in the film… that much is true), that would be a huge disservice to the other actors, and indeed is a bit of a cheeky lie considering he doesn’t appear until the final act of the film.

British-born Chiwetel Ejiofor is ¬†superb protagonist; capturing the joy, sorrow and adversity of the title character. I’d like to think that Solomon Northup himself would be pleased with this portrayal if he had the chance to watch this movie back. Ejiofor summons so much emotion that it’s hard to not be swept away and become emotional yourself when things don’t go his way (and that happens a lot). I feel more attention should also have been placed on Benedict Cumberbach and Michael Fassbender in the promotional materials, as both actors deliver in spades, even if this is the first time I’ve ever heard Cumberbach embrace an American accent. I really want to focus on Fassbender here though, as this is arguably one of his strongest performances to date. He embodies a vile, but critically broken man in an untold way. I was mesmerised by every scene that he was in, and he definitely deserves at least one gong for Best Supporting Actor at at least one of these upcoming ceremonies! If there’s any justice he will do anyway.

12 Years A Slave (2014)

Likewise, 12 Years A Slave as a whole, whether actors, director, screenplay or the film itself, deserves to be acknowledged for what it is: a spectacular piece of modern cinema. I expect big things for this movie over the coming month as the awards are handed out. I’m not normally one to be so taken with a film that’s a forerunner in these battles, but my mind has been changed. For me, it’s going to be a close battle between this and Captain Phillips. The true winners are however the audience… we’ve been spoiled, for sure.

12 Years A Slave is currently standing head and shoulders above all other contenders for Best Picture in our eyes at Film Phage. We’ve not been so moved and emotionally battered like this for a long time. Yes, the film is graphic, but why should the subject matter be sugar coated? Humans are a brutal species, regardless of race, gender or creed. It’s been the case since the first of our ancestors started to fight one another over territory or resources. Between Steve McQueen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Cumberbach, Michael Fassbender and a superb supporting cast, we have been blessed with a truly fantastic film to commence 2014.

You’ve got to taste the irony in my introductory paragraph don’t you? I talk at length about prejudice, and then air my own prejudices against flagrant Oscar-baiting movies. Although several are still to be unleashed in the UK, I doubt any will prove to be as worthy of praise as 12 Years A Slave. I don’t think I have any more superlatives to throw down here. Simply: see this film, or miss out on a true highlight. Done.

Phage Factor:

5 Star

Captain Phillips (2013)

Captain Phillips (2013)

Pirates. They’re a popular topic for Hollywood nowadays; mainly thanks to Disney’s imagining of a rum-drinking Captain that speaks a bit like a Dickensian waif. Yes, that particular teet of revenue has been milked so much that the cow is now in a great degree of pain… but that won’t stop the merciless milkmaid (or milkmouse… as it’s Disney) from draining it further still! But the current film isn’t about those types of pirates. No, this is about real modern day pirates. The ones that manage to hijack huge trawlers using nothing more than a speedboat and some AK-47’s… Introducing Captain Phillips

I think the best send up of the popular depiction of pirates with the gritty real world situation comes courtesy of South Park. Whether you’re a fan or not, I urge you to look up the episode called Fatbeard, where Cartman wants to become a (Captain Jack-esque) pirate, so travels to Somalia – the “home of the pirates”. There he somehow manages to lead the Somalians into a successful pirating gambit. The ending is glibly funny, but the clever commentary by Trey Parker and Matt Stone is spot on. These pirates are impoverished and need to get by in some way or another. One¬†line from Captain Phillips sums this up perfectly for me. When the pirate Captain Muse is quizzed why he doesn’t just do something honest with his life and choose a more honest vocation, he is met with “Maybe you have a choice in America, Irish. Maybe in America.”

Captain Phillips (2013)

But let’s rewind a bit. Captain Phillips is based on the true events surrounding the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama back in 2009 off the coast of Somalia. This freight ship was on a run from Oman to Kenya, delivering a cargo consisting mainly of food and water aid. The titular Captain (Tom Hanks) was charged with leading this vessel through one of the most notorious stretches of sea in the world, owing to the high incidence rate of pirate hijacking. It’ll therefore come as no co-incidence to learn that this film revolves around such an incident occurring when a group of four Somalians, led by Muse (Barkhad Abdi) board the ship and take Captain Phillips (aka Irish to the Somalians) and his crew captive. This film recounts that and the ensuing events that unfold.

Let me be straight to the point: I loved Captain Phillips. Everything from the pacing, to the plot, to the acting was on top form. I think this is based on two big points: Tom Hanks’ lead acting (and a superb supporting cast, especially from Barkhad Abdi and Faysal Ahmed), and Paul Greengrass‘ knack for capturing the intensity and edge-of-your-seat tension from the director’s chair. Indeed, the tension truly is unrelenting. For a film that lasts over two hours there’s no letting up in the pace once the Alabama is charting its course through the ocean. I kept a bit of a blackout of the issues surrounding the real events to maintain the level of excitement for me, and it worked a charm.

Captain Phillips (2013)

As I mentioned, one of the true selling points of this film is Tom Hanks. I, like so many others, recognise Hanks as a formidable acting talent. Philadelphia, Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, Castaway… the man has done a lot of subliminal films in his career. I’d arguably put Captain Phillips right near the top of this roster. Hanks does a fantastic job of selling Phillips’ emotions over the course of the film. Indeed, his final scenes in the film are particularly harrowing and I defy you to not feel some modicum of emotion come over you. This is all due to Hanks. There’s no doubt in my mind.

However, don’t think the film is all “go USA!”, as it’s not. As I mentioned earlier, one of the quotes from the film about “maybe in America”, has stuck with me. This is because the film does a very good job of actually helping you to see what these pirates are fighting for: survival. They have bosses. They have bosses that won’t be happy unless they bring back millions of dollars in capital. These millions feed back to the warlords – not the pirates. The pirates get their paltry sum and must carry on doing this again and again. Just as you or I go to work on a daily basis in our offices and sites, they don’t. They take to the seas. This is where Abdi‘s performance comes to the fore as you can see the pain behind his eyes and you understand why he must go through with the events that unfold in the film. He has no choice.

Captain Phillips (2013)

So: the acting is fantastic, across the board. But the tension and writing keep pace with this most admirably. You could draw vague comparisons between this and films like Zero Dark Thirty or The Bourne Ultimatum, as both of those deal with similar degrees of tension. Arguably, I’d say that Captain Phillips is far more engrossing than either of those films, and I would be surprised if we didn’t see some Oscar nods come early next year. I truly hope we see something here, because if not that’ll genuinely be a tragedy. If Zero Dark Thirty can get plaudits, then so should Captain Phillips.

Captain Phillips is that rare beast: a biopic that has it all. With its ferociously enthralling story, superb characterisation and sterling across-the-board acting, it’s a film that deserves to be seen. Although controversy has recently arisen as to how like the real Captain Phillips Tom Hanks‘ character has been written, it’s nevertheless fantastic. Praise has rightly been steeped upon Hanks himself, although it must be mentioned that all players contribute to this exciting film.

I think I’d rather watch more movies like this than have to endure more hammy Captain Jack Sparrow films, although they’re inevitably incoming in the near future. Yes, that cow will die eventually from an overmilked teet: a savage death. Though there are worse ways to go, I’d imagine. Hell, I empathise more with genuine Somalian pirates than I do a guy that romps around in mascara, rambling on about rum… Who wouldn’t?!

Phage Factor

5 Star

Film Phage's Quarantine Award

Pain & Gain (2013)

Pain and Gain (2013)

Getting big and buff down the gym is something that’s incredibly trendy right now. You go into your local health food store (assuming that my loyal Phagelings frequent such establishments) and you’re immediately bombarded by an assortment of lotions and potions to get ripped. Big and buff is in. Well, at least that’s what the practitioners believe anyway. I’m not sure all the ladies swoon over colossal, potentially roided-out arms and pecs… After all… we all know what too much of THAT does to you, don’t we gents? And no-one likes opening up their Christmas present to find it’s 4 sizes too small and doesn’t work… am-I-right ladies? Yeah… Ok, we can dispense with all this chat now and concentrate on the film… oh wait, this is actually one of the plot threads? Tiny, little…? Oh… ok then. Well… it’s all about Pain & Gain isn’t it?

Pain and Gain (2013)

Yes, Pain & Gain has finally landed in the UK after an enormous delay transferring over the Atlantic Ocean. Michael Bay finally steps away from the Transformers franchise for a moment to deliver us an almost Bad Boys-esque film about a group of guys that are big on gym work and big on getting getting rich quick. The film focuses on the true story of Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) – a body builder turned personal trainer that’s tired of not getting everything that he wants. He leads a comfy life, but wants more… don’t we all? This leads him to the idea of robbing one of his clients (Tony Shalhoub) for all he’s worth. He brings in two fellow gym-bunnies in the form of Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) and gets away with it… for a while…

The plot is a fairly typical “kidnap and ransom” affair, but it’s done nicely and kept me entertained for the most part. I’ve always championed Mark Wahlberg as the every man, and Pain & Gain does nothing to change my opinion of him. He puts in another solid turn here as Lugo. What did impress me more was Dwayne Johnson. FINALLY, we’re seeing him in a role that requires him to do more than look BIG. Let’s not beat around the bush here… he looks goddamn massive in this film. Dwayne is a walking advertisement for gym work if you want to get “big”. What I found refreshing was that his character called for a wealth of emotions to be displayed. It wasn’t all “mean and moody”, which is what he’s had to do time and time again, over and over again. His character goes through the most dramatic arc out of the lead three protagonists, and it was his journey that I enjoyed the most.

Pain and Gain (2013)

Credit also needs to go to the supporting cast, most notably Shalhoub as the kidnapped Victor Kershaw, who played his part with aplomb. Similarly, Rebel Wilson turns in another performance that adds to her stock of “crude and lude” characters. It’s not so much remarkable for that, but it was nice to see her humour injected here. Much has actually been made of the “dark humour” of this film… which is true, to a certain extent. The humour definitely ramps up at times, but at others… it all comes across rather dour.

Nowhere is this more obvious than the opening 30 minutes. The film is trying to align itself and bring the viewers up to pace, but it all just feels disjointed and odd. It’s as if Michael Bay was aiming for an almost Spring Breakers-esque introduction with lots of voice over narrative in an attempt to make it seem somewhat artistic and lofty. Unfortunately it just left me a little deflating and disinterested. Luckily, the film picked up somewhat once this intro segue had passed, but it still left a sour taste in my mouth to a certain extent.

Pain and Gain (2013)

I think this draws attention to the film’s biggest flaw: it’s somewhat bloated. And we’re not just talking about Johnson’s arms here. A good 20 minutes could have easily been cut from the film and it wouldn’t have suffered whatsoever. Those extra 20 minutes led me to become distracted at times and somewhat detracted from the film as a whole. Don’t get me wrong – it had a fun plot and one that kept you intrigued, but it never had you second guessing and wondering what might develop. It was all quite linear… unlike the contours of Dwayne Johnson‘s neck…

Pain & Gain is a solid film, but can’t ever be classified as anything exceptional. The film is held together by a compelling story and a strong performance from Wahlberg and an arguably stronger performance from Dwayne Johnson, but this can’t disguise the excess embedded in the film as a whole. The humour was there, but was deflated somewhat by the exposition of those trailers. Damn you trailers! You’ve struck again, you cunning sons-o’-guns!

Pain & Gain was pretty much a balance of pain and gain… but I could have done with less pain in this testosterone-fuelled sandwich if I’m honest. It didn’t make our Phagey parts shrivel and become useless, but it also didn’t make us feel on top of the world and massive. It left us like the average gym guy… kinda normal. But unlike the average gym guy, we won’t be giving up… we’ll be back… now, there’s a quote from a REAL gym guy!

Phage Factor:

3 Star

The Impossible (2013)

The Impossible (2013)

Sometimes I think that all of this exposure to disaster-themed movies should make us all pretty prepared for the inevitable catastrophic event that will affect our lives: the zombie apocalypse. We’ve seen survivors flee from rage-fuelled fiends in 28 Days Later, people battle the world’s most rapidly changing climate in The Day After Tomorrow and even survive a hulking great asteroid hitting the Earth in Deep Impact. Hell, all Elijah Wood needed in that last one was a bike! He could outrun the oncoming tidal wave. In short: disaster epics are nothing new. What is a bit more novel is the use of the 2004 tsunami that devastated South East Asia – enter The Impossible.

The Impossible is based on the true story of a family that was in the wrong place at the wrong time on 26th December 2004. Here the family are portrayed by Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts as husband and wife Henry and Maria, and Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin and Oaklee Pendergast as Lucas, Thomas and Simon: their three children. Ultimately, the tsunami tears the family in two, separating Henry and Maria beginning them on a desperate quest to find their children and each other in the tsunami-ravaged coastal areas of Thailand. And what a story it is.

The Impossible (2013)

Before I get drawn into the plot and acting, what really must be talked about first is the cinematography and shooting of the tsunami scenes. Quite frankly it’s amazing how these guys pulled this off. You never get the feeling that this is the work of camera trickery or some elaborate staging – it just feels real. This is especially noticeable when the camera shoots from high above so you can see the wave ripping through the hotels and houses like a red hot knife through butter. It’s truly astounding.

But what really struck me about the movie was how emotional it was. The Phage is never one to let his emotions get the better of him at the movies – he’s cold and remorseless. Well, he has been ever since he cried when Jenny died in Forrest Gump when he was a lot younger. That was a sad moment! But since then? A heart like stone. Having said all that, I’m not afraid to say that The Impossible really stirred up those emotions. I defy anyone to not feel touched by some of the scenes in this film. I don’t have little Phagelings running around, so I’m not even a parent – therefore the emotional damage has got to be exacerbated for any parents ¬†watching this film too.

Look out for this scene... it's a heartbreaker.

Look out for this scene… it’s a heartbreaker.

What brought up these emotions? Sheer acting talent. Naomi Watts is acting her chops off in this film – you really feel her desperation and also wince with every one of her injuries as she struggles to track down some sense of normality. An utterly convincing performance that surely has to be in with a nod in this week’s Oscars nominations. However, credit also has to go to Ewan McGregor here too. The scene that really tore my heart to pieces was one of him managing to make telephone contact with a relative back home. His delivery of the ensuing speech could not be more emotional and evocative. It really feels as if both McGregor and Watts had tapped into the events of the day and really translated those emotions for the camera. Furthermore, at the opening of the film I was ready to dismiss all of the child actors as “caricatures” and “not Pierce Gagnon“, but even they really came into their own as the film progressed.¬†Although Tom Holland is arguably given the bigger slice of camera time as the eldest brother Lucas, all three really round out the picture well and capture the innocence, sadness and anger that comes with separation.

I should hope that it’s quite obvious from the fact that it’s based on a true story that someone at least survives the tsunami. After all, who would tell the story if the entire family was wiped out? No-one. Having said that, finding out exactly who survives and how they manage this is truly enthralling. I must confess that I approached this film with some trepidation because I couldn’t see how a film about separation could sustain my interest over its two hour run time. All of these feelings soon disappeared by the time the wave hit; owing in no small part to the performances on screen and the riveting story. As I’ve said countless times before, it’s sometimes the true stories that seem even more unbelievable than those cooked up by banks of writers in Los Angeles.

The Impossible (2013)

Sure, the story’s been tweaked a little by director¬†Juan Antonio Bayona to give it that on-screen flare and drama, but at its core you can’t help but buy into the fear and trauma of these individuals. And although some of the third act scenes feel slightly too forced and almost cartoon-esque with its near-encounters (you’ll see what I mean), the film is testament to some fantastic film making and really capturing the story of those that were part of this natural disaster and also delivering a story that can never be told by so many others that were taken by it.

The Impossible is an emotionally devastating piece of film making that should be applauded for its technical prowess, as well as its performances. All five of the actors portraying the family really captured the sheer desperation and angst that must have been felt by those that were there on that day. I’m not normally one to buy into films that are so flagrantly emotional, but The Impossible really hit all the right notes and truly is a life affirming film – it’s not just a¬†clich√©d¬†expression used on posters.

So although my years of training for the end of the world has been delivered by years of exposure to Hollywood and its tales of doom, I don’t know how I’d actually fare if the time ever came. Except for zombies of course… I always have Zombieland to teach me how to survive that particular conclusion. The solution? Double tap the ghoul, remember that zombies can’t climb and just go and hang out with Bill Murray for a bit. Maybe try and convince him to take that role in Ghostbusters III too.

Phage Factor:

4.5 Stars

Lawless (2012)

Doesn’t the past always sound so exciting and cut-throat? Especially when it’s up there on the big screen looking all lavish and sexy. Take mediaeval times – a period when disease was rife, living standards were through the floor and you were oppressed at every angle by your local land baron. It wasn’t a happy time. But chuck in some Hollywood pizazz and you have something like A Knight’s Tale, or Robin Hood. The so-called “wild west” – a period of instability, uncertainty and crime also provides plum pickings for film-makers, so long as you throw in some idyllic looking towns, guns and raunchy lead actors. The only other area that rivals it for “sexy yet dangerous setting” is the¬†period of post-Great War USA, the roaring 1920’s… cue Lawless. It was time of gangsters, prohibition and money, and Hollywood likes going back to mine it for more – we can’t get enough of the mob. But does Lawless, the newest film to draw from this period, figure more like The Untouchables, or does it have more in common with Bugsy Malone, minus all those grating kids?

For once, a film “based on a true story” means just that, as the film revolves around the Bondurant brothers – three guys that decided to flaunt the law and turn a tidy profit from the sale of illegally distilled moonshine. The book on which the movie is based, “The Wettest County in the World” was penned by the grandson of one of these brothers. Sure, the film-makers will have embellished some things, but overall you can take this as a “true story”. Come on – it’s got more truth to it than The Possession hasn’t it?¬†The film follows Jack, Forrest and Howard Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy and Jason Clarke) as they build their business and live their lives, whilst contending with the ever-encroaching arm of the law, personified by Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce). It’s a case of pay off the authorities, or be burned. Literally.

The Bondurant boys on the big screen. Knitwear is in.

The first thing that needs to be mentioned is the sheer calibre of acting talent on offer in this film. Whilst every single actor is fantastic (yes, even LaBeouf for you doubters out there), the film is really stolen by two people: Tom Hardy and Guy Pearce. Hardy continues his run of great form following Warrior and The Dark Knight Rises with a role that really calls for strong acting. He really sells you every emotion, be it sadness, anger or humour. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a laugh-a-minute performance (or film), but he delivers some brilliant wry one-liners that sit well.

Pearce¬†meanwhile has had a rather odd portfolio as of late, with his weirdly over-made up appearance as a very old man in Prometheus and his peculiar decision to star in Lockout, which didn’t sit well with critics, but I quite enjoyed Pearce‘s performance. Like a grumpy John McClane in space. But his portrayal of Charlie Rakes here is sublime. He’s a thoroughly detestable and loathsome character and you’re really sold on this by Pearce from the way he walks, talks and sneers. Absolutely riveting.

Guy Pearce: Never afraid to shy away from some creepy facial effects and hairdo’s.

My main problem with the film is pacing. Now, maybe this is due to the fact that I approached it without expectations – I didn’t know what I was going in to see really. I knew it was prohibition-era set, and featured a stellar cast, but little else. The trailers didn’t really show me what the core of the film was. If you think Lawless is going to be an all-out gangster film with guns and speakeasies galore, then you’re in for a cruel shock. I’d say that it’s more of a character-driven period drama that has criminals as its focus. Hardy and LaBeouf‘s characters grow throughout the running time and you actually care about them. This led to a rather slow opening first act whilst the scene was being set and the characters established. Had they been more vapid, I’m sure we could have delved into the core of the story much faster, but they’re not. I just felt there was too much padding in this area, which lowered my enjoyment levels somewhat. However, once the film kicked into gear, I was engrossed.

LaBeouf tests out the car to check if its a Decepticon, without raising suspicion.

One thing I really ought to address is the ordering of the names in the posters, which would have you believe that Gary Oldman is a big player in this film – he’s typically listed after LaBeouf and Hardy, but don’t be swayed into seeing Lawless just because of his name. He doesn’t figure heavily in the plot. In fact, I could argue that he’s merely there as a “name” and to personify the Capone-esque gangsters of the era who’d drive round with Tommy guns. His inclusion baffled me somewhat and had a¬†minuscule¬†impact on the story. A great actor, sure, but his role was somewhat mis-sold. Similarly, putting Guy Pearce‘s name in the “and…” bracket at the end of the list is a) misleading and b) a disservice, as he’s one of the best things about the film. I guess he’s not seen as a “big draw” at the minute. Maybe Iron Man 3 will change that next year.

Ultimately, I found Lawless to be a compelling slice of cinema, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. Maybe this is through my own naivety, but maybe not. If you’re expecting a gun-toting action-fest then you’ll be cruelly disappointed. Conversely, if you want to see a great story acted out by a fantastic cast then this is just right for you. The film won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but I’d thoroughly recommend seeing it – just for Hardyand Pearce‘s acting.

In fact, this film has much in common with Inglourious Basterds, and not just in the way in which itself made another period of desperation: World War II, look more exciting than horrifying. It’s more the fact that you were drawn into Inglourious Basterds by the lure of the names Quentin Tarantino and Brad Pitt, but you walked out talking about Christoph Waltz and Michael Fassbender (maybe you mentioned Mike Myers, but not in the same positive light as these two). Similarly, you’re drawn into Lawless by the lure of the big names, like Shia LaBeouf and Tom Hardy, but you’ll leave talking about Guy Pearce,¬†and rightfully Hardy too.

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star

The Possession (2012)

With so many movies based on “true stories” nowadays, you’ve got to applaud the current generation of screen-writers. Not because they’re doing a remarkable job adapting these “true stories”, but because surely it’s making their job of writing fiction so much more difficult? Demons? Please! They definitely exist, as Paranormal Activity has shown. Ghosts you say? Yeah, I’m pretty sure that was covered in An American Haunting. Witches? Oh come on – The Blair Witch Project (probably) proved that. So what does The Possession – the newest “based on a true story” horror film bring to the table …? Yup, demons again. Fear not Twilight, we’ve not yet caught wussy “vegetarian” vampires on film…

As you may have astutely ascertained from the title of the film, the story revolves around the premise of demonic possession. Here, the tale focuses on a sealed box that is bought for young Em (Natasha Calis) by her dad, Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Naturally, there’s something odd about the box – its sealed tight, but what lies inside? Yes indeed – some vengeful demon! Oh come on, that’s not a spoiler. What did you think it’d have in it? Coco Pops? Cue a demonic possession horror story that you’ve probably seen time and time again.

The trouble with the film is that it’s so derivative, although I must admit it’s hard for a writer to pen a tale of demonic possession and not have people say “oh, it’s like The Exorcist then?”. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that The Possession lurches from clich√© to clich√© of modern horror at a staggering pace. Firstly, there’s the lack of true scares. As with last year’s Insidious, we’re bombarded with ramped up sound effects to “scare” us. These aren’t scary – they’re startling and jarring. Then you have the target of the demon. If you had to picture someone in your mind, what would he / she look like? Young? Check. A girl? Check. Dark hair? A bit like Samara from The Ring? Well done – go collect 10 Phage points from the kiosk because that’s what you’re given! Why can’t someone break this tradition and cast a young, Indian boy as the target of the demon? At least that would be an attempt at being different.

In terms of the acting on display, I must say it wasn’t bad at all. Certain actors in the piece are actually the film’s redeeming feature. I thought 13 year old Natasha Calis acted very admirably and hit all the right notes. Too bad her make-up department decided that a look akin to a cross between Beetlejuice and the WWF’s Undertaker from circa 1994 was the correct way to emphasise she was “possessed” in the latter stages. However, it was Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen, The Losers) that really held the piece together playing a divorced dad with ambitions of coaching big league basketball. I know that the sub-plot of his basketball coaching was totally unnecessary, but I’d have been happy to see more of it. Or maybe I was hoping the film would turn into Moneyball with basketballs.

Samara from The Ring, by way of Beetlejuice and The Undertaker… Can’t guess she’s possessed at all…

But back on point, I thought Morgan really shone here, and he was clearly the most fleshed-out character in the script. This led to supporting roles such as older sister Hannah (Madison Davenport) and the mother, Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) coming across as extremely shallow and yes – clich√©d – as neither believes in the possession until it’s too late. And before you wonder whether it at least ends in a unique way, then… no. I obviously won’t tell you what unfolds, but you probably already know in your heart of hearts if you’ve seen any horror film from the past 5 years.

They’re not an anti-Semetic family; they just love to get a bit rowdy when they headbang to Metallica.

Now, I’m not saying that there’s no point in writing stories of possession as they’re always clich√©d. For instance, I thought 2010’s The Last Exorcism was a great take on the idea and was also a damn good film. Even The Exorcism of Emily Rose attempted something different, even if it did fall flat. I just don’t know why writers, directors and studios are succumbing to this horrible trend of loud noises equating to horror. I mean, this has Sam Raimi up on the posters (he’s a producer) – the man responsible for The Evil Dead – and still nothing innovative comes through. A true horror should insidiously work its way into your psyche and have your nerves shredded. As much as the series is lambasted by purists, at least Paranormal Activity (at least the first one) really draws the audience in and has them recoiling in terror owing to the tension. For me, no film has surpassed the terror pay-offs of Rec (original Spanish version) and The Ring. Those films ended with a bang and really had my nerves shot on first viewing. Sadly, The Possession comes no-where near these two juggernauts or anything Asian cinema has spat out recently.

The Possession isn’t the worst horror movie you’ll see this autumn as we close in on Halloween. That I can more or less guarantee. But it’s never going to be regarded as a classic, nor even “one to pick up on DVD”. I’d recommend a rental when it hits stores if you’re into possession stories, or if you’re looking to hook up with that girl from down the street when you have a DVD night. I’m not saying the content is erotic (unless she’s a really freaky chick), but at least it might have her jumping into your arms if you have the 5.1 booted up. Especially if she’s a Twilight fan, as all she’s used to is wussy vampires and wimpy werewolves. In fact, go grab that glitter, sprinkle it on your chest and then watch The Possession. If that doesn’t work, then I don’t know what will.

Aside from a winning personality, a stunning smile and a healthy disposable income.

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