Double Feature: Black Mountain Side (2014) & Berlin Syndrome (2017)

Time for the next Double Feature! We’re moving right along with the B selections. The first is a Shudder pick, Black Mountain Side and the second is a movie currently on Netflix called Berlin Syndrome! Let’s check it out!

Black Mountain Side (2014)

Black Mountain Side

Director (and writer): Nick Szostakiwskyj

Cast: Shane Twerdun, Michael Dickson, Carl Toftfelt, Marc Anthony Williams, Andrew Moxham, Timothy Lyle, Steve Bradley

At a cold, desolate, northmost outpost in Canada, an archaeological discovery is made. A specialist arrives Nov. 1. Strange things happen. All contact with the outside world is down. – IMDB

Black Mountain Side is a slow burn indie horror film. I think its important to grasp all those elements because the first half is one that is slow and quiet. The setting itself in the Canadian North makes it a unique setting to say the least. The first part does a good job and laying out the land of how communication and its cast of characters are all there and their purpose in this archaeological dig site and the outpost itself. Paced by its calendar execution in chronological order of what happens on what day and how much time has past is a decent way to give a sense of progress.

At the same time, the lay of the land itself and the things that happen does get intriguing once actual things start snowballing and the pacing picks up a little more. Thing is, it does feel like there’s not enough that happens in the first half to have the second half make up for it. Its not only that issue but also the fact that it doesn’t use its isolated landscape or give each of  the character’s dig site as a decent area to create more suspense. The suspense is mostly in the unknown. While that does create a lot of questions, its ending relates heavily to a better executed film recently with a similar premise, The Ritual.

That’s not to the say, the premise here doesn’t have potential. Its mostly execution issues that becomes most of its downfall. Its a very slow-burn film overall, and takes patience to get through the first part without a lot of things happening and just building up foundation and setting up the scene to have a better quarter and the ending is also not exactly one that I’m quite fond of (although I won’t talk about it too much to avoid spoilers). Its sad because the Canada’s Great North has a lot to offer as a setting and its a shame that its not used more.

Berlin Syndrome (2017)

Berlin Syndrome

Director: Cate Shortland

Cast: Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt, Matthias Habich, Emma Bading, Elmira Bahrami, Christoph Franken

A passionate holiday romance leads to an obsessive relationship, when an Australian photojournalist wakes one morning in a Berlin apartment and is unable to leave. – IMDB

While Berlin Syndrome’s premise isn’t exactly groundbreaking, what it does is execute a good abduction thriller. Berlin Syndrome tells the cautionary tale of an Australian young woman who travels to Berlin and ends up having a holiday romance with a young man who ends up abducting her and trapping her in his apartment to keep her by his side. It manages to balance a good level of obsessive romance, fear and danger as well as dependence and some deeper psychological thriller elements.

One of the best elements in Berlin Syndrome is in its characters and of course, the two leads that take on the respective roles. Teresa Palmer takes on a great role as the female lead and possibly the first time that I’ve seen her act in her native accent and not an American accent. Its rather refreshing plus, her character as Clare is not a damsel in distress but full of survival. Even when it feels like she is stepping down from conflict in the situation, she is always quietly looking for the next step and adapting to her situation. Her character has a bit of complexity. Just like Max Riemelt as Andi who plays the abductor and obsessive lover who wants to keep her there and yet his character is full of psychological elements to consider as more is revealed, there is a depth to his character and why he does it as well as his dependence on the relationship even with his priorities in life outside of his secret life of having an abducted girl at his home which shows the different sides of him with family and his job and the mental struggles he may be having to keep his life in control.

Berlin Syndrome is a pleasant surprise. Its always great to find movies like this kind of hidden gem that gets tucked away. It was packed a good balance from great execution to the rather one location element and the abduction as well as the relationship dynamic and changes from the start to finish between Clare and Andi as well as the characters development. All done really well and well worth a watch if you haven’t seen it yet.

That’s it for this B double feature!
Have you seen these two films? Thoughts?

Double Feature: The Blair Witch Project (1999) & Blair Witch (2016)

As we seem to be trying to catch up with all the horror movies that we’ve missed which are highly talked about, we end up checking out 1999’s found footage film The Blair Witch Project and following that up with the 2016 sequel called Blair Witch. Let’s check it out!

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

blair witch project

Directors (and writers): Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez

Cast: Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, Michael C. Williams

Three film students vanish after travelling into a Maryland forest to film a documentary on the local Blair Witch legend, leaving only their footage behind. – IMDB

The Blair Witch Project was a big deal in 1999. For one, it marked possibly a start to found footage and had a lot of discussion over its use of the “shaky camcorder” as a first person view into a situation. Watching this film for the first time, its definitely been one that I’m glad to cross off my list. While the movie itself might not be quite as exciting as what others have made it off to be, there are still some good elements to it and it mainly has to go to the found footage elements and being able to use that to build up the location and atmosphere.

The first part of The Blair Witch Project is where it somehow falls a little short. The three characters themselves are a little annoying as the three film students and the first part focused a lot on them doing this documentary and going into the woods and then arguing a lot. Its when strange things start happening like waking up to piles of rocks or other signs that the movie starts to get intriguing and unsettling. Its honestly all down to this location and its creepy stories that revolve around it that the unknown factor becomes what drives the horror in this forest that they get lost in and the camera and darkness makes it every bit more sinister, isolated and empty.

I’m sure at this point, a lot of people have seen this film before so there isn’t any spoilers but I’m still going to try to keep it spoiler-free. The best part of this film is how it executes the scares and what is presented and what isn’t presented. It manages to amp up the horror a lot by what isn’t there and the anticipation of what could happen. To be able to do that is one element of the film that earns a lot of good points.

Blair Witch (2016)

Blair Witch

Director: Adam Wingard

Cast: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry

After discovering a video showing what he believes to be his vanished sister Heather, James and a group of friends head to the forest believed to be inhabited by the Blair Witch. – IMDB

From the way that The Blair Witch Project ended, its hard to imagine that it was meant to have a sequel even if there is a lot of space to explore especially since it left a lot of things in the dark and having somewhat of an open ending. However, the only way a movie in the current horror scene could have happened would probably be to give us the big reveal, which I honestly was a little skeptical about whether it would take that path and that it would possibly destroy the imagination that it was being built up as in the first one. Of course, it did end up taking that path and it was one of the things that made it disappointing.

To call Blair Witch a bad movie wouldn’t be accurate. It still uses its wilderness environment and builds from the lore of the previous films. The bigger cast gives the room to have more eyes on the surroundings but still give the mystery. It also gives some locals to help give a little more idea on what makes people fear the forest so much and the Blair Witch stories and what mysteries seem to be linked to it. With all this, it manages to have some smoke and mirrors and then also create a good deal of jump scares.

What does fall a little bit of messy bit here is the reveal of the “Blair Witch” and the somewhat end-game that it was going for. At the same time, it added a lot of little things that would happen that didn’t happen in the first movie, making it feel like the whole Blair Witch stories had somehow evolved from the first movie and the over a decade time that has spanned between the movies in the story line into sometime much more intricate with night and day in play while still keeping some of the little things. Its hard to say which I appreciated and didn’t appreciate being added in.

Overall, Blair Witch is an okay sequel. It has a lot of shortcomings and really doesn’t live up to all the tension that the first one built and relies more on the jumpscares. Because this found footage is much more modern, there is less of the found footage elements felt here and some things that might not add up as much in technicalities. It does try to work on the lore and give more substance although the thing that disappointed me the most was the somewhat goofy witch design. It felt a little like some low budget horror game monster, which is always a little disappointing. It had built up to probably be more horrifying from what it can do than what it looks like.

That’s it for this double feature of Blair Witch franchise!
I know I’m missing a movie in the middle but from my research, its not too important in the continuation from the first to the 2016 version. I’ll see if I can catch it at some point. 
Have you seen the Blair Witch films? Thoughts?

Halloween Double Feature: The Ranger (2018) & Summer of ’84 (2018)

DOUBLEFEATURE (4)

Its been a little while since the last Halloween double feature due to the intermission of Festival du Nouveau Cinema and Toronto After Dark happening. However, we are back in action with double feature #5 looking at 2 movies currently on Shudder that I wanted to watch but didn’t get a chance in 2018’s Fantasia Festival: The Ranger and Summer of ’84! Its a bit late but let’s wrap this marathon up (even though technically its already over).

Let’s check it out!

The Ranger (2018)

The Ranger

Director (and co-writer): Jenn Wexler

Cast: Chloe Levine, Jeremy Holm, Granit Lahu, Jeremy Pope, Bubba Weiler, Amanda Grace Benitez

Teen punks, on the run from the cops and hiding out in the woods, come up against the local authority – an unhinged park ranger with an axe to grind. – IMDB

In concept and premise, The Ranger is a really fun throwback to 80’s slasher. It uses the whole punk element to its character as well as in its soundtrack as well which works to a certain extent. The Ranger has the whole slasher thing with an unhinged character that does work in the books as well and possibly ends up to be one of the more standout elements.

The Ranger stumbles mostly because of its short run time. Its a rare thing for me to say because I usually complain that films are too long and ends up causing a movie to drag on without reason. However, in The Ranger’s case, it actually still has pacing issues. It spends a lot of time showing off its one-dimensional characters and their rather linear development of the situation even from its obvious deaths. It also spends a lot of time showing off how unlikeable the majority of these characters are, making them less likely characters to root for. The character that does get more attention would be its female lead who is a fairly tough girl who also has her past connection with this area and The Ranger himself. The deal is that while there is a slight touch on the connection, there are still a lot of depth that gets overlooked making it hard to connect with her character either.

The Ranger isn’t all bad. There is a tough female lead for one despite its lack of depth as mentioned above. However, The Ranger himself, played by Jeremy Holm is really great most of the time. The unhinged characters are always fascinating to see unfold on screen. He elevates to a point in his lair that really drives the movie to a very unsettling and creepy feeling. That scene alone is the best one. Of course, it also focuses on those ramped up tension that tries to build with each supporting character’s death which mostly is fairly creative and works well in the slasher realm.

Summer of ’84 (2018)

Summer of '84

Director: Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell (RKSS)

Cast: Graham Verchere, Judah Lewis, Caleb Emery, Cory Gruter-Andrew, Tiera Skovbye, Rich Sommer, Jason Gray-Stanford, Shauna Johannesen

After suspecting that their police officer neighbor is a serial killer, a group of teenage friends spend their summer spying on him and gathering evidence, but as they get closer to discovering the truth, things get dangerous. – IMDB

If you could take the idea of Disturbia and then add in the character structure of Stranger Things, you would get Summer of ’84. Seeing as both Disturbia and Stranger Things are my favorites, its hard to say that this one wasn’t a win right from the premise alone. There are still elements here that don’t quite work as well which mostly goes playing with the reveal and juggling the truth and smokes and mirrors kind of thing.

Summer of ’84 was high on my anticipated films list in 2018 so I had some expectations for this one which I’m not sure exactly reached the height of what I had wanted it to be versus the reality of how it turned out. But, Summer of ’84 had a lot of well-executed moments and tense moments and even some fun moments for good measure and never forgetting that it is teenagers that we are dealing with.

Summer of ’84 is a lot of familiar territory and meshes some of my faves together. At the same time, its soundtrack and style and even its references truly shows off the 80s very well. Its a rather immersive experience to watch. The atmosphere building and the whole use of the community playing together outside is a nice addition that makes everything so much more natural. There are some genuinely tense moments. Where it stumbles is that the movie at times feels slightly disjointed in pulling all the elements together however the boys here are rather fun to watch but adds a fresh dynamic to this group. Its not a standout sort of film but its a fun little indie horror that works for the most part.

Have you seen these two indie horror films?