Starring: Sennia Nanua, Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine, Glenn Close
Kids are taking over the world. Well, the worlds of pop culture and weighty entertainment. If it’s not a bunch of Spielbergian curiousos charming viewers eight times over in Stranger Things, it’s Jacob Tremblay comfortably matching his demonstrably more experienced counterparts with a powerhouse performance in Room. Today Sennia Nanua joins the not-so-Mickey-Mouse-Club, her turn as a next generation zombie-human in The Girl with All the Gifts at once endearing and domineering. And even a little amusing. That’s quite the trifecta.
Colm McCarthy brings M.R. Carey’s (credited as Mike Carey) mid-apocalyptic world to the silver screen, a world severely stunted by some sort of biological doomsday. Carey’s novel of the same name garnered much praise, which, when coupled alongside his extensive comic book writing portfolio, suggests he is doing something right. The penman may yet want to consider a screenwriting career if this is his default standard. He presents Melanie (Sennia Nanua), a child with fleshy cravings and the ability to interact as normal. When we first meet her she is hidden away in some sort of military base with many of her kind — her ‘classmates’ — and a selection of adult soldiers, scientists, and teachers. It’s not initially clear what the purpose of the locale is: a zone of Freudian experimentation usurping social and ethical norms, or a shelter from the horrors outside?
We quickly learn it is a bit of both, though the striking image of children wearing orange jumpsuits and strapped to wheelchairs feeds the former narrative (these sequences are probably not unintentionally dissimilar in a visual sense to familiar scenes in A Clockwork Orange). That it soon becomes clear said treatment is decidedly less harsh than what is going on elsewhere ought to give you an indication of the type of material we are dealing with. I hesitate to reveal more of the initial plot; not because doing so would spoil the film but because piecing together the early moral dilemmas as they play out on-screen is both a challenging and rewarding experience. Needless to say the setting soon changes and The Girl with All the Gifts transforms into a Monsters-esque road trip.
But back to Melanie, the film’s central presence. She is essentially a blank slate, or a dry sponge for lack of a better description, in that she desires knowledge as well as body parts and absorbs information with incredible endurance. Her favourite teacher is Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton), a sort of Miss Honey figure who brightens up their bleak bunker home inhabited otherwise by those who refer to the children as “abortions” and treat them with contempt bred, perhaps understandably, from wariness. This attitude prevails throughout the film to varying degrees, some characters afraid but sympathetic, others driven solely by the scientific possibilities the zom-kids present. Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close) is one of the latter, a medical professional who sees Melanie not as a human being but as a resource and a pathway to a potential cure. “They present as children, you know my opinion on that,” she insists. Emphasis on “present”.
Close excels as a pseudo-antagonist, stirring intentions born out of necessity rather than anything particularly sinister. Caldwell only dons the antagonist role because Carey’s writing characterises Melanie not as a resource but as an innocent child, his characterisation authenticated by Nanua’s poise. We feel compelled to side with Melanie because we can relate to her kindness and her appearance. Caldwell feels compelled to do her duty as a scientist in an endangered world running out of scientific solutions, which isn’t evil per se. Whenever zombies are involved comparisons with The Walking Dead are inevitable, but whereas that show has adopted a broadly romanticised us-versus-them approach, this feels more arduous, moral implications blurrier. It’s interesting precisely because there is no clear answer.
This world has seen the worst and now exists in a state of post-shock where terror no longer marinates. Now is the time for practicality, a mindset embodied by Caldwell: without hesitation she investigates the contents of a pram being pushed by a ‘hungry’ — an actual zombie, brainless — not put off by danger but rather spurred on by “gathering data, which is part of [her] mission statement”. Justineau, meanwhile, is clearly more concerned about the welfare of Melanie than her own, apparently consigned to whatever fate lies ahead. Arterton has the emotional burden to carry, her frequently exhausted expression not a consequence of physical exertion (she is more than capable in the field) but of her problematic attachment to Melanie.
The piece hits some of the usual genre beats but does so with enough quality to sustain a level of intrigue. We’ve witnessed the basic premise play out in films such as 28 Days Later and World War Z and, just like in those films, military personnel have a hand in proceedings here. What separates The Girl with All the Gifts from the pack, though, is its almost subliminal tone of humour. It’s an understated lightheartedness that feels genuine in a broken society already acclimatised to its brokenness. At one point Melanie, having just fed on some animals, blood tattooed onto her face, jovially reveals she is no longer hungry and the others can only look on in a collective state of horrified discombobulation. Paddy Considine’s Sgt. Eddie Parks benefits most from the humorous touch, able to escape an incoming hard-man caricature and develop into a rounded figure.
For those seeking the usual zombie fare, The Girl with All the Gifts has you covered. It’s as bloody and gory and gnarly as it is thought-provoking. Cristobal Tapia de Veer’s score spans the mood spectrum, incurring a feeling of discomfort with invasive brass entries. I was reminded of Shutter Island’s brooding soundtrack. With air raid sirens fulfilling the threat-based requirements, the sounds of trees swishing harmoniously and birds gently humming reflect the film’s thoughtful mantra. Nature, too, is character, sparse streets having been attacked by overgrown greenery, turning South East England into Pripyat, Ukraine. McCarthy’s film makes brilliant use of its £4 million production budget, and is well worth the price of admission.
There is a sequence in Wes Craven’s Scream where local horror buff Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) takes centre stage before a group of apparently in-the-know teenagers and explains to them the various rules of scary movie survival. “There are certain rules that one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie,” he exclaims with hilarious passion. Be a virgin. Don’t announce your imminent return. And damn it, everyone is a suspect!
Taking inspiration from the lovely people over at Man Crates, I reckon it’s time we shifted our collective focus away from the reactive and towards the proactive. Let’s stop worrying about who the killer is and start worrying about how to conquer said killer. A zombie apocalypse? Forget wearily looking around for fresh water, we ought to start stocking up on the good stuff now. Below is a list of must-have possessions, things everybody should own in the event of a horrifying disaster. Let’s not kid ourselves, in a few years The Walking Dead will probably be eligible to win Best Documentary Series at the Emmys.
You check out Man Crates’ numerous crate combos here — my personal favourite is the Retro Gamer edition. The crates are primarily aimed at guys (we’re notoriously indecisive when it comes to gift wish lists) though I reckon many women out there would be interested too. Crowbars at the ready.
1 — Water (lots)
Given I’ve already mentioned it, this one shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Apparently us humans can only go around three days without water — unless you’re Frodo Baggins who, along with his mate Sam, went something like a week without H2O replenishment. Hoarding water is just common sense. You might even be able to recycle it too, though I’m certainly no expert.
2 — Michonne’s sword (and Michonne)
A weapon is essential, and you wouldn’t want to be lugging around a chainsaw all day and night. A gun would be excellent for a while but you would be snookered when the ammo runs out. I always fancied myself as a bit of an archer — on Skyrim, anyway — but arrows numbers would eventually diminish too. I reckon you’d want something long in length to avoid any close combat, and a Katana blade perfectly fits that bill. Perhaps it’d be best just to hire Michonne as your personal bodyguard.
3 — Notepad and pen(s)
You’d need something that would help pass the time in between any monster-evading exploits, and since technology requires power (which, presumably, would be difficult to garner in a world ravaged by villainous creatures), I reckon the old notepad and pen combo would do the trick. Us film fanatics could write. Arty folk could draw. Gamers could play noughts and crosses. Endless fun.
4 — Netflix
I know I said earlier technology would be a moot possession in an apocalyptic landscape, but who am I kidding? It’s 2015. Us Millennial lot can hardly survive a day wrapped up in bed without the wonders of Netflix. Chances are the big baddie at large — be it the Xenomorph from Alien, Leatherface from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, or Ghostface him/herself — would end up addicted to Orange is the New Black anyway.
5 — Bear Grylls
He is basically humanity’s version of a pocketknife. Bear can hunt for food, he can seek out accessible shelter, create fire without equipment, built rafts to cross rivers etc. Even the world’s most powerful man, Barack Obama, trusts him (though according to the President, Bear’s culinary skills leave something to be desired). And besides, if you can’t survive a real life horror movie with a guy called “Bear” by your side, your survival chances were probably null upon arrival.
Bonus — Harry Potter’s Cloak of Invisibility
This isn’t cheating, is it? You could sit peacefully, sword in tow, guzzling water, jotting down notes in between episodes of Twin Peaks, Bear Grylls camped by your side, and remain hidden from the atrocities of reality. I suppose if we are venturing down the magical route, Hermione’s Time-Turner would be a better option.
There you have it. Some words of advice, free of charge. What more can you ask? If you have anything to add, feel free to do so in the comments section below.
Have you guys seen that new Star Wars trailer? Or the Jurassic Park one? How crazy was Arrow’s mid-season finale? Better than what Agents of SHIELD had to offer? Or The Flash’s showing? The Walking Dead killed more people! Dave Bautista and Léa Seydoux are in Bond 24, and it’s called Spectre – spooky! Idris Elba might be in Bond 25 – funny!
Disney and Warner Bros are releasing around seventy-one Marvel and DC films over the next decade! Unless Pete has another Middle-earth itch, The Hobbit saga finally finished! Jennifer Lawrence is the year’s highest grossing actor! And those damn North Koreans cancelled The Newsroom… at least I think that’s what happened.
Phew. Now that we’ve caught up on all of the most important things to have happened in life over the last two months, let’s take a look at the year as a whole. In July, I posted my top ten films of 2014 up until then. (You can read that here). The final whistle is about to go on the second half of the year. What, if anything, will make the cut? Oh, drama!
I’ll be sticking to UK release dates – the likes of Birdman, Foxcatcher and Selma aren’t out over here yet. I also haven’t seen Boyhood, but I reckon that’s the only significant omission. Click on any film title to read my review.
EDIT: I have now seen Boyhood. If you read my review, you’ll probably be able to guess where it would end up on this list.
Edge of Tomorrow is the only film I’ve seen twice at the cinema this year. And for good reason; it’s an intelligent and engaging piece that could’ve easily gone awry. Director Doug Liman takes a chance by plucking Tom Cruise from the top of Hollywood’s good guy pile and dropping him face first on set as the slippery Major William Cage. Of course, Cruise resorts to his heroic norm soon enough, but not before the brilliant Emily Blunt gives him a few kickings.
Speaking of iffy characters, this year Dan Stevens’ soldier is the pick of the bunch. The Guest is Adam Wingard’s best film to date and that is in no small part down to Stevens’ magnificent work as a mysterious visitor who somewhat miraculously charms his way into the Peterson household without much in the way of credentials. Stevens and fellow star Maika Monroe are fairly new to the big screen, and on the evidence of this retro-thriller we’ll be seeing a lot more of them both.
Steve Rodgers does his best James Bond impression in The Winter Soldier, the first Marvel film to truly break away from a standard that might’ve been becoming generic. Its influence can be traced back to films based around Cold War politics and the aforementioned espionage range, but that’s not to say The Winter Solider loses its superhero drive. In his third credited appearance Chris Evans nails it as the red, white and blue shield-tosser. (As in thrower of protective instrument and not, well… you know).
Matt Reeves’ sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes looks incredible, even by the lofty standards set in our technology age. But this is more than simply a visual wonderment, it’s also genuinely moving. Though Andy Serkis’ performance as Caesar is unlikely to earn him a golden statuette – in truth, those early rumblings were probably unfairly devoid of much foundation – the actor cements his position as peerless when it comes to motion capture acting. He deserves recognition, as does Dawn of the Planet of the Apes as one of the year’s best blockbusters.
Critically-speaking, this is probably the most important film of 2014. Steve McQueen’s movie is an eternally tough watch because we are an eternally flawed species. You’ll do well to find any flaws throughout this offering though, for 12 Years a Slave is an unyielding masterstroke. It rightly won Best Picture back in March and, in truth, wouldn’t look out of place far higher on this list.
We never really know where David Fincher is about to take us during Gone Girl, and as much as our minds are racing attempting to put those pieces together, we never really want to know either. It’s all just so creepy and insane. The director pulls no punches and lives up to his obsessive nature – everything looks pristine, adding to the unsettling aura. Rosamund Pike delivers the best performance of the year and Ben Affleck is quite exceptional too.
I viewed Blue Ruin in a sparsely populated screening room, having entered carrying a brain filled less with critical expectation than a need for sleep. I didn’t sleep. Instead, I intently watched the tautest 90 minutes of the year play out, headlined by a manically normal Macon Blair. This revenge tale harkens back to Hitchcockian cinema; simple, frenetic and nail-biting.
Inside Llewyn Davis placed third in my January-July top ten, behind Blue Ruin and 12 Years a Slave. Now that the last twelve months have collectively drawn to a close, and without the benefit of having re-watched any of the three, Inside Llewyn Davis has won out as the film that continues to reverberate in my mind with the most fondness. It must be down to Oscar Isaacs’ enchanting tones. Or the Coen brothers’ musky setting. This film is also the least bleak of the trio. Hurray for holiday spirit!
If The Winter Soldier bucked the generic Marvel trend, Guardians of the Galaxy entered another universe. James Gunn is given the most energetic and interactive cast of the year to work with, so he has them dancing in plant pots and making jokes about Kevin Bacon. Wouldn’t you? The film is packed full of witty gags, but is not without a touching underbelly. After only one outing, the Guardians might’ve even gained more favour than those Avengers. Thor needs to pray more.
Interstellar isn’t perfect. The piece wobbles under the weight of its scientific load occasionally, and champions an ending that might exceed the justifiably grounded expectations of some. But it’s pure cinema. It’s inspiring and uplifting. Heart-breaking and mesmerising. Christopher Nolan pits the plausibility of science against the will of humanity, incorporating an effective cast and a thrilling technical palette in the process, and he subsequently conceives the best film of 2014.
Release Date: October 17th, 2014 (US); October 22nd, 2014 (UK)
Genre: Action; Drama; War
Starring: Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Jon Bernthal, Michael Peña
War is a nasty business. Of course, contemplating the nastiness of war isn’t a new undertaking, nor is it something that Fury director David Ayer feels compelled to shirk away from. His film is really quite horrendous. We see limbless bodies and bodiless limbs more often than we see rays of sunlight breaking through the clouds of 1945 Nazi Germany. Ayer’s intimate tale isn’t a fresh concept to the silver screen and it has absolutely been done better before, but there is a lot to admire here.
As World War II nears its conclusion, a Sherman tank troupe commanded by US Army sergeant Don Collier (Brad Pitt) is hurtled into the bloody doldrums of battle in Germany. Fighting through urban wastelands and disfigured countrysides, the ‘Fury’ group of five must survive via a combination of camaraderie and brute force, all the while depositing innocence at each rotation of their vehicle’s caterpillar track.
Ayer localises a grand story and his film is all the better for it. Often, the key to success in the war genre is engaging an audience in the plight of a few whilst also acknowledging the struggle of many. Fury manages this, no doubt aided by a stringently focused narrative that follows a particular group of soldiers. It’s their story and we’re always in their presence, allowing time (well over two hours of it) for us to empathise with the characters. And while the camera never ventures more than a few feet from at least one of the five, Ayer’s induction of a heavy and wearisome tone relentlessly captures the universal toil of war.
These characters don’t write the guidelines on positive morality either. In fact, their contribution to the Allied war effort has flurried any goodness purveyed by Collier and his crew. They each have a nickname — fittingly Collier’s is Wardaddy. That is not to say the man heralds a thirst for battle, rather it highlights Wardaddy’s efficiency in dark turmoil. (“Do as you’re told, don’t get close to anyone”). Brad Pitt plays him without immediate discernibility, casting doubt not over the sergeant’s motives, but over his methods. Ayer’s quintessential heroes are nothing of the sort. There are no good guys, only perceived bad guys.
The remainder of the group bear roles that are more clearly defined: Technician Boyd “Bible” Swan is the devoted religious type; Corporal Trini “Gordo” Garcia steers the tank with eccentricity; PFC Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis lacks moderation; and Private Norman Ellison carries the newbie status, a kid lost amongst a conflict in which he shouldn’t be fighting. Logan Lerman exudes ordinariness as Norman, reminding us of war’s infecting bullet wounds on humanity. Walking Dead alumni Jon Bernthal is also terrific as the gruff Coon-Ass but it’s Shia LaBeouf who wows more than any other. Scrubbing the stigma of celebrity from his face and replacing it with rotten dirt, LaBeouf displays a great deal of restraint, his eyes never far from filling with tears fuelled by a scarred mind. It turns out he can act, and act well.
LaBeouf’s character is the agent through which Ayer introduces a religious thread, one that doesn’t wholly endear itself to the narrative but does contribute towards an emotive punch. These faith-based overtones aren’t distracting as they only rear occasionally, and despite manifesting as a tad contrived, they do represent an attempt to manoeuvre proceedings away from any potential muscle bound machoness of battle. Indeed, the film manages to extract a large helping of connectivity from the audience through solemnity, a theme that runs along the piece like one of Nazi Germany’s seemingly endless mud trails. This helpless sobriety is first summed up in statement relayed by Jason Isaacs’ army Captain (“Why don’t they just quit?”), before revealing itself plainly in an extended Inglorious Basterds-esque dining room scene rightly devoid of any Tarantino quirk.
After 90 minutes of gruesome despair, the outing suddenly shifts its gaze in the direction of a more action-packed conclusion. The final act essentially wears the hallmark of a western standoff, trading cowboy hats for leather helmets. Granted in its final half hour Fury still maintains a gritty realism but this divergence in tone might not appease all. Tank jousts do occur before the lengthy concluding sequence, but frequently end in a matter of minutes. These battles are arduous in their execution, just as they should be, and do not glorify the mechanical face of war at all, whereas it could be argued that the long, underdog-ish rallying cry denoted in the final act does invite a semblance of glorification.
Technically, the film is a powerhouse. Cinematographer Roman Vasyanov turns the English countryside (where shooting primarily took place) into a bleak, putrefying Nazi Germany at the end of its tether. Two scenes stand out especially: a beautiful opening shot that patiently stalks a lone horseman as he tramples over smoky ruins and comes face to face with the fragility of tanks, and a dread filled moment nearer the end that involves a collection of simultaneously marching and chanting enemy troops. This uncompromising style meshes wonderfully with Steven Price’s score and pinpoint sound editing, and comes as close as any film to achieving the fist-clenching ambience of Saving Private Ryan.
It is certainly not as good as Spielberg’s aforementioned masterpiece, but not many outings born from this particular genre are. Fury is a visceral and effective retelling of war at its most desperate and least forgiving. If nothing else, it’s an example of high standard utility filmmaking.
Release Date: November 21st, 2007 (US); July 4th, 2008 (UK)
Genre: Horror; Science-fiction; Thriller
Starring: Thomas Jane, Laurie Holden, Marcia Gay Harden, Toby Jones
The Mist trundles along quite tediously throughout its opening 10 minutes. The acting is overplayed and stodgy, relationships are too obvious and the dialogue is half way towards egregious. Then we head into town, to the supermarket, where Toby Jones appears and everything subsequently kicks off. Mr. Jones probably isn’t the reason for the immediate turn around in quality, though I’d be willing to bet he is part of it. Rather, it’s Frank Darabont’s screenplay that ushers forth this change. Those first few scenes were likely crummy on purpose, as a means to lure us into a false sense of security. Because otherwise there’s no security here. Things get worse before getting worse still. The Mist fails to attain horror perfection but what it does do is generate a very authentic sense of social familiarity surrounded by science-fiction monstrosities. And that is impressive.
After a freak storm runs rampant in a small town, various residents decide to visit the local supermarket and stock up on supplies. Among them are David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his son Billy (Nathan Gamble), however their grocery trip soon devolves into chaos as danger-infested mist sweeps across the area. The group now trapped and anxious, it soon becomes clear that the mist isn’t the only simmering menace.
Before the crisis has grown legs, we dip in and out of numerous brief conversations that take place around the supermarket. It’s akin to a smattering of personality tastings, writer and director Frank Darabont teasing us with the potential for clashes that may or may not arise. Shortly thereafter, a warning klaxon moans out with a distressing echo and a bloody-faced man runs maniacally into the store. (“Something in the mist!”) This sequence is an excellent preparatory slice that establishes the tone going forward: brooding and culturally influenced. See, though this is an outstanding horror candidate, it’s not necessarily scary because of the fog or the monsters that roam inside. The Mist is frightening due to its stark portrayal of humanity come undone. Just how far will humankind plunge in its most testing moment?
The populace picture that follows isn’t exactly pristine; what threatens to simply be a scare-fest swiftly matures into a community drama driven by the unravelling of social status feuds. The supermarket houses a wide range of contrasting citizens, some characters amped up to 11 but all recognisable nonetheless. Debates slowly simmer before raging on with a high intensity and it is the product of these disagreements that horrifies us. Darabont’s screenplay adeptly includes religion, politics and class — they’re all in here. Whilst the religious element frequently takes a front seat, the director skilfully navigates any possible obstacles of audience alienation by placing utmost focus on the people. Though religion is the vehicle for hate, it’s not the agent. Humanity is, and this is an attack on folk being bad within the context of desperation. Collective counterculture in its most horrendous form.
What we have then is a patient and precise narrative, one that knows when to reveal and when to refrain. Fairly early on, we worry that the monster in the mist has been unveiled too soon, a worry that quickly proves to be unjustified. The aliens aren’t necessarily the issue. In some ways the mist is a metaphor for the cloudiness of humanity; enter the swelling smog and things can only get worse, or avoid it — in other words, promote honesty amongst your peers — and life will be alright. Toby Jones’ Ollie says it best: “As a species we’re fundamentally insane. Put more than two of us in a room, we pick sides and start dreaming up reasons to kill one another. Why do you think we invented politics and religion?”
Jones is really good. His character is the most normal, a typical assistant manager who’s a tad overweight and generous with his time. He strikes up an alliance with Thomas Jane’s painter David and a number of other hopeful victims. Jane is a solid lead on the journey, so much so that his dependability factor is eventually usurped by a genuinely powerful emotional outburst. Laurie Holden plays primary school teacher Amanda, her relationship with David one that hints at romance without ever acting upon anything. It is worth pointing out the lack of romance throughout the film: aside from a speedily adjourned kiss there’s none to be had, perhaps another indication of the overarching negative vibe. The most effective performance emanates from Marcia Gay Harden as local religious nut Mrs. Carmody. Harden throws herself full pelt into the role, as someone who degenerates from harmlessly deranged to eerily psychotic to absurdly vile. Although there are a large number of peripheral characters, the potency of a few outweighs the flimsiness of many.
On a technical level, The Mist is efficiently purveyed. Rohn Schmidt’s cinematography shows traces of his work on The Walking Dead (ironically, he’s only one of many here who would eventually swap mist for zombies) and reflects the terror of events succinctly. It’s sufficiently gory without being too upfront, and the alien creatures look rather impressive. The camera makes an effort too, its aggressive movements creating a very chaotic atmosphere. On the other hand music hardly conjures a bar, Darabont instead finding solace in silence and substantial dialogue.
Having said that, the implementation of Dead Can Dance’s “The Host of Seraphim” to hauntingly serenade the film’s final scene is an inspired decision. Much has been made about The Mist’s conclusion. In brief, the ending works. It’s real life, if real life involved aliens and hopelessness. Admirably — and somewhat horrendously — there is no shirking away. But the less said about it the better.
The Mist currently stands as Frank Darabont’s last directorial effort and it’s a worthy swan song. This should come as no surprise given the filmmaker’s track record — The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, to name but a few. The Mist is a methodological piece, one that unfolds with great purpose and honesty. It might encase humanity in an exceedingly gloomy shell, but in the dire circumstances presented who’s to say that this forecast is unfounded?
Release Date: July 12th, 2013 (US limited) October 14th, 2013 (UK)
Genre: Horror; Thriller
If 2012’s V/H/S failed to capture the adulation of those brave enough to tough it out, then there’s not much hope for this follow up. A film as uninspired as the title shepherding it suggests, V/H/S/2 has five opportunities to succeed yet, more often than not, chooses to beckon forth eternal disappointment through dullness. In fact, only via the purposeful mind of Gareth Evans does this horror outing really imbue a horrifying tingle. Otherwise, a terminal sense of ‘been there done that’ seeps from the screen, so much so that you’d be forgiven for thinking the segments in this piece are outtakes from the first film. Having been given a measly 20 minutes or so to showcase their talents, each of the seven directors (some segments are co-directed) ought to have vehemently lived by the mantra that denotes a maximisation of their minutes. Somebody inform the postal service because that memo certainly got lost in the mail.
Sewn together by a frame narrative identical both in execution and content to its visual sibling from the first film, V/H/S/2 relays four other slices of spook, apparently. To begin we see Clinical Trials, a ghost story that haunts viewers solely by way of its surprisingly lacklustre content. Next, A Ride in the Park combines the visceral sheen of The Walking Dead and District 9’s moral pickings, though would bite the proverbial hand off for either’s ingenuity. Safe Haven is the film’s saving grace, and there’s absolutely nothing safe nor graceful about Gareth Evans’ co-offering. Finally, extraterrestrials meet pyjamas in Alien Abduction Slumber Party, but this one just ain’t as fun as it should be.
Undoubtedly, the least effective short is actually the one that plays most often. Tape 49, as it is known, is like that annoying bout of buffering that occasionally interrupts whichever film you’re watching on Netflix, increasingly fuelling frustration upon third, fourth and fifth rearing. Directed by Simon Barrett, the Whac-A-Mole invariably shines a light on Larry (Lawrence Michael Levine) and his partner Ayesha (Kelsy Abbott), a pair of investigators doing some — wait for it — investigating into the disappearance of a college student. Upon reaching his last know location, a run-down and darkened house, the duo come across a series of televisions emitting static and ushering forth video tape viewing. Implemented as an anchor for the rest of the film, Tape 49 employs the exact same scare (or not) tactics as those seen in V/H/S, rendering the short exhaustingly ineffectual. Already, the remaining segments are at a disadvantage as they first must overcome the lingering cobwebs of Barrett’s effort, before advancing with their own agendas.
Admirably, Safe Haven complies in this regard. Malik (Oka Antara), news crew in tow, enters the residence of an unorthodox Indonesian Cult whose leader, the ‘father’ (Epy Kusnandar), has a severe ethics problem when it comes to the treatment of his followers. Inevitably, events suddenly go awry as the brainwashed group’s true intentions are revealed. Alongside Timo Tjahjanto, director Gareth Evans unleashes a tenacious bloodbath that supersedes every other piece of the V/H/S/2 puzzle. The directorial duo are productive in their utilisation of the found footage concept, generating an uncomfortable air of chaos through the style’s incorporation. Beginning fairly tepidly, you begin to worry that Safe Haven will conform to the generic inequalities of what has come before, but it’s not long before the horror short explodes (literally) into a viscous Jonestown rehash, carrying eerie imagery and brutal immediacy. This is what The Raid would look like if it was a horror movie: violent, relentless and utterly bonkers.
Adam Wingard’s Clinical Trials succeeds in conjuring up ghostly figures, but nothing else. Wingard was the overseer to V/H/S’s version of Tape 49, but his previous experience in the genre does nothing to aid proceedings here. The director also stars in his own segment, as a man who has chosen to take part in a social experiment that sees his sightless eye be replaced by a recording device. Upon returning home post-operation, the man is unceremoniously haunted by a ramshackle bunch of manifestations. Rather than coming across as an efficient stand-alone horror short, Clinical Trials plays more like the opening of Paranormal Activity 6. Though the eye-camera is a neat ploy in avoiding the often impractical continuous use of a handheld camera, there ain’t much to be seen through its lens. Jump-scares don’t frighten, nor do any of the creepily intended figures — conversely, one resembles the twin girls from The Shining, and another is unquestionably the overweight garden zombie from Shaun of the Dead. At one point, a woman shows up requesting a beer. Nope, me neither.
The remaining two slices of horror pie are equally average. Eduardo Sánchez of The Blair Witch Project teams with Gregg Hale and together they offer A Ride in the Park, or, The Walking Dead-lite. After trading dialogue more grotesque in its shallowness than any of the limb crunching about to occur (“You ride that bike more than you ride me”), a cyclist gets bitten by a zombie and subsequently becomes one. There are a couple of noteworthy elements to this piece: the directors’ twist on the found footage point of view, and an intentionally hilarious exchange of glances between a trio of undead — though, this humorous moment does jar with the tone of destitute dread set throughout the entire film. Jason Eisener’s Alien Slumber Party is comparable in delivery to A Ride in the Park, but rather than zombies attacking people, it’s aliens. While the creatures from outer-space do proceed broodingly, the segment is hampered by way of a retreat back to outdated scares through loud trumpeting noises and reddish-green flashing lights.
V/H/S sprung from the horror basements of talented pretenders to Craven, Lynch and Romero’s dark throne, and is a justified piece of cinema in that regard. Despite boasting a similarly talented array of budding directors, V/H/S/2 suffers from an overabundance in sameness. The effort is clearly there and, technically, most segments are delivered with verve. However, only the duo of Evans and Tjahjanto have something substantial to offer. Put simply, it’s not enough.
Warning: There will be spoilers (and blood, probably).
Bear with me here, for I am still reeling from last night’s instalment of Game of Thrones (“The Rains of Castamere”). Having recorded the episode to watch later, I browsed through Twitter only to discover an outcry of shock, fury, tears and every other emotion that is not necessarily a positive one. ‘The Red Wedding’ as I believe it is commonly known as amongst dedicated fans of the show (the ones who know everything about everyone, like those guys on Sky Atlantic’s Thronecast — very impressive) certainly lived up to the hype and proved itself to be one of the most shocking television moments I have ever witnessed. If you do not watch Game of Thrones you are missing out — and are also probably a bit fed up with the content that the internet has relentlessly regurgitated over the last day or two.
Therefore, rather than another top five films from me today, I have decided to pick my most shocking television moments. I must stress that I have not seen every television show in the world (in actual fact, I really have not seen that much — particularly older shows), therefore if a stand-out scene from the television show that you watch is not included then it is probably because I have not seen it yet — I have never seen Dexter or Breaking Bad, for example. No, these are the most shocking moments from the shows that I have watched. Also, they are in no particular order, because that would call for more effort than I can muster up after last night’s Game of Thrones malarkey.
Ned Stark’s beheading — Game of Thrones
(Season: 1, Episode: 9 — “Baelor”)
After being betrayed at the hands of the Lannisters following Robert Baratheon’s death, Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell, is executed in front of a clamouring crowd at King’s Landing.
This was the audience’s first warning from author George R.R. Martin and show creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss to stop watching if we did not approve of the death of main characters – because it is going to happen. A lot, evidently. There are three things make this so shocking: the shows willingness to kill off main characters without hesitation; the presence of Ned Stark’s two daughters, Sansa and Arya, at the execution; and King Joffrey’s ruthlessness and lack of mercy towards Stark, even after the latter had confessed to treason and sworn allegiance to the Lannisters. That Joffrey is a bugger. The only unsurprising aspect of this death is that it was at the expense of Sean Bean.
As a result of their inability to find terrorist Stephen Saunders in time, Jack Bauer is ordered to kill CTU’s Regional Division Director, Ryan Chappelle.
Although he was never the most popular character in the show, the death of Ryan Chappelle was certainly despairing, not to mention unexpected. This cemented Bauer as a man willing to do whatever needed to be done in order to save the majority. The direct involvement of the President of the United States, David Palmer — he was the one who assigned the task to Bauer — makes this all the more shocking. Chappelle’s revelation that he had no friends or close family, along with Jack’s apology for failing Chappelle, only added to the sombre nature of this scene, telling fans of the show that, sometimes, the bad guys really do get their own way.
Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes are both set in limbo — Ashes to Ashes
(Season: 3, Episode: 8 — “Episode 8”)
It is revealed that Detective Gene Hunt and the rest of the police officers (including Alex Drake and Sam Tyler) are all dead and left lingering a form of purgatory.
This one caught me off guard, mainly because I was expecting a completely different ending (one which I cannot remember — it was three years ago). It turns out that every episode in both Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes is actually a depiction of “restless” police officers who are, unknowingly, seeking a way to “move on” — symbolised by ‘The Railway Arms’ pub. Hunt is the only character who has known this from the beginning, and has been acting as a guide for newly bereaved officers. The limbo explanation is not the most shocking on the list, but it was a nice twist and a fitting end to the show.
Rick kills Shane — The Walking Dead
(Season: 2, Episode: 12 — “Better Angels”)
Knowing that a troubled Shane is about to kill him, Rick is forced to turn the tables and act first against his best friend.
The death of Shane at the hands of Rick is arguably the most shocking, and heartbreaking scene, to come out of The Walking Dead thus far. Again, the death of a main character plays a part in the shocking nature of this scene, but the emotional attachment to both characters is also a major player. The audience had known that something was brooding between the pair since the beginning of season one as a result of Shane’s affair with Rick’s wife Lori, but for it to result in the death of Shane was certainly alarming. The proof is in the pudding as far as ratings go, because as a result of Shane’s untimely demise, the episode after this one (Episode 13, “Beside the Dying Fire”) drew over nine million viewers, up from just under seven million this time around, and breaking all sorts of records at the time.
Dr. Thredson is Bloody Face — American Horror Story: Asylum
(Season: 2, Episode: 5 — “I am Anne Frank (Part 2)”)
Lana discovers that the man who has helped her escape the asylum, Dr. Thredson, is actually the brutal serial killer, Bloody Face.
Throughout the second season of American Horror Story, the burning question had been: who is Bloody Face? Though many were accused, it was Kit Harrington, a young man blamed for the disappearance of his wife, who was singled out eventually. It sort of made sense (well, apart from the audience more or less knowing it was not Kit due to events broadcast at the beginning of the season) that he was the killer, right? Wrong. It turns out Bloody Face was actually the doctor assigned to help both Kit and Lana, Dr. Thredson. In case you have never seen American Horror Story before and are unaware, it really is, well — mental. This is definitely not the most shocking event on the list, but having Zachary Quinto portray an evil, nasty and downright creepy serial killer was a touch of genius at the pens of the writers.
The flashback is actually a flashforward — Lost
(Season: 3, Episode: 22/23 – “Through the Looking Glass”)
Jack’s apparent flashbacks throughout the episode are revealed to be flashforwards, divulging that he and Kate have both escaped from the island somehow.
“We have to go back!” And just like that, Lost hits another home run. This one really blew me away. Known for its signature flashbacks throughout the first two seasons, and majority of the third, Lost creators J.J. Abrams and Cartlon Cuse, masterfully lulled viewers into a false sense of security as Jack’s flashbacks in the finale of season three turned out to be flashforwards, revealing that he and Kate (who is meeting Jack in the scene) were off the island. For the first time in 72 episodes, the audience finds out that some characters have left the island – the whole aim of the characters in the show in the first place. In true Lost fashion, viewers were left with an almighty cliffhanger, with so mention questions remaining unanswered: How did they get off the island? Who else is off the island? Why does Jack really want to go back? And so on. By a distance this is one of the most shocking and surprising moments on this list — it still gets me to this day!
As he is discussing his memoirs with his brother, David Palmer is shot in the neck by a sniper, and killed.
The assassination of former President David Palmer kicked off season five with a massive bang. Not only was he very popular amongst fans (at least in my view), it also appeared as if the show was gearing up for another season dominated, in part, by his presence. But it was not to be. There are a number of elements linked to Palmer’s assassination which made it so shocking: the attempted murder of fellow prominent individuals in the show, Chloe O’Brien, Tony Almeida and Michelle Dessler (the latter was successfully eliminated) and the revelation at the end of the season that the man behind the orders was current President, Charles Logan. This one came out of absolutely nowhere, particularly for me as I did not watch the series when it aired (presumably word had gotten out that Dennis Haysbert, the actor portraying David Palmer, was leaving the show). 24 had a knack for surprises, but this was certainly one of the most shocking.
Carrie blows her cover in front of Brody — Homeland
(Season: 2, Episode: 4 — “New Car Smell”)
Having been unsuccessful at getting Brody to admit he is working with a terrorist, Carrie storms into his hotel room and exclaims she knows who he is and what he is doing, before Brody is taken into custody.
It was fairly obvious that something similar to this was going to occur at some point over the course of the season, but not as early on as episode four. Carrie, believing Brody is on to her after a briefly showing anger during a conversation between the two of them, ends up storming up to his hotel room — with nobody else around — and blowing her cover in front of him. This was a tremendous moment in the shows short history, as the audience was provided with another amazing performance from Claire Danes (and Damian Lewis). As I mentioned a moment ago, this happened so early on in the season that it was hard to believe — at the time I wondered how the writers were going to fill another eight episodes. Thankfully the scene was more than warranted, as the happenings in this episode ended up prefacing events which occurred in the best episode of Homeland thus far — “Q&A”.
Ross says the wrong name at the altar — Friends
(Season: 4, Episode: 24 — “The One with Ross’s Wedding”)
As he is in the middle of saying his vows during his wedding to Emily, Ross accidentally blurts out Rachel’s name instead.
Of all the names, Gellar. This was probably a lot more awkward than it was shocking, but it still was shocking nonetheless. The most unexpected moments are often left for the end of an episode, or better yet, the end of a season, and this one closed season five — leaving viewers reeling. The Ross/Rachel dynamic was more or the less the core of Friends throughout the shows existence, and I am willing to bet that the vast majority of fans did not want Ross to marry Emily when this episode aired (in 1999 I was watching Scooby-Doo, not Friends… I still watch Scooby-Doo), so when it looked like there was nothing else stopping the marriage from happening, Ross, in all his glory, surprised everyone — including himself — saving the day in return. Another great moment which kept the audience guessing and left them in high anticipation of season six, I am sure.
Charlie’s death — Lost
(Season: 3, Episode: 22/23 — “Through the Looking Glass”)
Charlie sacrifices himself to save Desmond, after turning off the transmission blocker and potentially saving everyone else on the island.
The finale of Lost season three really was a shocker alright. In fact, this particular moment is the most shocking in my experience of watching television shows, more so due to who was involved and what was happening to him, rather than it happening out of nowhere. Around the middle of season three it became apparent that Desmond could see into the future and had foreseen Charlie’s death. After Desmond had saved Charlie various times, everyone (well, me) began to believe that Charlie no longer had death in his foreseeable future. That was, until that damn Jack needed somebody to swim to an underwater Dharma station and turn off the transmission blocker. But again, after Charlie had swam down (followed by Desmond) and turned off the jammer, it appeared that he was in the clear. That was, until that damn Mikhail started flooding the station with water. Unselfishly, Charlie locked the door of the room he was occupying in the station in order to contain the flooding, whilst at the same time warning Desmond that the boat near the island was not Penny’s. A highly emotional moment. Somebody pass the tissues.
The end of Matt Smith as The Doctor — Doctor Who
(Christmas Special 2013)
It has not happened yet, but when it does I will weep.
So there they are, some of the most shocking television moments I have witnessed. Little Mo clobbering Trevor with an iron was another one that did not quite make it. As I wrote earlier, I have not seen every television show that has ever existed, and therefore I imagine there will probably be a second part to this blog post when I have watched more — hopefully including scenes from shows like Boardwalk Empire, Sons of Anarchy and Dexter.
Comment below with the small screen moments that shocked you the most if you like!