GFF 2013: The Lords of Salem Movie Review 0 61

Glasgow Film Festival 2013 - The Lords of Salem
Rob Zombie has spent his film career making grubby, uncomfortable and sometimes downright nasty films with the likes of House of 1000 Corpses, The Devils Rejects and his two awful Halloween reimaginings. Now he’s back with The Lords of Salem, perhaps his strangest film yet but one no less stuffed with rambling horror-soaked nonsense.
The film follows Heidi (played by Zombie’s real life wife Sheri Moon), a local radio DJ who one night receives a mysterious record by a group called “The Lords.” Upon playing the music out on air she starts experiencing some strange and vivid nightmares of the town’s violent past. Meanwhile novelist Francis Matthias (Bruce Davison), who was a guest on Heidi’s show, starts investigating the music only to discover it has links to the coven of witches from centuries previous who were known as “The Lords of Salem.”
It’s not an altogether uninteresting premise clearly inspired by horrors of years past and while it starts off intriguing enough the film ultimately devolves into a mess of shock value tactics, increasingly annoying characters spouting clunky dialogue and indulgent horror movies rip-offs masquerading as homages.
Endless shots of slowly creeping up hallways to mysterious doors and the story being framed with the days of the week slamming up on-screen when you least expect it strongly suggests The Shining, while the feeling of something not being quite right in the apartment next door evokes Rosemary’s Baby among others. Like those this is a film that’s more about atmosphere than it is pushing forward with the plot but that only goes so far and Zombie’s accompanying visual flourishes distract and confound in a detrimental way. All it does is remind you just how amazing those horrors masterpieces were and how, in its attempts to evoke them, Zombie’s empty bag of tricks severely pales in comparison.
You have to give Zombie some sort of credit; he knows damn well how to make a film that will divide audiences and The Lords of Salem is no different. Fans of his work will lap up every second while those unconvinced in the past will likely remain so. Despite its relentless attempts this isn’t the disturbing horror masterpiece it thinks it is and while it’s an admittedly well made film (if nothing else Zombie knows how to frame a shot), any potential is squandered. It’s a film that goes nowhere interesting, ending up in a frenzy of self-indulgent white noise.

This review was also published in The Journal.

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I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Killing Ground 0 649

This review was previously published at The National.

This audacious and especially gruelling Aussie horror-thriller from short film-turned-feature director Damien Power centres on a young couple, Ian (Ian Meadows) and Margaret (Maya Stange), who take a camping trip with their baby to a remote and idyllic spot in a national park.

Once there they discover another group’s camping gear, however the people are nowhere to be seen. Upon some investigation they find themselves a part of a gruesome crime perpetrated by a couple of unknown assailants who appear to be hunting them down.

This impressive debut exemplifies the horror genre’s unique ability to unnerve an audience, lulling us into a false sense of security as so many horror films do with a pair of amiable leading characters and a sunny prospect of a calm holiday retreat before slamming home the horrific truth of the matter.

Using a very clever narrative structure of flitting back and forth between the present couple’s predicament and what exactly happened to the group that set up camp before them, the film drags us by the scruff of the neck down a gruesome and astutely disquieting road that makes for equal parts compelling and shocking viewing.

The horrifying events are amplified by Power’s decision to shoot them with a serene passivity. He allows the unfolding threat and repulsive violence to occur in an almost matter-of-fact manner, utilizing stillness captured by the beautiful cinematography to offset the horror. It conjures a deeply uncomfortable sense that, adding to the film’s largely cynical disposition, bad people exist in the world who commit terrible acts and there’s often nothing we can do about it.

Killing Ground effectively continues the line of grizzly Aussie horrors like Long Weekend, Wolf Creek and The Loved Ones, as well as particularly evoking the Brit gem Eden Lake. This is an example of cinema that knows how to ramp up the tension by never being afraid to show the brutal reality of a scarily believable predicament – in every way it’s unapologetically not for the faint-hearted.

7.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Home Again 0 633

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10