Let me begin by saying that I’m prepared for the heckling I’m going to receive for getting a kick out of this movie. After Dark Films doesn’t churn out the best horror material and most of it is downright embarrassing but, dang, I was on the edge of my seat with this thrill ride featuring a clan of acrobatic, swift-footed creatures of the dark, closely resembling the vampires in the indomitable 30 Days of Night. This is leagues above the low-budget, no-name horror flicks I’ve seen in ages, largely attributed to its lead actress and some successful creative devices.
Amber (Courtney Hope) is desperate to leave the small town of Famfield for The Windy City. An uninspired job, a miserable financial situation, no love life, and a barely coherent admission from her alcoholic mother that she was adopted pushes Amber to the edge. She convinces her friends to drive her but their vehicle breaks down en route to Chicago. Fortunately for them, a scruffy, kind-hearted trucker named Bernard (Bruce Payne) sympathizes with Amber and allows her and posse to hitch a ride in the back of his semi where they pass the time guzzling hard liquor, blazing it up, and playing strip Truth or Dare.
It isn’t long before they find themselves at an abandoned slaughterhouse. Only, it isn’t abandoned and the death count goes from nil to four in a matter of a few minutes, which leaves Amber and her best girl, Suzy (Ruta Gedmintas), struggling to evade the mysterious, blood-thirsty monsters. The hunters chasing their prey scenes are intense and, even when the action has died down and they’re huddled together in a hiding spot, the moment is taut with tension. It’s not really fear that I experienced but more of a nervous excitement, a kind of punishing fun that I wasn’t expecting, least of all from an After Dark production.
Do the characters do really dumb things? Yes, but that’s as assumed probability in most horror movies these days. Are their plot holes? Yes, but not gaping. Is the ending a disappointment? Yes and no. There is a twist at the end but the film ends abruptly without delving further into it, perhaps paving the way for a sequel. Whatever the case may be, it’s frustrating to come full circle only to have to take three steps backward. Still, I couldn’t help but like Prowl, nowhere near perfection but good enough for a late night viewing with the lights down low and a bucket of popcorn all to myself.
A young Puss in Boots (Anotnio Banderas) is an orphaned kitten that makes his home at an orphanage in San Ricardo with his adoptive mother and best friend, Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis). Perpetual outcast and lofty dreamer, Humpty, and his made blood brother, Puss, have their fair share of run-ins with the Comandate (Guillermo del Toro!) and the law. One such incident tears the duo apart, forcing Puss to go on the run as a wanted feline.
It isn’t until years later that Puss is reunited with Humpty through a mysterious, masked caper who reveals herself as Kitty Softpaws (Selma Hayek). The three of them embark on an adventure to steal magic beans from a couple of brutish outlaws, Jack and Jill, to gain entrance to the castle in the sky for the giant’s riches. After successfully stealing the booty, all of their troubles begin.
I went into this expecting another ill-conceived, pointless spin-off but what I got was a silly, well-animated flick with plenty of humor and a genuinely emotional story to balance it out. I was literally laughing out loud. Maybe too loudly at the glaucoma/catnip reference that flew over the little ones’ heads and, to top it off, I was the only one… that was awkward. Needless to say, it felt good to connect with the kid inside of me and at the same time snicker at jokes clearly aimed at the adults in the audience. Good family fun for all ages!
Annie (Kristen Wiig), a down-and-out woman who’s lost her business and boyfriend, is invited to be her childhood friend’s (Lillian, played by Maya Rudolph) Maid of Honor. Coordinating the wedding is the insanely rich and pretentious wife of the bride’s husband’s boss, Helen (Rose Byrne), who from the get-go, tirelessly competes for Lillian’s attention. In the mix are Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey), a housewife who is desperate to escape the confines of suburbia, Becca (Ellie Kemper), a clueless newlywed, and Megan (Melissa McCarthy), the groom’s crass sister. The subtle rivalry between Annie and Helen eventually backfires on the both of them and it’s up to the two adversaries to put aside their differences in order to save the big day.
One of the more hyped-up movies of 2011, Bridesmaids is marketed as a raunchy, female version of The Hangover, which is understandable but unnecessarily deceiving. The only correlation between the two is an impending marriage. This is less about the bridesmaids and more about about its central character, Annie, a self-loathing, loveless character who projects her negative attitude on to anyone who has the misfortune to cross paths with her. They include customers in the jewelry store she works at, Nathan (Chris O’Dowd), the baby-faced cop she ends up romancing, and her own best friend. At times, Annie is difficult to empathize with because she’s such a destructive force. She’s so intent on sabotaging herself that she loses her job and drives away a man who only wants to see her succeed and be happy.
You may not realize it right away but Bridesmaids is a chick flick that’s been made palpable for men with some raunchy (though implied) humor and the really funny comedic relief of Melissa McCarthy. Kristen Wiig shows quite a bit of restraint, to the point where I wondered if this is the same ham of Saturday Night Live fame. I was disappointed, especially during the airplane scene, which was her moment to shine. It seemed like such a wasted opportunity, both for Wiig and her fans. Whether this was her choice or the director’s, I don’t know. McLendon-Covey and Kemper receive limited screen time, as does John Hamm, who plays Wiig’s boorish, inconsiderate ‘fuck buddy’.
Besides McCarthy, O’Dowd and Byrne deserve pats on the backs for their performances. O’Dowd may seem out of place with his Irish accent but he manages to infuse some much needed positive energy. He’s silly and lovable with amusing observations about life and his law enforcement profession. My favorite was the quip about the ugly carrot in every bag (and I just ate it). Byrne as the gorgeous, impeccably groomed trophy wife was perfectly cast, as well.
The film clocks in at two hours and five minutes, thanks to jokes getting stretched well past their expiration. I like Kristen Wiig but her writing, especially the dialog, doesn’t always gel. Sometimes, it’s obvious a scene exists solely to showcase herself as ‘the emerging female comedian’ yet she never fully satisfies. Other times, the banter between characters is so unrealistic and outrageous that it’s no longer humorous but outright awkward to watch. I squirmed more during the jewelry store scenes than I did during the much talked about diarrhea outbreak. Kristen Wiig is no Tina Fey but I don’t hold that against her.
A hard-nosed journalist, Carmen (Cindy Sampson, Supernatural), her boyfriend, Marcus (Aaron Ashmore, Smallville), and an intern, Sara (Meghan Heffern, Almost Heroes), travel to Alvania to investigate the disappearance of Eric Taylor, the last person of many reported to have vanished after visiting the small Polish village. In the distance is a large patch of dense fog hovering above the forest, the same phenomenon documented in Eric’s journal. The three of them make their way to the woods, only to be confronted by a group of men who dissuade the trio to proceed any further.
However, Carmen convinces Marcus and Sara to examine the fog following a confession that her boss thinks she and Sara are back in the states covering a scoop on bees. Her career is ruined if she doesn’t return with a killer story. Sara enters the fog first and then Carmen, while Marcus stays just beyond the fog’s edge. At different times, both women stumble upon a menacing statue, seemingly serving no purpose other than to scare the bejesus out of anyone who has the misfortune to encounter it.
After fleeing the fog, all three are hunted down by the same men who warned them to leave. Marcus is forced by gunpoint to dig his own grave while Carmen and Sara are brought to a secret sacrificial chamber, stripped of all of their clothing and made to wear the same white gown that they found the deceased Eric dressed in. This is the point of the movie where I almost shut it off, presuming it to be another torture porn flick. That may be your thing but it’s not mine.
It turns out that this low-budget horror movie written and directed by Jon Knautz is a well-crafted thriller with better acting than most of its genre, with the exception of Ashmore who appears really damn angry about everything throughout the entire film. The build is slow but those who have the tenacity to stick it through will be rewarded. This is sincerely a creepy movie with the right amounts of fright and gore.
Speaking of gore, there are a couple of scenes in particular that may give you the dry heaves if you’re not a horror veteran but if you can handle a film like the The Ruins, you can survive The Shrine. I’d endorse this flick to mainstream audiences who want to watch a horror movie now and then to experience some cheap scares without sex/nudity/torture.