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MOTHER’S DAY (2010)
The latest in the never ending stream of (arguably) needless Hollywood horror remakes sees “Saw” franchise director Darren Lynn Bousman serving up an all new version of the 1980 Charles Kaufman Troma semi-cult hit of the same name. Having recently revisited the original, the film is clearly an odd candidate for a glossy makeover, being one of the odder genre outings of its period, a strange mix of bizarre humour, bad taste gore and sexual degradation, run through with a weird, though not ineffective vein of satire. Unsurprisingly, Bousman dumps pretty much everything apart from the very basics of the premise, disappointingly turning the film into yet another in that other most popular of modern horror subgenres, the home invasion flick.
This time around, he focuses the action on a pretty ghastly group of upper middle class bohemian suburban types whose party at central couple Jaime King and Frank Grillo’s new house is ruined by the arrival of the original owners, who just happen to be psychotic criminals on the run. Confused and angered to find that the house is no longer their own, the fugitives start playing unpleasant games with their captives, most of which involve violence and humiliation. Although the arrival of their mother (Rebecca De Mornay) calms the situation, it soon becomes clear that she is every bit as crazy as her kids, being hell-bent on uncovering money which she insists is hidden somewhere in the house.
“Mother’s Day” is a huge letdown. As he proved with the gruesome wackiness of his “Saw” outings and the far out nonsense of “Repo: the Genetic Opera”, Bousman is not a man short of ideas, though here this is exactly what he lacks. The film is very much a by the numbers affair from start to finish, with none of its trumped up twists being likely to shock even the most virginal of genre viewers, and with its entire cast of characters being little more than thinly sketched stereotypes. This would perhaps be forgivable if the visceral scenes were up to snuff, but again Bousman’s creativity seems to have deserted him, as he resorts to some depressingly tame and hackneyed setups which consistently fail to deliver the gore groceries, even going so far as to shy away from the action rather rudely. When a film like this is accused of good taste it’s a pretty good indication of its overall lack of entertainment value, and things really aren’t helped by an entirely unjustified running time of nearly two hours. The result is a film which fails on pretty much every level, and one which is sadly the polar opposite of the endearingly daft and offensive original in pretty much every way which matters.
JULIA’S EYES (2010)
Another major disappointment arrives with “Julia’s Eyes”, which marks the sophomore outing for Spanish genre helmer Guillem Morales. The country has certainly been churning out some top drawer horror of late, and the film has a major boost in the presence of fanboy favourite Guillermo Del Toro onboard as producer, his name splashed all over the advertising and posters. Sadly, his considerable imagination is utterly absent in what turns out to be an entirely tiresome and generic psycho-thriller that has little to recommend it beyond some vaguely handsome production values.
The instantly recognisable plot follows Belen Rueda as the titular Julia, whose blind sister apparently takes her own life after an unsuccessful operation to save her sight. Unconvinced that it was suicide and facing a similar degenerative condition, Julia starts poking into her dead sister’s life, becoming sure that her mysterious boyfriend was behind her death. As her own eyesight gets gradually worse she draws closer to the shadowy killer, only to find herself falling into the same perilous situation as her sister.
“Julia’s Eyes” is basically a horror film for people who don’t usually watch horror films. Although there’s no denying that its execution is reasonable and that it technically ticks most of the right boxes, like “The Orphanage” it’s hampered by a complete lack of innovation or a desire to serve up anything new. Almost every one of its supposed frights is heavily telegraphed, playing out exactly as expected and arrives without any impact, being unlikely to stir even the most lily-livered or knock-nerved of viewers in their seats. Morales drags almost every scare sequence out to interminable length, hammering home all of its twists with ludicrous heavy-handedness. To be fair, this does add a few touches of unintentional amusement, for example during the last act when one key character’s face is deliberately obscured in a fashion which recalls “Austin Powers” style penis hiding gags, though this is never quite enough to push the film into the territory of enjoyable trash. At a weighty and horribly overstretched two hours, it clearly has delusions of greatness, Morales never seeming to grasp that what he is essentially serving up is little more than a rehashed meal of leftovers.
ATTACK THE BLOCK (2011)
“Attack the Block”, which sees British director Joe Cornish making the leap from television to the big screen, is thankfully a film which succeeds exactly where the two above entries fail, taking an imminently tried and tested concept and breathing new and enthusiastic life into it. Even more impressively, the film is one of the few to achieve this by combining genre savvy references and action whilst taking considerable risks with its characters and plot, making for an edgy, wholly enjoyable combination.
Certainly, the protagonists are likely to be only too familiar to any inhabitants of London, being a gang of teenage hoodie wearing chav thugs, who start the film in true to life fashion by carrying out a violent mugging on an unfortunate young woman (Jodie Whittaker) who lives in their neighbourhood. The robbery is interrupted by a meteorite crashing into a nearby car, containing a small but vicious alien, which they proceed to beat to death. Soon enough similar balls of fire are falling from the sky, and the estate is quickly overrun with nasty, toothsome creatures that seem determined to make a meal of the gang and everyone else they come across.
It’s easy to see comparisons have been made between “Attack the Block” and “Shaun of the Dead”, not least due to the presence of comedian Nick Frost as an amiably stoned drug dealer. The two films share an essential love of genre cinema, referencing it in playful rather than reverential terms and working it into the plot not simply as throwaway gags but as a means to create a genuinely fun and believable scenario. The most obvious influences here are Spielberg and John Carpenter, the latter echoed to great effect in terms of atmosphere, music and pacing, so much so that the film does at times resemble an anarchic take on “Assault on Precinct 13”. The film has the same hardboiled edge, with Cornish bravely never underplaying the fact that the lead characters really all are little bastards, mean-spirited and thoroughly amoral. This lends the film a real air of gritty authenticity, as does its amusingly believable script of street slang, which the director spent a great deal of time researching – not to mention apparently getting mugged himself, which was the inspiration for the film. Thanks to the Spielberg meets London urban gangsta feel, the young thugs do grow on the viewer, slowly but surely, and the films has one of the most effective villain-hero character arcs of recent genre times, never overplaying its hand.
Balancing any griminess is a winning sense of excitement, as Cornish piles on the action scenes with real enthusiasm and creativity. Whilst the film does play out along expected lines, it does so with verve and flair, and is all the better for playing things relatively straight, its humour never intruding on what are some surprisingly bloody and tense sequences, boosted by excellent and convincing use of special effects. All of this comes together to mark “Attack the Block” as a real joy, and one of the best science fiction horror films for some time.