Horror by the Numbers

Some recently watched films, with a numerical aspect:-

28 Weeks Later (2007)

The sequel to Danny Boyle helmed 28 Days Later, Aliens to its Alien. The Rage virus has run its course, with all the infected people dead, and those pitiful few who were out of the country at the time of the outbreak are now returning to make a new life for themselves in a central London enclave, under the watchful eye of the American military. But of course Rage returns, thanks in the main to the efforts of a family unit led by Robert Carlyle’s character Don, who seem to think that they can do whatever they wish and bugger the safety of anybody else. And so it’s Rage on again, with the Americans shooting at anything that moves and a few ‘good’ soldiers trying to save two children who may hold the key to immunity from the general bloodletting. Plenty of action, plenty of firefights, and a pitch perfect portrayal of how a situation can run away from you, with soldiers having to make the hard choice of whether to kill the innocent for the sake of the greater good. Carlyle’s Don is the most three dimensional and interesting of the characters, having to deal with the issue of his personal cowardice, lying to his children about the fate of their mother to save face and keep their respect, and as a Rage zombie intent on making amends and bringing the family unit back together, though of course this aim is filtered through virus coloured spectacles. I don’t like cute children in films, and Andy and Tammy here truly got up my nose, with their willful disregard of the rules – they may be the last, best hope for an antidote to Rage, but it was their actions that led to its reappearance and spread beyond the confines of the British Isles, though for that last at least they aren’t directly responsible. This was a good film, with an exciting and convincing storyline, one that as well as entertaining gave the viewer something to think about.

Case 39 (2009)

Renée Zellweger is Emily, a social worker who sets out to save a young girl from her abusive parents, but in horror films no good deed goes unpunished and she ends up with a female Damien on her hands. This is all pretty much a humdrum variation on the devil seed template, with the only real interest centred on the plight of the parents, who are faced with the moral dilemma of having to kill their child to save themselves and others, though why, aside from shock value for the viewer, they choose such a cumbersome method as stuffing her in the oven is beyond me. Other than that it’s a case of waiting to see how many of her friends and colleagues are killed off in mysterious ways before nice girl Emily realises that the suggestively named Lilith isn’t quite the innocent she appears to be (something the viewer will have twigged to almost immediately). We’ve been here before, and no doubt we’ll visit again, but while there is nothing to either annoy or repulse the film is also thoroughly predictable and empty enough that it justifies nothing more than popcorn movie status. Watch, rinse, and do not repeat.

Apartment 1303 (2012)

We go from the merely mediocre to the truly dreary, with this remake of a Japanese original. Moving into an apartment to get away from her domineering musician mother, Janet jumps out of the window on her first night alone. Older sister Lara investigates, moving into the apartment and also taking on her sister’s boyfriend. There are plenty of signs that something is not right with 1303, not least a creepy little girl who hangs around in the hallway and gives cryptic warnings and a sleazy super who makes suggestions as to how female tenants might pay their rent. We expect it all to end badly, and in that at least we are not disappointed. Rebecca de Mornay as the mother overacts outrageously (oh, how the mighty are fallen), while Mischa Barton and the rest of the cast seem to be skyping in their performances while under the influence of soporifics. The effects are minimal, suggesting a low budget, while none of the characters are well drawn and the plot is as ramshackle as it is pointless, with info dumps used to forward the action, as with the detective who conveniently tells Lara all about the apartment’s chequered history and the way in which characters eschew doing any of the obvious things people would do in such a situation, such as complaining about that obnoxious super. I’m guessing the Japanese original wasn’t this naff.

1408 (2007)

Based on a Stephen King story, this film stars John Cusack as Mike Enslin, a man who has made a career out of writing books that debunk ghosts and other paranormal phenomena (the Anti-Acorah). Sceptic to the bone he insists on staying in Room 1408 of New York’s Dolphin Hotel, despite the best efforts of manager Olin (Samuel L. Jackson, basically playing himself as a hotel manager) to convince him that this is unwise, showing Enslin a folder documenting the numerous tragedies that have occurred in the room over the years (‘It’s an evil fucking room!’). Of course our hero is riding for a fall, with a battery of supernatural special effects opening up almost minutes after he’s entered the room and gradually mounting to a crescendo as the film progresses. Along the way we learn that part of what makes Enslin so vulnerable is his own past, the betrayal of his talent as a writer, the loss of his daughter and failed marriage, and this trial of terror is all leading up to the moment when he will get a chance to be true to his better nature and a shot at redemption, albeit at great personal cost. As a movie with one eye on the jump moment it’s a tour de force, with some spectacular effects and a final twist that jolted me upright in my seat. Underlying all that though is a psychodrama of sorts, one in which Enslin gets to be the hero who saves the day. There are times, as with so much King inspired product, when the film is bordering on the sentimental, but throwing out a festering corpse or knife wielding maniac just when it all looks to be getting too schmaltzy, retaining enough hard edges to stay saccharine free. The subtext seems to imply that yes, all this stuff is terrifying, but if we accept that it exists, that it is genuine phenomena, then we also get to believe in an afterlife of sorts, that the dead daughter is safe in the arms of Jesus or whoever. Scepticism in this context is a negative quality: Enslin is ‘saved’ when he comes to accept at face value what is happening, putting his head in a space similar to the suspension of disbelief required on the part of the audience. The fact that his existence on the physical plane is terminated becomes an irrelevance. It was a conclusion that was right for the movie, though not necessarily one I either like or agree with. Regardless of that, I thoroughly enjoyed this film. In this brief numerical sampling it was, without doubt, my #1.

So has anyone else been playing the horror numbers game and have firm, odds on favourites?

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7 Responses to Horror by the Numbers

  1. Ray Cluley says:

    There’s a great dark animated film called 9 which I think is pretty fab. It borrows from War of the Worlds a little and tackles the big stuff like war, genocide, death…

    I also had to watch 27 Dresses once, but that was a horror of a very different sort.

  2. I’d vote for Session 9, Pete. Quiet, spooky, not sure where it’s going to go.

    And I agree about the dreadfulness of 27 Dresses. I kept hoping it’d be shorter– maybe like, 5 Dresses.

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