This is Halloween – Part 3

And yet more “recent” horror.

The Purge (2013)

America in 2022 and thanks to the New Founding Fathers the country has one night a year when any act of violence, up to and including murder, is allowed, with emergency services mothballed for the duration. While the loonies take to the streets and “purge”, hopefully killing each other and social undesirables, such as the homeless, sensible people like the Sandin family “lock down” in their houses and sit it out. Unfortunately Charlie Sandin is only a kid and so doesn’t know that you’re supposed to remain detached and indifferent while other people get killed. He lets a homeless man inside the Sandin residence, at which point they become the target for a tribe of junior yuppies who don’t like being deprived of their victim and right to purge. At bottom this is a home invasion film, with a suitably creepy, mask wearing clan of bad guys, and neighbours who turn out to be even more badass. As far as that goes, it works tolerably well, with some exciting stalk and kill scenes in the darkened house, though I did find it curious how, whenever a gun goes off, the whole tribe don’t run to the sound, instead leaving their loner to get picked off by a Sandin. What makes it a bit more interesting is the moral dilemma at the heart of the film, with questions being raised as to what the human animal is capable. A load of psycho-babble is used to explain and justify the Purge (possibly a comment on America’s gun culture and its apologists), with its economic benefits underlined, but really all we’re talking about is people given the opportunity to follow their worst instincts with little or no consequence, and inevitably the victims are the poor and disabled, those who might be seen as a burden to society. For father James Sandin it’s nothing except a chance to get rich by selling expensive security systems, until the homeless man comes on the scene, when reality gets pushed in his face. He must choose whether to turn the man over to the mob, or put his own family at risk. As wife Mary sticks a knife into the guy’s wounds to get him to cooperate, they begin to question what the Purge has made them capable of. It’s an interesting idea, and I’d like to have seen it explored some more, but having set the scenario up the plot runs along more or less predictable lines, even down to having the homeless guy save the family in the final reel. I liked the film, and kudos to the makers for attempting to do something more with the home invasion sub-subgenre, though it didn’t go far enough for my liking.

As Above, So Below (2014)

Archaeologist Scarlett is following in the footsteps of her father, seeking the fabled Philosopher’s Stone of the medieval alchemists. The trail leads her to the Paris catacombs. With the reluctant aid of friend (and love interest) George, and more enthusiastic assistance of Papillon and his team of urban explorers, she ventures into the parts of the catacombs that are off limit to the public, and with good reason. While there are physical dangers inherent in crawling through narrow tunnels lined with millions of skeletons, as they progress it becomes apparent that something else is going on, something that defies natural law. And this trend is intensified when they reach the tomb of alchemist Nicholas Flamel, with nothing what it seems and the necessity for backward or mirror logic if they are to survive. I seem to remember the film got panned on release, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. It played like The Descent, but with the psychological aspects cranked up to a ten and elements from The Krypton Factor grafted on. Stripped to the essentials, it’s a psycho-drama, one that for the characters entails an alchemical purging of the dross elements in their nature – Scarlett must deal with the guilt she feels over her father’s suicide, George must confront the inner demons conjured up by memories of his brother’s drowning, and so on. All the characters are well drawn, even those who feel like they’re there simply to make up the numbers and provide cannon fodder. Perdita Weeks as Scarlett is especially impressive. What comes over most strongly is the character’s obsessive nature and her sheer bravery (Scarlett is always the first to hurl herself into danger, as seen in the story’s prologue where she ventures into Iran to steal information from a cave slated for destruction), but at the same time she is infuriating, for the way in which she has to have her own way and drags others into the flames with her, particularly George who is shamefully manipulated (even if he does love her). There’s a reversal of the natural world at the end that was delightful and, in context, thoroughly logical. I’m probably going to watch this one again, as I’m sure there’s more to be gleaned than one viewing allows.

Shelter (2010)

Julianne Moore stars as psychiatrist Dr. Cara Harding, whose faith has been undermined by personal tragedy. Her father, also a psychiatrist, introduces her to a patient whose multiple personalities appear to be murder victims, and as well as manifesting different personalities, the patient also undergoes physical changes, making his case even weirder. As she probes deeper Cara encounters an ancient evil, one that has survived into the present day by possession, using human bodies as shelter. She comes to realise that only magic can defeat it. So, basically what we have here is the usual story of somebody who has lost faith but then has it restored by an encounter with the supernatural, and add on to that a glossary of the usual horror movie clichés. And yet for all that, I found it quite effective. Moore is excellent as ever, while Jonathan Rhys Meyer as the patient turns in an especially effective performance, putting his body through a welter of contortions (possibly the sfx guys should take some of the praise, though). The film’s atmosphere, from rain swept Pittsburgh through to the bleak Appalachian Mountains with backwoods communities rooted in superstition, is done well, and the plot has the odd surprise or two, while not reliant on the usual jump moments for its effects. It’s not a classic of the genre by any stretch of the imagination, but it did the business and kept this horror fan entertained.

Tomorrow I’m off to see a theatrical performance of The Shawshank Redemption, followed by an evening of spooky, but as yet undecided, chills and thrills.

Anyone else have a Halloween treat planned?

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