Pulse

2001 | dir: Kiyoshi Kurosawa | 119 m

Wow, I can’t recall the last time that I felt so much dread and unease in a horror film, but here we are with Kairo (Pulse), having me double check the shadows in my room and not only making sure that the doors in my apartment are closed, but also that they don’t have any red tape around them. Suffice to say I didn’t turn on my computer until the next day, in the safety of sunlight. We follow our characters as they navigate strange occurrences, including sightings of a recently deceased friend and a truly creepy website. Everything is driven forward by having as much information as the characters themselves: easily relatable as I never found myself questioning their behaviour: with a belief that ghosts don’t exist, who wouldn’t investigate strange markings on the wall of a friend’s home, or start asking around about how to rid yourself of some malware? These characters are never entirely sure what they’re dealing with, and the audience is given barely anything more, which I think makes the journey all the more terrifying. Everything is beautifully framed in the colour-drained world and the ghosts’ movements and appearances are slow, deliberate and unsettling. Although I found the end of the film to a little unsatisfactory, it doesn’t add much to overall criticism of the movie. I find myself wondering what it would have been like to watching this film twenty years ago, as I recall the internet being a much more unkempt and mysterious utility with limitless potential, and yes – for someone who wants to believe – a reasonable habitat for the supernatural.

Underworld Evolution

2006 | dir: Len Wiseman | 106 m

Immediately, we abandon the slick confines the original’s city, mansions and underground settings for the (somewhat) blanket openness of Eastern Europe. The story picks up just where we left off as well, with Selene and Michael on the run from the aftermath of the mayhem before, including the (spoiler for the first film) slaying of Victor. I'm just about fully on board with Evolution delving deeper into the lore of the “Vampire-Lycan” war and appreciative that it ties a number of strings together, including our main vampire played by Kate Beckinsale all without feeling like story beats and characters are just done for the sake of being convenient or filler.  

I mentioned in the previous film that there were very few (if any) human characters present, which has been rectified in Evolution. Rectified, because I need to see how our vampires and werewolves perform in the face of your average human, which helps craft this world’s reality against our own. There's a scene early on where Michael is chased into the woods by a group of humans – as he resists the urge to feed on them – and Selene comes out to the rescue; we’re treated to some supernaturally wonderful powers of movement and abilities that – from the perspective of those humans and to an extent myself, the viewer – is truly terrifying. Those powers don’t show up when vampires are fighting other vampires because presumably, they’re being used all the time and the film is showing us the normalized action. It was a fun scene to watch and I wish there was more of that stuff in the film. 

The other world building that goes on is fun: early on we see a cleanup/investigation crew dispatched in an attempt to unravel what happened in the first film’s events, and an amusing scene where a giant vampire bat learns how to use a computer by drinking the blood of another vampire. Quite handy indeed! One of the few things I remember upon seeing this over a decade ago was a steamy sex scene and am happy to report that the scene is still just as steamy, although their (that is, Selene and Michael) romance feels a bit empty. The film does deliver in a decent quality, gory action scenes, although some of the logic and reasoning of the characters and plot leave a little bit to be desired. I found myself chuckling quizzically every so often, but I guess that comes with the territory as Evolution attempts to layer on complexity via backstory, when the strength of the first film was very much on being straightforward and heavy on style. 

Wolfwalkers

 

2020 | dir: Tomm Moore | 103 m

There’s something reassuringly captivating and enchanting about Wolfwalkers, the latest animated feature from Irish filmmakers Tomm Moore and Ross Steward, with Moore previously codirecting both The Secret of the Kells and the amazing Song of the Sea. Wolfwalkers had me engrossed from start to finish, and held my thoughts for days afterward. I’m always a bit hesitant to put on “kids” films when alone and as a result I can miss out on some really excellent films so in an effort to recognize the more positive sides of this turbulent year and not let some films slip by, I made a priority to watch the highly-rated Wolfwalkers, and would heartily recommend it to everyone.

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Tenet

2020 | dir: Christopher Nolan | 150 m

Despite the standard cliche, I don't remember ever literally being on the edge of my seat during a movie, but there are some movies that make me sit up a little straighter and pay very close attention. Tenet was one of those movies. I wasn't really all that surprised that I enjoyed Tenet; Christopher Nolan is one of my favourite directors working today (or really, ever), and I've been a fan of all of his movies to date. Nolan is one of the few modern directors who is able to effectively blend the auteur and blockbuster approach to craft films that are truly epic in scale but at their core are stories about people and that both pose and explore questions about the human condition in an intelligent way. In that way, Nolan is heir apparent to the original generation of auteur film makers who essentially invented the blockbuster like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. And like Spielberg and Lucas, Christopher Nolan is primarily concerned with telling original stories about larger than life events anchored with fully fleshed out human characters (and a fair amount of explosions).

That's one reason that I will gladly fork over my hard-earned cash for any film that Nolan puts out over whatever the latest made-by-committee Marvel or Star Wars movie that the Disney corporate machine churns out. I say this as a fan of both the MCU and Star Wars, but I would rather see Nolan try something new and fail than have to sift through another ten movies' worth of the Marvel formula or mull over the next chaotic Star Wars trilogy to find the one or two movies that really excel. At the end of the day, a movie directed by Christopher Nolan expects more of its audience than a great deal of independent films and outclasses the action of most action blockbusters. Any movie that crashes a real plane into a real airport for my entertainment while also exploring questions of free will and determinism is all right in my book.

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Possessor

2020 | dir: Brandon Cronenberg | 104 m

There seems to be a bit of marketing around this film that pushes it as the “uncut” version, which is usually reserved for home video releases and results in a rather dubious difference in content of the film. However, we’re talking about the Cronenberg family in this case, and the small theatrical run during this pandemic is perhaps allowing such a cut of film to grace the big screen. As I stumbled across snippet-sized details of Brandon Cronenberg’s latest film over the past few months, I absolutely tried to minimize how much I knew about the film going into it, allowing the poster to speak for itself. The Possessor Uncut disclaimer comes up on screen before the movie gets going, making me all the more aware that this should be quite the ride, and a ride, it was. There are boundary pushing images and scenes on display here, but at no point does this feel exploitative or irrelevant to the story and characters. You become acutely aware of when the camera would normally cut away, or show us a different angle, yet Possessor doesn’t let up. These scenes occur a few times throughout the runtime, with a consistency that allows us to appreciate how they advance our characters yet disturbs us in their increasing grotesque displays.

I’m amazed at how much comes across with so little in terms of exposition and dialogue; the way Cronenberg uses his characters and special effects here is a satisfying reminder of how efficient his father creates film. Possessor displays this economical filmmaking by trusting and allowing the viewer to follow along the conceptual premise of the film because it adheres to simple rules and leans into the emotional narrative of its characters. I’m tempted to say that this is a more accessible sci-fi film than many standouts in the genre, but the horror and extreme imagery will not be for everyone. I found myself shaking my head in wonderment numerous times, and as I was leaving the empty theatre I looked up at the credits and only had one thought: that was one hell of a film.

Underworld

 

 2003 | dir: Len Wiseman | 121 m

Revisiting the original Underworld proved to be surprisingly refreshing and I was taken aback and just how glued I was to the screen. For this screening I decided to watch the extended cut, which apparently adds about 12 minutes (making the film a convenient two hours and twelve minutes) and I’ll be honest in saying that I couldn’t see what was added or replaced, although I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on the original cut of the film. Indeed, I watched the film in cinemas back in 2003 and maybe once after, although there were a decent number of memorable moments and scenes that stuck with me for a while, although it’s worth noting that I retained nothing of the story or plot, save for the basic werewolves versus vampires driving force. It was a pleasant surprise then, that the film didn’t stick me with a ton of exposition at the beginning; we’re dropped into the action right off the bat with just a brief introduction to Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and her “Death Dealer” squad, as they chase down a pack of werewolves into the underbelly of a grim looking city that looks like it was lifted from the claustrophobic sets of The Matrix and Dark CityI found myself – while enjoying the action – wondering if the film was just going to skip around the reason for the feud between vampires and werewolves, but then the plot allows for the rollout of that background and I was reminded that yes, this first film kind of explores the foundation for the origins of the centuries-long battle. 

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The Wolf of Snow Hollow

 

2020 | dir: Jim Cummings | 85 m

When I first saw a preview for The Wolf of Snow Hollow, I was immediately invested. Everything seemed to check off this unknown list within my mind: werewolves, small towns, snow, mountains, dark humour, comedy, and horror, to name a few. I had seen Jim Cummings’ Thunder Road last year and enjoyed it enough that I often think about it and was intrigued with what Jim would come up with next. He has a way of writing his characters that straddle the line between likeability and distaste, and I would say that Snow Hollow tests those boundaries to a point that has me questioning my enjoyment of the movie. The plot is familiar as werewolf movies go: on each full moon bodies are found, and our local small-town police force struggles to find any compelling evidence or follow any leads. The difference here between any similarly-plotted movie is the characters, who are the central focus of Snow Hollow.

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The Fly II

 

1989 | dir: Chris Walas | 105 m

I was quite taken aback with how captivating this film was; it probably helps that I entered into the viewing with fairly low expectations. I had just listened to a podcast about Cronenberg’s remake of the Fly, and they talked briefly about its sequel (of which Cronenberg had no involvement). While it’s easy to agree that this sequel is miles behind, it wouldn’t be fair to dismiss it entirely. There are some incredibly fun creature effects and grotesque deaths on screen to grab your attention, although most of them come in final act of the film. The first couple of acts are still fascinating, as we watch Marin Brundle (Eric Stoltz) rapidly age through the first five years of his life as a result of the human/fly hybrid genetics of his father. Although he’s supremely intelligent, he’s regularly picked on and treated poorly by his foster family of lab techs and a particularly surly security guard, resulting in quite a bit of sympathy for the child-turn-man at five years old, and this investment in his character is deepened as he falls in love with Daphne (Beth Logan), another employee in his corporate/lab home.

With that, The Fly II makes me forget for a moment that I’m watching a horror film and that a slew of Really Bad Things are about to happen, but damn if I wanted to see Martin succeed in recreating his late father’s experiments. The greedy corporation feels a bit cliché, including the obviously false sincerity of the head of the corporation, who of course wants to utilize the transporter for profit in the face of bettering humanity. These are easy things to get over: I can appreciate that the film plays things a bit more safely in regards to plot, focusing instead on the characters and some fun creature design.