aj bowen

Movie Review: The Sacrament

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Immersionism, the word sticks on the screen during the opening text of THE SACRAMENT. It’s the type of journalism used by the main characters in the film as the subjects immerse themselves into a situation. Immersion by definition refers to deep mental involvement, which is the goal of many a movie through the years. The act eludes even the greats from time to time and though it’s still too early to put Ti West on a pedestal, he achieves immersion with THE SACRAMENT. Immersion by way of dread and fear more so than emotional attachment and the latter is the only thing holding back West’s latest effort.

THE SACRAMENT is another film of spoiler grey area where it’s difficult to draw a line on where spoilers begin, or make assumptions about people’s awareness of true life events. So rather than fight that battle I’ll just come right out and say that THE SACRAMENT, while not a full on recreation of the Jonestown Massacre, is heavily inspired by the events. THE SACRAMENT tells the story of a film crew for VICE heading to a remote location to do some investigative journalism of a commune where one of the crew’s sister has been living. The goal is to find out if the commune really is as great as she says it is, or if there’s something not quite in the up and up. (more…)

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Movie Review: You’re Next (2013)

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Hype can be an extremely dangerous thing- especially in the case of movies making their debuts at film festivals. More often than not so much time passes from the premiere of the movie at a festival to its actual release either on VOD or in theaters that people like me that read the reviews and reactions either on Twitter or otherwise the buzz reaches astronomical levels. The dangerous part being that one’s mind builds the movie up with unrealistic expectations molded by people that might not have the same tastes in movies or are riding a high from being able to see something before anyone else.

You get enough people throwing around words like brilliant or masterful enough other people start building a mental picture of what could make the movie deserve those types of praise. I know I’ve fallen prey to it before and I’m always cautious to let it happen each time since. So when Lionsgate snatched up YOU’RE NEXT after just one screening at the Toronto International Film Festival then held on to it for the next two years minus a few other festival appearances the hype had already leaked into my subconscious. Nary a bad word found my eyes or ears when I saw reactions for it and avoided any full reviews. (more…)

Movie Review: A Horrible Way To Die (2010)

There are certain expectations that came to mind when I sat down to watch A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE. One is just a plain and simple stalk and slash movie and the other based on the title is brutal wall to wall gore. Apparently I need to start checking my own expectations at the door because while the movie is about a killer and it has moments of brutal gore it is by no means as generic as I expected, the gore is not nonstop and it’s much slower and moodier than I ever could have predicted.

A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE takes two stories that slowly inch closer and closer to intersecting. The first story is that of Sarah (Amy Seimetz), a recovering alcoholic that is fresh off an extremely unhealthy relationship that causes her to be somewhat cautious and withdrawn but starts warming up to a fellow AA member, Kevin (Joe Swanberg). The second story is that of Sarah’s ex-boyfriend, Garrick (AJ Bowen) who has just escaped from prison. It becomes clear right of the bat that Garrick is psychotic and that he was in prison for a series of brutal murders which he gets right back to once he’s escaped. Garrick’s side of the story is that of a road trip that is presumably leading toward Sarah’s direction while Sarah’s story is that of a blooming relationship as well as mentally coping with her relationship with Garrick and his escape.

The film is an exercise is extreme patience and mounting tension. It takes an extremely patient viewer to stay with this movie and enjoy it as much as I did. The horror slowly builds and is not quite as in your face as most gene efforts but there are moments of horrific violence for the gorehounds to chew on. The rest of the movie focuses on mood alone- especially on Sarah’s side of the story because while she is an interesting character her story isn’t near as compelling as Garrick’s. Even when we see Garrick the film does a great job at giving him great character moments where we can surprisingly sympathize with such a murderous monster. The sympathy comes at several moments that he wishes he could keep from doing these horrible things but is overcome by an overwhelming blood lust which somewhat coincides with Sarah’s struggle with alcohol- albeit Garrick’s addiction is far more disturbing.

A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE while far from being something I would tell anyone to rush out and see would be far less so if not for the terrific performances, especially by AJ Bowen. Bowen brings to life a disturbingly plausible murderer- one that feels guilt and frustration with his inability to retrain himself from killing almost everyone that crosses his path. For quite some time most of his performance is done silently while the camera stays in for close-ups so we can watch him emote rather than bark out a lot of dialogue. It also helps that Bowen has an intimidating physical presence- not to mention he rocks a perfect police mustache through most of the film.

A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE is not without its shortcomings. Some of the cinematography is quite good but there is quite a bit of shaky cam used during some attack scenes and even just plain dialogue scenes. The timeline of the film does become a bit screws as there were jumps of Bowen sporting his cop-stache after he’d shaved and then the next scene he’d have a full lumberjack beard. The film is exceedingly patient (slow in other words), so while it was not an issue for me I know there are audiences that will not appreciate the slow build.

A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE thrives on building tension the chilling performance by AJ Bowen. There are some moments of brutal violence and disturbing visuals but they serve only to enhance the overall mood of the film which is extremely dark. Director Adam Wingard presents an extremely intimate story between two people and the widespread consequences of their relationship and if you can stay with it till the end the payoff is great even if it may not make you “feel” good about where it goes. A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE is not for everyone, but I think the title serves to make that point pretty obvious.

Movie Review: Hatchet II (2010)

A few years ago the name Victor Crowley meant absolutely nothing to me, even after I watched HATCHET for the first time. However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I my initial viewing wasn’t totally fair; so when I watched it again things finally clicked. I had gotten so used to taking every modern horror movie I watched so seriously that when something modern but in a throwback and cheesy fashion came along I was still deadset on taking it seriously and HATCHET is a film that begs you to shut your brain off and soak in the carnage. Adam Green is back with the second coming of Victor Crowley in HATCHET II and in all honesty, it’s just not quite as fun as the first outing.

HATCHET II begins right where the first left off (spoiler alert for the HATCHET virgins), with Victor Crowley looming over Marybeth (played by Danielle Harris this time), just as she’s able to narrowly escape. She returns to town to urge Reverend Zombie to stir up a hunting party to return to the swamp to find and kill Victor Crowley to avenge the deaths of her father, brother and the rest of her boat party that was massacred. Reverend Zombie reluctantly agrees, but with a plan to end the curse of Victor Crowley once and for all (End spoilers for HATCHET virgins).

The spoiler free premise is basically that a group of people enter a cursed swamp of a deformed child trapped in the night he was killed and seeks revenge on anyone that trespasses in his territory. That just so happens to be the premise of the first film as well, but if you’ve never seen the first then all the other juicy details about who the group is and why they are going spoil the first and their motives for returning in HATCHET II will mean nothing to you. In many ways in the plot to HATCHET movies mean very little; the same goes for acting, so my advice is to just sit back and watch the fake blood spray the trees.

Speaking of the acting, in the first HATCHET I was left dumbfounded after the first viewing that it could be so unbelievably bad. Each subsequent viewing it bothered me less and my puzzled frown turned into a gleeful smile as I was happy to just bask in the glory of the bloodshed. The acting in HATCHET II is equally as bad if not worse than in the first, the only difference being that I actually kind of liked the characters in the first and I only liked a select few of the characters in the sequel. The casting of Danielle Harris really puzzles me as she not an improvement over Tamara Feldman, who played Marybeth in the first film. Tony Todd is a lot more prominent in the sequel which is a double edged sword; because for fans it’s nice to see him but I wish it could be under better circumstances. My favorite character was played by AJ Bowen even though he barely in the film, but his part also brought me the biggest laugh.

It’s pointless to judge a film like HATCHET II on the merits of acting, because the point of the film isn’t to be an Oscar contender. Adam Green is capable of making serious, tense and well acted thrillers like FROZEN and SPIRAL and his HATCHET movies are full of over-the-top cheesy acting and violence. The first film also had a lot of great comedy to go along with it and the comedy is still intact here.

What I liked about the first film was the opposing nature of Victor Crowley. Even with all the cheesy jokes and bad acting Crowley was a pretty intimidating presence and he still is here in the sequel. I couldn’t help but feel like there was something missing this time around that made the overall experience just slightly less enjoyable this time around. After the first ten minutes or so the film does start to drag due to Danielle Harris’ overacting and lack of action.

The violence is what every fan of HATCHET is waiting for when they hit play and have no fear there is plenty to be had once the characters get back into the swamp. There is an abundance of blood, intestines and severed limbs flying around on screen with the damage being inflicted by a variety of weapons that include the biggest chainsaw you have ever seen. Disappointingly enough there’s even one kill that happens off screen, which is a small price to pay with the rest of the carnage happening around you.

HATCHET II was made for the fans of the first HATCHET, with more blood, more guts and more cheese. The film will be too over-the-top and goofy for most to handle and for others that’s precisely what the doctor ordered. I can’t shake the feeling that this sequel is a step backward from the first; it took multiple viewings for the first to jive with me and that might be exactly what Adam Green’s Victor Crowley sequel needs as well. If you’re a fan of throwback horror movies with comedic sensibilities then HATCHET II will fill that gap nicely.