COLOSSAL (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 49 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language

Directed by: Nacho Vigalondo

Written by: Nacho Vigalondo

Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Austin Stowell, Tim Blake Nelson & Dan Stevens

I’ve been holding off on reviewing COLOSSAL for a while now. The main reason for that is because this film is so strange that it’s hard to accurately sum up what makes it so enjoyable and refreshing for me. I know there are people who completely hate this film and I understand why they might feel that way. However, I dug the hell out of COLOSSAL for being the best bizarre little dramedy combined with a kaiju film that I’ve ever seen. This movie has monsters, laughs, and feels. What more could you possibly ask for from one-of-a-kind Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo (who’s also known for TIMECRIMES, so-so thriller OPEN WINDOWS, and the only good segment in V/H/S: VIRAL).

Gloria (Anne Hathaway) has sunk to an all-time low in her life. She’s struggling with alcoholism, her lack of a job, a recent break-up with her frustrated boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens), and, to cap it all off, she’s moved back to her depressing hometown. Things aren’t all bad though, because she’s reconnected with her long-lost childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) and he owns a bar. There’s also been a recent appearance of a giant monster terrorizing South Korea, but that couldn’t have anything to do with Gloria’s return to her hometown, right? Well, actually, Gloria is somehow connected to this monster and the resulting antics spiral out of control as she discovers that millions of lives rest in her hands.

First and foremost, COLOSSAL works as a comedy-drama about a gal who’s trying to maintain control of her life and battle her personal demons. That might not be the sentence you expect to hear when describing a giant monster movie, but it’s definitely the descriptor that fits COLOSSAL. This film really functions on Gloria, her tepid relationships with men, and her struggle to overcome her problems. Meanwhile, there’s a monster terrorizing South Korea, but this evolves into something funnier and stranger as it moves along.

This film wouldn’t be funny, compelling or oddly heartwarming if it weren’t for Anne Hathaway’s performance in the leading role of Gloria. Hathaway plays a walking mess of a person who’s just trying to keep her shit together, while not entirely succeeding at that goal. As much as I could see her big character flaws, I cared about Gloria and wanted her to overcome her issues. Some actors and actresses don’t really know how to properly play drunk and instead come off as obnoxiously pretending that they’re wasted, but I believed Hathaway’s performance. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if she was downing shots between her takes and I mean that in the best way possible.

On the supporting side of things, Jason Sudeikis makes a big impression here. Though he’s primarily known for comedies and COLOSSAL is technically a sci-fi comedy, Sudeikis gets room to flex his dramatic chops and Oscar is the most serious character that I’ve ever seen him play. I hesitate to say more, but Sudeikis becomes a force to be reckoned with in this film and I was surprised to see this performance coming from him. Dan Stevens occasionally pops up as Gloria’s concerned ex-boyfriend, who’s not exactly a jerk and yet has jerk-like qualities. I wish that Stevens role had been bigger, because the wrap-up to a certain plot thread would have felt more significant if he had more screen time. Also, Tim Blake Nelson is a welcomed presence as one of Oscar’s best friends and Austin Stowell is fast forgotten is a potential love interest.

Though it was made on a relatively small budget for a giant monster flick (15 million), COLOSSAL packs in great special effects. The creature design is unique and the news footage of it terrorizing Seoul is fun to watch. Director Nacho Vigalondo knows when to show the audience the chaos and when to leave it to our imagination. The less-is-more approach to certain scenes probably came from budget constraints, but these bits are effective in letting the viewer’s mind fill in the blanks. Sometimes, the mere suggestion of something combined with a few lines of dialogue can have more of an effect than showing tons of action.

If I have any complains about COLOSSAL, they stem from a couple of plot holes and the screenplay’s occasionally unfocused nature. It felt like the film was going to do more with Dan Stevens, Tim Blake Nelson, and Austin Stowell, and then completely forgot about them at points. Also, there’s an attempt to explain what’s going on and this explanation raises more questions than answers. Even with those problems in mind, COLOSSAL is a very fun, entertaining, and original flick. The comedy-drama elements are the main thrust of this story, with the monster stuff serving as a compelling twist on material that you’ve likely seen executed in many other comedy-dramas. This results in a cinematic oddity that’s thoroughly enjoyable and unique. If this sounds up your alley, then I highly recommend checking out COLOSSAL.

Grade: B+

OPEN WINDOWS (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

OpenWindow poster

Directed by: Nacho Vigalondo

Written by: Nacho Vigalondo

Starring: Elijah Wood, Sasha Grey & Neil Maskell

OPEN WINDOWS is the second of three thrillers told through computer screens being released in the space of less than a year (THE DEN came this Spring and CYBERNATURAL hits early next year). This is not a horror film despite it taking a sort of found footage angle. Instead, this project was written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo. For those who have seen the man’s previous work, you know that he’s a strange guy with a stranger imagination. For those who haven’t seen the man’s previous work, I’m now informing you that he’s a strange guy with a stranger imagination. His creative segment in V/H/S: VIRAL was easily the best story featured in that mixed bag anthology. In OPEN WINDOWS, Nacho is given free rein to do whatever he wants with a semi-reasonable budget (judging from impressive production values) and it turns out to be a bit of a guilty pleasure. There are definitely significant issues with it, but I enjoyed OPEN WINDOWS to the extent that one can enjoy a flawed film that happens to be dumb as a rock.

OpenWindow 1

Nick Chambers is the winner of an online contest to get a dinner date with rising star Jill Goddard. However, plans go awry when Jill skips out on their date. Lucky for Nick, he’s just become friends with a mysterious man named Chord. This technologically gifted stranger has the know-how to hack into Jill’s phone and spy on her. He enlists Nick into getting a bit of humiliating revenge on Jill, but it quickly becomes apparent that Chord has bigger (deadlier) plans for both Nick and Jill. Nick is thrust into an action-hero scenario as he becomes a man on a mission to save the day…and Jill.

OpenWindow 2

OPEN WINDOWS has a really creative set-up. The perspective of watching a story like this play out from one man’s laptop and his webcam might seem like a bit of an annoyance from the on-set, but it’s a very fun gimmick. We’re given plenty of room for solid suspense, especially when Nick is forced to confront someone in the opening third that we see approaching through various hotel hallway cameras. This is a semi-chaotic style that actually works in the film’s favor. The pacing is good and there’s an air of excitement to everything, even when plot details become contrived and stupid in the final third. Elijah Wood was a good choice of unlikely hero, coming off as both nervous and willing to rise to the occasion to save a damsel in distress. Neil Maskell is well-cast as the masked villain who is almost a Batman-like villain in the real world. The same cannot be said for Sasha Grey as her delivery feels wooden and her portrayal of Jill is outright ditzy (borderline unlikable) as opposed to someone I wanted to survive.

OpenWindow 3

Where OPEN WINDOWS falters is in a series of increasingly far-fetched coincidences that almost seem to turn the entire film into a Bond story told through found footage. Maskell also goes ludicrously over-the-top in his villain role by this conclusion. All he needed was a moustache to twirl and some train tracks to tie Sasha Grey to. The misguided addition of a group of comic relief hackers only serve to deliver exposition and guide Nick through plot points is just plain bad. OPEN WINDOWS becomes a very silly movie by the ending, even sillier than the material originally let on, but it’s also entertaining in a campy way.

OpenWindow 4

Nacho’s latest movie is dumb as a rock, but there’s a decent amount of fun to be had. There’s a popcorn-munching enjoyment factor to OPEN WINDOWS that should be entertaining to fans of weird thrillers and silly action movies (as odd as that may sound going into this movie). The plot gets way too silly near the end, but it’s a fun time as a whole.

Grade: C+

V/H/S: VIRAL (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 21 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Disturbing Strong Violence and Gore, Sexual Content, Language, and some Drug Use

VHS3 poster

Directed by: Marcel Sarmiento, Gregg Bishop, Nacho Vigalondo, Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead

Written by: T.J. Cimfel, David White, Marcel Sarmiento, Gregg Bishop, Nacho Vigalondo, Justin Benson & Todd Lincoln

Starring: Patrick Lawrie, Emmy Argo, Heather Hayes, Jessica Luza, John Curran, Justin Whelborn, Mary Ralston, Michael Aaron Milligan & Gustavo Salmeron

I saw V/H/S at its Salt Lake City premiere during 2012’s Sundance Film Festival. That experience was by far one of the most memorable screenings I’ve ever attended at the fest. I walked into the Tower theater with only the knowledge this was a found footage horror anthology and I left blown away. After a rewatch or two, the flaws in the first anthology became apparent but I still hold it up a solid found footage flick that was like no other before it. The following January, I attended 2013’s Sundance Salt Lake premiere of V/H/S/2 (formerly titled S-VHS) and loved it even more than the first. This sequel was a huge improvement and one of the best horror films to come out of last year. I’m beginning my review this way to show that I have a special love for the V/H/S series and that’s why V/H/S: VIRAL is such a disappointment. It’s the third (and hopefully the last) entry in the V/H/S franchise. Out of three tales of handheld horror (previously four) and a wraparound, there’s only one great segment here. The others are decent, okay, and lame.

VHS3 1

VICIOUS CIRCLES (Wraparound): A teenage boy and his girlfriend are chilling in his living room when a high-speed chase between swarms of cop cars and an ice cream truck pops up on his TV. Knowing full well that this chase will be passing by his front yard in a matter of minutes, the teenager does what any rational kid would do. He grabs his camera and starts filming. This is no ordinary chase though as the ice cream truck is broadcasting disturbing videos (hence the three segments included) to all technology near it. Anyone exposed to this broadcast begins to show distinct symptoms (bleeding nose or ears, lack of empathy, and plain recording anything they can). This wraparound segment tries to incorporate previous minor concepts shown in the V/H/S series into a grand scheme. It’s ambitious, but also confusing as hell. The ADD style of storytelling and editing makes it so much worse too. I enjoyed little snippets of things happening near the chase, but it all comes crashing down in a horrible conclusion that doesn’t feel anything close to what the V/H/S series should be. C-

VHS3 2

DANTE THE GREAT: This first actual story sports a really awesome concept of a magician using real magic to produce extreme illusions, but he also has a bad temper towards the women in his life. Justin Whelborn (of THE SIGNAL) shines as the title character, but rushed pacing brings an otherwise fantastic idea down to just being a fun little segment. The effects look great (a mix of practical and CGI) and Dante isn’t afraid to let the gore fly. The story can’t decide whether its being told in documentary fashion or in the typical handheld style, so it tries to combine both with mixed results. All flaws aside, there is a final jump scare in this story that actually is the only time I jumped or was scared in this entire anthology. Props for that. B-

Mario Martín

PARALLEL MONSTERS: This second segment is the best one in the entire film and feels like there should be an entire feature shaped around its concept. A scientist builds a portal that opens another dimension. This parallel universe seems to be exactly like our own, including a duplicate of said scientist. The two men decide to switch worlds for 15 minutes and things go very sour. This one was nuts! There is a massive amount of imagination and creativity used. A couple of iffy effects might not look as scary as they were intended to be, but there’s definitely a couple of moments that freaked me out. There’s a nice sense of unease hovering over this entire story that kept me on the edge of my seat. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely the most original and coolest story in VIRAL. A-

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BONESTORM: A group of annoying skateboarders travel to a deserted area of Mexico and run across a death cult. The effects are amazing and so are occasional moments. Shaky Go-Pro camera work and frenetic editing render this one to be incomprehensible at points though. You can imagine that might put a damper on the ghoulish fun. There’s also no real conclusion. This story just sort of ends without a concrete finale. There are good things about this short, but I just wish more work had been done on it so I could see the effects better and it would feel complete. C+

Mario Martín

Before I get into my final thoughts on V/H/S: VIRAL (as if they’re not apparent enough), there was also a fourth segment involving a shady organization tracking a serial killer that was entirely removed from the final cut of this film. Now, one of two scenarios could be taking place. Magnet Releasing might have liked the segment so much that they’re currently pouring more of a budget into the project so it might become a feature-length film (this is my hope) or it was just cut out and will be placed as an extra on the eventual home video release of V/H/S: VIRAL. If it’s the former, I’m excited to see it. If it’s the latter, what harm could it have done to insert this short into the final cut? The overall film seems a tad short as it is (I was shocked by the 81 minute running time as opposed to the 97 minutes previously listed everywhere). V/H/S: VIRAL is a mess, but it’s an interesting mess with one great segment and another decent one. If you’re dead set on viewing it, then there isn’t anything I can do to dissuade you. If you you’re not a diehard V/H/S fan, then wait until VIRAL eventually pops up on Netflix and just skip to the second segment. Until then, go watch ABCS OF DEATH 2 if you want a worthwhile horror anthology for Halloween.

Grade: C+

THE ABCS OF DEATH (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

ABCsDeath poster

Directed by, Written by, and Starring: Too many to list

When ABCS OF DEATH was announced, anticipation was through the roof in the horror community. This sounded like an epic undertaking. 26 different directors (most of which had already carved out a well deserved reputation in the genre) were given a letter of the alphabet and $5,000 to make whatever they wanted. There were two rules: it had to involve death in some way and the death had to be related to a word starting with that letter of the alphabet. Can you see why many (including myself) were absolutely stoked to see this opus of violence, gore, and death run for two hours? Unfortunately, that’s not quite how it turned out. Free reign on creativity made for a film that’s very hit-or-miss. Some shorts are funny, some are creepy, a couple are downright nightmarish, and a lot range from bad to awful. The positive is that if you don’t like one then another is coming in a matter of minutes. However, there are only a handful I’d say are really worth watching. So I’m going short-by-short and awarding a grade for each. The final grade is the average for the entire film…

ABC A

A is for APOCALYPSE: A woman tries to kill her husband in a variety of ways and he doesn’t quite go down as easily as expected. This short shows off really awesome practical effects, but that’s about all it had to offer. The ending feels convoluted. Not exactly the stellar opening that one would hope for in a massive anthology about 26 ways to die. C

B is for BIGFOOT: A young couple are trying to get a little girl to go to sleep so they can have sex without being interrupted. Their solution is to tell her a scary story, but things don’t exactly work out in their favor. This segment was just alright. Had a good idea behind it, but it doesn’t exactly come off as well-done. The incorporation of the word “Bigfoot” also feels forced. It’s slightly better than A, but doesn’t exactly offer a whole lot either. C+

C is for CYCLE: A guy is hosing off his sidewalk and spots a puddle of blood. Trying to figure out where it came from, the guy finds himself in a waking nightmare. Though the ending sort of gives up before diving into anything mind-blowing or cool, the main idea is kind of neat. B-

ABC D

D is for DOGFIGHT: Shot in slow motion and lacking dialogue, DOGFIGHT is an awesome five-minute horror tale that delivers! A boxer is forced to fight a vicious canine in an underground fight club. Director Marcel Sarmiento makes the most of his limited budget and every single shot looks beautiful. Between this short and DEADGIRL, it seems like Marcel Sarmiento is a master storyteller of complex horror that is more than meets eye on surface level. This is the best segment of the entire film! A+

E is for EXTERMINATE: A guy encounters a fake-looking CGI spider on his wall and bad things happen. It’s a quick, predictable take on a well-known urban legend. This one is nothing special, new or fun. C-

ABC F

F is for FART: Many will argue that this is the absolute worst short of the bunch. While I can’t debate that it’s one of the worst short films I’ve ever seen, the crappiest segment is yet to come. This tale concerns a teacher and schoolgirl who love flatulence and things enter truly WTF territory about midway through. F

ABC G

G is for GRAVITY: Seriously, what was that?!? There’s nothing I can really say about this one because this segment doesn’t give me much to work with. D-

ABC H

H is for HYDRO-ELECTRIC DIFFUSION: Definitely one of the more creative letters of the bunch. Thomas Malling has an awesome imagination as seen in this live-action cartoon that incorporates stop motion, CGI, and absurd costumes. A WWII pilot dog is drinking at a bar only to be wooed by a dancing Fox who may have some dark ties to the enemy. This is as over-the-top as over-the-top can get, but it’s really frickin’ fun. B+

ABC I

I is for INGROWN: An underwhelming segment about a guy and a woman in a bathroom with a syringe. It’s pretentious, overly artsy, and tries to signify deeper meaning with an inner monologue. I just wasn’t digging the vibe this one was throwing my way. I wasn’t scared, creeped out or disturbed. This was just plain mediocre and annoying. D

J is for JIDAI-GEKI: Some of the Asian shorts in this anthology are terrible due to either not focusing on a horror vibe at all or just veering off completely in stupid WTF territory. This is actually one that I liked for the sheer absurdity of it. A samurai is executing one of his own, but keeps getting distracted by the silly faces his victim is making. It’s bound to be weird fun for some and awful for others. I found it to be fun. B

K is for KLUTZ: One of two animated segments, this one relies on childish potty humor. A woman takes a dump at a party and finds that her poo won’t flush. That’s the short and it’s just as terrible as it sounds. D-

ABC L

L is for LIBIDO: One of the best letters in the film and definitely the scariest (at least, for me). This demented little ditty comes from the sick mind of Timo Tjahjanto (of the best segment in V/H/S/2 and the upcoming KILLERS). A man wakes up half-naked and bound to a chair. Turns out he’s being subjected to a grotesque masturbation contest where losing means a horrible death. The kicker is that it becomes even more difficult and depraved with each passing round. This one goes into SERBIAN FILM territory at one point and is absolutely nightmarish. A graphic mini-masterpiece that’s sure to turn more than a few stomachs! A+

M is for MISCARRIAGE: Insulting in its pure laziness. Ti West is probably sitting somewhere with $4,999 dollars in his pocket, because it looks like this was shot on a cell phone and used noodles as a special effect. Godawful! F

N is for NUPTIALS: Short, sweet and to the point. This Thai segment focuses on a guy who buys a talking parrot for his girlfriend, but this backfires in a darkly hilarious way. You can probably guess how this one plays out from that one sentence description alone and you’re not far off. However, it’s still pretty entertaining. B

O is for ORGASM: Arthouse to its core, but haunting and beautiful. The gist of this segment isn’t fully given until the last few seconds. It’s an incredibly designed series of close-ups, quick shots and colors that winds up being one of the best segments of the film. A

P is for PRESSURE: A woman finds herself in a rough patch of life when her boyfriend doesn’t turn out to be the kind of person she thought he was. Told without any dialogue at all, this segment is headache inducing in the shaky camera work and quick editing. Simon Rumley crafted one of the best human horror stories in the last few years with RED, WHITE & BLUE, but this plot is also far from that level of quality. D+

Q is for QUACK: A super meta-segment about Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett trying to figure out how to make their short centered around the letter Q. It may not work for certain crowds, but I found Q to be very witty and an especially good use of the letter that everyone was probably hoping they wouldn’t get. B

ABC R

R is for REMOVED: The guy who made the most disturbing movie I’ve ever seen (A SERBIAN FILM), which is quite a feat I’ll have you know, disappoints in this utterly underwhelming piece of body horror. Surgeons are mutilating a guy and making film strips out of his flesh. I’m sure there was some deeper meaning aimed for here, but the entire segment is just plain middle-of-the-road at best. C-

S is for SPEED: From the guy who made DOGHOUSE, this short was just all around awful. Shaky camera work, a forced Grindhouse-ish feel to it and a bad twist that was a bit silly to say the least. A woman tries to outrun a hooded figure with a captive in the trunk of her car. It’s just plain bad. D-

ABC T

T is for TOILET: When his project was announced, there was a contest put into place for fans to submit their own short films for a chance to be featured in the final cut. The letter given to those entering the contest was T and these videos were all placed up on a website for viewers to vote on. It’s easy to see why Lee Hardcastle’s morbid claymation tale about a child’s fear of potty training was the winner. A lot of love, effort, and creativity was put into this darkly hilarious segment. I love it and it’s one of the absolute best letters! A+

ABC U

U is for UNEARTHED: A monster tale told from the point of the monster, this segment is downright awesome! It’s shot through the POV of a certain well-known beast of folklore and we never see a concrete view of this ghoul. Instead, Ben Whealey (KILL LIST) shows the viewer everything through the monster’s eyes. The effects used are impressive and there’s a heavy atmosphere hovering over the whole thing. The last perfect letter of the film! A+

V is for VAGITUS: In a technologically advanced future, a police officer is tasked with taking down unusual criminals. This segment almost seemed like a short film that was pitched to producers for a feature. The effects were so-so and the story itself is silly. This might have actually worked better as a feature rather than trying to compress all of these ideas into the span of five minutes. C-

W is for WTF!: It’s like a lame version of the letter Q. A group of filmmakers struggle over what the topic of their short for the letter W should be. Completely stupid and an utter failure. It literally seems like the filmmakers filmed themselves pitching ideas for W, added a few effects and called it a short. F

ABC X

X is for XXL: Goriest of the bunch, this segment is downright hard to watch at points for its sheer brutality. An overweight woman finds herself mocked wherever she goes, so she uses some home remedies to lose weight (namely a few sharp kitchen utensils). It’s purely torture porn, but succeeds in being beyond disturbing and very well-made! It almost feels like a really solid short story committed to film in a haunting way. A-

ABC Y

Y is for YOUNGBUCK: A boy goes on a hunting trip with a creepy old janitor. It doesn’t end well for either one of them. Stretching the name of good taste in this short for truly uncomfortable material at the center, it’s almost like Jason Eisener is playing a genuinely disturbing topic for laughs in a Grindhouse style (complete with synthesizer score). It’s not only offensively bad, but it’s also downright insensitive. D-

ABC Z

Z is for ZETSUMETSU: Without a doubt, ABCS OF DEATH goes out on the worst note imaginable. Incomprehensible and beyond stupid, I don’t think words can properly portray my hatred for this final segment. F

ABC Overall

As a whole, ABCS OF DEATH takes about 15 minutes to get going and then shows off it’s best short first (DOGFIGHT). From there on, it sporadically gains and loses momentum only to go out on two pretty awful final shorts. The only A-grade shorts I’d recommend checking out are: D, L, O, T, U, and X. Definitely avoid: F, G, K, M, S, W, Y and Z. The others range from solid to disappointing (as you can see in the paragraphs above). Overall, ABCS OF DEATH is a severe mixed bag. Just watch it on Netflix or Amazon Video and skip to the worthwhile shorts while avoiding the garbage.

Grade: C

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