Hemlock Grove, Episodes 1, Season 1

Hemlock GroveI thought I’d try my hand at reviewing TV shows. I’m starting off with the first season of Hemlock Grove. I reviewed the first two episodes in a more traditional way, but the rest will be my more uncensored commentary because this show really peeved me off in points (it is SO weird). Some of my commentary/recaps are pretty funny. Anyway, here’s the first review! Mild spoilers follow, and big spoilers and more laughs will come with the upcoming episode recaps.

Episode 1, “Jellyfish in the Sky”

Hemlock Grove starts as a “Whodunnit?” after the murder of a young woman (Brooke Bluebell). It’s a bit different, though; it has loads of gore, werewolves (so it’s great for fans of those two things), gypsies, guys obsessed with blood, bad dialogue (A main character at one point says “This is a strange town, you can feel it in your balls,”) and bad British accents. It also has people staring intently while holding an ice cream cone. (Oh, and this first episode is directed by Eli Roth, so that’s pretty sweet.) It starts promisingly enough and gets into it within the first ten minutes. Soon enough, there’s even a rumoured suspect: Peter Rumancek (Landon Liboiron). He’s a gypsy who is new to town. His uncle Vince must have not been very popular with the townspeople. Peter isn’t a bad character, he just gets some awful dialogue in the first episode. 

The first person he meets in town is a young girl named Christina Wendall, a curious girl and one that seems to be a symbol of innocence. Her curiosity stems from being an aspiring novelist and it’s important for her to understand people’s motivations (as she reminds us repeatedly throughout the season). It seems that she reads a lot because she notices that Peter’s middle and index fingers are the same length, which is an indication of being a lycanthrope in mythology. I think her curiosity is funny. The chemistry between Liboiron and Freya Tingley (the actress portraying Tina) is strong, if off-kilter when in public. Perhaps that’s because he’s suspected in the murder case, and Tina just feels awkward being seen with him. (He’s only suspected by some, because there’s actually no physical evidence to make him a strong suspect yet.) Liboiron is an okay actor, and he’s only noticeably bad when he’s being overly polite. The only other thing about Peter’s arc in this episode is that the storytelling is so poor that we’re just supposed to know what a Upyr is when characters mention it. 

Also in the town of Hemlock Grove, Pennsylvania, is a rich family named the Godfrey’s, who run the Godfrey Institute (which seems like a major medical building), which has basically put the town on the map. The son is named Roman (portrayed by Bill Skarsgård) who doesn’t do too much in this episode, and one thing that isn’t so clear if it’s a part of the character or not is that sometimes Skar has a hint of a Swedish accent. Famke Janssen plays the matriarch, Olivia, with an intensely annoying fake British accent (to complement the fact that she is one of the most fake characters you’ll ever see) that I can’t decide if it’s more like the one she used in Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters or if it’s the one Will Smith and son used in After Earth. Her husband, JR, killed himself in a weird flashback scene to add some back-story. The husband thought he’d off himself before she destroyed his family any further. At the time his brother was also having an affair with his wife. Olivia’s daughter, and Roman’s brother, Shelley, is also revealed to be a deformed sort-of cyborg with a mechanic whose head literally lights up like a night light. It seems like she’s going to receive a Frankenstein arc. She has a decent chemistry with her brother even though she doesn’t do much at all.

Norman is JR’s brother, and he’s a clinical psychiatrist who has a bone to pick with this creepy and ingenuine doctor named Pryce who is a leading specialist at the Godfrey institute. He has robotic mannerisms and half the things he says doesn’t make much sense. This show feels contrived and one can tell that the narrative is trying to form a creepy atmosphere, but it’s hit and miss, because it’s usually either creepy or moody. It’s a type of show that you keep watching to find out what happens, no matter how weird it is, because it’s a decent set-up for the series and it ends on a strong enough cliff-hanger.

Score: 60/100

Aftershock (2013)

AftershockReleased: May 10, 2013. Directed by: Nicolás López. Starring: Eli Roth, Ariel Levy, Nicolás Martínez. Runtime: 89 min.

Aftershock is a Spanish-American film directed and co-written by Nicolás López, written with Guillermo Amoedo and Eli Roth. I’m curious to know which writers handled which aspect of the film. The movie is a disaster flick, a commentary on the ugliness of human nature, and it feels like an exploitation film at times. I’d imagine Roth handled that last aspect. Roth, also a star of the movie, gets a few laughs. Also featured are stars mostly known for foreign films. One, Nicolás Martínez, strikes me as a Chilean version of Zach Galifianakis. At least his last name is easier to say. Selena Gomez makes a short cameo as a random party girl. All the actors portray their characters well, at least well enough for a horror film.

The screenplay runs into problems early on that will bother some viewers; the problem is establishing character’s names. The character banter is actually funny (Martínez gives us the most laugh-out-loud moments), but for whatever reason not knowing the character’s names is a distraction to me. It’s sort-of like if I were to meet someone and I forgot their name mid-conversation, I wouldn’t be able to focus because I’d be so sidetracked trying to think of their name. Next time, the screenwriters should make it a habit of letting us know the characters’ names by their first or second scene, third at the latest. For those curious, not until 36 minutes in are all of the primary characters’ names established. Too often was I referring to characters as That Short-Haired Girl, Spanish Fat Alan, and Eli Roth. It turns out Roth’s character’s name is extremely generic, Gringo, a term used for English-speaking foreigners (mainly Americans) in Spanish-speaking countries.

Gringo is visiting his buddy Ariel (Ariel Levy) in Chile, taking in the sights. The two, and Ariel’s friend Pollo (Nicolás Martínez) go on the town to parties, where they meet a few pretty girls who are vacationing in Chile. It seems to me they’re all from Budapest or Hungary. One is named Monica (Andrea Osvárt) who is a controlling older half-sister of Kylie (Lorenza Izzo). Travelling with them is another pretty woman named Irina (Natasha Yarovenko). The characters are pretty okay, I like their chemistry and banter. On their second night of partying together, they’re in an underground night club when an earthquake strikes. When they reach the surface, it seems that the earthquake was only the beginning of their troubles. While trying to survive, they learn the horrors of human nature.

I like the flow of the plot. Technically speaking, it’s good – the cinematography is chaotic at times, but I think it’s used to highlight the chaos of the situation. The visual effects are cool and the sound editing is great. I think the score is well done, too. The cinematography captures some really nice Chilean landscapes. What I think is impressive about this film, is that even though the film’s not great at establishing character’s names, you care about a few of them and audience members feel some of the character’s pain. I think some parts are actually pretty sad. Other character developments aren’t the strongest; notably Roth’s Gringo, who never downplays the fact that he’s a Jew. Some of the things he says are funny at first, but it then it just becomes an irritating character trait. Enough about the characters, because there’s not much more to discuss here.

A layer of intensity is added when a group of convicts are able to escape from the local prison because of the earthquake. This keeps the story going and adds antagonists other than mother nature. The ugliness of human nature is analyzed by some character’s decisions, for example – when a random character doesn’t help a person, even though that said person helped her. That’s just a simple way to show how people can be crappy. The ways it shows how humans are ugly is only rarely so tame in Aftershock.

It seems to me, the reason why people might dislike this film is that there’s just a lot that it’s trying to juggle. It’s partly a disaster film, while expressing the ugliness of humans, as well showing each character’s will to survive. All with lots of gore. There are a lot of simplistic themes throughout, but I think they’re handled well. However, juggling all of these approaches to this kind-of filmmaking doesn’t allow it to boast full control and focus. This also takes the traditional horror route a bit too often. It seems that the viewer will have to decide whether this is a profound analysis of the ugliness of human nature or just another exploitation flick from Eli Roth’s extensive cannon. It feels like both to me, and both approaches are good.

Score63/100

TIFF13 Review: The Sacrament

sacrament_01Ti West sends his movie regulars into an isolated village called Eden Parish. Patrick’s (Kentucker Audley) sister has been missing for six months, but out of the blue, he receives a mysterious letter from her (Amy Seimetz). It tells him to take an airplane to somewhere, where there will be a helicopter to bring him to the undisclosed location. He decides to bring a few colleagues along, who work for a  journalism company called Vice. Vice practices immersion journalism, a style in which the journalist immerses themselves in a situation and with the people involved, and the final product usually focuses on the experience, not the writer themself. AJ Bowen portrays the main journalist, Sam, while Joe Swanberg portrays Joe, the camera man for much of the film.

Once there, they are plunged into a situation straight out of a horror film, and real-life; as they find themselves fighting for their lives after the leader of the commune, known as Father (Gene Jones), instigates a mass suicide.

sacrament_02Father wants to protect his people from threats of capitalism and materialism, and all the other things of America that threaten their way of life. Father has a way of getting into the heads of those who are in his presence, even Sam during an interview, in one of the film’s best but bewildering moments. The interview is quick and hard to absorb completely, and I think that’s the point. It feels like The Father really does have a way of getting into peoples’ thoughts. It is easier for him to get into the thoughts of his people. He asks them to give up their worldly possessions to fund his vision. He goes around as a church and picks up people for his cause, where he makes them work and sleep deprives them and easily brainwashes most.

This is Ti West’s modernized way he sees how the events of the infamous events at Jonestown unfolded. Father is the stand-in for the infamous Jim Jones, who led one of the largest mass suicides in history back in 1978. This is an interesting subject for a feature film. It’s slow but it feels like an expert’s interpretation of something that fascinates many, and it features a great finale. The sheer meaning of Jonestown is hard to portray, because one can’t fully understand, but West sure portrays the facts of it well. He has a great understanding of suicide cults.

sacrament_03 (1)This isn’t pitched as a found-footage film, but as a documentary. These events are both terrifying and told with great realism. It is also all the more terrifying that it is so realistic, and that it has actually happened – and not just something from someone’s mind. It’s a solid premise. There is enough shock value to keep many, well, shocked. It has the intelligence of a documentary film, and the sheer suspense of a great horror film. It is often hard to watch as well, but it’s a great food-for-thought flick, and it leaves an impact on people’s memory. The ending is predictable, but some won’t be able to predict the insane way in which the events do happen. As someone who is fascinated by the events that unfolded at Jonestown, and as a lover of horror films, I can say this is a great ride, and an interesting look at the depths of religious fanaticism.

Score85/100