Bioshock 2 (Xbox 360)

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NOTE: There is no review of the multiplayer portion of the game.

He’s nicer than the other Daddies…

To judge Irrational Games’ Bioshock as mere by-the-books shooter would be a horrible disservice to everyone involved in the making of the game. It was a refreshing, unique, deep and moral game, filled with mesmerising graphics and textures, a creepy and atmospheric soundtrack, and some memorable characters that could haunt your nightmares, as well as an adaptive storyline and gameplay. So, naturally, I had a feeling of unease when I had heard that, yes, there was a sequel being made, but – by someone else. Of course, Bioshock has stayed in the 2K family (Irrational Games was known as 2K Boston and 2K Australia at time of Bioshock’s release); but its sequel went to 2K Marin (who developed the PS3 version of the original game).

2K Marin have not failed Andrew Ryan.

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Saw II (2005)

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51+vk2l6qwL._SS500_When a sequel is announced, one of two things will happen: you will either have a feeling of dread at the prospect of the original film being shat on, or you’ll be excited to see it.

With Darren Lynn Bousman coming in to take over directorial duties from James Wan on Saw, Saw II shows a different perspective on the ideas presented in the first, in much more “glossy grit” than pure grit in the first film.

After he doesn’t hear from his son, Detective Mathews accompanies a SWAT team and other cops and detectives to detain The Jigsaw Killer, John Kramer. John is willing to co-operate with the cops, if they co-operate with him by playing his game. Detective Mathews’ son is trapped in a house with eight seemingly random people. The problem? In two hours, they’ll all die unless Detective Mathews plays John’s game.

The sequel is a good debut from Darren Lynn Bousman, who has gone onto direct Saw III and IV as well as Repo! The Genetic Opera and is currently working on a remake of the slasher film Mother’s Day. One thing that stands out visually from this sequel is the look, the plain look which was carried over into Saw III, and only shows up sporadically in Saw IV. The saturated green and yellow scenes looked very cool and were beautiful to look at in high-definition.

One thing that is quite good is that there is hardly a bad performance. Sure, no one in this film will win any Oscars, but none of them are horrible and all hit the notes they are supposed to hit. Of course, the thing that works exceptionally well is the actual introduction of John Kramer. Tobin Bell plays Kramer with such eerie control and has such power behind so many of his lines of dialogue that makes you have a double-take and make sure when you wake up in the middle of the night that John Kramer is not standing at the end of your bed staring at you…

The traps – I guess there are three stand-out traps, although I’m sure there are at least two, three more. Of course, first is the Peephole Gun Door trap which was well conceived and very cool, second is the Needle Pit trap which is exceptionally hard to get through on your first viewing (with that pretty much boiling down to Shawnee Smith’s fantastic performance as Amanda) and a Hand Cut Box trap which is handled so well by actor Emmanuelle Vaugier, which, like Smith’s Amanda, makes it quite hard to watch purely because of the pain she projects through the scene. There is also the Furnace Bed Trap which I don’t quite relish in, but maybe that’s just me. I don’t find it very imaginative or frightening and as such am not quite blown away by the scene.

It’s on par with the original film, and in no way outshines it in terms of its content. It’s certainly a much better film to look at and more interesting to look at, but its content is pretty much the same content with the first film.

Visually the Blu-Ray disc is one of the worst I’ve seen, and it isn’t a consistent “worse”, it’s the worst because of how infrequent the poor presentation shows up, but shows up enough to remind you it’s a poor presentation. There were a few times in the film where the image was blurry, and then five seconds later the image is clear and perfect – whether it’s something to do with the disc or the master copy of the film, I don’t know, but it’s not the best visual film I’ve seen. The audio is fine, and that’s pretty much all I can say, it does its job. It’s clear, crisp and easily understandable.

Lionsgate has provided a feature-filled (but not packed) Blu-Ray presentation. First is an audio commentary hosted by director Darren Lynn Bousman and production designer (and the eventual director of Saw V) David Hackl and series editor (and eventual director of Saw VI) Kevin Greutert which is pretty light in content and is like watching some reasonably likeable frat boys talk about a movie they’re quite into. It’s not outstanding nor horrible. A second audio commentary is provided with Leigh Whannel and James Wan, the original film’s writer and director was well as working on the first sequel as well. It, too, is lightweight, but moreso than the first, with Leigh frequently stooping down to audio commentary no-no by describing what is happening on screen. While I enjoyed listening to them, I’ll probably never watch this audio commentary again, it’s not worth it (neither commentary is, really, to be quite honest). There is a feature called The Scott Tibbs Documentary that I found mildly amusing and is done sort of like a Blair Witch style documentary but seemed to be more a waste of time than an actual documentary. It’s filming style is too clean and too sterile for a documentary and Zach Starr, who played Scott Tibbs, was exceptionally over the top and really unlikeable and the whole thing just made me wonder “Why am I watching this?” There is a cool featurette called The Story Behind The Story with Whannell and Wan explaining what inspired the original film and talking about a man who went into children’s rooms and tickled their feet and his calling card was a jigsaw piece, or something to that extent. They claim this is a story that made news here in Australia, but I’ve never heard of this guy, so whether or not they’re making it up is up to you, but it’s still creepy nonetheless. Greg Hoffman: In Memoriam is a tribute to Saw producer Greg Hoffman and it’s six minutes of glowing memories of the late producer and it’s clear everyone involved in the making of the films were very friendly and very enthusiastic towards Greg and how much of an impact he had on the series as well as people’s lives. There is also a trailer for other Lionsgate Blu-Ray releases.

All in all, this is a package that fans of Saw can appreciate, seeing as it’s the unrated director’s cut, but it isn’t the best in the series, but if you want to start with the series, and as much of a stupid idea this may sound, do start with Saw, II, then III as the simple look of the three and the vibe to the films makes them stand out from, and make them more enoyable than IV and V. I wouldn’t recommend it to die-hard Blu-Ray buffs as this is a lacklustre presentation and would only infuriate them. It’s fine when you’re sitting back ten feet watching the film but in my current arrangement I can see things that shouldn’t be seen (and shouldn’t be there in the first place). If you can get this for cheap, and are dying to add it to your collection, go for it, but this isn’t the best Blu-Ray you’ll ever get. Three skulls.

3

The Strangers (2008)

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802775Lock your doors. Pretend you’re safe. Newcomer Bryan Bertino delivers a very solid, although not flawless, debut film.

Kristen McKay and James Hoyt arrive at James’ family’s summer home after a wedding reception and a not-as-planned wedding proposal. They arrive, take a bath, have some ice cream. Everything’s a bit tense. They begin caressing each other passionately when: KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK. Someone’s at the door asking for Tamara. No, she’s not here.

Are you sure?

What proceeds after this stray visitor is a vicious mind game, using the summer home as Kristen and James’ prison.

There’s no doubt that this will have “traditional” horror fans angry with its silence, and hardly any gore whatsoever (there is a bit of blood at the end, only staining clothes and on skin, nothing too grotesque). It focuses on these two characters, Kristen McKay and James Hoyt, two people who love each other but have just hit a hump on their relationship road, with Kristen not feeling ready for marriage just yet.

These aren’t traditional, well, let’s just use it for argument’s sake: slashers. These “strangers” don’t go around killing teenagers. They’re playing games with this couple, and it’s a frightening prospect, even if you don’t jump at any “scare” moments.

Bertino has handled the story with grace, making sure his film is not influenced by goregasm movies that plague cinemas and TV screens these days. As much fun as those are, this is a much more psychological horror film, if you call it horror at all.

I mentioned earlier that all is not well in terms of a debut film (as far as debut films go). Though the film isn’t horrible as a whole, there were some parts of the film I felt seemed too stretched out, just to pursue a 90-minute running time.

The Strangers are creepy people, and their motives are never explained in detail or why exactly they do what they do. It’s a concept that works quite well, if not 100%, by connecting the audience with the two main characters that makes the experience more frightening than someone jumping out of the shadows and stabbing the character with a knife.

The Strangers aren’t ones for hiding (unless it serves what they want to do). They make themselves very aware and wander around the house in a very eerie fashion, looking left to right, taking in everything, even sitting down for a rest.

The film, actually, doesn’t, in any way, feel like a recent film, in the way its shot and the story is handled. It feels, very much, like a film from the 70s, albeit a more classy and more sophisticated 70s film. Whilst the characters do use mobile phones in the film, I standby my observation purely because the way the film looks and the way the entire film plays out, so that scores two thumbs up from me.

Visually speaking, the Blu-Ray disc is clear, although it’s the first one I’ve noticed that has quite a few events of digital artefacts within the film. It doesn’t ruin the image, it’s not a horrible picture, as I said, it’s very clear and crisp image, but there was one aspect of blur in the film and a few aspects of bleeding of colours (well, bleeding of black, blurring the distinguishing lines between, say, a face and the very dark wall behind that face). It’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the film looks quite nice on the old LCD, and I wouldn’t hesitate to use this as a demo disc. The sound is even, despite the fact the dialogue is quite quiet and there are loud scare moments, but it is in fact a very even soundtrack and makes scare moments work well.

There are two features (excluding BD-Live) offered on the disc: unnecessary deleted scenes, and a very by-the-books featurette that you might see on Showtime or some movie channel in-between movies. Very short, not very sweet in a mundane presentation.

The film is a fantastic debut and I look forward to seeing more work from Bryan Bertino. I recommend this disc to anyone who may want a little something more out of their horror movies. Three-and-a-half skulls.

3.5

Dead Silence (2007)

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deadsilenceposterWhen I saw the trailers for this film, from Leigh Whannell and James Wan, Aussie natives who also wrote and directed Saw (well, Wan directed this and Saw with Whanell writing with Wan), needless to say, I was excited to see it. Why not? Supporting Aussie talent behind the camera, horror, sounded like a dream come true.

It sort of was, and to quote Eric Forman, “a really mediocre dream” come true.

It was nice to see them work outside of Jigsaw’s territory, but it was also a half-hearted film as well. Almost like they would make money no matter what as long as “Saw” was somewhere on the advertising material. And it wasn’t because there was no gore (unlike its relatives the family Saw where gore splashes the screen every minute), I truly appreciated the creepy nature they were going for, but the problem simply lies with the script and how half-baked it was.

The film is about a man (another Aussie, Ryan Kwanten) goes back to his hometown after a doll named Billy (similarly named to the doll in the Saw films) is “following” him after his wife’s death. A detective (played by Donnie Wahlberg, who was also in Saw II) is following him, thinking he is the murderer of his wife.

Nothing really builds up to a horrifying climax or anything like that. All the lines never really intertwine well enough. Nothing is explained 100% (refer to the ending).

A very cool thing about this was whenever Mary Shaw (the villainess) is about to attack, the audio becomes silent. It was a cool use of the surround sound but wasn’t creepy enough to make up for the rest of the film.

One problem I had, and I was probably the only one, was Kwanten’s character just dived straight into the “mystery”. With things like this, it needs to constantly be there and torment and torture the character’s sanity before they dive into the mystery.

Donnie Wahlberg’s cop was completely unnecessary. I enjoy watching him more than his little brother Mark, but his character was just there and never amounted to anything by the end. It was almost like he was just there because he was a friend of Whannell’s and Wan’s. I can appreciate that, but make an actual fitting and more sense ending to his character’s role in the story.

The aspect that it was a ghost story plaguing childhoods in the film was very cool (when I have children, I’ll make sure to tell them, when they see a decomposing old woman, not to scream!) but the whole pay-off for the film was very uninspired, no matter how unpredictable it actually was.

I can appreciate what my favourite Aussie Horror guys tried to do with Dead Silence, but I can’t appreciate what they ultimately ended up doing. Two stars.

2

Drag Me To Hell (2009)

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dragposterSpoilers herein.

Christine Brown has everything. A great job, a great boyfriend, and she’s finally got her life on track. But after refusing an extension for an old lady’s mortgage she is cursed by the woman and the next three days are literally hell on earth for her as she attempts to stop the lamia, the demon tormenting her, from dragging her to hell.

I love what I’ve seen of Sam Raimi’s work as he always has a tongue-in-cheek attitude towards everything he does. The exception to that is the first Evil Dead which, I think, was badly written and completely uneventful, I don’t see what people like in that film personally, but this is a billion times better than The Evil Dead.

I am a self-proclaimed seasoned horror film veteran and this is certainly my cup of tea, as I love anything self-deprecating and tongue-in-cheek, and this has so much tongue in so much cheek, and so corny and so cheesy that it could surely rival any food you may eat.

I like Alison Lohman but she plays a character that isn’t necessarily a likeable character, which was one of the kinks of the script that could have been smoothed out a bit more, but maybe she wasn’t exactly supposed to be likeable?

Justin Long is good but is truly a bit-player in this and is decent as always. Lorna Raver is great as Mrs. Ganush, a horror villain surely to dominate the minds of horror film fans for years to come, likened to that of Freddy Krueger among other horror icons. I surely hope we get to see more Mrs. Ganush in some form or another in the future.

The thing I like about horror is that more often than not, they are always fun. I find slashers more accessible than “magic” horror movies, but “magic” horror movies are the better quality horror movies and this film falls into the latter.

The humour in this is truly splendidly wrong and crazy that it’s hard to ignore (look out for a certain goat at a seance…) that makes this film so much fun, but I can’t help but think that the film will lose some aspects in transference to home video such as amazing sound actually used to emphasise the torture of the lamia and the atmosphere in the cinema. The cinema I was in was almost packed with a laughing audience and a great energy that helped make the film more enjoyable.

One thing that stood out was the score by Christopher Young, Sam Raimi’s composer of Spider-Man 3 and The Gift. I remember liking the score to Spider-Man 3 and wanting to buy the soundtrack, yet they didn’t release it – I truly hope the same fate doesn’t befalls the soundtrack to Drag Me To Hell, as it’s a fantastic score full of stinging themes and creepy notes. It is available on Amazon MP3, but I prefer physical CDs, so I hope Lakeshore Records release the soundtrack soon.

One thing I truly love was the introduction using the old 80s Universal logo that really made this film a drive-in/grindhouse type of movie and really set the tone from the get-go. Three-and-a-half stars, I heartily look forward to the Blu-Ray release.

3.5