Fred’s Top 5 Horror Films

With Halloween just around the corner, I thought that I’d take a look back on some of my favourite scary films. From the desolate arctic, to the abandoned streets of London, horror can be found everywhere, and within this list I’ve reflected back on what makes these films so thrilling.

5. 28 Days Later

First of all, it’s a Danny Boyle film, so what isn’t there to love? ’28 Days Later’ is arguably one of the greatest zombie films of all time, and with incredible performances from Cillian Murphy, Christopher Eccleston and Naomie Harris, to name a few, this story is perhaps the most thrilling descent into the apocalypse put to the big screen. The third act of this film is unbelievably intense, and only increased by the stylistic choice of pathetic fallacy, as the rain hammers down and the story begins to conclude. Personally, I love Boyle’s use of the soundtrack in this film, as songs such as Grandaddy’s ‘A.M 180’ accompanies the true ‘highs’ of the film, contrasted by an edited version of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s ‘East Hastings’ – one of the bleakest songs I know – embodying the hopelessness of our protagonists. ‘28 Days Later,’ is a contemporary classic of the horror genre, and is a must-see around Halloween time.

4. The Shining

I don’t think that any horror list would be complete without this film. Written by the twisted mind of Stephen King and put to screen by the complex imagination of Stanley Kubrick, ‘The Shining,’ is a true landmark in the horror genre. As with many of Kubrick’s works, fans have poured over the minute details of this film to read further into the story’s subtext, and from an allegory of the American Civil War to a modern twist on the Labyrinth of Greek mythology, there is so much conversation surrounding this film that any horror-buff, or film fan in general cannot miss it. Of course, Jack Nicholson receives his deserved praise for his performance in this film, but I think that perhaps the best acting comes from Shelley Duvall. Never have I seen terror portrayed in such a real and hysterical way as Duvall does in this film. Overall, there are so many elements of storytelling that come together brilliantly in ‘The Shining,’ that it should be seen not only by fans of the horror genre, but anyone at all interested in film.

3. The Thing (1982)

Honoured for his contributions to horror at 2019’s Cannes Film Festival, there’s a reason why John Carpenter is hailed as the ‘master of horror.’ Perhaps his most famous work, ‘The Thing’ features some of the most suspenseful scenes put to cinema. The story of a shape-shifting alien that assumes the appearance of any creatures around it, we watch as a team of researchers in Antarctica are plagued by this being. What makes this film truly special (and terrifying) is the brilliant visual effects used, that still hold up to this day. The entirely isolated setting adds to the hopelessness of the film, and it is through this fear that the audience is able to experience the same terror that is felt by the stories protagonists, as they remain entirely clueless as to who – or what – the creature has embodied.

2. Climax

Perhaps the most human film on this list, Gasper Noe’s 2018 release tells the story of a group of dancers in an isolated hall in France, who drink from a punch that has been spiked with LSD. From there, it is the slow descent into madness over the course of the night which portrays such a real horror. Noe uses long, unbroken takes that float from one characters nightmare to the next, all whilst the lighting flares and the music blasts from the speakers. Known for his cruel violence, the director makes no exception for ‘Climax,’ and leaves the viewer feeling sickened by what they have seen, made worse only by the knowledge that the story is based on true events

1. Hereditary

There are so many elements of Ari Aster’s filmmaking style that I love, all of which are showcased brilliantly in his feature debut, ‘Hereditary.’ I believe that the best way to experience this film is to go in knowing as little as possible about the story, and so I will only provide the description from iMDB; ‘a grieving family is haunted by tragic and disturbing occurrences.’

When looking into what makes this film special, I believe that Aster’s ability to draw out truly haunting performances from his cast is perhaps top of this list. Toni Collette gives an incredibly powerful performance, which can only really by appreciated by watching the film for yourself and becoming enthralled by her character. As well as this, the utilisation of cinematography for suspense and terror is another element that allows ‘Hereditary’ to sit at the top of this list. The art of framing and pacing in this film immerses the viewer brilliantly, whilst also highlighting the smaller, more minute details of the setting that ultimately accumulate into some of the most essential elements of the story. ‘Hereditary’ is not only my favourite horror film, but also the most terrifying that I have seen. It’s the first film that I would recommend to any fan of the genre, and the first that I would want to discuss with anyone who has a passion for horror.

Shoplifters – Review

Rated: 15 Cast: Lily Franky, Sakura Ando, Kirin Kiki, Jyo Kairi, Miyu Sasaki Written and Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda Length: 121 minutes

“Sometimes it’s better to choose your own family,” is the phrase uttered by Nobuyo Shibata, the father figure of the tight-knit family in “Shoplifters,” and it is perhaps the quote that truly summarises the message and direction of the film. Created by Hirokazu Koreeda, this 2018 release tells the story of a struggling family who take in a young girl named Yuri, after she is left out in the cold by her abusive parents.

“Shoplifters” presents a conflict in a way that encompasses the entire film. Though most explicit in the dialogue, the family’s uncertainty of whether they are morally right to take a young girl away from her parents and save her from harm is argued throughout not only the writing, but the cinematography and performances also. Thematically, the opening scenes of the film are dark and cold, as re-iterated by the characters themselves, as they wrap up to avoid the biting February months. It is here where we first encounter Yuri, the catalyst for later events in the story. This young girl is first seen on an isolated balcony, not fully visible to the father and son duo of Nobuyo and Shota. After they take her in and the story progresses, she begins to connect to this seemingly struggling but happy family. She is no longer Yuri, but sister and daughter to those around her. As the colour scheme of the film begins to lighten and more scenes are featured in daylight, the environment that the family find themselves in appears ever-comforting. The beauty found in such warmness can’t help but be experienced by the viewer also, and the family portrayed on-screen begins to feel more and more like one that you, yourself are a part of. We are shown that perhaps it is best if you choose your family.

I believe that the immersion of the film is where director Hirokazu Koreeda excels. The emphasis on the joy found in family and the connections that are made by Yuri, allow us to forget the values that support their situation. Not only is Yuri not one of Shibata’s own children, but the reason the family make it month-to-month is because of Nobuyo and Shota’s successful shoplifting. The opening scene of the film is a clear portrayal of how lucratively this father and son are able to steal from a large supermarket. In this scene however, Koreeda makes one of his most interesting stylistic choices. It becomes clear that when they shoplift, the events the audience observe are from the perspective of the young boy, Shota. The playful way that his father signals to him, the camera that rests just behind his shoulders and the delicate way that he drops his stolen goods into his rucksack all add to the idea that stealing is second nature to him. Further reasons for doubt are presented to the viewer when later, Shota tells Yuri that “school is only for children who can’t learn at home.” Furthermore, it appears to be without question that Yuri begins accompanying the father and son when they go shoplifting, and it is celebrated by the family when they are successful. Despite appearing as a loving home, we can’t help but wonder whether choosing your own family could be worse than believing in the ones we have.

I believe that an aspect which truly makes this film believable is the performances, and how these characters interact with one another. Many of the scenes take place in the family’s home, and despite being a small house for the six of them, the family shows their compassion between one another in the way that they seamlessly interact, despite their often being multiple conversations taking place, further emphasising the care that each character has for one another. As well as this, the performances by Shota (Jyo Kairi) and Yuri (Miyu Sasaki) are entirely immersive. Their characters articulate themselves in a way that seems far too old for their age, as if weighed down by the secrets that the family hides from those around them.

“Shoplifters” is a brilliant study into the morality of family and love, as well as the desperation that accompanies poverty. Hirokazu Koreeda clearly understood the message he wished to convey when creating this film, and the overall story can truly only be told by the film itself.

Robin Hood – Review

Rated: 12A
Cast: Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn, Eve Hewson, Jamie Dornan
Directed by Otto Bathurst
Written by: Ben Chandler and David James Kelly
Length: 116mins

In 2018 we were treated to yet another remake of Robin Hood. I love the legend – it’s vague enough for each version to have it’s own individual storyline yet it presents archetypal characters that can withstand the ages and speak to all types of audiences. As is often the case with remakes, there was always the concern that it could be too similar to older versions and therefore boring, or seem unnecessary. However, I found this movie to be fresh and exciting, a different take on the classic story intertwined with humour and passion.

Otto Bathurst’s interpretation is a real mix of a traditional story intertwined with contemporary concepts. It’s quite clever really because the contemporary elements aren’t explicit, the costumes have modern twists – we have explosions and wit that we might not expect from a film set in medieval Britain but all the while we are drawn into this world that is so different to our own.

To get to witness Robin in the Holy Land is the part of this film that grabbed me, it shows his skill, his naivety and his humanity, all of which are developed throughout the story. Just a few short scenes but we really get to know his character and, of course, the start of a partnership between Robin and John. The chemistry between Taron Egerton and Jamie Foxx is undeniable, through both humorous and more serious moments there is a connection between them, all drawn from their experiences at the start of the movie.

A large part of the story is set in a mine, something that some audiences disliked as it’s not historically accurate with the implied time period in Nottingham. There are some situations where historical accuracy is essential – Robin Hood is not one of them. Bathurst’s use of the mine setting emphasised the integral theme of the rich/poor divide which is so key to the tale of Robin Hood. Visually it exhibits poverty in a dark and upsetting manner whilst creating a platform to demonstrate the unity of those brought together through kindness. For me, this had a great impact as usually the poor in Robin Hood stories still tend to live in cute little villages and their struggles were presented to the audience through dialogue more than visually.

This film wont be to everyone’s taste, I think the storyline and dialogue were really strong but without the leading cast members I’m not sure it would have been as alluring. The weakest link of this film was Eve Hewson’s portrayal of Marian – perhaps I’m a little harsh because Marian is one of my favourite characters, but I struggled to connect with her which was disappointing because she’s written as a strong leader, with a soft heart and a powerful voice but Hewson’s Marian was overshadowed by the strength of the men around her. Plus, her accent changes two or three times throughout the film which is distracting. The critics did not like this film, majority of the reviews out there are rather negative, but I think you need to take it at face value.

This film is a bit of fantasy fun, it’s an interesting story with twists and turns balanced out with good action and humour. If you like a good Robin Hood story it’s worth a watch. This film wasn’t made to be an awards winner, just an enjoyable, action-packed, family movie.

Joker – Review

Rated: 15
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz
Directed by Todd Phillips Written by Todd Phillips and Scott Silver

‘Joker’ makes it explicitly clear that this isn’t your typical superhero film, and in fact I believe that Todd Phillips made use of such a status when approaching many of the story’s key themes. In the last decade, superhero films have come to dominate Hollywood, but by many they are still perceived as work that serve as entertainment only, and lack any serious or noteworthy issues. Well, if there was ever such a film that should be taken seriously, it’s ‘Joker’.

The atmosphere of this film is simply intoxicating. Aesthetically, not a single scene strays from the compositional or artistic style that surrounds the Joker. His iconic vibrant colours are physically embodied throughout scenes within the costume design, location choices and lighting, to convey the descent into madness that Arthur Fleck experiences. But I believe that the pinnacle of ‘Joker’ is found within the music. Created in the capable hands of Hildur Guðnadóttir (Chernobyl, Arrival), the score that accompanies this movie is one of claustrophobic beauty. The emotion of every scene is reflected flawlessly, and as the Joker strays ever further from a healthy conscience, the score travels with him. From the barren ambience that observes the conversation between Arthur Fleck and a young Bruce Wayne, to the almost-overbearing dynamic formed in Penny’s hospital admittance, the score of ‘Joker’ tells a story of a truly broken mind.

Consistently throughout the film, there are relevant issues to today found, but the ones that appear most prevalent are the status of the wealthy and approaches to mental illness. Phillips makes a point of tackling these issues, and uses specific archetypal figures when approaching the divide of wealth. Arthur Fleck – whether purposefully or not – becomes the catalyst for riots which seek to bring down those in power, and at the face of this wealth, Thomas Wayne. We begin to see Batman’s own parents as the villains of the story, and the Joker – perhaps the most famous villain in fiction – as the protagonist. Capturing a universal understanding that viewers will have of the Wayne family’s morality, the film uses this intertextuality to create empathy between the spectator and Fleck. Entirely relevant to our lives, it is clear that those with money are those who control our world. I believe that in ‘Joker,’ Phillips is attempting to show the true relationships between the rich and the poor, and nothing makes this clearer than the interaction between Fleck and the glamorous TV show host, Murray Franklin (De Niro). In much the same way as Wayne, Franklin has power over their society through his status as a celebrity. But when Fleck finally meets the person he has looked up to for many years, his issues are not cared for, and his declining mental health is exploited. The divide between these two characters grows further apart, and the Joker himself says, “People are starting to notice,” but it is not for the reasons he wishes. The joke may be funny, but the audience are laughing at him, rather than with him.

It’s always difficult to talk about the flaws of a work which is so visually and audibly impressive. The performances are undeniably brilliant. Phoenix must win the Oscar, and De Niro presents his character as a perfect supporting role. Zazie Beetz’s portrayal as the ‘girl-next-door’ is subtle and heart-warming, despite the twisted neighbourhood she finds herself in. However, there are some elements of the story that I feel let the other aspects of the film down. Though the themes of the story are well-presented, on occasion the actual dialogue felt lacking. The film’s final act is incredible, but before then the story would often jump around in a manner that made the events in respective scenes become forgettable, and almost irrelevant in comparison to later elements of the story. Perhaps the implementation of a longer, conversationally-driven scene would have really benefitted the pacing of the story. Many people have drawn comparisons between the works of Scorsese and ‘Joker,’ and maybe something similar to the iconic ‘Goodfellas’ long-take could have brought a true grounding to the film’s direction within the opening act. Furthermore, the final moments of the film provide an ambiguity that I felt lessened the impacts of the story’s closing message. The show appears to be wrapping up, and the final act comes to a conclusion, until an idea of ambiguity is introduced that doesn’t appear to add anything but further questions in an already-thematically packed film.

To conclude, go and see ‘Joker,’ immerse yourself in the film and take in the messages that it presents to you. For the rest of the year, this will be the film which fuels conversations all across the world. And as Halloween rolls around, don’t be surprised if you open the door to any red-suited, clown-painted, flower-bearing trick-or-treaters!

The Goldfinch – Review

Rated: 15
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Oakes Fegley, Aneurin Barnard, Nicole Kidman, Jeffery Wright, Finn Wolfhard
Directed by John Crowley
Written by Donna Tartt (Book) and Peter Straughan (Screenplay)

When I first saw the trailer for The Goldfinch, I was captivated – entirely intrigued, as the trailer, unlike most, didn’t give an awful lot of the plot away. But something about it grabbed me enough to buy the book. Having thoroughly enjoyed reading it, I was nervous when, as soon as the film released on the festival circuit, the bad reviews came flooding in. From critics, I might add, not a general audience.

The Goldfinch tells an unusual story. A story of relationship, crime, friendship and love that captures the viewers attention from the get go. It’s a long book with complex characters which immediately presents the issue of what to include and what to cut. So, unsurprisingly, it’s also a long film coming in at 149 minutes, but I wasn’t particularly aware of the length as I was watching, it’s a steadily paced movie but keeps ticking over nicely. I really enjoy a film that spans time, to see different actors play the same characters at different points in the characters life – something done brilliantly in this movie. The casting was spot on (work of casting director, Ellen Chenoweth), with all actors playing their part.

It is an artistic expression of the story. I enjoyed John Crowley’s music and editing choices, it felt ‘artsy’ without being too intense or alienating, whilst keeping you connected. The key to this connection throughout those artistic choices is Donna Tartt’s characters – these wonderfully layered, emotional personalities thrown together amongst various circumstances. Peter Straughan, who was responsible for the screenplay, managed to preserve the characters while keeping the story moving. Their experiences, reactions and relationships along with the real feeling of growing with them is what keeps the audience invested.

Translating the story from page to screen comes with plenty of challenges. The book starts in the present, flashes back to Theo’s childhood and then at a turn of a page propels forward 8 years then carries through to where we started. The film however, is a bit disjointed with its timeline, jumping back and forth over several years. This, without the background knowledge from the book, may be confusing. I can’t see how the regular time jumps assisted the story other than, perhaps, Crowley was concerned about the audience getting bored and wanting to grab their attention. Understandably the story needed to be shortened and, though generally I think they did a great job of this, it felt as though certain characters were seemingly sacrificed in doing so. There is one scene in the film that was disappointing – a moment between the characters of Welty and Theo. The entire scene felt over dramatic and unrealistic; choices that didn’t fit with the general essence of the film.

I also felt like the role of Lucius Reeve was scrappy. His scenes were important but felt rushed, like they were included as an afterthought. Personally, I felt like they could have cut them and found a different way of connecting the parts of the story that Reeve is integral to.

In considering the performances I couldn’t just pick one or two that stood out as exceptional. Firstly to mention Oakes Fegley, only 14, who had the responsibility of carrying a character of young Theo who goes through a complete whirlwind of emotion, seeing the total dislocation of his life through loss, adapting to new situations and moving forward with an endearing sense of purpose and determination. It would have been easy to over act and allow the character’s experiences to translate to a constant high state of emotion. Fegley seems to stay in complete control and did a fantastic job of such a complex character. Ansel Elgort mirrored the cool, calm exterior as first presented by Fegley, but has the added challenge of dealing with a lot more responsibility, playing tug of war dealing with his choices from the past and carefully protecting his relationships. A scene I particularly enjoyed was between adult Theo and adult Boris (Aneurin Barnard) in a bar, their chemistry was fantastic and you could really see the open wounds, the joy of reuniting mixed with confusion, guilt and pain. It really was a pleasure to watch.

The Goldfinch is a beautifully put together movie. Delicate, gripping and heartwarming, I would highly recommend that you go and watch this film. An exciting story following the life of a young boy who you grow so attached to from early on. Not forgetting the book, it’s well worth a read and takes you deeper into the lives of the characters that you’re introduced to in the movie.