Monday, May 5, 2014

A Tale of Two Flicks

So two horror flicks are in current circulation, so I'm comparing the two...

The Quiet Ones is the latest from Hammer films, of course in co-production with about a dozen other companies (which seems to be the rule these days). As I said earlier, it's about an  experiment with a psychologist and his students, who are working on a young lady who seems to be profoundly mentally ill and also beset with poltergeist phenomena. He has the idea that he can get her to personify the dark urges and powers inside her, and thus purge herself of them. He and his crew are forced to take her to a remote, abandoned mansion to perform the experiment...but the weird phenomena just get worse, and at about the 2/3 mark we learn it's not just psychic/paranormal stuff going on, but full-fledged supernatural hijinx.

A lot of the story is from the POV of a videographer who's recording the experiment, and who's attracted to the subject of the experiment, so there's a quite a parallel to the style of "found footage," and it's a mix of omniscient storytelling with camera POV.

Weaknesses? The twist in the story is rather abrupt and not really built up to; it comes pretty much out of nowhere. But on the other hand, it's got some good performances, fun 70s atmosphere, and fer pity's sake, it's HAMMER. It's also purportedly based on the infamous "Philip Experiment," in which some researchers supposedly conjured up a ghost out of sheer psychic energy, although the connection between the "true story" and the movie seems tenuous at best.

Just yesterday I saw Oculus, which was co-produced by the WWE, so I wondered if I would be treated to the sight of pro wrestlers bodyslamming supernatural demons. Not so.

Oculus tells the story of siblings Kaylie and Tim. Eleven years ago, their father bought an antique mirror and hung it in his home office. Soon he began brooding, and possibly was having an affair. Mom became withdrawn, had a psychotic break, and not long after Dad went on a rampage and nearly killed the kids. In the present day, Tim is released from a mental hospital (we learn he shot his dad) and Kaylie, now engaged to a wealthy antiques dealer, has got her hands on the mirror. She's convinced the mirror caused her parents' insanity and the murder spree, and has unearthed records linking it to a series of deaths going back over a century. She's bought the house it all took place in, and hangs the mirror there, under a timed booby-trap, and with cameras and computers galore. She wants proof of the mirror's power before she destroys it, and wants Tim's help.

It's quite trippy, with lots of bouncing between past and present, and at one point it seems the people from the past can see their future selves. The performances are solid, and it's got dread to spare. And there's a great part where Tim and Kaylie argue; Tim's treatment at the institution has left him convinced it was a mundane case of a bad marriage boiling over, and he presents some very good cases for Kaylie's stories being only a coping mechanism. But there's also the annoying factor that we never find out WHY the mirror does these things, and who is the mirror-eyed woman who lives in it, and why do ghosts of the previous victims show up with mirror eyes?

Which leads to something that matters to me. The Quiet Ones hasn't been getting the reviews or business, but at least it's a self-contained story. Oculus leaves so many plot threads hanging that it practically has a fringe, and seems cynically engineered to generate sequels. And yet it's getting good reviews and doing decent business. At the risk of being a bit spoilery, both have rather grim endings, and both seem to emphasize man's powerlessness against the supernatural (at odds with earlier Hammer, which would feature goodhearted humanity triumphing over the powers of darkness). But I'm the kind of guy who likes sequels to develop organically, and tend to look askance at movies that are made to generate sequels.

So I have to come down on the side of The Quiet Ones, at least as far as my personal tastes go. But feel free to see 'em both yourself and make up your own minds. I may just have a perverse fondness for crap.

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