Spring (2014)

Directors: Aaron Moorhead, Justin Benson. Written by: Justin Benson.  Score: Jimmy LaValle (“The Album Leaf”). Starring: Lou Taylor Pucci, Nadia Hilker, Francesco Carnelutti. USA, 2014. Budget: unknown, but tiny. Box office: $49,970. IMDB: 6.7. RT: 88%. My rating: 4/4. Love horror deconstruction.

“Just because you haven’t seen something before, it doesn’t mean it’s supernatural.”
(Lilly De Silva from Australia)

“I also highly commend the snippets of philosophy, morality, mortality, religion and science which were sprinkled throughout the film and delivered with just the right amount of wit and depth…”
(Lilly De Silva from Australia)

“The only reason i did not turn this off was because i live in a place without wifi so had no option to download or stream anything else.”
(Nicholaus Hedman)

Okay folks, here a film praised not only by me, but by Guillermo Del Toro himself as “…one of the best horror films of this decade”. If that means something to you, keep on reading, otherwise… otherwise I guess you ended up on a wrong blog! 😲

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This scene is not as simple as it seems.

Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorhead continue to trick the viewers with their second film and deconstruct the movie genres, now in a very romantic and sweet way. “Spring” is irresistible from the very beginning to the last frame. Just like the main characters of the movie, it enfolds you with charming and genuine story. And like “Resolution“, their previous movie, it’s more of a mystery, than horror.

It took me a while to have enough courage to approach this movie since I really adored “Resolution”, the debut picture of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. After reading the interviews and the premise, I was afraid that the directors would not be at a height of their first movie and pay too much attention to the horror genre itself. Oh oh oh. I couldn’t be more wrong.  “Spring” is an incredibly refreshing romantic monsterpiece.

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I could stare at this for hours too. Easy!

The story. After losing his mother and his job, Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci – “Thumbsucker“, 2013 “Evil Dead” ), a young American guy, decides to go wild and buys a random travel destination, participating in various parties and other craziness. He is impulsive, but… he simply feels lost. Evan accidentally meets Louise (Nadia Hilker – “Allegiant“), a young Italian girl living in a small Italian city near the Amalfi coast. Soon he founds out that not everything is what it seems and there is some dark obscure truth behind Louise.

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Something creepy must be hiding this charming smile… or is it just my imagination?

The production and shooting. The script, the location and how they intertwine is truly impressive. Justin Benson wrote the script while shooting ”Resolution”, when he was still working at the restaurants. In various interviews the directors mention the difficulties they had in finding the funds even after a successful indie debut – they went to Cannes Festival covering all the expenses by themselves (normally that doesn’t work that way), then scouting the right locations in Italy and meeting some producers. The project was initially thought to be shot in Italy and you can feel it – the city is an integral part of the story and deserves a special word.

”Spring” makes you feel like you are right in the middle of an upcoming spring blossom.

What I liked. It goes without saying how gorgeous is the location (it is actually Polignano a Mare in Apulia), but what is important here is how Benson and Moorhead actually develop the characters in this ambient. The light, the nature, various life forms, the feel, the architecture and the spirit of the place  blend organically with the story.  There is some kind of sense of doom here. Some scenes of the movie were not even programmed, but were a pure luck, like, for example, a couple of dead birds. Benson and Moorhead, it seems, are keeping a secret about shooting something that may sound like a cliche on paper but turns out to be genuine and original. Like ”Resolution”, Spring” flows so naturally that you never look at the watch.

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Bloody, but not disgusting.

Benson and Moorhead approach the actual filming in a very mature way for such young directors. I read about how they both hate establishing shots, considering them waste of time (these usually wide shots show the whole location from a distance preparing the audience). So they used the drones and trying to find some unusual feel and peculiar angles. This kind of approach embraces the whole movie, without becoming an end in itself though (and many directors fall in this trap once they’ve found an original visual style).

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Polignano al Mare, the film’s main location.

The acting. Can’t praise more brilliant performance of Lou Taylor Pucci and Nadia Hilker. Amazing chemistry. They found a perfect tone for the picture, giving you a sense of watching a seed that is breaking the ground and is slowly becoming a tree, deepening its roots. If Evan is a seed, searching impulsively and painfully for something (or somebody), then Louise, with all her transformations, would be the nature – water, sun – that comes and goes as she pleases. Their increasing connection reminds that loving means growing, and growing means taking more and more layers off yourself and the other person that can be painful. I would also like to give a special mention to Francesco Carnelutti, a veteran Italian actor, who played a old farmer. His character was sharp, kind and wise. Carnelutti passed away in 2015. He did his first role in 1969.

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The dialogues often makes you wanna stop and pinch yourself. When Evan arrives in the town, continuing his somewhat of a substance-based journey, he is quickly approached by a charming stranger, Louise… and you know what would happen in most romance movies, right? Here Evan asks whether she is a prostitute.  By the way, it’s the debut film for Nadia Hilker. My standing ovation. Lou Taylor Pucci mentioned somewhere that before being actually contacted by Benson and Moorhead, he was actually searching for a love horror movie (on what his representatives said that such stories don’t exist).

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You think that airplane can’t hit his head? Then you forgot what real sci-fi is.

The music. Jimmy LaValle, a one man band (he performs as “The Album Leaf” – post-rock, indie pop, ambient; check it out if you have never heard of it) created tender and heartwarming tones for the picture. After graduating from college, Benson worked on documenting an album of “The Album Leaf”, it seems that now his past connection bring great results.

The reception. Like ”Resolution”, ”Spring” was greatly received everywhere and received various awards on indie festivals . Guillermo del Toro wrote in his Twitter, ”Just in case I wasn’t clear: Spring is one of the best horror films of this decade. And the only Lovecraftian film that has blown me away.”

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That’s it folks. I guess after reading how I drool over the film, these numbers won’t surprise you…

Spectacularity: 4/4
Acting:  4/4
Directing: 4/4
Originality: 4/4
Final vote: 4/4

Worth watching? Movies like ”Spring” make my faith in independent cinema stronger than ever. Keep in mind – it’s more of a mystery/thriller and has nothing to do with modern jumpscare horror, being a heartfelt, layered and genuine Lovecraftian film, capable of saying lots of things. Surely one of the most refreshing and picturesque love horror stories in many years, ”Spring” actually makes you feel like you are right in the middle of an upcoming spring blossom.

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What they do in the shadows…

 

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Here’s a link to the movie on Amazon – digital version / BluRay+DVD. I watched it in streaming version so can’t tell exactly how the package looks like… If someone has it, please share.

 

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Here you can read my review of Moorhead’s & Benson’s previous movie (“Resolution”, 2012) which I absolutely loved too. Their next movie, “The Endless”, must be out very soon and seems to be a spiritual sequel to “Resolution”.

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Screamers

Director: Christian Duguay. Screenplay: Dan O’BannonMiguel Tejada-Flores. Starring: Peter Weller, Jennifer Rubin, Roy Dupuis, Andrew Lauer, Charles Powell. Canada, USA, 1995. IMDB: 6.4. Budget: $20 mln. Box office: $5.7 mln. My rating: 3.5/4. Post-apocalyptic old-school science fiction B-movie about androids, horror and nuclear wastelands.

– Well, you’re coming up in the world – you’ve learned how to kill
each other.
(Colonel Hendricksson about two androids fighting each other)

– Jefferson, you must be confusing me with someone who gives a shit.
(Colonel Hendricksson)

For a horror story set on a faraway planet, where almost nothing alive is left and killer robots keep on furrowing the ground in search of a new prey, “Screamers” is a very sentimental movie. Under a bloody and violent disguise one can easily feel that it’s also a story about alienation and loneliness. Then mix enough dark humour, abandoned wastelands on a faraway planet, robots with human-like disguise and extreme cynicism. Yes, it’s a sci-fi B-movie – exactly that type of B-movie that we sometimes need so much.

The story. 2078. Sirius 6b, once a prospering mining colony, is now some kind of an abandoned wasteland – a result of a long civil was between 2 fractions who couldn’t find agreement on how to proceed. One of them, Alliance, created AMS (Autonomous Mobile Swords) that are 20170223_193019so effective and hunting down their enemy fraction. These self-replicating machines are called screamers because of an incredibly high sound they produce during the attack. Few people are still left on this planet and try to find a way to escape from it. It seems that 2 fractions finally managed to reach some truce. But colonel Joseph Hendricksson (Peter Weller – “Robocop“, “Naked Lunch“, “Star Trek Into Darkness“) feels that more probably both sides have abandoned their armies, leaving them to slowly vanish here.

The visuals. The world here is full of rust and despair. It looks dead. Abandoned facilities. 20170223_193143Empty deserts covered with snow. Nothing moves here. Nothing happens. Almost everyone has left or died. Many got killed by each other, others by screamers. There are still some people who exist here… yes, “exist” would be the right word. Great, remarkable decorations (mostly Quebec industrial areas). Just seeing how lonesome people cross these hollow landscapes is impressive. Sentimental, but not cheesily melodramatic music and the dialogues – mostly highly cynical small talk – greatly underline their loneliness.

20170223_193547Pretty soon both sides realized that screamers learnt how to improve themselves, replicate and create various kind of disguises that look absolutely human, like a small boy with a teddy bear (type 3), the wounded soldier (type 4). We still don’t know though what type 2 looks like. It makes the atmosphere pretty tense as everybody suspect each other, finally that leads to shooting one of fellow soldiers. He repeatedly used same phrases over and over (it was thought that screamers’ vocabulary is very limited).

20170223_193348What I liked. The good thing is that “Screamers” never over-concentrates on something (that would made it a failure). It doesn’t try to develop complex concepts about human identity like “Blade Runner. It’s not a 100% horror but it has its tense moments that will make you nervous. It has enough plot twists and till the end you don’t know who is who, when even Hendricksson himself suspects he is a robot. It doesn’t rely too much on special effects – the CGI looks pretty dated here, but it looks like 20170223_193815an integral part of the movie. It has enough romantics and humour too. Simply put, “Screamers” does a little bit of everything without trying to be exceptional in it, and it does it so well, that it makes it versatile and remarkable – you just never get bored.

Peter Weller plays a cynical and experienced soldier who still 20170223_193123has some hope in getting out of this planet. Great and memorable role. As the story unveils, under the mask of a cynical soldier starts to appear a sentimental and lonely man. Speaking mostly with short rough one-liners, he nevertheless accepts to take the boy they found in the ruins (to find out later that it’s a disguised screamer), he begs Jessica to continue their trip because “you’re the only thing I have left”.

20170223_193331Other actors are really good as well. All of them have brisk and memorable characters. Some reviewers mentioned thst Andrew Lauer was a miscast (he plays a chatty sidekick), but I didn’t feel so. The music is surprisingly good (mostly orchestral, by Jerry Devilliers – I found out that he mostly just did some lesser known TV series and that’s all) and contributes really well to the overall atmosphere. I actually don’t like the overused orchestra soundtracks in the 80’s and early 90’s sci-fi, but here it’s perfect. Jennifer Rubin’s beauty (“A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors“, “The Crush“) was a lovely addition to the desperate world, and Roy Dupuis (“Shake Hands With the Devil“, “The Barbarian Invasions“) was just fine as a cynical soldier.

The production and reception. The movie, directed by the Canadian director Christian Duguay (“Human Trafficking“, “The Art of War“) is loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s “Second Variety”, where the action took place on Earth and was more about the post-Cold War era. Dan O’Bannon, the sci-fi veteran (he wrote “Alien“, co-wrote Carpenter’s “Dark Star” and did one of main roles, co-wrote “Total Recall“) initially wrote the screenplay that was later reworked. The production was painful and it was a box office failure (roughly $20 million budget vs. $ 5 million box office), criticized20170223_193722 by almost everybody upon its release. Nevertheless, “Screamers” gained a cult status with time, regularly being part of various 90-s sci-fi tops. I can understand that. The movie didn’t look groundbreaking or innovative when it came out, nor it had big fast-paced action scenes. But they are not needed here.

Worth watching? Absolutely, if you like good old 80-s sci-fi like “Outland“, “Inquest of Pilot Pirx” or “The Abyss“. I wouldn’t really consider it a horror movie, but the atmosphere may get very creepy. “Screamers” has all the ingredients in the right place and doesn’t take itself too seriously, leaving enough space for gore, darkness, robots, fun and just a good human story.

Spectacularity: 3.5/4
Acting:  3.5/4
Directing: 3/4
Originality: 2/4
Final vote: 3.5/4

3.5/4

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If you want to learn more about “Screamers“, Den of Geek did a brilliant lengthy article here. A sequel, “Screamers: The Hunting” was released in 2009 ( but it seems to be pretty bad, just recycling the first movie (with Lance Henriksen though).

 

400 Days

400Director: Matt Osterman. Starring: Brandon Routh, Tom Cavanagh, Caity Lotz, Ben Feldman, Dane Cook. USA, 2015. IMDb: 4.5. Budget: unknown, but very low. Box office: $58. My rating: 0.5/4. Comatose fight of Solaris vs 2001 vs Alien vs Moon.

 What is your current mood?
 Tired… and a little hung over.
 Tired and hung over aren’t moods, I need something like happy, sad, depressed, angry.
(a dialogue between main characters)

400 Days” is a brilliant showcase of how with very little you can achieve even less. I found it on some faraway dusty sci-fi forums thanks to a viewer who complained about ”10 Cloverfield Lane”, criticizing it as a dull and uninspiring movie with bad acting. Thank you, dear unknown viewer! I must confess I feel like a snob by saying this, but… should a basic cinema education be introduced in secondary education program? At least, as a short course?

Still, I am particularly proud I have seen a movie that grossed $58.00 (fifty eight dollars). Way better than ”Man Down” with Shia LaBeouf that took just £7.00 at UK box office during its premiere, isn’t it? I am also deeply convinced that even worst movies can tell you something new – for example, this year NASA will be actually testing 6 potential cosmonauts for 8 months in closed environment to examine psychological issues. On Hawaii.

20170427_062257400 days is the length of the preparatory mission for a space travel to the Moon. 4 people selected. They will live together in a claustrophobic underground environment, kind of a spaceship simulator, in order to see how psychologically prepared they are for a real mission. As their voluntary imprisonment is reaching the end, something starts to go wrong. It seems that it wasn’t exactly a preparatory mission.

Sounds cheesy? Well, that’s actually the least cheesy part of the film. NASA actually is developing a similar program right now on Hawaii, it’s called HI-SEAS. 6 people, 8 months, Mars-like simulated environment and geology exercises. You can read more here, it’s interesting.  Here is a photo of how it actually looks like:

habitat

20170427_062124The problem of the movie is not the idea. It’s actually pretty good. The problem, as it often happens with the low budget sci-fi, is the realization. I also have no idea why exactly 400 days are needed, not 399? Doesn’t sound like a cool name for the movie? Pardon my vocal gymnastics, but it may give you a general idea of the internal logic of the film. Or, to be more precise, its absence. What is the characters background? What kind of program is that? Why20170427_062109 these 4 people are selected? Why one of them is taken right out of jail? Where comes from the image from the poster? Why the slogan is ”time to kill”? We will never know that.

Oxford Dictionary has a pretty good definition of this movie. “Comatose – of or in a state of deep unconsciousness for a prolonged or indefinite period, especially as a result of severe injury or illness.”

20170427_062223The first 40 minutes are particularly hard to watch, since this is how much the movie actually takes to arrive to the main point (which was already clear to anyone who read the description or saw the trailer). Damn, in Peter Jackson’s ”King-Kong” it took more than one hour to show us the ape… but at least we saw it!

20170427_062151To make it even worse, these 40 minutes are full of broad hints that there is something wrong with the future mission (as if it wasn’t clear already), boring wandering around the ship and weird behavior for no apparent reason when the characters start to go mad (probably because it was written in the script?). The sets look cheap – but still would do fine for some secondary “Outer Limits” episode, if cut by half. “400 Days” feels infinitely long. Like 400 minutes (God bless you, Peter Jackson).

20170427_062243The acting is on the same level as everything else. But it’s not the fault of the actors because we have some good names here. I mean, these people can act. I don’t know what Brandon Routh (Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns“, Egdar Wright’s “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” which I adore) is doing here. Tom Cavanagh dilutes the ongoing sleepiness with some sinister lines, but that barely saves the movie. And Caity Lotz? She did a brilliant performance in “The Machine“, a cyberpunk movie I just loved.

Oh. Almost forgot.

The characters here have one bad habit. They talk.

I mean, they comment literally everything that is happening around, often several times – like we, viewers, have a 3-year-old-kid brain and are not able to get it. There is a remarkable episode, when the main characters have been 20170427_062137hanging around in one place for roughly 2 minutes of the onscreen time and one of them finally says, ”Hey guys, how long we have been wandering around here?”, and his mate replies ”I think an hour or two”. It’s curtains.

20170427_062209The ending could provide some catharsis to all this like it often happens in ending-based movies, but there is virtually no ending. Yes – when the movie ends, you have barely no idea of what actually happened. It’s simply not shown. There are some clues here and there though, so basically here we have same story as with lots of other dull sci-fi like “Primer” or “Uncanny“, when various geeks will watch the movie over and over 93455 times to solve the puzzle.

Worth watching? I think the Oxford Dictionary has a pretty good definition of this movie. “Comatose – of or in a state of deep unconsciousness for a prolonged or indefinite period, especially as a result of severe injury or illness.” The Oxford Dictionary is right – with a huge choice of great sci-fi of all kind like we have now, there is very little reason to watch ”400 Days”.

But if you don’t take the movie too seriously, it can be plenty of masochist fun to watch too. It will be a tough experience you’ll never forget.

Watch instead: anything else. Perfect “Ex Machina“, ”Moon” & ”10 Cloverfield Lane”, quite good “Exam” & ”Signal”, all of these are valid flicks for some mind-bending thrills, not mentioning old classics like ”Solaris”.

0.5/4

Resolution

Director: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead. Written by: Justin Benson. Starring: Peter Cilella, Vinny Curran, Bill Oberst Jr, Zahn McClarnon. USA, 2012. IMDB: 6.2. Budget: unknown, but very small. My rating: 4/4. Horror meditation wrapped into a puzzle.

– You know why Jimi Hendrix died? He didn’t have Mike Danube and a set of handcuffs to save his life.
(Mike Danube to Chris)

”Resolution”, surprisingly, is more a movie about horror genre than a horror itself. Just like if ”Cabin in the Woods” met David Lynch.

A directional debut by two young filmmakers, ”Resolution” tries to refresh the old genre and succeeds, being both a great story and a contemplation about the horror, cinema and itself as well. It is not pretentious though, but fun to watch, thrilling, tense and spectacular – even if you don’t care that much about its meditation about the genre. 

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The plot. Simple but effective and it keeps the movie pulsating. Mike Danube (Peter Cilella) visits his old school friend Chris (Vinny Curran) to help in overcoming the drug use. Chris is almost a junkie now, moving from one abandoned house to another. He is honest in admitting to be completely happy in his drug oblivion. This time, Chris found some cabin on the outskirts of an Indian reservation. Strange place. Nevertheless Mike is determined to kick the shit out of him, so he locks him up in the house with a chain and provides him some food and water. But pretty quick they discover that something really weird goes on around the house. And very soon weird turns into scary.

It’s full of weird people here. Hostile native Indians, UFO researchers, junkies, bums… Not much gore, but there is no need for it – most characters already look strange enough. ”Resolution”has it’s own great atmosphere and has lots of classic things you would expect from a horror movie, though it blends them in the story in a different way. So till the very end you have no clue of what is actually happening. A great example of an indie sci-fi film with horror spirit.

Of course, a low-budget movie like that would be nothing without great acting – and it is here. Both Cilella and Curran are amazing, and all the mysteries a part, it is still a wonderful story (well, if a story about a junkie rehab can be described with this word). Cilella is very convincing – a designer, who preferred to have stable job instead of reaching his early dreams, good guy, married, absolutely convinced in his right to force Chris to detox. Curran is awesome, as he swings between depression, suicide, peaceful contemplation of the world, fear, absence and acceptance. All other episodic characters were great as well. Especially the creepy French occult scientist played by Bill Oberst Jr.

Reception. “Resolution” received a bunch of awards on sci-fi festivals and was praised by critics (100% RT… even if just 9 reviews, but still), festivals and public. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any information about the box office or budget (I am pretty sure it was a very low budget). The next film by Moorhead and Benson (yes, they continued their cooperation!), ”Spring”, was released in 2015, and has a very unusual approach too. Their new film, ”Endless”, is coming out soon.

So, a great debut from Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. Very refreshing. It has all the elements in the right place and something more to offer. Imagine you are assembling a jigsaw puzzle. But then in the middle of it you realize there is actually a bigger puzzle, being assembled by somebody and you are just a small piece of it. Truly ingenious and witty movie. Entertaining, vibrant and fun to watch. It’s really rare to see all these qualities in one movie. Many compared it to the “Cabin in the Woods“. That one was awesome as hell too, but they are of different nature. Let’s say they offer different approach in dissecting the horror genre.

Spectacularity: 3.5/4
Acting:  4/4
Directing: 4/4
Originality: 4/4
Final vote: 4/4

Worth watching? Absolutely. This movie approaches mystery and horror in its own way. Apparently, it plays by the classic rules. But the more you watch, the more you get sucked in, because at a certain point you understand that this movie follows only its own rules.

You can stream it for a ridiculous price here on Amazon, plus they have a DVD/Blu-Ray too. I can’t get tired repeating again and again – support independent movies like that! Trust me, Marvel can prosper even without your ticket contribution, while smaller film creators need to have a daily job just to survive (a thing I’ve read in way too many interviews, sadly).

P. S. Here’s a curious comment of Justin Benson (one of the directors) that I found under one of the reviews over the web:

…nothing against anyone who makes naval-gazing dramas (‘Before Sunrise’ is one of my favorite movies of all time), but that’s not what Resolution is or the background we come from. We set out to make a genuinely scary movie via characters that you care about, while striving for originality above all else. We wouldn’t make any film we didn’t love in every way, and we are as passionate about genre film as every other classification of cinema. That being said, what genre we’re working in specifically is not something we talk about while developing our films. Being as scary, funny, heartbreaking and unique as the overall tone of the story allows, is infinitely more important to us than how the marketing department (or at least the hope that there is one) decides what to sell it as. Sincerest thanks for reading about our movie and we really hope you check it out!’

Another great interview in Italian here.