Tag Archives: AJ Bowen

You’re Next (2011)

You're Next

Populated by the indie-horror regulars (AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, Amy Seimetz,) “You’re Next” is a fun romp centered around the blood-soaked fight between a well-to-do, dysfunctional family and a trio of masked psychos. Not that the family puts up much of a fight, for all their hysterics and high-pitched screams- it’s Erin (Sharny Vinson,) fiancé of son Crispian (AJ Bowen) that’s a force to be reckoned with.

Mom (Barbara Crampton)’s already on medication, how much more damage could a family reunion do? Plenty, as it turns out, but to be fair it’s not just the quarreling siblings who are causing her to fret when armed killers clad in animal masks crash the party. Their presence is not initially explained- why did they choose this family, over all the angst-ridden upper-class dorks in the world? The feuds within the family itself hold the answer.

It’s weird how the mindless, hysterical behavior of threatened individuals can seem annoying on the big screen, but are actually pretty accurate in the long run. You swear you would tough out a situation like a good little marine; when frankly it could be you or me who’s dragging others down with our hysterics when the shit hits the fan. You never know how you will react when you’ve got a gun in your face (or in this family’s case, a crossbow.)

Still, this family acts more than the reasonable amount of stupid when shit gets real. Bolt out of the house and outrun them? Bitch, there are three of them! Sheep Mask has a crossbow! Still, Erin levels out the stupid by being one of the most bad-ass little minxes of modern horror. She doesn’t fall to pieces when people start being killed, instead, she applies infinite focus to getting herself and others out alive.

I didn’t think this movie was as slow as other movies of it’s kind. Plus, the talky parts aren’t wasted, they develop the characters and their personal neuroses before the bloodbath starts. There are a few good jump scares, though they didn’t affect me as much the second time I watched it. I guess the reason I’m not giving the movie more than 3.5 stars is I think this premise had a lot of potential and could have been done a little better with even more character development.

There’s not as much humor as you might think from reading the hype about this movie, but it does contain a couple of pitch-black laughs. The twists and turns and the investment in Erin’s safety keep the suspense going strong. I guarantee you won’t be as invested in the other characters,  though their weakness and terror in the face of complete chaos is certainly understandable. Those who like wit rather than mediocrity in their slasher films should certainly enjoy this entertaining bloodbath.

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The House of the Devil (2009)

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After watching and loving Ti West’s creepy cult flick “The Sacrament,” I decided to try this on for size. Bad idea. Let’s see, how does this movie exasperate and *piss the living crap* out of me? Let me count the ways. First (but not firstly) the premise- where have I seen this before? A pretty girl is hired to take on the babysitting job from Hell? Wait, I remember, dozens of horror movies and urban legends. Eek.. “Have you checked on the kids?” You know, that kind of thing.

This movie was also transparently derivative of “Halloween” in many ways, but I was willing to overlook that. ‘Homage’ and all that. You’ve got the good girl, the edgy friend (friend(s) in the case of Halloween.) Oh look, the waif fights back. Still, “Halloween” is the far superior film, with genuine scares and a strong and likable character in Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode.

But nothing could prepare for the craptastic number of infallacies in the plot. It’s the night of a solar eclipse, and pretty, perky  Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) leaves her campus to go to a house in the middle of nowhere, under shady circumstances, on a babysitting job. Never ONCE does she ask the man hiring her about the age of the child, any medical conditions, etc. over the phone. The man insists that the job is extremely important and never once does Sam question the intensity of his request.

Finally Samantha and her friend Megan (Greta Gerwig) drive off to this strange house. Megan thinks something’s up (huh, at least one of these girls has half a brain between them) so *SPOILER* of course Meg’s the first to go belly up. *END OF SPOILER* Enter effeminate old Mr. Ullman (Tom Noonan) and his overly touchy wife Mrs. Ullman (Mary Woronov, who is seriously manhandling Sam in her first scene.) When she gets there, they kindly inform her that it is not a child she will taking care of, but Mrs. Ullman’s mother.

Samantha understandably tells them that she is not trained to play nurse, Mr. Ullman advances on her menacingly and demands that it is ‘crucial.’ Well, as it turns out, our leading lady’s willing to do it… for a price. Fork it up, Ullman. Remind me why we’re supposed to be rooting for this girl?! Sam doesn’t ask to see the old crone, or even question if there IS an old crone. She simply takes the job no questions asked, because if she turns out raped, injured, or dead, at least she’s being paid well for it.

When the movie deteriorates into Satanic nonsense, I was already bored and fed up. There’s a weird demon thingie that looks like the love child of the faun from “Pan’s Labyrinth” and Lord Voldemort, a menacing pizza man, and a blood ritual. Eh. The beginning is extremely slow, but never in the establishment of the story do we get any innovation or character development. The climax is laughable. Even as someone who has a legitimate fear of demonic imagery, I was left unimpressed.

Needless to say (judging by my bitter, cynical rant, in other words) I was disappointed by this film. But charitable soul that I am, I may be willing to give Ti West another try. Anyone who was NOT turned off my misanthropic dissection of this film may discuss Ti West and his worthwhile endeavors (or lack thereof) with me. People who were can ignore me and watch it at their own risk. You can’t spare everyone, I guess.

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The Sacrament (2013)

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I was a little skeptical about the prospect of actually enjoying this movie, because my only contact with filmmaker Ti West were his shorts in the utterly rubbish anthology films “The ABCS of Death” and “V/H/S.” Still, the premise and the trailer looked promising, so I watched it on Netflix Instant (thank God for streaming.) After seeing it twice in the last month, I have to say I am very impressed with what the director managed to do here. The build-up is slow-going to say the least, but there were extended periods in the movie where I was glued to the seat, simultaneously fascinated and unnerved by this rarity- a found footage film that seemed altogether too real and rang true as a horror movie with smarts, not just as gimmicky trash.

Journalists Sam (AJ Bowen) and Jake (Joe Swanberg) communicate with a fashion photographer named Patrick (Kentucker Audley, what a name!), who confides in them that his sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz,) who has a history of drug abuse and irresponsible behavior, has ‘found herself’ in a remote religious sect. Obviously curious about his strange story, the duo join Patrick to fly over to visit Caroline in ‘Eden Parish,’ a community that lies isolated in the jungle. Vowing to film their experiences and share it with Sam and Jake’s readers, the three men have no idea how much trouble they’re about to get themselves into.

This viewer found the acting to be surprisingly good for this kind of movie. AJ Bowen gave a good performance as Sam, an easy going good-guy who finds himself plunged into the heart of darkness. Amy Seimetz is creditable as Patrick’s ditzy sister, under whose cheery exterior lies a undercurrent of mania and confusion. But the actor who takes the cake as the most convincing and award-worthy is Gene Jones, who had a small part in the critically acclaimed “No Country for Old Men.” Here he plays the utterly appalling but charismatic cult leader ‘Father,” who has seemingly won the utter respect and admiration of the people of ‘Eden Parish.” Jones’ scene where ‘Father’ is interviewed by AJ Bowen’s ‘Sam’ is brilliant on so many levels, and both actors knock it out of the ballpark with that one conversation.

“The Sacrament” is heavily inspired by the Jonestown Massacre, and is made particularly potent by the realization that events like this mark our history. I remember seeing a TV program on David Koresh and wondering how so many people could be brainwashed by a douchebag whose obviously cuckoo for cocoa puffs. One of the things that stays with me is the last moments of the children the police were frantically trying to get out of the compound. The kids were calm and compliant moments before burning to death in the place that was both their home and their prison. Did things have to go down that way?

Chilling in its psychological and sociological implications, “The Sacrament” is a real breath of fresh air as both a modern horror movie and a found-footage scare film. Driven by a frightening performance by Gene Jones as a persuasive cult leader, this film ratchets up the intensity that comes with viewing a situation like this to a nearly unbearable level. It’s not for the faint of heart, and those who seek cheerier entertainment look elsewhere, but horror fans that seek smarts in modern horror should love it.

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