It’s never a good sign when a movie’s release is pushed back by more than 2 years, but that’s what exactly happened with 7500, the flight horror directed by Japanese master Takashi Shimizu best known for Ju-On and its American cousin The Grudge. 7500 was supposed to be released in August 2012, but was bumped back to April 2013, then October 2013, and finally October this year.
The film has a pretty decent B-grade cast comprising the likes of Australia’s own Ryan Kwanten and Nicky Whelan, together with Amy Smart, Leslie Bibb, Scout Taylor-Compton and Jamie Chung. The premise is incredibly eerie, though I can’t say why without divulging spoilers. Let’s just say the reason is completely coincidental and much scarier than the movie itself.
Anyone, the film actually started off very well. A bunch of strangers get on trans-Atlantic flight 7500 from LA to Tokyo. Someone dies under suspicious circumstances, putting everyone on edge, and before long, more and more people start dying in typical Japanese-horror fashion. Nothing is really explained until the very end, and even then none of what happened before makes much sense.
It’s the type of film that would have made much more sense about 10 years ago when films like The Grudge and The Ring were first being introduced to Western audiences. Now, having been subjected to the same tactics for a decade, the whole thing just feels underwhelming and not particularly scary.
The Immigrant (2014)
Notwithstanding its unimaginative title, The Immigrant is a beautiful and moving drama about a religious young woman named Ewa (Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard) who flees to New York in the early 1920s to escape war-torn Poland following WWI. With her sister quarantined due to illness and her ex-pat relatives nowhere to be found, Ewa is “rescued” by Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), who makes her dance at a theater and pimps her out as a prostitute.
The Immigrant was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes last year and it’s not hard to see why. This is a heartbreaking film that probably could have stuck a “true story” label on the poster without anyone questioning its veracity. Combining stunning visuals, believable sets and powerhouse performances from the three leads — Cotillard, Phoenix and Jeremy Renner, who plays Bruno’s cousin Emil – The Immigrant is one of those rare period dramas that grabbed my attention right from the start.
A lot of it has to do with Cotillard’s performance. Apart from looking plain but beautiful enough to have men fall for her, she resonates a graceful resiliency that makes Ewa an instantly likable and empathetic protagonist. Joaquin Phoenix is also excellent in a pivotal role that would have caused the film to collapse had he not infused it with a certain charm and tenderness amid Bruno’s violent madness. There are scenes of real emotion in this film that got to me when I did not expect it, and I doubt the effect would have been the same had it not been for the performances and the confident yet subtle direction of James Gray (Two Lovers, We Own the Night), who also co-wrote the script.
Not just a simple character journey and story about overcoming against the odds, The Immigrant also raises many moral questions about the characters’ actions. As Ewa asked her aunt in one of the film’s key scenes, “Is it a sin to want to survive? Is it a sin to want to survive after so many bad deeds?”
I thought the dramatic score was a little overdone at times and the film could be accused of being tonally flat, but apart from that I found The Immigrant to be an engrossing and rewarding experience.
4 stars out of 5
The Signal (2014)
Low-budget, independent sci-fi films are on the rise, and The Signal has to be one of the better ones. Starring rising Aussie star Brendan Thwaites, an MIT nerd struggling with muscular dystrophy who manages to track down the signal of a hacker who almost got him and his friend expelled from university. Together with his friend (Beau Knapp) and girlfriend (Oliva Cooke, the rising star from Ouija and The Quiet Ones), the three track the hacker to the Nevada desert, where something bizarre happens, after which they awaken in a lab run by Lawrence Fishburne.
I guess you can classify The Signal as a sci-fi thriller or sci-fi horror because there are elements of both. There is a lot of uncertainty and paranoia, with the unshakable feeling that the lab coats are hiding something from our protagonists. The tale gradually veers more and more into pure sci-fi territory, though there is an eeriness about it that comes across as almost surreal. Perhaps the best way I could describe it is that it occasionally resembles a very good episode of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits, where the weirdness and mystery is what ultimately drives the film.
As such, The Signal is not a well-rounded film. There are moments of brilliance and intrigue which will suck you into the story, but other times when the plot and human reactions are so poorly constructed that it becomes frustrating to watch. There are occasions when you can tell that the film is trying to be weird for the sake of being weird — like the creepy old lady — rather than for any meaningful narrative purpose.
Still, I like it when movies do things I’m not used to seeing and keep me wondering what the heck will happen next. In that regard The Signal achieves its purpose. It’s visually impressive considering the US$4 million budget and the performances are solid. Not everyone’s cup of tea and not an exceptional sci-fi by any standard, but for the most part I found it quite interesting and watchable.
3 stars out of 5
The Quiet Ones (2014)
I was really looking forward to The Quiet Ones after seeing the freaky trailer and hearing that it’s “based” on the parapsychology Philip Experiment conducted in Toronto in 1972. The film is about a Oxford University professor (Jared Harris) who enlists the help of his students (Sam Claflin from The Hunger Games, Erin Richards from TV’s Gotham, and Rory Fleck-Byrne) to conduct an experiment aiming to prove that demonic possession is a psychological rather than supernatural phenomenon.
Their subject that summer is Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke), an attractive young woman who has been abandoned after the strange things that keep happened around her has scared everyone off. The professor keeps her locked in a room most of the time, with loud music playing to prevent her from sleeping in the hope that her agitation will boost paranormal activity. All the stuff is recorded and taped, though thankfully the film is only a semi-found-footage angle.
As expected, the paranormal activity does ramp up as the professor refuses to tone down his abuse, and the students, one of whom develops feelings for Jane, begin to believe that the demonic possession could actually be real and that she could harm them as well as herself. By this point, I realised the film was probably very very loosely based on actual events. I turned out to be right, as it would continue to devolve into a fairly typical possession flick with a fairly typical climax.
That’s a real shame, because The Quiet Ones does have some good elements and moments. The big creaky house, the 1970s tones and colour scheme, not to mention the strong cast and their English accents, could have turned it into a superior horror experience. I was hoping for an ambiguous take on supernatural activity in which a lot of questions would be asked but where the answers would be left to the audience, though instead they went down the obvious and commercial route where the demonic stuff is thrown in our faces with the force of a sledgehammer.
The result is a film that has an interesting premise but is watered down by a familiar approach and recycled tactics. It’s certainly watchable and no worse than the majority of horror films released these days, though I feel like The Quiet Ones blew a really good opportunity to be something special.
2.5 stars out of 5
PS: Check out this interesting link (contains spoilers) if you wanna know how much of the film resembles reality.