Showing posts with label evil kids. Show all posts
Showing posts with label evil kids. Show all posts

Jul 27, 2020

COOTIES (2015)

Cooties is one of those films that, as you're watching it, you almost start to dislike just because you want it to be better than it is. And that's not to say Cooties isn't good, or very funny, because it is, but it's because the film was nearly there - immortal status - that it starts to suffer for it. The cast have remarkable chemistry, each providing a dose of their own real personalities (the reason they were cast in the first place), with Rainn Wilson's Wade playing an even more exaggerated version of Dwight from The Office, while Elijah Wood gets to show off his rarely seen comedic chops beyond Wilfred, where he generally plays the straight man, anyway. (Him telling his students to read pages from his unpublished manuscript as he sits down, closes his eyes, and places his hands over his smiling mouth, as if he wants to take it all in and bask in the inevitable appreciation of his elementary school students, is unexpectedly hilarious.) 

Much like any horror-comedy, or any comedy in general, some jokes land and some don't, but the ones that do are frequently funny. Co-writer Leigh Whannell (screenwriter for the Saw and Insidious series) absolutely steals the show as Doug, the socially awkward and possibly serial-killing biology teacher who rattles off all the film's best lines (especially during the Breakfast Club-ish confessional scene).

Directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion, in the midst of all the carnage, manage to show off some pretty striking directorial flare, most notably in the slow-motion sequence somewhat reminiscent of another zombie opus, World War Z, in which the audience gets a ground-zero look at how quickly the zombie virus can spread, when a zombified student tears across the playground scratching deep wounds into the arms of other students. The surreal but savage and brutal construction of this sequence, despite it taking place in a cheeky black comedy, wouldn't feel out of place in a more traditional horror film. The tremendous musical score by Bulgarian composer Kreng marries bits of John Carpenter to traditional orchestra and sounds fantastic.

Where the film fumbles is with its use of Jorge Garcia as an acid-dropping crossing guard who spends most of the film isolated in a van hallucinating from the drugs he's taken. While this does mostly come off as entertaining, it also feels like it belongs entirely to its own story; it could have been fully excised without affecting the film, even improving its pace. Cooties also falls victim to a Return of the King-ish too many endings. Once the film embarks on a change of location during the third act (and following a dispatching of a certain character), Cooties feels like it's just around the corner from ending, but when it insists on continuing, it starts to feel dangerously close like overstaying its welcome.

Not since Troma's terrible Beware: Children at Play has a film so unashamedly both put children in danger and made them the adversaries, and thankfully Cooties, despite its very recognizable cast and mainstream release, doesn't relent when it comes to bloodletting and bodily carnage. The nice thing about Cooties is that, unlike Beware: Children at Play (or anything from Troma), you get all the mayhem with none of the desire to take an immediate shower. 

Though the zombie comedy thing has been done to death, Cooties proves that there's still life in the concept yet. It boasts an engaging and amusing story, more good jokes than bad, and a cast whose chemistry is infectious makes Cooties worth catching.

Jun 8, 2019


The evil kid sub-genre has been kicking it at least since 1956’s The Bad Seed, but was certainly most popularized following the release of The Omen in 1976. Richard Donner’s anti-Christ fable is still considered one of the all-time greats released during film’s pinnacle of the 1970s, having inspired three sequels, a remake, and a short-lived television series. Ever since then, most evil kid flicks have taken its page from The Omen just a little, and in some situations more than others, it absolutely shows.

I say over and over that I don’t care how many times you repackage the same horror concepts and tropes. So long as your flick is well made, lacks pretension, and adds just a twist of freshness, I’m on board. (For example, I adore The Conjuring, even though it tells one of the most derivative stories possible in the genre.) And that’s where The Hole in the Ground comes in. 

Possibly based on the short story “The Samhain Feis” by Peter Tremayne, about a woman and her young son escaping a miserable husband/father to a cottage in Ireland where the son becomes possessed (maybe) by an ancient spirit, director Lee Cronin makes his feature directorial debut in this familiar but well-made supernatural tale. As noted, it treads similar ground to Tremayne’s short story, although now instead of an American woman traveling to Ireland with her son, it’s Sarah O’Neill (Seána Kerslake, who looks like a combination Rebecca Hall/Ellie Kemper) locating a quiet, out-of-the-way place in her native Ireland to take a moment out and raise her son in peace. (All we know is that there’s bad blood directed at the family’s patriarch, but we never find out what, and he never appears on screen.) While doing some exploring, Sarah discovers an unnaturally large crater in the woods behind her house and steers her son, Chris (James Quinn Markey), away from it. But whatever dark forces dwell in those woods/that crater won’t take no for an answer and soon take control of young Chris, pitting Sarah in a helpless and hopeless situation and leaving her to figure it out on her own. 

While The Hole in the Ground is familiar, Cronin, who writes as well as directs, establishes a fair pace while skillfully slipping in scenes to unnerve or even terrify his audience. Sarah catches small glimpses of her son acting in ways very unlike him, or very unlike that of your normal human being, and this begins to mount, with each instance becoming more disturbing and presenting Chris as increasingly less like her little boy. Cronin, also, very smartly directs young Markey to play Chris as off rather than downright creepy or evil from the word go, allowing the audience to wonder if perhaps Sarah is just undergoing some undue stress from her recent separation. Markey never outright acts evil, in the same way that The Omen’s little Harvey Stevens mostly just placed a little boy, which ironically causes him to come across even more off-putting. Additionally, Game Of Thrones’ James Cosmo appears in a supporting role as a mourning father still getting over the loss of his own child, and who, as you might expect, provides most of the film’s exposition. 

The Hole in the Ground isn’t going to win any awards for originality, but, as usual, A24 knows what they want from the horror genre, and it’s just one more solid acquisition for one of the most respected indie film distributors in the land. 

[Reprinted from The Daily Grindhouse.]

Feb 6, 2013


Overcoming one's fears is a huge and reoccurring theme in the horror genre. Whether directly or indirectly, our protagonists will only find victory if they learn to confront their tormentor head on, with eyes up. In A Nightmare on Elm Street for instance, Nancy literally vanquishes her demon by saying, "You're nothing." In Citadel, this theme is the forefront of our protagonist's conflict. Quite literally, he must overcome his fears...or die.

Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) and his wife, Joanne (Amy Shiels), are moving out of their apartment. With Joanne ready to give birth any day, it would seem the time has come to vacate and find a bigger or nicer place to raise their daughter. Out of nowhere, a faceless group of hoods attacks Joanne, beating her and stabbing her in the stomach with a syringe. She is rushed to the hospital where she falls into a coma, and her baby is surgically removed, luckily having survived. Tommy, because of his limited means, has no choice but to move into a ghetto duplex in the middle of a wasteland sporting signs promising a "regeneration project." The sign itself is so worn and faded that it's obvious this project is not happening any time soon - if at all. And so this complex remains tattered and torn, with eviscerated cars littering the parking lot.

In the wake of Joanne's attack, Tommy is left with a terrible case of agoraphobia. Leaving his house is tantamount to torture, and he can only do so after coaxing himself out with his eyes squeezed shut. Self-help groups don't seem to be helping at all, and he has no one in which to confide except for Marie (Wunmi Mosaku), a nurse at the hospice center where Joanne has been for nine comatose months. After Tommy euthanizes Joanne by releasing her from her life support, Marie tries to help Tommy regain control of his life. But soon, familiar faceless hoods make an appearance, intent on finishing what they started. They kidnap baby Elsa, and the multitudes of missing child fliers hanging all over town suggests that Elsa is just one of many taken by these mysterious figures. With the help of an eccentric priest (James Cosmo) and his blind adopted son, Danny (Jake Wilson), Tommy must enter his former high-rise tenement building where the hoods seem to live, take back his child, and put an end to their terror for good.

Somewhere between all the early buzz and positive reviews, and my having seen the film for myself, I saw the plot loosely described somewhere as a man being terrorized by a bunch of hooded youths. That instantly bummed me out. I wanted something creepy and unnatural. Ghosts or demons or freaks or something. I didn't want a bunch of annoying mall teens. 

Still, I watched the film for myself, figuring it would be good for at least one scare or two, what with all the high marks it received during its film festival run. 

I was pleasantly surprised. And creeped out. Turns out that plot description I saw elsewhere was wrong. The figures were hooded, yes, and they were definitely of a kid height...but that's about where our antagonists stop being kids. They are something much more dangerous and terrifying. 

With film, but within the horror genre especially, you are asked to suspend your disbelief. But we're pretty willing to, so long as the film has earned it. Citadel asks you to refrain from asking hundreds of questions you probably should be, and which you'd be right to. Being as vague and non-spoilery as possible, those might be:

"How is it this priest knows what he knows and never told anyone?"


"How is it this building filled with these little monsters has sat for so long and no one has done anything about it, or even noticed?"


"How is it we readily accept Tommy not calling the police whenever he is terrorized because, according to him, 'they won't come here.' "

There are many more of these types of questions that might pop up as you watch, but all of them are rendered irrelevant for one simple reason: because the film is too well made and well acted to have to answer to these questions. Sometimes it's better not to explain everything to death. Sometimes it's better to just place your trust in the filmmakers that you're being told everything you need to know - no more, no less.

Strong performances by Bernard as Tommy and especially James Cosmo ("Game of Thrones," "Sons of Anarchy") as the unnamed priest propel the film forward, hurtling us through the moments where lesser actors would allow us to stop and question what it is we're seeing and noting why the vagueness of certainly details might be a weakness. 

The script by Ciaran Foy is simple but clever, and at times feels even personal. And that's because it is. Foy himself suffered an unwarranted assault as a youth, perpetrated by a bunch of hooded miscreants who beat him and stabbed him in the throat with a syringe. It left Foy a shell-shocked, suffering agoraphobic who never found the strength to leave his home until he was accepted for film school. 

Considering its budget, the make-up and visual effects are astounding. You can't really know how good of a job the the filmmakers did until you watch the behind the scenes featurette on the DVD, which is refreshingly informative, and not just your usual glad-handing and blanket congratulatory praise for every single person involved in the production.

There's an underlying warning about a society's and/or government's disregardance of lower income areas. We, as that society, sometimes like to pretend those areas don't exist and that they're not a problem. But the longer they sit and fester, the worse they will become. Their poverty will lead to desperation, which will lead to crime. Children will be born into this environment and grow in a household where crime is perfectly acceptable, and this wicked cycle will continue. One character describes the tenement building featured in the film as having been "abandoned" - not in the sense that only vagrants live there, and the place is otherwise in shambles, but that at one point whoever was living there was trying to make a life...and it was they who were actually abandoned.

Citadel is original, and surprisingly emotional. And to watch a man confront his fears, quite literally, has never been creepier.