The School

Right, so I just wrote this thing for a player of mine’s background for a campaign I’ll be running of Monte Cook’s fabulous game, Numenera.

He wanted the school to be one of scientific study and understanding, but still be sort of “dark side”. I said “Hogwards, but evil,” and he agreed. So here’s the stuff:

Many of the older students felt a chill up the back of their necks as the headmistress sauntered in through the big double-doors, guards in glassteel armour holding the doors open for her. The younglings cowered behind the legs of their elders, who stood at attention. Anything other than the correct discipline shown would lead to “corrections.”
Juro stood with a back so straight it started to spasm slightly. He willed it to stop. He’d been at the “school” – for what else could you call this perverted place of learning? – for maybe four years now. He knew most of the other students by name, and knew the headmistress by the sound of her soft, melodic voice and the tapping her shoes made as she made her way around the school. He watched in half-terror, half-longing as the strict woman slowly made her way down the stairs towards the speaking platform. As he’d learned recently, an artefact in the podium made it so that her voice was forced into everyone’s heads. None was to ignore the headmistress. He looked over at the man at the end of the room. The one with a cloak to cover his skin. Juro knew why. The scales on the man’s skin were enough to put many off, but the fact that he never seemed to breath either made him distinctly alien. However, he’d come to know this Voltair figure as a man of science during the last year. Always curious about whatever he’d find, constantly poking and prodding the various numenera objects they were allowed in the dorms. He never could get a straight answer out of Voltair what he thought of the headmistress. Maybe he too was scared? Or maybe he just didn’t care that much? Juro didn’t know and didn’t much care.

The headmistress had her daily discussion about the advancement of science and at the end had a question time with the students. Then the new arrivals, the kids, were escorted to the back of the complex. It was an odd building any way you cut it. A large triangle, piercing throught the ground into the world above. He’d been told that the actual name for this was a pyramid. Strangely, while from the outside one only saw the dark blue material the pyramid was made of, from the inside you could view the outside perfectly clear. If the headmistress or her guards allowed it, that is. Since he’d been here, Juro had only been allowed to walk the soil he was born on three times. All in missions to find more technology for the school. Because he’d worked his way up to Auron, through two years of hard work and arse-kissing. Auron was the second-highest title for students. The first was Invero, the new recruits. Mostly children, but some of the older ones that didn’t subscribe to the headmistress’ teachings. Secondly was Fostare, the initiates. This was his rank of Auron, the seeking. Highest of the student ranks was Ondore. Voltaire was one of those. The scaly man had been here much longer than Juro. Besides the scales and the lack of breathing, there was also something peculiar with the crystal on his forehead. He said nothing more than that it had been implanted on him. Apparently it gave him some sort of mental power that allowed him to communicate with other people. He did it with Juro once, but Juro absolutely hated the experience. What he knew of Voltaire was that he also had been abducted as a kid, to be brought here. Voltaire didn’t remember the ones that took him, though. The automatons with empty faces, held up by what seemed a cornucopia of stin strings. So many strings. And their leader. The one with coloured robes, and an etched face. A face filled with hate. Endless, ferocious, judging eyes. Judging you as unworthy. She’d glided up to him. Places her long, sharp fingers on his face.

Yesssssss, you’re like THEM. Young, potential. The planets align for us, once again. Bring this one to the school. Tell them we expect results.”

His skin crawled as he remembered her voice. Like a hundred wailing women whispering at once. That sad, yielding whispering that his mother would try to stop his father with, when he had one of his tempers. First thing he’d do when he escapes this place, was kill that old man. Fuck him, and his heritage. He smashed his fist against a wall, and could see the guard down the hallway raise an eyebrow at him. He hurriedly opened the door and went inside his room. Tomorrow they would bestow a power unto him, is what the headmistress had told him.

Juro walked into the headmistress’ chamber with trepidation. He wanted to run so badly, but feared the consequences. A slight sweeping sound behind him caused him to turn, and so he faced the creature that would change his life. The huge, cloaked figure with only a large blue crystal for a face stared at him. No eyes, but Juro could feel its piercing gaze.
“’tis a Philethis, boy. Ever seen one before?”
Juro shook his head. His breath was ragged, his muscles straining themselves hard to keep him in place while the creature walked up.”
“You’ve seen the strings,” the creature stated as a fact. It turned to the headmistress. “Mistake.” Juro could hear the headmistress squirming in her leather seat.
“It’s not my fault. The one we usually get to perform the rite on the young tried to leave. The Mother…” the headmistress’ voice trailed off for a second and returned, “strung him up. It took weeks to clean the gore from the chamber.”
Juro could tell the creature was looking at the headmistress. It seemed almost sad, somehow. Then it inclined its posture slightly towards Juro, and something came at him. Into him. Juro screamed as the constantly colour-shifting and shape-changing stone was forced past his snapping ribs and into his chest. He passed out, but not due to the pain, but because of all the voices echoing in his head.

Juro woke up to only one voice. And for the first time, he didn’t disapprove of the way he heard it.
“Are you okay?” asked Voltaire’s echoing voice, as Juro felt a cold, wet rag on his forehead. It felt like he was burning up. No… The surrounding air felt like fire. He was cold. Voltaire sat a little bit away with a lit candle by his side, casting some light of his features not hidden by the hood he wore. The headmistress said not to disturb you, so I’ll just leave this here.”

Juro sat in near-complete darkness, with only the light giving any vision. Now that Voltaire had left, though, the voices returned. Well, not quite voices, but definitely whispers. Calling out. Crying. Juro listened in, and tried to hear what they were saying. Where was it coming from? Then he realised, and looked down at the floor.
“Who’s there?” he called out hesitantly.
“Kaïra,” replied the floor, and Juro felt a hole in his stomach. It expanded with every syllable spoken from the floor. The feeling remained as he found a pickaxe in one of the storage rooms. A Fostare boy asked him what he needed it for, but he swept the younger lad aside. He returned to the room and swung the tool over and over. Over and over. When the floor tiles broke, so did he.

Built on the hard-work of those before. The headmistress had used those words to describe the school before. Literally on those who came before, Juro spat as he held Kaïra’s skull in his hands. He remembered when they told him of her disappearance during a mission. She and him had been partners when on cypher hunts. And when doing research in the school. And after hours. In bed. Juro sighed. He knew she was dead before. Not confirmed, but he knew. She was Ondore. They don’t just disappear. Now that he thought of it, he was Ondore as well. It seems those who aren’t seen as fit to advance to Sistiyel, the first adult rank, are disposed off.
“The Mother refused me,” Kaïra spoke again. Juro was still trying to figure out how he could hear his death friend’s voice. The feeling in his chest was probably part of it. Whatever the creature did to him, it seems to have tuned him into the other side. Voices from beyond the grave. “The headmistress gave us to her. For inspection.”
Juro grimaced. “Us? There’s more here?”
“Yes. It was in a dark room, with ugly tiles.”
“Wait, she- no, it, was in this room?”
“Yes. Some, they took. For what, I don’t know. The others were shoved into the floor.”
“Alive?”
“Yes. Their screams still echo in the graves next to me.”
“So the headmistress is giving away students to those things? Why?”
“I don’t know. She seemed sad. Then she left. She left us in the dark with The Mother. There was something…”
“What?”
“She said they were looking for believers. To spread the message. She hates so much. She burns me.”
“Not any longer, honey. You’re safe now.” Juro felt drained. He could hardly think. He knew what needed to be done. The school had to burn. But not now. He wasn’t strong enough. The day would come. So he shoved the skull of his former lover in a carrier bag and sprinted up the stairs. Then through the hallways. Then into the research labs. He shoved a researcher down and stole his keys. She fought back, so he silenced her with the swing of a chair. He took a couple of cyphers and jammed them into his bag. Then he grabbed one he’d collected himself. He knew what it did. He heard the guards breach the door, as the cupboard that was blocking it was toppled over and glass shattered. It didn’t matter, as he was already on his way out through the window. Shards of glass whirled around him as he fell. As he was approaching the ground in horrifying velocity he twisted the cypher around and his momentum ceased comfortably and he sunk to the ground at will. The cypher fell apart as he landed. He ran as fast as he could into the Forest to the North, where he hid for a few days. He finally reached Storui, and the seedy city was easy enough to navigate. He sold a couple of the cyphers for food and armour, as well as an aneen.

It took him several weeks to get to The Great Reach, the portal through which there is apparently a whole other continent. The thanked his teachers for telling him to read so often, or he wouldn’t have known what it truly was. A bagful of shins made the guards look the other way, and he continued for the portal. Then he felt it. A tug on his shoulder. As if a fishing-line had caught his jerkin. He turned, as he heard a scream. Then his blood froze, if his cold blood could indeed solidify.
The Mother of Strings, in all her hateful glory, moved into the far end of the camp. Following her, her mad minions with bland faces were cutting down the people around her. He could hear the maddening chorus of a sort of battle hymn as the cut a swathe through the meaty guards and their mounts. He knew what he’d done. He’d led her here. He could see the string connecting him to her and yanked it hard. It was sharp enough to cut his skin open, but came off. He witnessed her levitate forward with impossible speed, carrying two full-grown men that she’d impaled on her sick figure that hurt to look at. Her presence, that tore at the fabric of this world, and yet forced it to hold together, contorted for the first time with delight as it looked past him and saw the same lands he did. Juro shrieked and burst through the mouth of the portal. The people on the other side looked at him confused, then their faces froze as they looked and saw the thing that shouldn’t be fly after him. He ran through a valley and left as fast as he could, while the sounds of the slaughter echoed behind him. As he dragged his tired legs out of the valley, he set his sight on a village in the distance. Finally he had a future. And he wouldn’t stop until he took everything from the school that tried to take it from him.

School structure (ranks)
Headmistress (highest rank, word is law)
— —
Garellon (adult rank 3, researcher – part of the circle of scholars that carry out the headmistress’ orders)
Hasterad (adult rank 2, high seeker)
Sistiyel (adult rank 1, recruiter)
— —
Ondore (youth rank 4, researcher’s assistant)
Auron (youth rank 3, seeker)
Fostare (youth rank 2, initiate)
Invero (youth rank 1, recruit)

Why so series? – Penny Dreadful

Yay, I’m not dead.

So, about that show I most recently watched.

Penny Dreadful is a good series.

To start, Penny Dreadful is grotesque, haunting and very slow-paced. If you’re looking for a fast-paced series with many twists and turns, you should back away.

Penny Dreadful chronicles the misadventures of Vanessa Ives and company, mostly made up of sad souls that find themselves on the wrong side of the supernatural and often fighting for their lives. The main story-lines revolve mostly around Miss Ives, but the rest of the cast are well fleshed-out.

The main cast of season one, with a notable exclusion. (From left, Ethan Chandler, Brona Croft, Victor Frankenstein, Vanessa Ives, Dorian Gray, Sir Malcolm Murray, Sembene)

Miss Vanessa Ives (brilliantly played by Eva Green, but we’ll get back to her) is a woman that is haunted by many demons, both personal and literal. She forms a team with an old friend of the family, and a rag-tag group of broken men as she seeks to save not only her father-figure’s real daughter and herself from unfathomable evils.

Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) is a famous explorer, having mapped big parts of Africa and intends to return for more (especially to look for the elusive source of the Nile). He’s a close ally of Vannessa, as their families were very close, and acts as her father-figure. He searches for his lost daughter Mina, and is haunted by his dead son Peter, who he left in a shallow grave in Africa.

Ethan Chandler (played by Josh Hartnett) is an American gun-show performer and former soldier recruited to the not-quite-merry band by Ives. He initiates a relationship with Brona Croft  in his personal time and during “work hours”, he finds out about a world few know exist in the shadows. He also harbours quite the dark secret.

Brona Croft (played by Billie Piper) is a prostitute that enters a relationship with Ethan. She’s suffering from tuberculosis, and also crosses path with a certain local handsome lad.

Sembene (Danny Sapani) is a servant of Malcolm’s he acquired somehow in Africa. Sembene’s past is a mystery, but his loyalty to the cause is unquestionable.

Dorian Gray (yeah, him – played by Reeve Carney) is a beautiful young man, indulging in sensuality for the most-part of the show. Has his classic painting to keep him young.

Doctor Victor Frankenstein (yes, that one too – played here by Harry Treadwell) is a local arrogant doctor, obsessed with the pursuit of the essence of life. He wants to create an immortal being. He’s extremely socially inept and rather dismissive of the group’s intentions, but finds himself drawn to the action anyway. Now you can probably figure out the last cast member.

Frankenstein’s Monster (Rory Kinnear) is just that. He returns to haunt his creator and demands that Frankenstein creates a wife for him. He has some interesting interactions with the rest of the cast that are of stark contrast to his antagonistic relationship with Frankenstein.

The story these characters are drawn into is very good and simple. It’s a bit predictable at times, but it works well. It lacks direction for long stretches of each season, but I find it works for the show in general.

About the quality of the acting; Eva Green absolutely owns the screen as Vanessa Ives. If anybody doubts her capabilities as an actress, I really don’t know how. She gives you nearly every facet of Miss Ives, from happiness to absolute rock bottom. Her mannerisms, her voice, fucking everything. She’s the best actress on TV by far.

Also great is Harry Treadwell as Victor Frankenstein. His performance is absolutely stellar, and it makes it a treat to watch Frankenstein grow into a man on screen. I’ll be keeping an eye out for him in other projects.

pennydreadful-frank

One of my negatives is Dorian Gray. I’m not very fond of the show’s take on the character – Or the character in general. He’s just rather boring and has little impact. He does however improve in season two, and has probably the best side-story. Much better when he’s being played straight, instead of having him strut around and recite poems like a love-sick philosopher. It looks as if he’ll have a big part in season 3, where he might end up being the main villain.

pennydreadful-dorian

The villains are also rather uninteresting, even if the ones of the second season are far better. Still, the show plays it off well and instead puts more focus on how the “heroes” deal with the situations at hand.

Without spoiling much, the second season is a considerable improvement on the first one, with the stakes being raised and the characters being put in more interesting situations.

The series is gorgeous and the setting is very well presented.

The second season has a story arc about sexuality that was surprisingly effective, and proves that the Dorian Gray character can work with a bit of set-up and not just having him walk around being fabulous. Then it’s just thrown away rather abruptly, which made the whole thing feel like a waste.

The show is also very noir, in the way it treats it’s characters. They usually walk head-long into sadness or deny themselves happiness. Not a whole lot of sunshine and puppies around.

In closing, Penny Dreadful is an excellent ensemble drama with a variety of characters and personalities that usually work well together. It’s quite slow-paced, but is well-worth sticking with. Filled to the brim with spectacular performances – especially that of Green – it’s a constant treat to watch. Very highly recommended.

Film-night: Nothing Left to Fear

NOTICE: Hi. What you’re reading is an old review from when I was using a different template. It was kind of ugly, so I switched. If I make a mention of spoilers going to be blacked out, they won’t be. Sorry. It’s just so long ago I wrote this and it’s a bother to go back and edit it extensively. Sorry if you get spoiled, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t put any major spoilers in anything without giving big warnings about it first. Cheers.

Yeah, we get it, the title’s supposed to be ironic. Anyway, I saw the trailer on Youtube and thought it didn’t look too bad. But is this film… anything to fear (har har)?

Nothing Left to Fear is a bad film.

NLtF is about a Pastor named Dan Bramford and his family, who move to a town called Stull (there are some urban legends out there on which the film’s based, in case anyone’s interested). The people of the town are helpful and pleasant, although rather creepy – sometimes even in the view of the main characters (like suddenly just staring right at them from a distance, blank-faced). The parents are happy and excited, but the kids (three of them, two sisters and a boy) are less than enthused, given that they are kids and just uprooted for their father’s work.

Like in most horror films, religion is one of the most creepy things there are. Clancy Brown is good as Pastor Kingsman, the reverend Dan is supposed to replace. To audiences, he’s obviously an antagonist, given his hard face and overly warm, welcoming way. The eldest sister gets the hots for the local handsome dude, and both actors are absolutely terrible, making their scenes super boring.

Oh hey, it's everyone's new favourite horror-gimmick: Black-mouth.

Oh hey, it’s everyone’s new favourite horror-gimmick: Black-mouth.

Dan seems like a stable guy, grounded and guided by his faith. Wendy, his wife, seems pretty strict but pretty nice in general. The daughters are flirty/outgoing and sarcastic, respectively both idiotic flirtatious teenagers. The boy seems interested in science and has an ant farm. Yay. No one in this film has any character.

Half an hour into the film and I’m getting worried. While the townspeople are creepy and all, the plot isn’t going anywhere for the first third of the film. Not even any foreshadowing. Like, this is pretty bad. The performances aren’t much to write home about either, except Kingsman, of course. To the surprise of nobody, Kingsman is weird as fuck and seems to be preparing something sinister. The slut elder sister starts having nightmares (admittedly, these are pretty fucking creepy), and apparently the younger is “it”. Time for some more scenes with the worst two actors in the film. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck. I’m ready for people to start dropping, already.

STalest duo I have ever seen on film. Zero charisma and acting chops.

Stalest duo I have ever seen on film. Zero charisma and acting chops.

Half-way in, still nothing going on. Sorry, this is kind of a spoiler but this is ridiculous. This isn’t horror, it’s an absurd teen drama. Honestly, you could cut off the first 45 minutes and not miss anything.

The editing is pretty shit at times. There are some mistakes that somehow make it on film, like a dance scene that looks more like a rehearsal; and a scene where the boy’s prop fails on camera, he reacts to it, and then continues his action anyway. Hurrrrrrrr.

The film does go from 5 to 100 in escalating the horror, and the horror is actually pretty decent to start off. Five minutes later it goes back to being stupid. The enemy- or whatever you want to call the bad thing, actually uses a fucking sleeper hold to subdue one of its victims, instead of, you know, dark magic or something disgusting. We’re treated to a terrible jump-scare as a close up of a victim is supposed to be scary, but the make-up is fucking terrible, so they add a terrible sound effect. The way to defeat the evil is stupid and the gimmick itself is fucking moronic.

To nobody's surprise, there's a rip-off of the famous walk made famous way back in The Exorcist. However, just crawling forward, or "Reverse Excorcist-walk," as I like to call it, is terrible.

To nobody’s surprise, there’s a rip-off of the famous walk made famous way back in The Exorcist. However, just crawling forward, or “Reverse Excorcist-walk,” as I like to call it, is terrible.

This is a bad film and the makers should feel bad. The nightmare scenes were pretty decent, but everything else was garbage. Do not see this absolute joke of a horror film. If anything, the child actor was pretty decent.

Wanna hear the twist? Sure, here it is. The religious people we’re to find pretty creepy are actually the good guys, apparently. This is retarded. They are the ones to, by opening a gate to what we have to assume is hell, corrupt the youngest daughter (the one that could act, sadly, so we’re stuck with the dumb blonde – guess who lives in the end) by having her be possessed by – once again, we have to guess – who we assume is Satan. She kills the mother and father (Anne Heche and James Tupper earning possibly the easiest pay-checks of their lives as they act a couple scenes and have tame death scenes) and the boy of the family (who, let it be known, is left behind not just once, but twice, by our stellar hero-heroine couple who still are pathetic actors) and chases the sluttier (not by much, since both girls need to find boys to survive – this is a horror film after all, gotta reinforce the most tired stereotype of all), elder sister to a church, where she’s basically de-possessed and dies after her sister gets her wrist slit and drops blood into the spawning pool. The eldest sister is the lone survivor of the family and goes on to remain in the town and lure in more families, as is hinted at by the ending of the film. This is so stupid. We’re never shown why the townsfolk are pushed to doing all of this, and we’re not even sure if they aren’t the bad guys. I mean, they are the one’s that summon the fucking evil. Why would sacrificing nearly an entire family satisfy the devil? It’s not just one, either. Kingsman has scars from cutting himself all over his arms. I get it, by the way, Kingsman = King’s (God’s) Man. Way to phone that in. Is he lazy and just wants to be fed, like a lazy noble gets his grapes?

Fuck this film. The title isn’t even remotely symbolic. Obviously the town will always live in fear of the devil rising up. Why was it even made?

Animu-time: Kurozuka

NOTICE: Hi. What you’re reading is an old review from when I was using a different template. It was kind of ugly, so I switched. If I make a mention of spoilers going to be blacked out, they won’t be. Sorry. It’s just so long ago I wrote this and it’s a bother to go back and edit it extensively. Sorry if you get spoiled, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t put any major spoilers in anything without giving big warnings about it first. Cheers.

Kurozuka is a bad anime

You don’t know what to expect when you dive into Kurozuka. While this is true for a lot of other anime as well, Kurozuka is a special enigma. Being about vampires (especially the main leads) can turn people off, seeing how vampires are often portrayed nowadays. Sadly, thoughts hop to Rob Pattinson as Edward in the cringe-inducing soft pornography for girls known as Twilight. Sure, Twilight isn’t the only sinner, but due to it’s popularity, it is the most stand-out. Onwards to Kurozuka, then.

On first on-look, Kurozuka seems to be a love story about vampires, set in Feudal Japan. That preconception is quickly smashed to bits after the first episodes as we skip to a bleak future version of Japan that has been a-bombed. Back in the past, our hero Kuro (known as “Minamoto no Yoshizune”, a very famous and popular Japanese literature hero) was fleeing into the mountains, and came upon the lodging of Lady Kuromitsu. He and his close ally Benkei were allowed to stay under the condition that they do not approach nor enter Kuromitsu’s room. Of course, that promise doesn’t mean all too much and Kuro finds himself outside the mysterious woman’s room, where he sees her biting and drinking the blood of a man. The place is attacked, and Kuro is badly hurt helping his hostess. The two had quickly became attracted to one another, and Kuromitsu offers Kuro eternal life with her. Kuro accepts. Then the focus shifts to the future where Kuro has become separated from Kuromitsu and ventures to find her. He instead meets Karuta and Rai and becomes embroiled in what is basically a civil war between the Red Army and the rebels, both fighting for the very prize Kuro seeks: Kuromitsu.

Omnom, human blood.

Omnom, human blood.

I was pretty excited to watch this, as it felt like vampires were treated as a big deal and it also seemed like a cool set-up for a powerful romantic saga, but alas, all the potential amounted to jack shit in this absolute train-wreck of a series.

The series jumps from different time periods, usually at the start of episodes, without giving the viewer much warning or explanation, which is the major flaw of the series in my opinion. It’s very hard to get a grip on the characters as is, so there’s really no need to confuse viewers additionally.

It’s hard to gauge what exact powers are afforded to the vampires of the series, as Kuro just seems to go all Goku on people at times when he needs to put another gear in. Besides obviously being more powerful than normal humans, there doesn’t seem to be much to vampires, other than whatever odd time dilution Kuro can cause when convenient. It’s never really explained what they can do. The reveal of how they work is also incredibly slow-played, so there’s not much in the way of flavour being given to us, except for some bursts of information at times.

As is the case with the vampirism angle, characters in the series don’t really develop. They’re very static in personalities and in what they do. Not even the main character ever develops, he just learns more about who he was. Frankly it’s very disappointing, because when things happen to our tragic heroes, it’s hard to care about them as they’ve just been one-dimensional plot-points. That can work if you have strong characters to begin with, but as noted, these characters are dull as hell. You also get some unintentional comedy in the absolutely bonkers scientist with a penchant for torture, who starts quoting Stoker (because you have to fucking shoehorn that into a vampire show like your life depended on it) and Tolstoy, and is generally weird as hell.

The story is equally odd. Parts of it just comes and goes as it pleases, like there’s a revolving door of relevance. It really is hard to care about what is happening when you don’t grasp the relevance of events to one-another. Characters just do complete one-eighties in order to provide more filler before the end finally arrives. It really is a shame, because it felt like it was to be a show that made vampires rather cool again, but the amount of plot-holes and contrivances really do get in the way of enjoying it. All of the reveals towards the end just made me laugh out loud with their increasing craziness, until we arrive in bizarro-world come the ending.

Welcome to Fuck-This-Shit City, Population: You.

Welcome to Fuck-This-Shit City, Population: You.

Visually, it’s very pleasing for most of the time and there is a lot of incredible imagery, but then you get some absolutely retarded character designs that feel like they invaded from another series.

The sound design is pretty decent, but many characters in the series are woefully miscast and a lot of the performances are really bad. The soundtrack, however, is pretty damn awesome. Both the OP and ED are great.

Now, I’ve been shitting on Kurozuka a lot, but the final scenes shows up and delivers the best possible ending the series could have had and I really freaking loved it, so I’m ultimately torn on where to go with the series; good or bad? Ultimately, with all the tomfoolery, I’ll go with bad, but there’s certainly enough good in here that a person that disagrees with what I found negative would find this to be a damn good show. It also increases my frustration with the series’ unfulfilled potential. The run-time of the entire thing is way too long relative to what it’s trying to convey. Honestly, remake this in film-length and condense the story a bit, and I’ll watch the hell out of it. I’m totally behind the point it makes about love and selfishness and I actually came away from it rather liking the vampire concept, but the length and general poor quality makes most of the series unbearable to watch.

Film-night: Would You Rather

NOTICE: Hi. What you’re reading is an old review from when I was using a different template. It was kind of ugly, so I switched. If I make a mention of spoilers going to be blacked out, they won’t be. Sorry. It’s just so long ago I wrote this and it’s a bother to go back and edit it extensively. Sorry if you get spoiled, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t put any major spoilers in anything without giving big warnings about it first. Cheers.

I’d rather slam my head into the wall five times, than watch this film again.

Would You Rather is a bad film.

To no-one’s surprise, I guess. I only saw it because i saw Enver Gjokaj was in it, and since I liked him in Dollhouse, I decided to give it a shot.

It’s just another in a line of unoriginal horror flicks nowadays that focus on shock, rather than horror. Even the visuals are pretty bad, but I guess that’s due to a low budget.

Anyhow, the story: Iris is in a bad place. Her brother is dying and she is almost broke. Adding to that, he needs an organ donation and is way down the list. So, Iris gets invited to a meeting with Shepard Lambrick, who claims his foundation can give her lots of money and put her brother on top of the donor list, if she joins him for a dinner party. At the end of this party will be a game. A contest. If she wins, she gets the money, and if she loses, she just “don’t win”. Sounds legit.

Being low on money, she accepts and goes to the dinner. There are seven other people there. She gets to know Cal and Lucas quickly. We find out that Dr. Barden, who was with Shepard at Iris’ meeting, disapproves of her inclusion to the game. We also find out that Shepard has a son, who of course is a sociopath. Dinner begins, and we hear that Iris is a vegetarian. Shepard asks if she will eat it. She respectfully declines. He puts ten thousand dollars on the table and asks her again, with the money as a reward if she does eat the steak in front of her. She does so, and gets the money. Conway, another guest, is a recovering alcoholic. He gets offered 10k for drinking a glass of wine, or 50k for an entire decanter of scotch. He downs the scotch and becomes 50k richer. Then they are given a choice. Stay and participate in a series of Would You Rather games, or leave. Nice. They all decide to stay, but when a machine connected to an electric headband is rolled in, Conway attempts to leave. He promptly gets shot in the head and finally the game begins. The first test is basically this: Would you rather shock yourself, or the person to your right. It’s here we find out who is a sympathetic character, and who’s a total jerk. So the cast left to play is:

  • Iris – Unemployed.
  • Lucas – appears to be a former doctor or at least someone with medical experience.
  • Travis – Former US Marine.
  • Linda – Very old woman.
  • Amy – Trashy young lady (who I found out later is played by a former porn star).
  • Peter – Gambler.
  • Cal – occupation unknown.

From here it’s just shock horror. Objects left involve whips, ice-picks, a barrel of water, a razor. You can’t even call it horror, really. It’s just torture porn. I guess the creators saw the later SAW flicks and went “Yeah, we can do that too.” There’s just a series of terrible events, sadness and grief. There’s no pay-off or anything slightly resembling morality, or logic for that matter.

If there’s anything good, it’s that the acting is actually pretty good and believable. Jeffrey Combs does well as the absolutely detestable main villain. Brittany Snow and Enver Gjokaj does well as the two sympathetic leads and Charlie Hofheimer is easily the best of the bunch, although in a horribly written character.

Basically, the premise could have been interesting, but the execution is bad on almost all levels. This film is recommended to sad people, who like to see other sad people suffer. Apparently it’s a thing.

There are spoilers ahead, so stop reading at this point if you intend on seeing the film and don’t want spoilers.

Firstly: The thing that puts the whole film off-balance from the beginning is that we’re only introduced to Iris. While this is a thing they do in many horror films, it doesn’t belong in a film like this. Usually we’re given background and intentions so that we can cheer for a character, but Would You Rather is a film that is supposed to keep you guessing. Or at least, it should be. When you put eight characters in a murder game together, the audience wants to guess who makes it, and see why they do so. Battle Royale does this to great effect. We follow several groups of people in a shitty situation and can guess at how they’re going to do. It’s entertaining and we can pick our favourites, helping us root for them. Also in BR, we’re not told “THIS IS THE GOOD GUY”, even if there is a clear antagonist. We can pick our guy/girl for the reasons we want. Not to mention it’s a far better film. WYR just tells us who’s going to win before the game even starts. This is bad, because the story isn’t about Iris, it’s about the game. When it’s clear that the film-makers missed the point of the entire film themselves, it’s hard to enjoy it.

Secondly: There’s no incentive. As the game is started, the contestants are faced with do or die. It’s not a winning premise, for the characters or the viewers. Sure, it’s good for building sympathy, but where’s the choice? They’re literally forced to comply at gunpoint. There’s no moral compromise, because the blame is taken away from them and pushed onto the eccentric arse-hole host. Some of the dares, or whatever you want to call them are just straight-up murder. Adding to that, the challenges are extremely uneven in their cruelty and damage dealt, making the entire thing feel rigged. The “Well played” comment before the final round is just absolutely absurd. They’re basically just hamsters running through straight corridors into one punishment after another. It’s not a game. It’s just torture. Then the applause at the end, when the last round completely broke the entire game. Adding to that, they take away any good-will Iris may have gained through the film, as she straight-up murders Lucas in order to get the money for her brother’s transplant, get herself some money and move him up the transplant list. It falls into the parameters of her characters, but I just thought it was absurd, when she had the choice of walking out alive with Lucas. Then again, organ donation is apparently absurdly expensive. She had no guarantee that she’d be able to leave alive (it’s bewildering that it’s even an option) and surely there are other options as to getting the money needed? She’s clearly a talented woman, but maybe she ran out of time. I guess in the end, the question was rather “what would you do for your family?” and she chose “everything”. I just thought it was a film that could have a moral victory that wouldn’t feel cheap. Hell, they could even go after the god damn sickos that orchestrated the game by calling the fucking cops. It’s a small crew, so it’d take some time cleaning up, and even then they’re bound to leave traces. They’re sadists, not clandestine experts.

Finally: The ending. Iris comes home to find her brother dead. I guess from a drug overdose. No closure. No “Well, at least she got something out of this mess” moment. Just more depression. She was in the shit when the film began. She was still in the shit when in the games. She was also still in the shit, even more so one can argue, after the games. She went through all that, and there’s no pay-off? Absolute bullshit.

Oh well, maybe this was more of a rant than a review, but that’s how it goes when you find yourself discussing absolute drek.

How I’d save this film? Change it to a big manor, and have the contestants have to complete challenges to advance. Every one has to do the same challenges, or maybe have two diverging paths with slow pain and quick pain, for example. Put the characters’ will to help themselves or their loved ones in focus and make it clear that they have a choice to walk away. Have the host be less of a sadist and more like a dude that’s charitable in his own sick, twisted mind. The Would You Rather part could have been a choice every round, but with the added choice of being able to walk away with your earnings (and obviously signing a NDA). We get a clear winner that everyone can agree on deserved to win. Boom. Ching-chang. Bye.

Film night: Europa Report and Grave Encounters 2

NOTICE: Hi. What you’re reading is an old review from when I was using a different template. It was kind of ugly, so I switched. If I make a mention of spoilers going to be blacked out, they won’t be. Sorry. It’s just so long ago I wrote this and it’s a bother to go back and edit it extensively. Sorry if you get spoiled, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t put any major spoilers in anything without giving big warnings about it first. Cheers.

Hey, it’s been a while. So, lets take this one at a time. First off:

Europa Report is a good film.

Europa Report is a weird piece of film. It’s like an exercise in dualism, wrapped up in a beautiful sci-fi flick.

er-4

As someone who’s watched horror films throughout most of my life, I see a trend in today’s film industry – especially concerning horror films – that is quite worrying. It’s not enough to paint up a scenario and have things happen. We need to have things pointed out to us , like we’re small children being read a book by our parents. We’re always told what the monster is and what it’s weak point is. We’re always told the moral point of the story, instead of the film-makers making it clear by the story and the actions of its actors. In modern film, subtlety is nearly dead.

Jason Vorhees - also a victim of modern horror, even though the character was hardly subtle in the past.

Jason Vorhees – also a victim of modern horror, even though the character was hardly subtle in the past.

So, why am I rambling on about horror and stuff, when Europa Report (ER for short) is a sci-fi film? You’ll see. Some spoilers down there, but they’re in black, so you have to highlight it to read. Like the following text.

ER is a film about a crew sent to Europa (one of Jupiter’s moons) to try to find proof of life. It’s shot like a documentary, with a slew of camera angles in and outside the ship, as well as a three narratives going on in a parallel. One is of the project leader, and some other members talking after the expedition, one is a crew-member commenting on the third narrative, which is the events on Europa 1 and its crew. The crew arrives on Europa after an accident has cut them one short, and from there things go from bad to fucking shitty.

Visually, ER is a stunning film. It’s an indie film, but I assume they had a decent budget, because it is so pretty.

No joke, the film is incredibly pretty.

No joke, the film is incredibly pretty.

Adding to the beauty of the film is how realistic if feels. The low-to-no-gravity scenes look great, and the film makes a good point of showing what effects months in space has on the travellers.

Not a preferred view of a space ship.

Not a preferred view of a space ship.

The crew on Europa stumble upon what could be one of the greatest finds of all history, but what are the mysterious lights and radiation spikes coming from?

In a way, ER is a horror story. It’s a descent into unknown territory and throwing yourself blindly into what could be certain death. And in a way, a scientific exploration is perfect fodder for horror. The characters have reasons to take risks to uncover things.They’re not just stupid kids walking into the dark and getting killed. That said, ER isn’t a straight horror film. It’s definitely pure sci-fi with some horror elements, as most sci-fi have.

It’s half brilliant and half idiotic, for reasons that are spoilery, so they follow in black text. What ER does in the final act is so unbelievably stupid. After a good hour of building up our curiosity, they decide to show AND tell. What I mean is that we get a definite look at what the crew’s been followed by throughout the film, and it only stands to make the end-product worse.

In the final moments of footage, the lights that the crew have come upon are revealed to be octopus-like creatures, and the lights are simply the tips of their tentacles, like those funny-looking predatory fishes in deeeeeeeep sea. It just poses a shit-ton more questions why we never saw anything else than the lights at random times. Surely the probe would have seen other life underwater if the octopus-like creatures use the light as a lure, especially when the probe had lights on it. Then the closing monologue wraps it up like the octopus-thing was the one thing to make it all worth it. It’s just such an unnecessary last-minute addition that shows up and changes the nature of the film. Just very bitter and annoying to see.

All in all, I think Europa Report is a very good film, but with some seriously detracting elements. It’s at the very least a definite watch if you’re a fan of sci-fi.

On to the next one, then:

Grave Encounters 2 is a good film.

Grave Encounters was one of the few good found-footage films that got a gigantic following (the genre, not the film, although the film might have a big following) after The Blair Witch Project popped up and made people excited for the new take on the genre.

GE was good despite the found-footage angle, instead making the formula work with creative scares and brilliant build-up. It also featured some stellar acting, especially by the leading man. It was about a small film crew visiting a shut-down mental hospital for their very b show. The presenter’s rapid descent from confidence and scepticism into downright terror and madness was nearly perfectly executed, and set the bar high for its successor.

GE2 works on the premise that the events during the first film actually happened. The crew disappeared and the horrors that took place really happened. Film student Alex takes his friends and girlfriend with him on his hunt for the truth, which takes them to the very place that the first film took place at.

So these guys show up again.

So these guys show up again.

Let’s be clear,the film is very meta. As it takes place “in the real world” it can talk shit about modern films and name-drop Wes Craven, among others. Even the ending further nails on how meta the film is.

It’s ironic, with how the film unabashedly slams modern horror for being uncreative, repetitive and soulless when it itself for the longest time is all of these. The film-students themselves are absolute hacks, that are filming a horror flick more b than Jason Voorhees’ left boot. They talk about having ambitions to revolutionise the genre while they produce horror by the numbers. Obviously it’s on purpose, given how overly bad the acting is in the guys’ film, and can be seen as a jab towards the repetitiveness and staleness of the genre as well, but it soon becomes clear that the film-makers themselves are just re-treading their previous film, both in tone and in story. Or are they?

In what is as close to a stroke of genius a horror film gets, the film throws the viewers a huge curve-ball and turns the entire premise on its head. It’s probably the greatest horror twist in the last decade. It even adds to its own mythos and succeeds in being truly creepy before the rather predictable – but nonetheless exciting – climax. It even manages to be really funny along the way.

It’s definitely recommended for horror fans who like their horror to be creative as well as scary. While it’s certainly not the best horror film ever and far from it, it’s very entertaining, albeit the first half hour is complete garbage and entirely unnecessary for the film.

I’d say it was a nice night of film-viewing. See y’all next time, whenever that’ll be.