Film review – Pandorica

Well, hello there internet friends. I’m back! I took another little writing hiatus to do more book outlining (on which I made great progress) and visit my awesome friend Alex in Australia (on which I ate many delicious indigenous animals). Despite my concerns about that crazy island, I managed not to get mauled by any adorable furry creatures or giant bugs and return home in one piece to you good people.

Although, that meant leaving behind one of my favorite people on that crazy island. Alas.

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Now that I’m finally over my jet lag and back in the swing of things, I’m delighted to get back to the blog with another film review. After my recent watching of Refuge I’ve been optimistic about the increasing quality of independent horror in both writing and production value.

When I saw that another indie film I’d had my eye on was available, I naturally jumped at the chance to see it. Pandorica could be categorized in a number of ways – thriller, horror, apocalyptic, dystopian – and I think that’s one of the really appealing aspects of the film.

It picks up several generations after what they call The Great Reset, some sort of worldwide disaster that decimated all but the most isolated communities. Three youth of the Varosha tribe – Eiren, Thade, and Ares – are preparing to take part in a selection test, during which the tribe’s current leader Nus will select his replacement.

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The selection test is a rather vague process that comes with folklore (told over a campfire, naturally) and is carried out whenever the previous leader feels the next crop of kids are old enough to compete. Normally that would be too generic for my taste, but I do think Pandorica‘s story benefits from being intentionally ambiguous. When things seem to go awry during the test, there’s still a little voice in the back of your head that’s saying, “But maybe that’s how it’s supposed to play out.”

What immediately grabbed my attention even from the trailer was how intensely dark it is. And I mean that quite literally. Most of the action in the film takes place over the course of one night, illuminated only by the moon or torches or campfires. Dealing with shadows in that way is seriously tricky business and I think they handled the self-imposed lighting challenge wonderfully.

There are also several sweeping aerial landscape shots that are absolutely breathtaking. In particular I was enamored with a series of wide pans over the forest as they traveled from their tribal home to the location of the leadership test. This can be attributed partly to the inherent natural beauty of the set location, but even that can’t stand on its own without skilled camera and editing work.

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The plot is not the most original construction – A group of headstrong kids in their late teens or early 20s compete against each other in a selection process to shape the future of their community. That’s kind of par for the course when it comes to modern dystopia, and director Tom Paton has even said in interviews that he sees the setting more as a way to explore interpersonal relationships than explore a likely apocalypse scenario.

The film at its core is about leadership, and earning the right to call yourself a leader. I believe in today’s world, power it [sic] too easily acquired by some and is likely the reason that people at the bottom find themselves mistreated… I think it was about looking at a big message and then applying to the world I know so that hopefully, whatever industry you are in, you can see shades of how you lead and who gets promoted in these characters. (lovehorror.co.uk)

In another interview, he even went so far as to self-identify the setting as cliché.

After reading his thoughts, I went back and watched some sections a second time. A lot of interactions that had previously felt sort of “apocalypse light” to me now play out like the most amazingly intense office team-building retreat ever taken. (And if you’ve ever been subjected to one of those personally, you’ll understand why that’s appealing.) Whether that was his intent or not is kind of irrelevant if it means I enjoy the experience more through that lens.

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The film is not without flaws. There were character actions that were easy for me to telegraph. You don’t really get much introduction to the world beyond a text-on-screen opening montage. Some of the potential impact of the script was lost by having the main characters speak English using an awkwardly manufactured accent.

In the grand scheme of things these flaws are really just minor bumps on an otherwise picturesque road. There’s plenty of imagination involved in setting the scene – especially in makeup and costumes – and it’s easy to see just how much heart went into making this film. It’s clear the cast was fully on board with Paton’s vision and I appreciate his attention to detail.

My overall recommendation – Watch Pandorica. The film takes a well-worn genre and uses it as the backdrop for something intimate and unusual. Though the plot is more about the journey than the destination, it’s still an interesting journey to take. And if nothing else, the movie is a visual feast.

3/5 stars

 

 

 

 

 

 

The year in reviews

Recently I’ve had a bit of brain spark on an idea for a novel that has been stewing in my head for a while. I’m going to try to focus my creative energy on outlining it, which probably means fewer blog posts for a few weeks. Rather than leave you in the lurch, I thought I’d pull together everything I’ve recommended you watch over the past year.

Though I’m not much for year end roundups, anyone who knows me well knows that I can’t pass up a perfectly good opportunity to compile a list.

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I started out the year with a few thematic collections, the first being romantic films that are decidedly odd. This includes FrequenciesIn Your Eyes, and The One I Love. As of this post date, all three are still available to stream on Netflix. They’re all worth watching for different reasons, but if you only have the time or inclination to watch one, I’d say go with The One I Love.

Original post: Stream themes – Bizarre romance

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The second thematic collection were apocalyptic (or otherwise dystopian) movies. A personal favorite category, which some might say makes me a bit of a downer. But I see my interest in societal collapse as a curiosity in human behavior rather than a desire for actual chaos.

The list is mostly television, with a film pick and also an honorable mention that gets points for trying (but ultimately failing to entertain with) a novel premise.

Original post: Stream themes – Flirting with disaster

It Follows - Sisters

My next review was also one of my favorite films of 2015, and definitely a film I’m glad I first saw in the theater. While you no longer have the opportunity to see It Follows on the big screen, you should watch it on a screen that has a robust sound system.

The film is not really all that scary, at least not in a classic horror way. But it is the absolute best kind of creepy, and if you’re someone who finds atmosphere to be engine-revving (I definitely am), then you are in for a treat.

Original post: Film review – It Follows

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What struck me in particular about Advantageous is that it’s dystopian sci-fi with a decidedly female voice. It was written and directed by a woman, all the main characters are women, and its messages are particularly poignant to the female viewer.

Which is not to say that this is a film only for women – I think that men could also gain a lot of insight from watching it. More than the messages though, it’s also beautifully shot and expertly acted.

Original post: Film review – Advantageous

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Next up were two very goofy reviews, and I will admit that I rated them on my B-movie scale rather than a more discerning cinematic one. If you don’t like cheesy horror, they are not for you. But if you do like cheesy horror, they are cheddar-tastic.

Zombeavers (pictured above) is campy as all get-out, but it’s really not trying to be anything otherwise. And Love in the Time of Monsters (pictured below) has its tongue squarely planted in cheek. Both are absolutely ridiculous, but the second is definitely my favorite of the two.

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Original posts: Film review – Zombeavers and Film review – Love in the Time of Monsters.

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This final series of reviews is probably the most ambitious project I’ve ever tackled on this site. It’s also my favorite undertaking of the year, and the longest post I’ve ever written here.

In a moment that was either madness or genius (I am still undecided) I decided to spend a long weekend watching every Hellraiser film in order. With nine total movies in the series, that meant three each day for three consecutive days.

I’ll understand if you don’t want to read the post (either because you’re just not into gore or you’re just not into long reads) but I hope you do. It would be nice to feel as though I’m not just blogging into the void.

Also some, but not all, of the Hellraiser movies really are worth watching. Clive Barker has a unique way of crafting monsters who are not 100% monstrous, and Pinhead is a prime example.

Original post: The nine lives of Pinhead – a Hellraiser experiment

Bonus round

While this isn’t a movie review, I couldn’t leave this post off the list. Partially because I’m proud of the wordplay and partially because, even though I vowed not to, I actually caved and watched the movie a few nights ago.

The movie was absolutely awful. The post, on the other hand, is absolutely delightful.

Film Review – Advantageous

After spending a good chunk of the holiday weekend patriotically binge-watching The West Wing, I wanted to cleanse my streaming palate with another genre. Suffice it to say that Advantageous didn’t just cleanse my palate. It grabbed my palate with both hands and power-washed it, in the best way possible.

I wasn’t entirely sure how to write a plot synopsis, because the film is about so many different things. It’s about a mother (Gwen) wanting to do what’s best for her daughter. It’s about the intricacies of relationships within families. It’s about the pressure put on women to possess an ideal balance of intelligence and beauty. It’s about finding your place in the world. It’s about the automation of the workforce. And more and more and more.

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Advantageous is simultaneously straightforward and complex. It strikes me as a sort of dystopian feminist David Mamet play, in that most of the scenes take place in single rooms as contained conversations between two or three people. These conversations are intimate, heavy with mood and yet nuanced enough that the weight is applied in layers. You feel all the frustration, all the agony, and all of the love as well.

It’s worth adding that Advantageous also carries the mood over into the visuals. Soft pastels, muted light, large swaths of cold metallic accents, lingering shots on Gwen’s face as she looks at her daughter. It’s clear that this is set in the future, but mixed in with all the technology there are still touches of now.

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This isn’t an action flick and yet I was still on the edge of my seat, genuinely riveted by the twists and turns. I was also emotionally exhausted by the end of the film, which to me is the mark of a story well told. Advantageous is currently available to stream on Netflix, and I would absolutely suggest that you do so.

4/5 stars

Stream themes – Flirting with disaster

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, there will be many sites out there that offer romantic viewing suggestions for you and your special someone. This is not one of those sites. Not in the traditional sense anyway.

Just as my first love of literature was science fiction, my film and television soulmate is the end of life as we know it (in its many splendid forms). While we have an open relationship that leaves room for horror and dystopia, the apocalypse knows who I’m coming home to each night. If you’re looking to woo me, the second step is a shared love for all-out disaster.

The first step is pancakes, obviously.

Z Nation

I was skeptical about this series at first. It’s produced by The Asylum, a company known for such fine cinematic works as Mega Python vs Gatoroid and Sharknado.  But it turns out I love seeing the zombie apocalypse through their eyes (incidentally they’ve also produced several zombie movies, including the deliciously cheesy Zombie Apocalypse).

Z Nation succeeds in walking the line between horror and humor with only the occasional facepalm moment. There are a few legitimately startling jump scares, creative zombie kills (egg beater!) and honestly some of the most realistic interpersonal relationships I’ve seen in the genre.

DJ Qualls, as a lone NSA agent trying to guide survivors from a snow fortress, pulls off the difficult task of acting in isolation. Everyone else in the ensemble cast can play off each other, but even though he speaks with them he’s never in the same room as the rest of the team. And Nat Zang impressed me in his first professional role (also half the teenage internet, judging by all the fanfic out there).

It was surprising to me that a show written by two men could do such an amazing job capturing the survival challenges of women. Especially considering how The Walking Dead completely fails at that. I got angry at TWD when I realized that any time a woman started exuding strength or confidence the writers killed her off. But not only is Z Nation full of strong, confident women, it also broaches the subject of these women still having to make different compromises than men in order to survive.

The entire first season is now streaming on Netflix, with a second season in the works for later this year.

How I Live Now

This film (based on the YA novel of the same name) follows a girl named Daisy who goes to England to spend the summer with distant relatives on their farm. While she’s there, World War III breaks out and the kids are forced to fend for themselves sans adults. I haven’t read the book, but my understanding is that the film follows fairly closely to the plot (with just a few creative diversions). One of my favorite elements of the story is that the instigators of the war are referred to as “terrorists,” yet given no description of nationality or religion or mission. You don’t know why they’ve started a war, only that they have.

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It’s unique in the apocalypse genre in that the kids are mostly left alone to make it through. This is not a Hunger Games dystopia where there are a bunch of adults pulling strings, but there are soldiers who try to enforce some semblance of order. Even with that, it’s a fascinating look at how the primal survival instincts kick in and I think the author masterfully weaves in moral dilemmas. Also, Saoirse Ronan was a perfect casting choice for Daisy.

Also, also, the film opens to the sounds of Amanda Palmer’s “Do It With a Rockstar,” which was a surefire sign I was going to like it. (Video very much NSFW)

Black Mirror

It’s not apocalyptic, per se, but I’m still including this British series on my list. It’s an anthology (so far two “seasons” of three episodes each are available to stream) which means that each episode is a self-contained story. It explores various themes of how society interacts with technology and the often disastrous outcomes.

This is hands-down the best show I’ve seen in ages. It’s dark, but not soul-crushingly dark, and has moments of levity as well. The alternative futures that the creators imagine are not so far outside the realm of possibility, and that dose of reality is what really drives the message home. The second episode of the first season (“Fifteen Million Merits,” pictured above) is my favorite – a decidedly sci-fi look at a world of constant stimulation.

Rumors are flying that they’re looking to make an American version of the show (much to my dismay) and apparently Robert Downey Jr. bought the rights to one of the episodes looking to turn it into a film (even more to my dismay), so I’d recommend watching the original before someone ruins it for you.

Honorable mention for this list goes to Pontypool, for being a zombie-esque film that also takes place on Valentine’s Day. It’s a bit of a slow build, so much so that I found myself getting bored, but the premise (once it eventually gets going) is interesting. Points for creativity, but not much else.

I’m always looking for a good disaster to curl up with, so leave your suggestions in the comments!