Monday, November 16, 2009

"2012" / "The House of the Devil"

2012 - Directed by Roland Emmerich, starring John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Woody Harrelson - Rated PG-13

Destruction is nice and all, but the rest is a bit weak.

"This is how the world ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper." Director Roland Emmerich would whole-heartedly disagree with T.S. Eliot on that point. Emmerich destroys the planet in the loudest possible way he can and when he's showcasing the planet's destruction, 2012 works and is entertaining. When Emmerich tries to build characters and emotional connections; not so much.

2012 takes the ending of the Mayan calendar (12/21/12) and shows the doomsday scenario that some people believe in (though most everything I read or watch concerning the date now try to stray away from claiming the apocalypse is near). If you've seen the previews, you know what you're in for: mass destruction and a bunch of close calls for John Cusack and company. Cusack is trying to get his ex-wife, two kids, and their stepfather across the world to China in the hopes of catching a ride on some kind of ship being built by the world powers. Of course he's always just one step ahead of the spreading destruction. His escapes (especially the one featuring a limo) are quite ridiculous, but they look great for the most part. Emmerich, after Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, has become quite good at staging destruction.

Destruction scenes are nice and all, but it helps if you actually care about the characters running away from the danger. I didn't care one way or another about them (which is the problem I had with The Day After Tomorrow, along with the awful CG wolves in that film). I normally don't like John Cusack in anything he makes, so that didn't help matters for me. It also might have something to do with the fact that I've seen all of this before. The characters seem like they didn't make the cut for Independence Day. Of course Cusack is divorced, but there still seems to be something between him and his ex (Amanda Peet). His son kind of hates him, but if the end of world can't bring father and son together, what can? Forming the government/science side of the characters are Chiwetel Ejiofor (a waste in such an effects driven movie) as the scientist with a code of honor, Oliver Platt as the scientist without it, Thandie Newton as the president's daughter, and Danny Glover as the president. All standard doomsday movie characters, but Woody Harrelson, as the conspiracy nut, stands out and makes his short but sweet scenes genuinely fun.

The rest of the film is a series of tearful goodbyes, missed opportunities to reconnect, and characters saying variations of, "I think you should see this." Seriously, count how many times a character says a line like that, it's insane. I wanted to yell at the screen, "Hey, just stay in the room with the guy because something is probably going to happen every five minutes!" I guess it's all to be expected in a film like this and maybe the emotional scenes will actually work for some people, but it was all lost on me. One thing that wasn't expected, though, was the running time. This film lasts nearly two hours and forty five minutes. It basically pounds you into submission before letting you go with this formula: destruction, tearful goodbye, destruction, minor character death, destruction, tearful phone call, etc. It's just tiring and I was glad to leave the theater.

I suppose 2012 never really had a chance with Emmerich behind it. He made a fun summer movie with Independence Day but his latest two films don't allow for much fun. Comic relief or light hearted moments just seem wrong in a movie featuring the deaths of billions of people. How can you root for a Russian trophy wife's tiny dog to survive when you know people are dying all around? It just doesn't work, but hey, it looks impressive and it's all just a movie. It just made me want to watch Independence Day again. But it was better than The Day After Tomorrow, so that's something, I guess.

The House of the Devil - Written and directed by Ti West, starring Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, and Mary Woronov - Rated R

"Happy Halloween, ladies!"

*This film is in limited release in theaters at the moment, and is available to rent On Demand (which is how I watched it, since limited releases are pretty much nonexistent in this area).

The House of the Devil is the horror film made in the vein of the 1980's that is earning raves from horror aficionados. I don't count myself among the horror experts out there, but I still enjoy these types of films. I can't tell you what everything in The House of the Devil is a reference to, but I can tell you that it is quite enjoyable. This film has what all great horror films has: tension.

Before we get to the tense moments, though, I need to set up the story, which is refreshingly simple. Samantha is an innocent college girl who wants to start renting a house. She's a little short on cash, though, so she has to take a babysitting job on the night of a lunar eclipse. Samantha goes to work for the Mr. Ulman (the always creepy Noonan) who is in desperate need of a babysitter. The Ulmans have a slightly eerie house and you can tell something is not right with the situation. But the movie doesn't jump right into gory craziness, as most modern horror films do. Instead we get (I hate to use this term, but I can't think of anything better) a slow burn of a film that, in my opinion, has a worthy and quick payoff.

I can understand if anyone watches this and claims that it is boring. Sometimes there is a fine line between boredom and tension. The film worked for me and it's arguably slowest moment was the most tense for me. When Samantha is goofing off in the Ulman house it didn't seem pointless to me, it seemed realistic. And I was just waiting for the crazy to happen and the longer I waited, the more on edge I became.

That's only part of what makes this film work, though. I mentioned that this film was "in the vein of the 1980's" but it is actually a period piece. It doesn't make fun of the 80's or anything. I know this has been said about the film already, but I have to say that this film could pass as an 80's film. Not just because of the clothes and the just looks like an 80's horror flick.

I don't think this is the best horror film of the decade or anything (as many critics are claiming), but it was refreshing compared to the never ending flow of slasher movies spewing out of Hollywood. And even though I liked Paranormal Activity more, I'm more likely to watch this again and maybe, down the line, I will consider this a horror classic. For now, it's just a wonderfully tense and mysterious horror film.

1 comment:

  1. 2012: Could not agree more. Me and Julie both hated it. We could care less about the characters and their fate. There was no connection at all and I thought Danny Glover was a HORRIBLE choice. I think your rating would have been worse if you would have seen it for the first time on DVD. Very disappointed.