Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Seven Days of Sawdom: Day Seven

Hello, all, and welcome to the final day of Sawdom, where we come in with the final chapter of this horror franchise.

I'll get started soon, but first, disclaimer:

There will be spoilers for extremely plot-sensitive details from the previous Saw movies. If you have not seen any of the previous installments of the franchise, turn back now and watch them before reading the review. You can't say I didn't warn you when your franchise is spoiled.
With that said, we move on to the final film of the franchise:

Saw 3D

Bobby Dagen (Sean Patrick Flanery) is an author who helps previous victims of the Jigsaw killer while purporting to be one of those victims. He eventually gets involved in a big trap of Jigsaw's design, and he finds he must get through it if he wants to save his wife. And while this is happening, Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) is pursuing Jill (Betsy Russel) for revenge for nearly killing him.

So... where to begin with this one?

Well... it gets a very definite feel of endgame, although it decided to avoid the angle that Saw III went with like the plague. Instead, it seeks to resolve the overarching mythos of the franchise to the point that it gets a bit obsessive about it. And my, does it pull quite the asspull to accomplish that. As well, Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) hardly ever appears throughout the installment, and the reported return of Cary Elwes to the franchise didn't amount to much. The closure of the series is still pretty interesting, though... it's convoluted, and yet it brings everything full circle in a strangely satisfying way. Honestly, the ending was the best part, if only because of how it brings everything full circle and for no other reason than that.

And the traps... Oh, boy. It's all bigger and gorier in this installment, with death scenes the likes of which we've never seen before. The gore is taken to all new levels here, and it's absolutely insane in that regard. But by this installment? It's grown exceptionally tough to care, as we all know the formula for these kinds of traps; the players all end up failing, people die in gruesome ways, and it's all insanity from there. The sad part? Some of the payoff for the traps isn't even all that great when we think about it. It's all big, and it's all gruesome, but sometimes the payoff doesn't amount to much of anything. And that is quite unfortunate...

And thematically? Forget it. There isn't a whole lot to work on here; now we see the franchise bogged down into the franchise's reputation as a schlock fest with a whole ton of gore. And there's hardly anything worthwile about it.

Saw 3D therefore comes off as a minor disappointment. It's not the way I would've ended the series (especially not with the big ass-pull they made at the end), and the traps aren't all as crazy as they could have been, but it redeems itself with bringing the whole series full circle in very interesting ways. But even then, it's not a great installment.

And on the 3D? It made things pop out at you and was very gimmicky. Although in a case like this, that helps the experience.

So the final verdict of the series' finale?


It has its moments, but overall you might be left disappointed.
Now... what's my final thoughts on the franchise?

Well... like any franchise, it went down the toilet after the third installment. The sixth installment was the best of all the installments after three, but unfortunately it never recaptured the suspense and the tough decisions of the first movie. So in this regard, this is my ordering for how good the installments are:

Saw II
Saw VI
Saw 3D
Saw IV
Saw V

So yeah, the first three movies and the sixth movie are the only ones that you should really bother with. The others can be skipped and you won't miss a whole lot (with the exception of a lot of background mythos for part VI).

The series started quite serious, but it ended on a heavily convoluted note. I'm not sure what to make of the overarching mythos; on the one hand, it's fascinating to see all of it unfold, but on the other it can come across as a little cheap (particularly during Saw V, which I now realize felt disjunct because it was trying to sew up the plot holes that were present with Saw IV's big reveal). And ultimately, it doesn't amount to a whole lot given the angles they went with.

As for the series' traps... Well, I guess I'll run down each installment and go over my favorite traps.

1: The central plotline's trap, mostly for how difficult the decisions were, but also because it's the least ludicrous of all the traps of the franchise.
2: None of the traps here are really that memorable, but if I had to go with one I'd probably go with the needle pit trap, as it has some very disturbing psychological undertones to it.
3: The pig vat trap; it's one of the few traps that someone walks away alive from, and it's the only trap in the entire franchise in which someone does what they're supposed to do before the victim dies.
4: I'd be inclined to go with the impalement trap, as it's got fairly disturbing undertones to it. On a side note, this installment houses my least favorite trap in the franchise: the hair trap. For God's sake man, cut her hair!
5: The pendulum; oddly enough, this is one of exactly two traps I've enjoyed in the franchise purely for how it works at fucking people up, and also because it helps develop Hoffman's character.
6: The carousel; it's a very difficult trap to watch because the decision making is extremely difficult. On a side note, the carousel also has the honor of being my favorite trap of the whole franchise.
7: I'll go with the throat pierce trap; it's one of the most ludicrous traps of the whole franchise, but its implications are very disturbing.

As for the best part of the traps? Well... I'll cover that in this week's musing.

This is Herr Wozzeck Reviews, at sunset on the final day of Sawdom. It's been a hell of a ride reviewing the entire franchise, and I hope you've enjoyed my retrospective.

And I'll see you guys next time.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Herr Wozzeck Muses: I Know The Victims!

Warning: the following musing will contain minor spoilers for Paranormal Activity 2. Mind you, they are minor, and it may not spoil too much, but this warning is here just in case.

So for those of you that saw Paranormal Activity 2, you have a horror sequel that's more intelligent than your average horror sequel. In the shortest sense possible, it relies more on the formula set by the original movie than most other horror sequels would think to rely on. So there's that element that helps the horror out, as well as some really well-paced story.

But perhaps the strongest tool of any horror film is its ability to get us to sympathize with the people that are being given hell. We hardly care about what's going on to a person unless we can understand and sympathize with their struggles. We want people to persevere in a horror story, and if we come to dislike the characters it's the worst sin you can perpetrate to a horror victim since we son't care for them the way we should; instead of cheering them on, we hope for whatever evil is plagueing them to kill them off finally. Ask the remake of Nightmare on Elm Street; we couldn't be bothered enough to care about the people there to want to sympathize with their struggle.

This is something that Paranormal Activity 2 does fairly well, given its set-up as an average family being subjected to not-so-average things, and all being terrified of it.

But in my case, it went a little farther than the film makers intended, I believe. Why?

That could practically have been my family in that house.

To be perfectly honest, my own family is so similar to the family in Paranormal Activity 2 that part of that fear transfered into "this could happen to me". It wasn't as distracting as you'd think, to be perfectly honest. In fact, it was the similarities between the PA2 family and my own that really began to eat away at me.

I can see my family's Nicaraguan housekeeper in Martine, even if my family's housekeeper probably never will be as superstitious as Martine is. I can see traces of little Hunter in my younger brother Augie: about 18 years separate the two of them, but given his mental disability he still needs people to look after him. My older sister is visible in Ali, along with being a fairly big social butterfly to match. My dad is a hard-ass much like Dan, and I couldn't help but feel a major similarity between Dan's assertions that nothing out of the ordinary was going on and my own fathers' attitude towards people telling him his faults. And my mom is very similar to Kristi, even if she's still my dad's only wife and she doesn't have any sisters like Katie. Hell, we even have the loveable dog to match! The only thing missing from this to be a near-perfect microcosm of my family would be myself.

And somehow, this made me relate to the whole movie on a completely different level. I facepalmed a little at Dan's assertions that nothing was out of the ordinary, mostly because it mirrored my own father's behavior when we try to bring up his own faults to him. I felt very sorry for Martine when she gets fired about ten minutes into the film, mostly because it mirrors my own fear of the housekeeper who's been a part of my life for as long as I can remember being suddenly fired and forced to go away. My fear of Kristi when the shit really hit the fan mirrored Ali's fear because I know for a fact I would be terrified if my mother was in a catatonic state. And the climax scared me a lot in relation to little Hunter because I could practically see my own brother being in that situation where he doesn't know what the hell is going on around him.

Ultimately, it ties into one of those musts of horror; the audience must be able to relate to the protagonists somehow. If it doesn't, the movie has no chance in hell of being even remotely good. On what level the audience relates to the protagonists is left up to the film makers, but my experience with PA2 says that sometimes it can run deeper than 'this is their motivation, now watch shit happen around them'. I hope that horror directors in the near future would keep this in mind, and I hope they actively try to find different ways to get the audience to relate to the victims.

This is Herr Wozzeck Muses. I'll see you guys next time.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Seven Days of Sawdom: Day Six

Hello, all, and welcome back to my retrospective of the Saw franchise. Today sees the final installment that we'll need to watch from home before Saw 3D hits theaters this weekend. And it's a pretty crazy installment.

And I mean that in more than one sense.

So... spoiler alert!

There will be spoilers for extremely plot-sensitive details from the previous Saw movies. If you have not seen the previous five installments of the franchise, turn back now and watch them before reading the review. You can't say I didn't warn you when your franchise is spoiled.

With that said, let's go into today's movie...

Saw VI

William Easton (Peter Outerbridge) is the head of a health insurance company that Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) went to when he was being treated for his cancer. William denied Jigsaw said coverage for a revolutionary new cancer treatment. Now that he is dead, Jigsaw throws William into the midst of a game of his own where he must put his own faulty healthcare policies to the test. All this goes on while we take a look at Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) and Amanda (Shawnee Smith) while Jigsaw's ex-wife Jill (Betsy Russell) becomes involved in Jigsaw's will in a way she doesn't want.

Okay, so let's get started.

Well, the choice of having a health insurance man there brings to point an especially big anvil for this movie; namely, that health care in America is ineffective. It honestly gets to the point where it feels a little anvillicious sometimes, and it can distract from the overall plot of the movie as a result. This does not bode well, although I can see why the message is there given that it was first released in the middle of a gigantic health care debate that was raging at this time last year.

Fortunately, everything else is back in action. The games in this installment almost all guarantee that someone's gonna get fucked up badly given that it makes one person choose between other people and who should die and who should live, much in lieu of the health care message. The gore is extremely well done, though it still does distract a little bit from the tension being built throughout.

But unlike the previous installments, we get to see what is going through William's head as he makes these decisions on who lives and who dies. The characters are given backstories and other things to help flesh them out as victims of something greater, and it gives us reasons to care about the characters. It also goes into enough detail to give us William's motivations as to why he spares the people he spares. All this helps us get a return glimpse into the suffering that the franchise started out with, and as such the movie doesn't feel like it falls in line with the torture porn reputation the other movies had.

It's this return to form that makes Saw VI one of the better installments of the series. The healthcare message is distracting and the gore can be as unsettling as ever, but apart from that it's a return to form that manages to elevate this installment above the others.


If you want to go see it, go see it. If you don't want to go see it, don't.

Okay, so... Heading into the weekend, my thoughts?

Well... it's starting to get a little more convoluted from here on out, but I get the feeling that the next installment will see very decreased input from Jigsaw and a lot more involvement from Hoffman's side of things. See, it was revealed in this installment that Hoffman was more of an asshole than initially believed; he blackmailed Amanda into doing her actions from Saw III (which I hold against the movie since it partly retcons a lot of the thematic development present in that installment), and he's just a jerk. I imagine the traps will only get more intense at the end of the franchise as a result, so... We'll see what happens plotwise.

All I can say, though, is this: thank God they decided to condense the last two installments into one. Yeah, there were originally supposed to be two installments after this. Thank goodness Paranormal Activity came in and said "uh, no, we're not gonna let you get away with that". To be perfectly honest, the decision to condense Saw VII and Saw VIII makes quite a bit of sense from a story view; I think it's a very ill-informed decision to stretch the resolution of this whole thing out across two movies; it's probably better to pack it into one movie, as it can stretch the pacing way too thin for a lot of people's tastes.

As for the traps? Some of them look absolutely insane from what we see of the trailers. I'll be hard-pressed to admit it, but one of the things I've really liked about this franchise is its ingenuity in its traps. Not what they do to people, mind you, but what they mean. It's something I've been noticing quite a bit as the franchise has gone on, so I'll talk about it once I've seen the whole franchise.

As for the 3D? Well, I'll be willing to give this one a chance for that, seeing how this installment was apparently filmed in 3D instead of using that idiotic post-production process. This is a bit of a relief, although I will still try to see if I can't see this installment in 2D.

But other than that? I'm looking forward to seeing how this franchise ends.

This is Herr Wozzeck Reviews, at the sunset of the Sixth Day of Sawdom. I'll see you guys next time, and I hope you'll join me on the Seventh Day of Sawdom when I review Saw 3D.

Monday, October 25, 2010


Heyo. If you know me, you know that I'm very into a lot of things. I'm into thinking quite a bit about the state of things, and how things go about in the world today.

But one thing you might not know about me is that one subject that frequently comes up for me is death. I tend to think about death all the time for some reason, and it's something I can rarely take my mind off of.

So when Clint Eastwood makes a movie about the afterlife? Well... I couldn't help but check it out.

Which brings me to today's movie...


George (Matt Damon) is a psychic who doesn't do any readings since he views his supposed 'gifts' as a curse. Marcus (Frankie McLaren) is a boy whose twin brother dies in a car accident. Marie (Cécile de France) is a reporter who had a near-death experience during a tsunami while investigating a story in Indonesia. All three find themselves pondering about the afterlife and what they go to when they die, and it profoundly affects all three of them.

So yeah. This movie is a little disjointed at first; it starts with three seperate stories that all converge at the end that ponder various things about the nature of an afterlife. It's a very slowly paced meditation on death, and it really has a few things to say about the afterlife. Honeslty? I found it to be fairly stimulating, but god damn it was it depressing. George and Marie's stories laid it off on the sadness a bit, but god damn it Marcus' story was super depressing, and I felt the most moved by his story. It actually creates a bit of a schism when we start comparing stories, however, and that shift took me out of the movie.

As well, the convergence of the storylines might come off as being a little cheap to some viewers. The events that occur have a bit of a bent to them, as well, and some may find those elements can make the viewing experience a little less moving. I found the ending to be the only way it could really have closed the movie, even if it did rely on supernatural elements a little too much. Some of the plots also felt a little clichéd and melodramatic at points, and it detracted from some things. It really didn't pause on the meditation of the afterlife that occurred, however, and the to me brought closure to all the thoughts that it had been bringing up until that point.

And it was helped by excellent performances from the entire cast as well. Everyone that was in this movie did a good job, though of particular note is Frankie McLaren, who apparently never acted before. He does an astoundingly beautiful job as a boy trying to come to terms with the fact that he's lost his brother. He was seriously the best actor in the movie, which is saying something considering he has to work with Matt Damon.

Hereafter is certainly one of the most depressing movies of the year, but fortunately it's for all the right reasons. Sure, the plot may not be the greatest, but its meditations on where we go after life are very thought-provoking and beautiful in their own kind of way. So I say go check it out.


It has a few flaws, but it's still worth checking out.

This is Herr Wozzeck Reviews. I'll see you guys next time.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

"Paranormal Activity 2"

Okay, so remember when Paranormal Activity became a smash hit last year and single-handedly managed to topple the Saw franchise's stable hold on Halloween weekend? Well, in addition to launching Orin Peli's career, it also warranted a sequel. Why?

Because whate else is there to do with a successful horror movie but make a sequel to get money?

Well... you may be surprised to find out that this particular sequel is actually pretty good. Why?

Well, that brings me to today's movie...

Paranormal Activity 2

Kristi Rey (the sister of Katie from the first movie) is married to Daniel, has a stepdaughter named Ali, and an adorable baby son named Hunter. However, Kristi's household begins to get haunted by similar things that plagued Katie and Micah's house in the first movie. And so... they sort of go about trying to figure out what the hell is going on as things get stranger and stranger.

So... let's get started.

As per usual sequel mechanics, things get a lot bigger in Paranormal Activity 2. The house is bigger, the group of people affected is bigger, there's a dog involved, there's a Hispanic housekeeper involved, and...

There are more cameras. It's security cameras this time around, and about five of them. And that's not counting the handheld camera that isn't erected on a tripod anymore for roughtly 2/3rds of the movie. This typically works against the movie, as we're given too many vantage points and it lessens the tension slightly. I remember one of the most frightening moments in the original was when Katie was dragged out of bed by something invisible; part of what played into that particular scare was not knowing how the tussle between the demon and Micah would end. Sure, there are some areas of the house that aren't under surveillance, and they do play with some of the camera angles from time to time, but that factor of the unknown doesn't play into the video footage anymore.

Actually, unknown is given the finger throughout. This fleshes out a couple of things in the first movie, and even sheds light on why Katie and Micah were being attacked in the first place. This could be a problem, but... one thing that benefits the movie is that when explanations come, the implications of them actually make things a little more frightening. Sure, it takes some of the tension away when we can relate some of the events to how they played out in the first movie, but it's that kind of knowledge that frightens you the more you think about it.

And the movie gets going a little faster than it did the first time they did it. The really insane scares that people felt were lacking in the first movie come a little sooner, and given the larger area of the house it has a lot more it can work with to at first creep us the hell out and then outright scare the shit out of us. And ultimately, the build-up and the pay-off is enough to override what tension is taken away by the knowledge of stuff.

All this makes Paranormal Activity 2 a worthy sequel. Is it as good as the original? No. But it still offers the same brand of intelligent horror that the first movie offered. So it manages to be more than a cash-grab sequel.

And the most scary thing about it? That will be the muse.


Most definitely worth checking out.

This is Herr Wozzeck Reviews. I'll see you guys next time.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Seven Days of Sawdom: Day Five

Hello, all, and welcome back to my retrospective of the Saw franchise. Today's look at the franchise presents perhaps the most... well... needless installment of the franchise. I'm not sure what else to say about this; this is the one film in the franchise that I don't really see much of a point to.

I'll cut to the chase right away and talk about today's movie... But first, disclaimer:

There will be spoilers for extremely plot-sensitive details from the previous Saw movies. If you have not seen the previous four installments of the franchise, turn back now and watch them before reading the review. You can't say I didn't warn you when your franchise is spoiled.
With that said, let's go on...

Saw V

The events of Saw III and IV leave Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) and Amanda dead, but his work is far from finished given the reveal of Detective Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) as Jigsaw's second apprentice. However, FBI agent Peter Strahm (Scott Patterson) is on to Hoffman, and it's up to him to figure out how to bring Hoffman in while five people play another of the now-posthumous Jigsaw's games as carried out by Hoffman.

See? I told you it would eventually be impossible to keep the spoilers out. From here on out, I'll assume you've seen the first four movies of the franchise.

Here, the gore gets taken to all sorts of new levels, such that it becomes incredibly insane. Now they're really going full-out with how badly they can fuck up people. And it's gotten to the point where it's not there for the tension so much as it is for the shock factor. But we're not shocked; we're startled. In fact, at one point I actually laughed at the gore since it was obviously fake. And that is perhaps the worst sin perpetrated by the gore. What doesn't help is that some of the actors they got for this are absolutely terrible at what they do; some of their deliveries are very flat for the kinds of ridiculously life-threatening situations we find ourselves in, and it doesn't help us sympathize with them all that much.

But what makes it all worse is the fact that for a franchise that banks on it, there isn't all that much there. Most of the movie is spent following Hoffman and Strahm around as Hoffman gets acquainted with the Jigsaw killer via flashbacks (even being seen helping Jigsaw set up one of the traps from the first movie and the big trap from the second movie) and as Strahm chases Hoffman around. And not all that much goes on.

And unfortunately, there's not enough of a really obvious correlation between the main game of the movie and the attention put into Hoffman's history with Jigsaw for there to seem like there's any actual worth to what's going on. The entire thing thus comes off as entirely pointless; we don't really need to see Hoffman's history with Jigsaw all that much, and it doesn't really relate at all to the so-called 'Fatal Five'. Perhaps if we had concentrated more on Strahm, we would've had a way to connect with the film, but that was not to be. And as a result, the whole thing comes across as a bit of a mess that doesn't really know what it wants to do with itself.

And that is a shame, as Saw V has a lack of focus that ultimately renders the whole enterprise pointless. The story of Hoffman and Jigsaw is interesting enough, but it doesn't relate to the rest of the movie well enough for us to really care. It's the worst installment of the franchise, mostly by how useless it feels from how unfocused it is.


Skip it.

All right...

I could very easily see this as being integrated into the plot of one of the other Saw movies, seeing as how there wasn't a whole lot that happened. There were many hints that some of what we saw at play will get worked into the next installment of the franchise, but for me it didn't feel like there was enough substance within this film to do that.

As a result, this feels more like a filler episode than anything. And appropriately, it's the worst of the series as a result. There's really not a whole lot more to say...

In terms of the franchise's general plot, I can see why they concentrated on Hoffman's history with Jigsaw; it felt like a bit of an ass-pull, and this installment serves to reinforce the fact that yes, this actually happened. But it did so while distracting from the main theme of this particular installment. If they had worked it into a different installment, it might actually have worked. But we'll see when we get to the next installment.

And that's really all I have to add. Not much was added with this installment, but we'll see what happens when we hit part Six.

So yeah.

This is Herr Wozzeck Reviews, at the sunset of the Fifth Day of Sawdom. I'll see you guys next time, and I hope you'll join me on the Sixth Day of Sawdom when I review Saw VI.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


So... remember when I reviewed Expendables towards the very end of the summer? How I mentioned it was a fun little action piece? How I mentioned the humor mostly worked? How I mentioned that I had a good time?

Take it to the rocket launcher.

This movie is the one that's all of those things, and more...


Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is a retired CIA agent living life. He's just got one problem; someone's trying to kill him and several other people. So he sets out to find out who is trying to get him killed along with the help of his old friends Marvin, (John Malkovich), Joe (Morgan Freeman), Victoria (Helen Mirren), and a pension clerk caught up in events that Frank is falling for (Mary-Louise Parker). And so, explosions and one-liners galore ensue.

So yeah. Expendables? Pssh. Move over.

This movie is somehow even more ridiculous than that. Bruce Willis walks out of a twirling car casualy while firing guns at someone. Helen Mirren uses a submachine gun. Morgan Freeman is allowed to have a gun at a retirement home. And John Malkovich shoots a rocket and makes it blow up. And all that, is among other things. And it's every bit as fun as it sounds. It's big. It's loud. This movie has a ball with itself, and the result is difficult (if not impossible) to like. The fact that it's older people having this much fun is... well, quite strange, frankly, but it's still great to see they can own basically everyone else.

And we can see it all, too. Nothing about all this 'shaky cam' business; the action here is incredibly crisp, incredibly clean-cut, and we can actually see what's going on. And this only means the action gets more intense and more fun.

It also helps that all the zingers that frequent the script all work extremely well. It helps quite a bit too that with the older actors the acting is quite stellar, and thus every single actor nails the one-liners. While some bits of the plot don't make a whole lot of sense, it's so tightly scripted that we're still with the characters all the way through every little plot convenience. And honestly? I didn't mind all the plot conveniences, as I was just having so much fun throughout I scarcely cared.

And that I think is RED's strongest point. Its plot can be a bit convoluted, but I wasn't vested enough in the story to care. Everyone has a great time with this, and it really shows in how much fun this movie is to watch. The action is incredible, the one-liners are all really fun, and it's brought together by a tight script and especially tight acting.


Most definitely worth checking out.

This is Herr Wozzeck Reviews. I'll see you guys next time.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Seven Days of Sawdom: Day Four

Hello, all, and welcome back to my retrospective of the Saw franchise. On this fourth day of Sawdom, things begin to change quite a bit, and by that I mean it takes what it had in the previous installment and pretty much runs with it.

Is this a good thing or not? Well...

First, the disclaimer:

There will be spoilers for extremely plot-sensitive details from the previous Saw movies. If you have not seen the first two installments of the franchise, turn back now and watch them before reading the review. You can't say I didn't warn you when your franchise is spoiled.
With this, I'll bring the topic to today's movie...

Saw IV

People keep dying around Police Lieutenant Rigg (Lyriq Bent), so Jigsaw puts him to a test. He now has to learn to think like Jigsaw in order to save police detectives Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) and Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) while encountering various other people that are in need of salvation as Jigsaw sees it, while we learn the past of the now-deceased Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), and what drove him into his time as a serial killer...

...And that's where it starts to fall apart.

This latest movie in the franchise is as slick and gory as the previous installments were. It's all tough to watch, it's all really well-done, and it's all competent. But, the problem is that it's more or less taken the torture porn idea and run with it as far as it can.

And now, it's not scary so much as it is a little tough to watch. The gore stops being scary when it's the only thing that's focused on. Yes, there's Rigg's trap, but now it seems the focus has shifted from the human suffering in the equation to how badly can people get fucked up by stuff. And this really ramps down the atmospheric building that occurred throughout the last three installments. And it's no longer truly horror as a result. It doesn't help that we don't really care enough about half the people that get messed up. It's part of the movie's point, but when the going really gets bad, it gets tough to sympathize with the people we're supposed to.

What also changes is that the characters don't get developed too thoroughly throughout this installment. It takes away a smaller piece of the tension, as we don't really get any reasons why we should care for them other than 'they're in these traps, and they must be helped'. Nothing more, though nothing less either. It makes for a very mixed package, to be sure.

It doesn't help that this movie tries to cram a little too much into its running time. I felt the whole subplot detailing Jigsaw's history was a little pointless, seeing as how it didn't really add that much to the movie. (Also, there was that prequel comic that sadly got retconned straight to hell by this installment...) The amount of information this movie had was also distracting from the main test that was being gone through in the game.

So overall? Saw IV represents a big step down for the franchise: its concentration shifts from the people suffering through Jigsaw's traps and trials to what actually happens to people in the traps. It's not pretty, and it distracts from the tension greatly as well, meaning that the tightness the previous movies once had is instead replaced by a strange feeling of disgust. And that is not the kind of tension that makes a good horror movie.


This movie was very disappointing.

Right. Now, for thoughts on the franchise?

Well... Saw IV is the first truly bad Saw movie in my eyes. The first three were actually pretty good, so I was pretty shocked that it took this long for the franchise to truly get to the place where it's all about the torture porn. And this is the point where it gets pretty bad. Odd how it'll ultimately be smack dab in the middle of the franchise when it got bad. I'm almost tempted to take the first three films and hold them in a vault, proclaiming the first three movies to not exist.

This... brings me to another point that I'm beginning to notice; the amount of traps in these movies is beginning to get on borderline ludicrous. At the end of the movie, it's revealed that the events of both the third and fourth installments are taking place at the same time. That... would require a lot of planning, and if so, John Kramer probably should've gone into a different profession since that would take a ridiculous amount of brainpower to engineer something this big. But it's beginning to get ludicrous, and I fear that the rest of the franchise will only get more and more convoluted in this regard in terms of plot and how many traps Jigsaw can operate at once.

And as for the gore, I think I know where the franchise might be heading in terms of this by this point. Each installment has only gotten gorier, and I have a feeling the remaining installments won't be much different in this regard.

But we'll see. After all, we do have three days left, and now that we're at the midway point of the franchise, anything can happen. But we'll see what happens.

This is Herr Wozzeck Reviews, at the sunset of the Fourth Day of Sawdom. I'll see you guys next time, and I hope you'll join me on the Fifth Day of Sawdom when I review Saw V.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Herr Wozzeck Muses: And So Sayeth The Lord...

Warning: This musing will contain spoilers for My Soul To Take and The Book of Eli. If you haven't seen either, turn back now, and you won't be able to say I spoiled your movie-going experience. If you have, read on.

My Soul To Take being supernatural horror is a bit of a no-brainer for those who know Wes Craven's work well; after all, he is perhaps most famous for A Nightmare on Elm Street. If he works well within dream horror, there's something to be said about how you might be able to transplant that into straight supernatural horror. So on that count, you'd think it would succeed.

But one thing you might not have known about My Soul To Take is that its supernatural elements take a more... shall we say... spiritual angle as the film reaches its close. You can see the beginnings of the spiritual elements of its story by virtue of its title, derived from a prayer that plays a pretty big role throughout the entire film in a way that isn't immediately obvious. Perhaps another indicator is that one of the main characters (and one of the Ripper's victims) is a hyper-religious Bible nut who studies about it and either prays to God all the time or throws a 'you're going to hell' line at the wrongdoers (thankfully, she throws them at the mandatory asshole victim and not the guys who don't deserve it, so she's cool). She even quotes Psalm 23 prominently at one point as she's walking in the woods.

But what you don't get instantly is the hints that angels and demons are at play here. Yes, we get Bug getting visions of the other victims by looking in mirrors, and he seems to be not entirely himself, but it's not until the final minutes of the film that we get any indication of what's going on (although a few genre savvy viewers will most likely figure it out well before then). It's also not until the end of the film that we realize the Ripper was posessed by a demon intending to start a whole cycle of sacrifices with one of the Seven.

And up until that point? The Ripper felt very grounded in the real world. In fact, the denoument felt like it was ripped straight out of an Agatha Christie novel. It all could've had some grounding in the real world, as the posession tended to manifest more like Dissosciative Identity Disorder than what we'd find in The Exorcist.

If nothing else, this to me makes it feel like My Soul To Take might serve as a go-to example for how to make movies with spiritual elements that have enough grounding in the real world to make both elements work fairly well. Yes, the Ripper is a little supernatural, but there's nothing he does that can't be done in the real world. Yes, there's demonic posession, but it's not quite your typical posessions. The blend of the two works really well.

Thinking about this brings back The Book of Eli, which I slammed for having one of the dumbest twist endings in the movies, and is currently my lowest-rated movie that I've ever reviewed since I started reviewing movies. I think one of the principal problems that movie had was it tried too hard to involve the spiritual elements. It all felt very grounded in the real world, right up until it revealed he was blind. After that, the fridge logic came rushing in, even as I was watching.

Yes, I get he was supposed to be divinely inspired. The advertising campaign made no attempt to disguise that. But they did it in a way that invalidated the rest of the movie as a result; Eli could've given Carnegie the book at any time after Mila Kunis' character joined him and it wouldn't have affected the ending all that much. As well, even if Carnegie's girlfriend had been free from threatening, a Braille Bible apparently takes more than one volume to write. (By the way, I didn't mind the fact that he had memorized the entire King James Bible so bad; you'd be incredibly surprised at what a man's memory is capable of storing.) As well, the whole twist smelled of 'God exists in this universe, people': even if his other senses were heightened, there's no way Eli should've been kicking that much ass as a blind man. It pushed the willing suspension of disbelief too far for something with its hyper-realistic post-apocalypse treatment.

This is something that My Soul to Take manages to avoid. Yes, the elements are there and fairly obvious once we get to the end, but they don't invalidate the movie entirely. I think this is more than just the fact that it's supernatural horror versus Fallout 3 with Bibles; I think it's also on the virtue that it balances its real world and spiritual elements perfectly. Is that a good thing? I'll let you decide. But I like to think it is.

This is Herr Wozzeck Reviews. I'll see you guys next time.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

"My Soul To Take"

Well, guys, unlike last year where I kept it back, this year, I'm going to proudly proclaim the following:

Horror season has begun! Hopefully I'll be able to review more horror films this October, but we'll see how it all turns up.

In the meantime... You ever wonder what happened with Wes Craven after NoES? Well... There was Scream. But after that, what did he do after original horror?

Well... he did today's movie.

My Soul To Take

The town of Riverdale was haunted by a mysterious mass murder sixteen years ago that resulted in seven premature births. On the anniversary of the murders, the seven are left to wander around living their lives. However, what they don't know is that the killer, dubbed "The Ripper" after his mysterious knife, has returned, and is picking them off one by one. It's thus up to Bug (Max Thierirot), one of the seven and someone who's been getting strange supernatural visitations lately, to stop the Ripper before all seven of them die.

Okay, so... It's Wes Craven recycling A Nightmare on Elm Street with the same general plot and same kinds of characters. However, he manages to make it different enough that it becomes its own entity. For example, there's no real muddling of perception of reality, mostly because it all takes place in the real world. There's no overly ridiculous deaths, given that. And the characters are different enough that we can do things better.

That includes everything bad that comes with that, however. Characters acting like idiots was excuseable in NoES, but here it's not since the dream-world angle is taken away. The deaths all feel more or less the same, similar to the problem that the NoES remake had with its lack of variety in deaths, although fortunately on that count it's quite a bit less noticeable.

And then there are a couple of additional problems added to that. Half of the movie's victims aren't terribly likeable, and one was so much of a jerk I let out an audible whoop when he got what was coming to him. We can also tell some of the plot developments coming from a mile away, and the tension kind of vanishes after those two factors are thrown in.

Fortunately, the movie manages to redeem itself with a fairly satisfying ending that, in addition to being fairly exciting, manages to tie up the loose ends reasonably well. (How it does that will be explored in the coming week's musing.) As well, the acting was very competent, and some people even stood out as being great. It all redeems itself in the end, even if some of the unlikeable victims and idiocy detract from that.

And this makes My Soul To Take a bit of a mixed bag. However, it ultimately succeeds as a competent horror film by virtue of its ending and the strength of the acting. It's also good for anyone who's getting tired of the incessant horror remakes that have been flooding the film industry lately for some original horror films.

Oh, and on the 3D? It didn't add too much, really, which I think is for the best.


If you want to go see it, go see it. If you don't want to go see it, don't.

This is Herr Wozzeck Reviews. I'll see you guys next time.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Flashback Reviews: Let the Right One In

So... I'm sure most of you are wondering why I didn't take the time to review Let Me In last weekend. Well, the first was that there was another, much more anticipated film out then (The Social Network), so there was that. The second... was that said horror film is a remake.

I honestly don't understand remakes all that much. Either they get remade badly, or not at all... I hear Let Me In actually isn't terrible, but still, it's a bit pointless I think.

So today, I thought I'd go back to the original Swedish film. Why? Because, as you can tell on my profile, it's one of my favorite horror films.

Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in) (2008)

Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is a lonely boy who lives with his mom and gets bullied constantly by other boys. Then, the enigmatic Eli (Lina Leandersson) moves in next door to him, and the two begin to form a very close friendship. But when Eli shows up, people start dying in gruesome ways around the neighborhood. Oskar is thus set to find out that Eli is actually a vampire, and things get very complicated from there.

So... this is about as anti-Twilight as you can get. Yes, it's a vampire love story, but it's an atypical one from Stephenie Meyer wherein everything that made vampires so mystical is back with a vengeance. It's also very disturbingly graphic as a result. It's full on-horror here, and this gets it right.

And it's kind of beautiful in its own way. The movie has a very pale canvas surrounding it, and its use of color is restrained in that there's almost nothing there in terms of bright primary colors. (This is something the remake looks to have retained, and I am all the happier for it.) It certainly has a very jarring effect whenever blood does make an appearance within this whitewashed world; it's garish in its own disturbing little way, and it actually creates a great feeling of disgust. I think this alone makes the use of gore in this movie far more effective than it does in something like, say, Final Destination. Blood is disturbing enough on its own; but when it's tastefully used as the only incredibly bright primary color that shows up? That is even more disturbing. It's even more strange how the gore is treated in some spots; there's one part of the movie that I always remember since it's quite bloody-- but also somehow manages to be incredibly heartwarming at exactly the same time.

And that's the blood when it does show up; this is the kind of slow-burning horror that really ups the ante on the tension for what happens. It's... difficult to describe the way tension is built in this movie. Everything moves very slowly, so when we get violence it's quite unsettling. It also takes the time to build up everything relating to the characters, and we come to care for them as things unfold around them.

But overall, everything is held together from great performances from its two leads. It's quite a gambit for children to be able to hold a movie like this on their shoulders, particularly when whether the movie works or not hinges on your child actors. And the two leads nailed everything on the head. Oskar is appropriately frightened of many things around him, Eli is appropriately mysterious and alluring as necessary, and everything comes together in part because their performances are so great.

It's difficult for me to describe what makes Let the Right One In work as well as it does. Perhaps it's the infiltration of dread in an otherwise safe love story that makes the contrast work beautifully. Perhaps it's the visual style with it's white-washed landscapes only colored by the extremely rare (and prominent) blood. Perhaps it's the performances of the leads. But I think it's a combination of all of these factors, and it's this combination that makes this particular movie one of my favorite horror movies of all time.


A must-see picture.

This is Herr Wozzeck Reviews. I'll see you guys next time.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Seven Days of Sawdom: Day Three

Hello, all, and welcome back to my retrospective of the Saw franchise. So now on this third day of Sodom, quite a few things change about the Saw franchise. Darren Lynn Bousman is still at the helm, but the gore is really upped quite a bit in this latest installment.

Oh, and this is about the point in the Saw franchise where it begins to get extraordinarily difficult to talk about the movies themselves without spoiling the previous installments. So, in lieu of that:

There will be spoilers for extremely plot-sensitive details from the previous Saw movies. If you have not seen the first two installments of the franchise, turn back now and watch them before reading the review. You can't say I didn't warn you when your franchise is spoiled.

And I'm afraid that's not even the start of the crazy spoilers here...

So yeah. Since this summary can only go so far, I'll get started with today's movie...


Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) is playing a final game, and in this final game he has wrangled Lynn (Bahar Soomekh) to keep him alive while Jeff (Angus Macfayden) completes a series of trials in which he is asked to spare those involved with a car accident that killed his son. And all the while, he watches over his apprentice Amanda (Shawnee Smith) as she presides over both trials.

And... shit goes down. Heavily. The ante is upped in terms of everything. So for starters?

Well, the gore is beginning to take incredible prominence through here. Where the first installment did with using a jump cut to help our imagination when people were severing their feet, now it willingly shows a whole lot of nasty stuff that goes on. We see someone's ribcage get torn out in graphic detail. We see a whole lot of other gore in there... And it concentrates on how much suffering is being inflicted that it begins to edge almost on the side of glorifying it. There are still screaming, but I got less of the human suffering aspect and more of the 'look at us, we're actually making people do this'.

And it takes a bit of the tension away as a result. Yes, we see the gore, but it's the actions of the characters that ultimately render it all moot. Jeff is supposed to be helping the people that he isn't supposed to like. But... half the time, he just ends up standing there sitting on his ass while the person is suffering very close to where he is. And it steals away from the tension, as you know that he's likely just going to stand there to let the poor people die. While it does make the character look like a moron, that's the least of the problems with this approach; it also makes it fairly obvious that the gore is the centerpiece of the film.

What it does right, however, is that it takes an angle of deconstructing Jigsaw's mythos. I had to mention Amanda in the summary; throughout much of the film, it does a lot of deconstruction of Jigsaw's M.O. with Amanda, the only one who's survived his games, and also his apprentice (as revealed at the end of Saw II-- hence the spoiler warning). It's clearly shown that Amanda hasn't learned anything from her test from the first movie, and this is highlighted through her actions in the movie. Thus, it's pretty clear that this was meant to be a swan song for the franchise and just why Jigsaw's methods are doomed to failure. This deconstruction alone makes it worthwile, but it doesn't explore it fully. And unfortunately, I can't blame the writers for this for reasons I'll get into after giving the rating.

Oh, and Jigsaw isn't the only one. It's also great for looking into the nature of forgiveness, given the nature of much of Jeff's trials. He basically is given an opportunity to spare everyone he encounters, and it's interesting to see his thought processes as he contemplates his son and how the people he has to save figure into things. This alone is enough to redeem the film in my eyes.

So in short? While the overreliance of gore to raise disgust at what is going on is beginning to chip away greatly at the tension, Saw III still more or less succeeds on the virtue of the fact that it works exceedingly well as a look into forgiveness and Jigsaw's M.O. It's pretty clear what the writers had in mind, but... well... I'll give the rating, talk about where the franchise is heading, and then talk about that.


If you want to go see it, go see it. If you don't want to see it, don't.

All right. So...

Here in Saw III is the franchise's real beginnings as a series that puts a lot of emphasis on so-termed 'torture porn'. Now I'm really beginning to see the reputation the series has gotten, just from the fact that it's all insane. And really, I began to think, 'wow, the prosthetics for this must've been insane' as time went on, which didn't help the tension all that much. But still, it begs a problem of why you must have gore in there in the first place. The original Saw did well enough by leaving it to the imagination that people were experiencing really gory deaths (as evidenced by the cut from Dr. Gordon sawing his foot off), so it baffles me why we would really need the gore.

In some ways, though, it's necessary for the deconstruction of Amanda's character, as she made a few traps for this one. The problem with her traps is all of them are inescapable, which goes against Jigsaw's general M.O. of giving his victims a chance to escape his traps (even if doing so would require absolutely superhuman levels of willpower to do so), and it gives a look into Amanda's character. And in looking at how Amanda operates, we find that Jigsaw's methods don't work. The gore has to figure into Amanda's traps somehow, and while we could've done without it for Jeff's, for Amanda's, I can't imagine we would be able to think of her traps the same way without actually seeing the terrifying things they do to their victims; the fact that they were inescapable combined with the gore combine to see just how messed up Amanda is.

But it doesn't go all the way with this, and unfortunately the writers aren't to blame for that. It's funny that the series' intentional swan song is the one that kicks off its reputation; if the writers would've had their way, they would've ended the franchise here. But if executives milked A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Final Destination for all of those respective series' splatter-house potential, they were going to milk Saw for it as well. It's painfully obvious that we could've left it as a horror trilogy, and honestly it would've been great if we could have left it there with a third installment that more thoroughly explored why Jigsaw's MO doesn't work.

Alas, for we have Saw IV. And V. And VI. And 3D, coming to theaters at the end of this month. Horror executives don't really know when to end the series.

And this only decreases my hopes for the rest of the franchise, as it will no doubt only get more ludicrous from here. And that frightens me more than any of the games in this movie, to a degree I can't even begin to describe.

This is Herr Wozzeck Reviews, at the sunset of the Third Day of Sawdom. I'll see you guys next time, and I hope you'll join me on the Fourth Day of Sawdom when I review Saw IV.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

"The Social Network"

Okay, so... What to say about Facebook? There's not a whole lot really, other than the fact that it's one of the most popular social networking sites that's around today. It's turned its founder into a billionare, it allows people to stay connected...

...and it got a movie made about its early years. Yeah, I didn't see that one coming either.

Since I'm sure you'll know what I mean, I'll cut to the chase and get to today's movie.

The Social Network

Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is an undergrad at Harvard University. With Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), he forms the Facebook website. It becomes popular very quickly, and also becomes embroiled in controversy when first the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer) accuse Mark of stealing their idea, and then Eduardo when he starts to get slowly screwed over by Mark and Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake).

And that's all I can summarize. It's tough to make a summary of something you can read up about on Wikipedia as being stuff that actually happened. Same problem as what comes up with The Tudors, if I read certain TVGuides right.

So yeah, this movie. Well... it's about the founding of Facebook, yes. But if you're going in there expecting that to be the only thing it's about... you might want to reevaluate that stance.

I mean that in the best possible sense. It's only about Facebook on a superficial level; really, it's about the people surrounding it, and you might as well have fictionalized the whole thing because of how well it works on every level. David Fincher really takes us on a journey, and it's every bit as engaging as a movie about stuff like this wouldn't be under a lesser director. It helps that it's supplied with an incredibly tight script that can be hilarious at one point and serious with the turn of a dime. Its sharp script could have floundered under a less skilled director, but David Fincher made everything work absolutely beautifully.

It's also helped by exceedingly great performances from its cast. Nobody really stands out in this cast, but that should be treated as a good thing on the principle that everybody did really well. I'll point out Justin Timberlake, seeing as how he's gone a long way from being the slightly annoying Artie from Shrek the Third: here he proves himself an actor capable of keeping up with everybody else around him, especially Eisenberg, who does everything right as Mark Zuckerberg. They were surrounded by what is easily the best ensemble cast I've seen in a long time. (Oh ,yeah, and Armie Hammer as twins? Incredible, not to mention that the apparent CGI face job was impossible to notice.)

I... It's tough to talk about The Social Network. It's that good. I'll just tell you now that it gets everything right, and it's extremely engaging as a result. The movie runs at two hours and one minute. By the time we reached the end, I actually felt the movie was too short, and yet if it went on longer it would've encroached on something. This I think is the mark of truly great film making, and it makes The Social Network one of the year's best movies.


A must-see picture of the year.

This is Herr Wozzeck Reviews. I'll see you guys next time.