It was only by luck that this week we ended up with three sci-fi/horror flicks via Netflix. I think we had intended to split them up a bit, but hey, good things come in threes, yes? So here’s an overview of our week-long movie marathon:
(WARNING: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS)
RESIDENT EVIL: Okay, so this is one of those movies both Andy and I have been wanting to see for a while. We realized it was probably going to be horrible–as, unfortunately, many films-based-off-video-games are–but we were morbidly curious about it. I must say, overall, we weren’t too surprised by it. Pretty flat acting (I think Jill and the film version of Rick from Blade Runner would make a great couple, considering their blank-confused stares), terrible special effects, and–much to my chagrin–moments that simply would not have worked in the game. I’m sorry, but kicks to the head alone never killed the zombies. EVER. I know, because when I run out of ammo and actually *try* that, I die pretty quick. Maybe I’m just not that skilled with the hand-to-hand combat, but kicking the dogs… really? I mean… really?
That said, the beginning was awesome. The visuals, the gassing of the office workers–the whole setting was just dynamite. I actually stared in awe for the first five minutes thinking, “No way. No way! This might actually be good!” Of course, that only lasted until Jill appeared, but still. I’ll give credit where it’s due: the beginning was great. (Minus the voice-over.)
Now that I think back about it, it didn’t make any sense why what’s-his-face–the brother of that office girl–was in the mansion… Was he trying to break in to find out what happened to her? Never really explained that bit. I’m going to assume that was the reason.
Overall Grade: C-
SUNSHINE: Whether this one is horror or not is rather debatable to me, to be honest. While yes, it does have horror elements in the middle, it suffers as a whole from a split personality. On the one hand, it seems like for the first half of the film, you’re watching a rehash of the Armageddon plot, but with more arguable science (we actually watched this with Kaku and argued the science for most of the film) with a few moments of eye-rolling, less character development, and a much slower plot. But then, it had Michelle Yeoh and Cillian Murphy (Scarecrow, anyone?), both of whom I think are pretty fun–even if this film didn’t capture even a fraction of what I think their acting potential could be.
The problem arises in that the hero-plot (restarting the sun) and the horror plot (fate of the Icarus 1) clash horribly. The sad thing is, the horror plot–before we really know what happened to Icarus 1–is flipping amazing. The scene in which our “heroes” enter the defunct Icarus 1 is hands down one of the most f’ed up scenes I’ve ever seen in a sci-fi horror flick. It is spooky. It is skin-crawling. It is deliciously adrenaline-raising. Talk about kicking in the “fight-or-flight” response in viewers. But instead of switching to an all-out horror movie, the hero-thread still remains both viable and strong. The problem I found with this was that the hero-thread diluted the horror-thread, making the situation more annoying than scary, while the horror-thread killed the heroic spirit that the hero-thread needs to have.
More on this: A hero story–take Armageddon, despite bad science, if you will–has to have 1) characters you want to see succeed, and 2) that ending that makes you feel awed or inspired or bitter-sweet. I’m not saying all hero movies have this, but I *did* care about the characters in Armageddon, and I *did* feel moved at the end–if only by the tragedy of it. (Not saying the science was good.) Heck, in Apollo 13 (so excellent science, AND excellent “characters”), you feel something when you see they’ve made it back alive, and you’re pulling for them all the way home. Hero stories need to ride on character. I think Sunshine tried to do that, but somehow it fell apart. I didn’t really care if they succeeded or not. At the end of the movie, I didn’t really feel like I knew any of them better. And I wasn’t moved.
And that’s because of the horror plot. A horror plot has a very different feel to it. The goal is to inspire dread–that oh so delicious feeling that comes with the adrenaline rush right before Person A looks behind Dark Door #1. It often doesn’t rely so much on character as on situation. It’s the fact that the characters are standing in for you that makes it scary. You don’t need to know the people in depth, though if the writer actually bothers to make you *like* them, then the dread-o-meter reading goes way up. But often, well-developed characters aren’t a necessity. Sunshine had this in spades, at least for part of it. The characters were rote characters you didn’t really feel much for, but you liked them enough. But mostly, the scene on the Icarus 1 is exactly the kind of feel that gets me ready for an all out insane bloodfest. Only, that didn’t really happen. Sure there were moments where I think they tried to do that, but the drama was ruined by the fact that even *if* they succeeded in escaping the crazy man, they were still doomed to die. So who cares if they die throwing the bomb into the sun or stabbed to death by the sun nutter? The fact that at the end the film tries so hard to evoke that hero-awe only ruins the horror story and fails to evoke anything other than “Oh, is it over, now?”
Plus, the fact that they had to manually detonate the bomb… I’m sorry, but WHAT? Considering that they can build an incredibly ship like the Icarus, do they not have automated systems to some degree? I did notice that the captain of the ship still had to manually go outside to see the damage to the heat shields–no robot probes here. So a little on the low-tech side.
Overall Grade: C+/B-
CLOVERFIELD: Again, perhaps debatable–this time, for whether or not it qualifies as sci-fi. I’m leaving that up to your discretion.
At any rate, this film was a lot better than I’d been lead to believe. I’ve had numerous friends tell me this movie absolutely sucked, and that they felt like they’d wasted their money and a good chunk of their lives watching. I dare any of them to watch The Happening. Yes, this film was latching onto the Blair Witch fad of the jiggly, non-pro camera-man, but despite that, it was actually pretty fun. I don’t doubt that my estimation of it benefitted from my low expectations. The monster was enjoyably fearsome looking–and I loved the arachnid spawn that fell off it–and the graphics were top-dollar, which I appreciated very much after Resident Evil.
The characters were a little on the wobbly side–and almost too deludedly suicidal–but hey. There wouldn’t be a movie to watch without them being a little insane, right? The camera-man’s incessant ramblings did get very old, very quick, but the visuals usually carried me through before I got too ticked off.
I did actually care as one by one they’re picked off. I particularly felt for Marcie, though I’d say that’s one of the best scenes in the film. While I would definitely say it was horror, I don’t think they necessarily built up the creep-factor as much as even Sunshine did during the Icarus scene, but then maybe abandoned/ghostly space ships creep me out more. (Note to self: play Dead Space soon!) But I would say, overall, Cloverfield is a good disaster flick. It isn’t going to blow your mind with new ideas–it’s basically Godzilla in New York–but I enjoyed the mindlessness of it.
Overall Grade: B+