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Co-writer/director Del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone, produced by Pedro Almodovar, is arguably the most damning in terms of how humans treat each other and the lengths greed will push people to. At its core it remains a ghost story and a terrifically affecting one. First breaking into the audience consciousness with his 1993 film Cronos (Chronos), director Del Toro went to America and made the man-bug flick Mimic (1997), then one of the better second instalments with Blade II (2002) and one of the more enjoyable and less mainstream comic book adaptations with Hellboy (2004). The Devil’s Backbone remains his own personal favourite of his own movies, as it is strongly inspired by personal memories, primarily of his uncle who allegedly came back as a ghost and his own childhood experiences.
Del Toro says, ‘The knife fight, the rescuing of someone who was your enemy who then becomes your friend, the crush Carlos has on the kitchen maid, his night excursions for water echo the ones I used to make down the long corridors in my grandmother’s house and I even heard a ghost in exactly the same way it’s presented in the movie. When I was 11, I heard the ghost of my uncle sigh after he died in the room where he used to live. That’s why the spectre is referred to as ‘the one who sighs’...’
The year is 1630, the location New England and our focus a family who, after being banished from a Puritan plantation, opt to live out in the middle of nowhere and build a farm. Father William (Ralph Ineson) and wife (Kate Dickie) Katherine have five children, oops let's make that four, as no sooner has the family settled in their new abode than their newest born Samuel mysteriously disappears.
Baby Samuel has been stolen away by a witch who kills the infant using his blood and fat to make an ointment for her body. Everything starts unravelling for the family from this point on, crops fail, the family's black goat Black Phillip starts nattering to the family's twins and son Caleb (Harvey Grimshaw) goes missing in the woods.
Written and directed by Robert Eggers Sundance hit The Witch is surprising, occasionally shocking but never scary upon an initial viewing, however it has a resonance that will ensure that it will get under your skin and freak you out. Eggers milks unease and gloom from every beautifully framed image of his movie pulling no punches.
So where to begin with the plot? Is there a plot? Nah, more a random assortment of ideas, many borrowed, that sit uneasily in a script bereft of structure. I'll give it a go though. The film opens with a shot of a knife stuck into a tree glowing red before cutting to a bank robbery where we are duped (SPOILER ALERT) into thinking the offence is being carried out by men but *gasp* it's actually two women that have committed the crime, Trish and Ruth (Mary Seaman and Meg Greene). They flee to a mountain resort where both show unnecessary flesh before meeting a bloody end. Rumour has it that they may have been the latest victims of an ancient mountain man (who possesses a local resident) who lurks in the area. By now it is hugely apparent that this is not going to be a well-acted affair nor very convincing in the gore department either.
Despite the budgetary limitations and risible acting initially Satan's Blade exhibits some promise by attempting to subvert our original perceptions with the robbers' reveal. Unfortunately proceedings then adhere to the slasher template setting up potential victims quickly so that everything can move onto some truly dismal performances floundering in a sea of poorly executed ideas. Not a lot really happens after our two groups of people book into the very same mountain lodge where the murders happened only the night before - the resulting blood from which is still fresh on the wall, no seriously it is. When the body count does eventually kick in it's hardly worth the wait and equally as groan-out-loud as the poor human dramas that preceded it. There's one final who-really-cares twist at the end but chances are you might have given up the will to live by then. Apparently we are meant to guess the identity of the killer, I couldn't care, I was more concerned as to whether I could sit through the rest of the film without gnawing through my own flesh to redirect my pain.
Jeremiah Watkins stars as Josh Fosse a down on his luck twenty-something looking to ekk out a living as an online app reviewer. He decides to review a self help app called i-Lived which claims to be able to give you exactly what you wish for in life by the user typing in the details.Initially Josh is dismissive of the app however his opinion quickly changes when he bags a hot girlfriend and gets a job offer he cannot refuse. Feeling cocky Josh assumes that he is responsible for the improvements in his circumstances and he signs out of the app only to see his life turnaround for the worse. Opting back into the app Josh finds things take on a more sinister spin.
I was a big fan of director Franck Khalfoun's remake of Maniac. It was an inventive retelling that upgraded the lurid feel of the original within the unique framing device of having the events seen from the eyes of the titular character. I am also a fan of the It Follows, which comes from the same producer as this film, however what we have here fails to match either of the aforementioned titles in thrills, spills or in entertainment.
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- The Devil's Backbone (El Espinazo del Diablo) (2001) Review
- The Witch AKA The VVitch: A New-England Folktale (2015) Review
- Satan's Blade (1984) Review
- i-Lived (2015) Review
- Fragile (2005) Review
- Breathing Room (2008) Review
- The Wicked Lady (1983) Review
- Doomwatch (1972) Review
- Return of the Killer Tomatoes (1988) Review
- The Grudge 2 (2006) Review
- The Guardian (1990) Review
- Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966) Review
- Pulse (Kairo) (2001) Review
- The Reptile (1966) Review
- The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971) Review