Monday, February 15, 2010

Review: The House of the Devil (DVD)

Verdict: 3.0 out of 5

If your fondest horror movie memories take you back to the early 1980s and movies like Halloween, you'll want to have a look at The House of the Devil, which meticulously recreates the look and feel of horror cinema of that era. Directed by Ti West, whose resume includes such nuggets as Cabin Fever 2, it also indulges in the nearly lost art (at least for the horror genre) of the slow burn, taking its sweet time to get to the payoff.

College student Samantha (Jocelin Donahue), desperate for cash to pay her first month's apartment rent, snags a phone number for a babysitting gig from a bulletin board on campus. When she gets the job and shows up at the middle-of-nowhere address, she finds herself in a dark, cavernous old house with a mysterious old couple (the briefly seen but effective Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov) who would have fit right in with the Rosemary's Baby crowd. Samantha is then left to her sitting duties, and the movie finally begins to amp up the tension with a few bump-in-the-night noises and … well, not much else, really, until the climactic scenes, which center around a lunar eclipse and a rather unconventional ritual.

To be such a long time coming, the denouement is neither original nor particularly compelling, but that's also not the point in a movie that gives you Dee Wallace (the mom in E.T.) as the landlady and a soundtrack that includes The Fixx's "One Thing Leads to Another" played on cassette through a Walkman. Satisfying as those nods to elder horror fans may be, it's equally disappointing that the movie mostly squanders the frightful opportunities of Samantha wandering tentatively around that big scary house — it's a slow burn that never reaches a boil.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Review: Surrogates (DVD)

Verdict: 2.5 out of 5

The recent box office misfire Surrogates is based on a graphic novel with a clever premise: The world's populace sits at home in virtual hibernation, connected to sensors and diodes, operating robotic representations of themselves out in the world with their minds. I like this hook because it's really not that far removed from spending a day connected to a video game controller, something millions of people do more often than not. In this world, the death of a surrogate by an accident such as getting hit by a car while crossing the street leaves the hibernating owner untouched. Want to look sexier than you really do? That's possible here, too. The conflict in Surrogates arises when a couple of surrogates are "killed," and the action results in the deaths of the owners, as well. Enter Bruce Willis and his surrogate with really bad hair to tackle the case, which involves the remorseful inventor of surrogates, a military weapon and a protagonist steadily awakening to the dulled human existence of the surrogate world. The action intensifies as Willis casts aside his surrogate and reenters the world in his own skin. Although Willis spends some scenes trying to spark a renewed real-world connection with his wife, the movie lacks a compelling emotional anchor and ends up feeling much like the surrogates look — a bit too plastic and polished with nothing genuine underneath.