Neil Ramsden's Five Underated Films
Some Films Don't Get The Plaudits They Deserve. Here Are Five That I'd Recommend.
Video game to film adaptations rarely work out well, and Silent Hill gets criticised for having a dull plot and generally being confusing. But for my money the film gets one vital thing right: the atmosphere. The games created some seriously creepy creatures which the film brings to life with skin-crawling accuracy, from the pyramid-headed flaying monstrosity to rickety, bandaged nurses. The plot might be a little daft and serve as little more than a path from set-piece to set-piece, but when those set-pieces are actually quite eerie, you tend not to notice as much. The story sees a mother trying to help her daughter investigate dreams of a mysterious town by heading there, only to lose her and be cut off from the world outside.
Silent Hill works as a horror film should, building the mystery and dread fairly gradually before dropping effective visual horrors time after time. The acting is passable, with Radha Mitchell (of fellow underrated movie Pitch Black) on screen almost the entire time, but the real star is the foggy town and its denizens.
This is one of my favourite films of the last few years, and hardly anybody saw it in cinemas. It sees a woman (Melissa George) take time away from caring for her autistic son to go sailing with a friend. Together with more of his friends they get stranded by a storm and have to take shelter on a passing cruise liner. Without going into much detail at all, something is amiss on the ship...
The director, Christopher Smith, has been quietly making small but effective films such as Creep, Severance and Black Death, and Triangle too is an unassuming but effective horror. With shades of The Shining, the film mixes gore and confusion with a slowly-building fear of what exactly is happening aboard the ship. The acting is as good as it needs to be, while Melissa George does a great job with an interesting, multi-layered character. Triangle is a film that moves through gory violence to disturbed confusion and moral ambiguity, and deserves to be seen.
The Girl Next Door.
I know, if somebody had told me it was a good film before I watched it I wouldn't have believed them either. Emile Hirsch, sensible lad, falls for Elisha Cuthbert, girl next door but actually porn star, and hilarious shenanigans ensue. But in fact it is pretty funny, and surprisingly charming. Emile Hirsch is reasonably likeable, Elisha Cuthbert is fairly vacant but not terrible, while the real quality comes from the support. Paul Dano, who has since proved his quality in Little Miss Sunshine and There Will Be Blood, is good as Hirsch's friend, but the star is Timothy Olyphant. He's an actor I love for his TV work (Deadwood, Justified), yet somehow rarely seems to translate his charisma to the big screen – see Hitman and Die Hard 4.0. But in The Girl Next Door he shines, playing, to all intents and purposes, a pimp, who switches scarily between being Hirsch's buddy and a deadly enemy. But as either he exudes cool charisma, stealing every scene he's in. The first time I saw it I underwent what I like to call the 'Mean Girls' experience: being pleasantly surprised by what should have been an awful chick-flick.
I hate the cinematic trend of trying to bring back B movies. I don't believe a film can be 'so bad it's good' – it's either bad (boring) or achieves what it tried to do and results in being thoroughly entertaining. So, Face/Off and Con Air – very entertaining, good films. Megashark vs. Giant Octopus and Machete – rubbish. The latter, however, was a rare slip from a director I usually find enormously fun, and Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror is a film that should have been a stupid, puerile affair harking back to bad-taste zombie flicks. Which it absolutely is, but I love it. It's so over the top, daft, gross and exploitative that I should have hated it, but for some reason I can watch it over and over.
The plot sees a shady military deal go wrong, and a nerve gas being released in Texas, turning people into disgusting, mutated zombies. An odd assortment of survivors come together to try and last the night, including the very cool Freddie Rodriguez (no relation) in one of his best roles. Joining him are Rose McGowan striking a now quite iconic pose as a go-go dancer with a gun for a leg, Bruce Willis, and Josh Brolin as a hideously unpleasant doctor. Ridiculous fun, and twice as entertaining as Tarantino's half of the joint 'Grindhouse' project, Death Proof.
A horror film that's pretty heavy on clichés and stereotypes, but then, it's based on a Stephen King novella, so that's kind of expected. The Mist is a little film, almost with an indie sensibility and quite a small budget, which sees a storm-battered coastal town in the US subject to a mysterious and lethal mist. While the setup is predictable - there's a military base rumoured to be conducting experiments just down the coast from the town you say? Surely that's not connected to the mist – the execution of the film is brilliant. The main character and his boy are trapped in the local store with a mix of people, and things start getting 'Lord of the Flies' as tensions build inside, while outside bizarre monsters roam the mist.
Thomas Jane, star of Deep Blue Sea and a member of the Vegan Police in Scott Pilgrim, does a good job as the lead, while the supporting cast of survivors include the always great Toby Jones and a good turn from Marcia Gay Harden as a religious nut. Frank Darabont (The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption) provides a steady hand at the helm, and the film successfully steers between funny, tense and scary before culminating in one of the bravest and most memorable endings around.
In love with all things nerd: videogames, comics, and especially movies.
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