For movie watchers, few things can be more frustrating than films that begin with a sequence of immense promise, only to show over the remainder that the emperor truly wears no clothes. Two new examples come from the horror realm.
Until now, Ethan Hawke was having a wonderful year. Before Midnight, the third leg of his trilogy with director Richard Linklater and actress Julie Delpy, brought waves of critical acclaim and talk of another Oscar nomination for their collaborative screenplay, while The Purge turned a meager investment into a highly profitable box-office take.
Neither a chain of spice stores nor a Food Network program, The Seasoning House is a bleak-as-nuclear-winter thriller set during the Balkan conflict of the 1990s. A deaf girl named Angel (Brit teen Rosie Day) is taken from her home by soldiers who shoot her mother dead.
Paul Schrader’s The Canyons opens and closes with a montage of abandoned movie theaters. For this film in particular, that choice strikes one as symbolic in several ways: not only as a comment on the state of the industry, but on the state of The Canyons itself. You’re unlikely to find many 2013 films this empty.
What's a director of classic musicals doing in science fiction? Making Saturn 3, one of the worst of the genre Hollywood made in the immediate post-Star Wars / Alien era. Stanley Donen (Singin' in the Rain) takes to it about as well as you'd expect; he's in over his head.
In general, I prefer the films of Guillermo del Toro that he doesn’t
direct (“The Orphanage,” “Splice”) to the ones he does (particularly
“Hellboy” and its sequel). That holds true for “Don’t Be Afraid of the
Dark,” which he only co-wrote and co-produced, ceding the director’s
chair to newcomer Troy Nixey.
But let’s give credit where credit is due: This is a remake of a fondly remembered, made-for-TV movie in 1973. Although effects have come a long, long way, baby, I still prefer the original.
Living underneath the new-to-them Rhode Island mansion of architect Alex (Guy Pearce, “Animal Kingdom”); interior-designer girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes, TV’s “The Kennedys”); and his daughter, Sally (Bailee Madison, “Just Go with It”), are demons. Little, hairy demons who live for hundreds of years and crave children’s teeth.
In its first half, the movie is sufficiently creepy, holding two good jolts (albeit due to the increasingly lazy practice of really loud sounds on the soundtrack). But plot holes as large as the house keep it from being this season’s “Insidious.” To reveal minor but ultimately insignificant spoilers, at no time does Sally, who’s the only person — still alive, at least — to see these creatures, demand that adults look at her proof. She takes Polaroids of them she could shove into her father’s face, but doesn’t; she even kills one by smashing it between two bookshelves, yet fails to inform the room crowded with adults of the resulting mess, much less the disembodied appendage on the floor in front of them.
I also could have done without its drawn-out, pointless epilogue, thus neutering the balls of its climax. So toothless does it become that its title continually reminded me of Edgar Wright’s hilarious fake trailer, “Don’t!,” stuffed in the middle of “Grindhouse.”
The lone victor of the experience is young Madison. Now all of 11, she gives quite a grown-up performance, free of the amateurish tics of most child actors. But I was also distracted by how much she looks like Holmes, yet isn’t playing Holmes’ daughter. The resemblance is uncanny; that it’s yet another “duh” moment that del Toro and company missed is baffling. —Rod Lott