This is an odd little film which is both brilliant and frustrating in equal measure. It is an indie cross between drama / horror / comedy / romance that for me doesn’t quite hit the mark although there were scenes that I loved. A lot.
A difficult to score movie – I enjoyed it for most of the 83 minute runtime, but ultimately I felt that it didn’t manage to marry up the genres satisfactorily – I wouldn’t want to put anyone off watching this though, as I think a lot of people will love it. A 6 seems a fair score based on that.
This incredible Werner Herzog drama is a feature film that feels like a documentary – it’s not portrayed as such, but the rawness and truth that is on display throughout constantly have you questioning if this is real or not. If you are familiar with any of Herzog’s previous work then this will not be a surprise to you – think of this as a counterpoint to the also brilliant Grizzly Man, a documentary that many still think must be a work of fiction.
Family Romance LLC begins with a suited man waiting for someone on a bridge in Tokyo. We see a nervous young girl walk past him in the crowd a few times, surreptitiously taking his photograph as she does so. When she finally plucks up the courage to approach him, we learn through their dialogue that the 12 year old girl, Mahiro, believes him to be her estranged father who left when she was 16 months old and hasn’t been seen since. We learn that the man, Ishii, is the owner of the company Family Romance and has been paid by Mahiro’s mother to play the part of her long-absent father. This sets up the main strand of the movie, where the boundaries and ethics of such an arrangement are explored and examined.
The main story of the growing relationship between our 3 primary characters is interspersed with other scenarios where Family Romance LLC are providing services to their clients, ranging from a surrogate father-of-the-bride to a fake paparazzi pack for an aspiring internet personality. These vignettes build a picture of a man and a company blurring the lines of reality that, although each one is performing a positive act for the client, begins to demand more from Ishii than he is prepared to give.
The production and casting for this unique film is so quintessentially Herzogian – Family Romance is a real company in Japan, who provide people to perform the duties of absent friends and family members and Ishii is the real owner of this company. The film was shot guerrilla-style by Herzog himself and this adds to the documentary-like atmosphere. The actors playing the parts of Family Romance actors are sourced from the real Family Romance company. There is a scene set on a railway platform that features a bullet train – this is 70 seconds long, and as filming is banned there it was done in one take, and as soon as the action was complete the actors and cameraman (Herzog of course) had to split up to avoid the approaching security guards.
I really enjoyed this film. It looks at how we commoditise loneliness, loss and desire but with no judgement – the contract between the (adult) customers of Family Romance LLC and the company is clearly defined and the boundaries are definitively expressed at one point in the film. What we have is a contemplative gem of a movie that will stay with me for a long time. A easy to decide 9 on the Skelpometer.
I first saw Freaks at FrightFest in Glasgow in 2019, and I loved it. It has recently been added to Netflix, so thought it a good time to write a review. However, this is definitely a movie that should be watched knowing as little as possible beforehand, so that makes reviewing it a little difficult without spoiling it!
Freaks is a (horror-adjacent?) dark sci-fi that takes its time to reveal what the true nature of the world, and also the movie itself, is. It begins in a dingy, dismal, dirty house occupied by a father (only known as Dad, played by Emile Hirsch) and his young daughter (Chloe, played by Lexy Kolker). Dad is paranoid about them being exposed to the outside world, and we are not sure at this stage why or even if this is a fear that is warranted. The outside is glimpsed through the covered-up windows, and is shown as bright, sunny and inviting in direct contrast to the interior of the house. This proves difficult for Chloe to resist, especially when an ice-cream truck (driven by the incredible Bruce Dern) is parked outside, and from this temptation the isolation of Dad and Chloe begins to unravel.
That’s all I will say about the plot. There’s a lot to love about this movie – the pacing, the cinematography and the performances all combine to quickly make you feel comfortable knowing that you are in safe hands. This is a genre-movie, but it’s definitely not a piece of throwaway nonsense (nothing wrong with throwaway nonsense mind you!) and there are some deeper themes and a prescient ‘othering’ allegory bubbling away under the surface.
I have seen this twice now, and the second time around I could look a bit closer at the way in which this movie is structured, and how it gives little clues along the way as to what is really going on before it reveals itself. I think that the writing and direction by Zach Lipovsky & Adam B. Stein is very strong, and they deliver an absorbing and entertaining movie within a relatively small budget.
I have struggled a bit with the scoring of this movie – I absolutely loved it, it’s not a 10/10 film though, and there are a couple of plot niggles that just prevent me from scoring this as a 9. So I have plumped for an 8 on the Skelpometer, but I would urge anyone with even just a passing interest in sci-fi / horror to give this a watch.
Scare Package, available to stream on Shudder, is a multi-director horror-comedy anthology which sets out to subvert nearly all of the recognisable cliches in a meta(meta) way. Whilst there are some sequences and gags that hit the mark the jokes are stretched too far and, for this viewer, ultimately break, turning the watching experience from an initial enjoyment into a slog.
As I have said in a previous review, I believe that anthologies can be highly dependant on their framing device and in this case, the device is a really annoyingly goofy and unfunny video store (Rad Chad’s Horror Emporium) run by the eponymous Chad where he is ‘assisted’ by his new employee Hawn alongside regular (and only) customer Sam. If you’ve seen any anthologies at all you’ll know how this framing works. Needless to say there’s some shoehorning involved to facilitate the other segments within the story.
There are a total of 7 segments to this anthology, plus the framing device – let’s look at each one in order of my enjoyment:
As the title suggests, this segment kicks things off from the first frame, and it’s an entertaining, witty and inventive short. It sets things up and lets you know where you are – this is not a serious horror movie, and we are in meta(meta) territory. I enjoyed this, and thought that I was in for a treat for the rest of the movie. I was sadly mistaken.
This is an over-the-top ‘killer meets creature’ segment that is heavy on the icky and threatens to outstay its welcome, but just about manages to wrap things up before you get sick of it. A fun few minutes.
The Night He Came Back Again! Part IV: The Final Kill
The title of this short kinda tells you what you need to know – this riffs on the ‘why won’t the evil killer just die’ trope and has some inventive death scenes, but for me it doesn’t really bring anything new to the parody / meta(meta) table and ultimately ends up just repeating the cliches over and over. I realise this is kind-of the point, but I got bored, which for a short film is not a good sign!
A fairly dull interpretation of the ‘internal struggle after possession’ subgenre. Whilst watching it I just kept thinking ‘why is this here?’ and really detesting the fight scene and the ‘I hate spoilers’ sub-plot.
‘Don’t do the thing that the sign tells you not to do, or bad things will happen’. Again, I realise the cliches are deliberate, but you have to do something inventive, new, interesting. This was just annoying – a word I have used already, and will almost definitely use again.
This is the final wrap-up segment, which involves the characters from (and has same director as) the framing story in an overlong, overstretched parody that can best be described as ‘Scream meets Cabin in the Woods’. There’s something in that premise, but this segment just goes on FOREVER and doesn’t just pick two or three of the cliches to work with, it tries (with varying degrees of success) to hit every single one you can think of. I have watched this segment twice now – once within the whole movie and again a few days later as a standalone, and I still think the same – it’s too long, too forced and really stretches the meta(meta) beyond breaking point. I realise I am repeating myself here, but that’s what this movie does with the horror cliches, with rapidly diminishing results.
There are some high points in this film that are worthy of being mentioned – the gore in Horror Hypothesis is quite impressive, as is the Carpenter-ish synth score. Jon Michael Simpson, who turns up as Mike Myers (not that one and yes, that’s the joke) plays his part well and there’s also some good effects in One Time In The Woods.
Overall though this is a really disappointing movie – it starts out well, quickly gets into dull territory and then descends into being really annoying. It’s like being at a football match where your team takes the lead in the first 5 minutes, then try to hold on to that lead for the rest of the game only to concede a couple of goals in the second half – you leave with a faint memory of being happy at one point, but with an overwhelming sadness and ennui. Scare Package only merits a 4 on the Skelpometer.
I loved this whimsical comedy about a teenage metalhead and his mum forced to spend a summer together. Both the leads play their parts well, and the supporting cast includes Rob Brydon, Tamsin Greig and Alice Lowe. That alone is worth giving it a go! A solid 9 Skelpometer rating.
Another piece of nonsense that I enjoyed watching. This French comedy-horror isn’t anything groundbreaking, and there appears to have been a bit of the story left on the cutting room floor but it hits the right spots – there are some shocks, some laughs and a little bit of absurdity (OK, maybe a lot of absurdity). There is also 1 scene that troubles me which involves a dog that actually has nothing to do with the plot but I still give this 7 Skelpometer points.