Monkey Boy

Monkey Boy (2009) – [rate 4]

Monkey Boy surprised me with its left uppercut, just when I was getting tired of the weak bitch slaps it was throwing from the right. I completely missed the point as the movie was starting to remind me of such duds as Castle Freak, when I suddenly realized what was going on.

Monkey Boy is a deeply layered and interconnected story with only a few characters, reflected and shattered like simple colors in a caleidoscope into a picture worth seeing. From about a quarter into the movie, I had to work hard to remember what I’d seen before to be able to put the puzzle together. And even though the movie leaves you with the feeling that there’s some loose ends that may well be impossible to tie to anything, I think it’s a true original.

Still, I feel it’s no to its credit that it managed to repulse me at first. And some of the acting is a bit off. It’s a low budget production, so there’s no point in going into the special effects, which are pretty good all things considered. But a masterpiece it is not. So, with a 4/5, this is one for the horror-fairy tale fan.

The House of the Devil

The House of the Devil (2009) – [rate 3]

If you’ve survived the 80’s, like myself, and watched any of the horror movies created in that era – I watched a serious number of them – you’ll be amazed at how well this movie gets it right. That is, looking like one of those. I actually caught myself wondering “haven’t I seen this movie at some point in high school?” but that’s absolutely impossible, since it was released last year.

Though the makers deserve credit for getting that down to the smallest details, it doesn’t make it a good movie per se. Luckily, they managed to get most of that right too. The introduction of the main character is simple but enjoyable and not overly long, but long enough to start to care. The typical suspense arc starts well and builds up with excellent sustain, although you’ll be hard pressed to detect originality (girl babysits in remote mansion, with the movie being prefixed with a fact about satanic sects).

What prevents this movie from being a modern retro-classic is the ending. It’s a rushed jumble which merely serves to shatter the suspense. And even if that is a quote as well, it’s a quote of the movies that I didn’t like in the 80’s vs. the great many that I did like (and had better endings). House of the Devil is comparable to better movies like The Sect and even though it does almost everything else better (sound, music, camera, acting, props), it fails in the one that matters the most – to me anyway -: story.

Malice in Wonderland

Malice in Wonderland (2009) – [rate 3.5]

Having recently seen the new Alice in Wonderland, it was interesting to watch this adaptation of the classic to fit the current day London underworld. Amusing translations, like the Mad Hatter getting angry at Alice for eating all his cakes – in Malice, the Mad Hairdresser (who happens to be a madam as well) gets angry at Alice for “losing her tarts”, because she drive a truck full of prostitutes down the road without closing the doors and some inevitably fall off.

It’s that kind of gags that make Malice enjoyable, as well as the inventive adaptation of the story to the plight of a 21th century well-to-do teenager. The acting is a bit flaky and the production isn’t top-notch either, but it doesn’t get in the way of the movie and overall it’s worth seeing.

Exam

Exam (2009) – [rate 3]

Exam is a good movie if you like films like Cube or The Game. It pulls off a very good story, without ever leaving a single room that contains nothing more than 8 desks, 8 sheets of paper, 8 pencils and 10 actors. Sadly, the plot contains some small holes and a few serious ones, that could have been easily prevented considering the kind of film it is.

Not unlike 12 Angry Men, the subject matter is explored and discussed by the people in the room and as they go along, the viewer is left to form an opinion and make up their own mind about the situation. If you pay close attention, you can pick up quite a few clues and there’s no deus ex machina required to bring it to a good end, so that’s a plus.

All in all, I felt it lacked some originality and some of the flaws in the story really matter for this film. If you haven’t seen Cube or The Game, this one is probably great for you. If you have, you will probably like this one too, but likely not as much as those.

Thirst

Bakjwi (Thirst) (2009) – [rate 2.5]

I was fairly disappointed with Park Chan-Wook‘s traditional vampire tale. Sure, it had some of the pacing of scenes that give Eastern movies their specific feel and some of the graphic violence is very explicit. But instead of focussing of on the attraction of violence instead of love, or digging a little deeper into the implications of a priest turning vampire, Chan-Wook turn it into the usual tragic love-affair that goes exactly where you expect it to go once you know what’s going on.

Fairly forgettable and only for Park Chan-Wook fans. If you don’t know his work, watch Oldboy or Sympathy for Lady Vengeance before you decide on this one. If you want to see a good vampire movie, there’s 100’s out there better and more interesting than this one. Certainly not a bad film, just not a very good one either.

Amer

Amer (2009) – [rate 4]

This is the kind of movie I expect to see at a festival like this. Amer gets in real close, it’s not for the squeamish and requires serious attention to follow, but in the end it is more than worth it. Its powerful imagery, it’s strange but clear characters and its odd pacing all serve to draw you in deeper.

As an ode to Giallo and with a styling that screams 70’s on all counts, this movie is not very likely to do very well at the box office, but every movie buff should still consider seeing it. It’s powerful film making and considering that Giallo appears to have been out of grace for quite some time, this is a worthy addition to the genre.

Oblivion Island

Hottarake no shima – Haruka to maho no kagami (Oblivion Island) (2009) – [rate 3.5]

Oblivion Island has a very original style, mixing a strange brand of hand drawn backdrops with perspective added in with computing, with characters that are fully rendered CGI. It’s a family movie and the plot is strongly reminiscent of Spirited Away. A bit too much, in my opinion, it becomes “one of those movies”.

The basic premise is clever: somewhere there’s an island where all the objects that mankind neglects are brought to, after being stolen bij fox-like serfs of some Shinto-deity. The creatures on this island have no technology of their own, but using whatever they can get their hands on and some moderate magic, they have shaped the entire island out of second hand goods.

The visuals are wonderful, but the movie is too long for its content and tends to drag on a bit around the middle. The plot is predictable, though that might be expected for a family movie, but there are hardly any surprises at all.

Recommended if you’ve already watched Spirited Away ten times and your kids are still clamoring for more.