Sacrifice — a review

Nancy Drew, eat yer heart out....

Nancy Drew, eat yer heart out….

One of my favorite actresses, Radha Mitchell, stars here as Tora Hamilton, a prominent New York City doctor who moves to a tiny island off the Scottish coast with her husband so they can adopt a baby. Thanks to the local laws, they have to live on the island for twelve months before they can adopt. When one of their horses drops dead on their property, Tora uses a backhoe to dig a grave for it. But it turns out the grave is already in use. Tora discovers a human body has already been buried in the peat bog. It’s the body of a young woman who has been savagely killed in what appears to be a ritualistic ceremony.

After she calls in the local cops, they reassure Tora that this body is probably several hundred years old, despite it still looking fresh. The peat bog has a way of preserving bodies buried within it for centuries. However, Tora uncovers evidence that shows that not only was this woman killed more recently, like two or three years ago, but that she might have been a woman who had gone missing on the island. But the fact that she was slaughtered just a few years ago raises the unsettling notion that somebody is still performing human sacrifice to this very day.

Oh, this space is taken? Excuse me....

Oh, this space is taken? Excuse me….

Despite its horror movie trappings, Sacrifice is mainly a thriller. It’s a boarder line police procedural, with the main character a spunky doctor who refuses to just let things lie by conducting her own investigation. At times this feels a little silly–when it becomes clear that she might be facing a conspiracy, instead of wisely backing off, Tora just keeps plowing right on, making one wonder if she has a death wish, especially after she’s been threatened by a shadowy figure at the hospital where she works. The smart move would be to leave the island and call the police on the mainland.

But if she did that, then the movie would have been only forty five minutes long. Sacrifice isn’t very cinematic–at least not in the sense that the story is told visually, but verbally, in exposition-heavy conversation scenes. At times it feels more like a TV movie, almost like an offering that would be seen on the Lifetime Channel. Still, Radha Mitchell manages to outshine the material here; her performance is steadfast and sympathetic, and she kept me glued to the screen, caring about what will happen to her next, for all of the film’s running time. If you’re looking for a mild but fun thriller with a strong female lead, you can’t go wrong with this. –SF

London Has Fallen — a review

Shall we start shooting in this direction, or that one?

Shall we start shooting in this direction, or that one?

Gerald Butler (“THIS! IS! SPARTA!”) returns as Mike Banning, the American Secret Service agent with a Scottish accent, in London Has Fallen. A sequel to Olympus Has Fallen, which showed the White House under siege by terrorists–most of whom were killed by Banning, usually single-handedly, in ’80s action film style–London Has Fallen presents a broader canvas as the legendary British city falls victim to an army of terrorists who have taken over. The President (Aaron Eckhart) is called to attend the funeral of the Prime Minister, who turns out to have been poisoned by the terrorists just so they could gather the world leaders at his funeral and kill them.

The Japanese Prime Minster is bombed on a bridge, the French PM is blown away in his private boat on the Thames, and there’s a mighty assassination attempt made on the American President on the steps of the church where the funeral services are being held. But Mike is there; yes, Mike Banning, whose very name sounds like a character from a cheesy pulp novel, is practically a one man army as he kills every terrorist with a single shot while they miss him completely–even with automatic weapons. It’s like watching a goofy ‘80s action movie, only without Chuck Norris to lob a few bad jokes along with the grenades.

I said I was first in line, ya stinking bastard!

I said I was first in line, ya stinking bastard!

When it becomes clear that terrorists have infiltrated the police and fire departments, London goes into lockdown as the authorities agree to remove their emergency services personnel, thus leaving only the bad guys for Mike to kill one by one as if it was all a live action video game–which is pretty much what this movie starts to feel like, anyway: a bad first person shooter game. The main problem is that the filmmakers care more about the devastation and explosions than explaining things.

Such as, with all emergency services suspended, what about the British civilians who need urgent medical assistance? Tough luck, kids; because saving the US president comes first–which is something that really doesn’t ring true. They’re capable of rescuing the President and saving civilians at the same time. But then again, we’re forced to accept Gerald (“THIS! IS! LONDON!”) Butler as an American secret service agent, Scottish accent and all, so I guess that’s how we’re rolling here.

While Olympus Has Fallen was just as silly, at least the filmmakers went out of their way to set up the premise in as realistic manner as possible, making it fun to watch. Here, we’re just supposed to believe that an army of terrorists have somehow sneaked into England and assumed various posts in the police and other emergency services without tipping off the vaunted British intelligence services. You can make a superior action film that doesn’t insult your intelligence, like The Hunt For Red October, or Ronin. But London Has Fallen can’t be bothered to aspire to be anything more than just a CGI-coated cartoon with way too many scenes of actors going “pew pew pew” with their guns. –SF

The Dead Room — a review

All ghosts beware this bunch! They'll bore you right out of here!

All ghosts beware this bunch! They’ll bore you right out of here!

A family is chased out of their home in rural New Zealand. The cause is very cranky ghosts, and before you can even think to say, “who ya gonna call?” a team of paranormal investigators are sent to find out what exactly happened. Family man Liam Andrews (Jed Brophy) is the technical expert who sets up the motion-detectors and cameras, while moody young Holly Matthews (Laura Peterson) is the resident psychic. They are commanded by team leader Scott Cameron (Jeffery Thomas), who tries to approach the spooky investigation with some degree of skepticism. On her initial walk through of the house, Holly does not pick up anything with her psychic powers, which leads Scott to think this whole shebang may be a bust.

But soon the unseen ghost goes pounding through the house, with footsteps so loud that they sound more like elephants marching down the hall. And yet despite the pounding and wailing, this crack team of investigators sleeps right through it. (???) It’s not until the second (or is it the third?) night that they finally take notice of the noise, being awakened from their unnaturally deep slumber by something slamming into the house so hard that the entire structure shakes as if in a earthquake. But Scott routinely shoots down any notion of the supernatural, insisting that it was just the wind. Looks like the ghost is really going to have to bring its A-game just to impress Scotty boy.

Since nothing is happening here, I might as well check my Instagram....

Since nothing is happening here, I might as well check my Instagram….

The Dead Room is probably one of the dullest horror films I’ve seen in a while. While it’s one thing to have a slow-burn opening for your horror movie, the opening twenty minutes of The Dead Room just lays there. Nothing actually happens in this film until the ghost decides to play shake, rattle and roll with the house, and even then Scott refuses to believe anything happened (his insistence that it was all just the wind is just too much to accept, and makes the character look stupid). It also doesn’t help the film that the sets are badly designed–the house looks like a small cottage on the outside, but the interiors make it look like a sprawling ranch house.

The script and acting are not the best, either, with the performances being very listless at times–I found myself wondering if I was watching the rehearsal sessions, when I should have been caught up in the story. But there’s no real suspense, no creepy build up like what you saw in Insidious or The Conjuring. Instead the story, if you could call it that, lazily meanders around until the great big shock at the end–at which point I no longer cared, I was so bored and tired of the film I was just grateful it was over (and it was only 80 minutes long). If you’re suffering from insomnia, this film should be better than a sleeping pill. Everybody else should just avoid it. –SF