1408 (2007)

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Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 5:00 PM | Posted in


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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 7.8/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 8/10

1408 (2007) - Mikael Håfström

The Dolphin Hotel invites you to stay in any of its stunning rooms. Except one.

Based on the 1999 short story of the same name by Stephen King, 1408 follows Mike Enslin (John Cusack), a skeptical author who writes books in the supernatural genre. Through an anonymous postcard by The Dolphin Hotel that warns him of the room 1408, Enslin forces the hotel to allow him to book a stay in the supposedly haunted room, even under discouragement and bribes by the hotel manager (Samuel L. Jackson). Of course, strange things start to happen in the room.

This is an old-fashioned horror film, where it works in its thrills without spraying blood and guts at the audience. Instead, 1408 relies on psychological tension. Surprisingly enough, the movie takes claustrophobia to a whole new level, because the room is not just haunted. It is alive. It may not be the scariest movie ever, but 1408 offers enough chills and thrills to keep us intrigued for its running time. The story is very straightforward here, and it comes forth as being stereotypically viewed as "too simple." However, this Steven King adaptation is fully capable of taking the most blunt narrative and turning it into the most unnerving roller coaster ride, driven by Cusack's performance.

As mentioned before in many previous reviews, horror movies need to be driven by powerhouse performances. Here, the reins are all given to John Cusack, because here he proves to us that not only can he be as versatile as the character he is portraying, but also that he is one of the most underrated actors in the movie industry. If the chills are moved aside, 1408 is sometimes humorous, all based upon the skeptic personality of the writer Cusack is portraying. He adds diversity to the film, with a performance that is both passionate and intense. To agree with Hollywood Reporter, the talented star is able to "summon deep wellsprings of personal grief along with breezy humor and naked animal terror. [Truly it is] a tour de force performance."

Underneath all the critical praise, 1408 received the highest criticism on its theatrical ending, described as "a false ending that doesn't quite work" and "instantly forgettable." I respectably and strongly disagree. Without spoiling the ending, I found the ending of 1408 to be one of the greatest horror movie endings in recent years. It is the most logical way to end such a story, and it leaves the greatest impact. In fact, as years pass, the ending is the only scene I remember the most vividly. It is utterly creepy and defines the power of Stephen King as well as Håfström's direction.

In conclusion, 1408 is one of the best horror movies of the 2000s decade. It arrives at a time where the horror genre has been inflicted with violent pictures and gory festivals. A smart move made by Hollywood, 1408 goes back to the horror genre's roots, knowing that all you need to scare the audience is a tense atmosphere, eerie visuals, and a one-man show performance. Speaking of visuals, there is barely any computer generated imagery here -- only practical effects are used, and that little move adds a whole dimension of reality to the terror. To quote the Washington Post: "Listen up, all you Hostel's, Saw's and other purveyors of bloody terror. Lay down your whips, chainsaws and paring knives to watch a truly scary movie."


Upcoming Horror Reviews

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Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 6:04 PM | Posted in


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Ju-On: The Grudge 2 呪怨 (2003)

Ju-On: Old Lady in White 呪怨: 白い老女 (2009) vs Ju-On: Girl 

in Black 呪怨: 黒い少女 (2009)

Bloody Reunion 스승의 은혜 (2006)

Ju-On: The Grudge 呪怨 (2002)

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Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 9:37 PM | Posted in


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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: N/A
RT Audiences Rating: 6.6/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 7/10

JU-ON: THE GRUDGE 呪怨 (2002) - Takashi Shimizu

It is said that when an individual dies with a deep and burning rage, the Ju-On curse is born. The curse gathers in the place where that individual has died (a house) and will repeat itself, each time a brand new cycle of death. The curse exhibits and exposes itself towards any who encounters it, such as entering the house or being in contact with someone who is already cursed. As each victim dies, the curse becomes reborn, and spreads throughout the world.

Despite The Grudge being the third entry in the series, it is the first full-length feature film to be released in theaters. The film is divided into six vignettes, connected to each other but presented out of sequence. Even though each section has its own driving character, the main protagonist of the film is Rika, a volunteer social worker asked to care for an elderly lady who lives in the haunted house.

Ju-On: The Grudge is one of the most famous Japanese horror films of all time, often compared to Ringu for its scare factor. It is most known for its iconic ghost figure, a woman with pale white skin and long black hair, and a naked boy who wanders around randomly. It may sound awkward or even corny on the idea of a boy running around, but believe me, the idea of a child suddenly appearing here and there is more eerie than you think. If you look up "Japanese horror movie" under Google, you will find a plethora of images from Ju-On. Even though the pale female ghost image is common among other asian movies, the ghost from Ju-On is notorious for the croaking death rattle it makes while it crawls on the floor. Probably it is one of the most famous sound effects in the asian horror industry and is one of the scariest moments in the entire film.

Ju-On is utterly spooky, with one of the most uncanny atmospheres ever in a horror film. Similar to the vengeful spirit of the house, the film waits in the darkness for the right moment to scare the audience. For us, we know something creepy will happen. However, the tone becomes tense rapidly due to the movie having no music queues whatsoever to prepare us for what sinister scares will come. Although the idea of the curse is one-dimensional, it is certainly frightening, because once the curse grabs hold of you, it never lets go. This means you enter the house, the ghost will follow you wherever you go. Worse, these ghosts can break the laws of physics and logic and can appear from anywhere -- from underneath your working desk to the inside of your jacket. Once the ghost appears, its terrifying face will be burned into your retinas, even worse when the death rattle sound effect kicks in.

In spite of Ju-On being one of the scariest horror films, its story and narrative is severely troubled. Instead of a movie with a beginning, middle, and end, Ju-On is presented more like a mini television show, with each vignette being a short episode. Since the episodic chapters are not presented chronologically, the audience is then forced to really pay attention to details such as the date and the characters' names, in case they get mentioned again in the future chapters. As a result, the movie easily makes the audience lost in confusion.

As scary as it can get, Ju-On is often criticized in the horror industry for being anti-Hollywood, specifically on how the characters react to the scares. However, this is a constant style that asian cinema takes and inevitably, it is a unique aesthetic approach, avoiding music queues, using freakish sound effects, and taking advantage of "silence" to build its atmosphere and dread. The reasoning of the haunting is indeed very plain, since the ghosts attack and kill people for no apparent reason. You die if you are unlucky. There is no sincere reason why the spirits want to take present day lives away. It is not like they were responsible for the deaths of the spirits. As weak as it sounds, it is the very conceptual idea of the curse that is scary, the idea that no soul is safe once the curse breaks out, the idea that the curse will never go away, but only grow bigger and bigger.

Truly, Ju-On will have you demonstrate the meaning of "fear" all over again. You will check your closet twice before you sleep. You will check the bed itself as well. You will be afraid of the dark again, and you will have nightmares.

In conclusion, Ju-On: The Grudge is genuinely a terrifying movie. Despite it having certain problems in its technical gears such as screenplay, acting, and pure execution, the movie is undoubtedly unsettling and creates a whole new meaning of "spooky." Is it a good movie in general? Not really. Is it a good scare? You bet your pants it is, because once you watch Ju-On, its scares and frightening images will never let you go, almost like the curse itself.


Bunshinsaba 분신사바 (2004)

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Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 4:56 AM | Posted in


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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: N/A
RT Audiences Rating: 5.4/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 4/10

BUNSHINSABA 분신사바 (2004) - Byeoung-Ki Ahn

When one hears the two words "asian horror," long-haired females is one of the most elements to be thought of. They are ubiquitously shown, whether the movies are from Japan or Korea or Thailand or so on. They always tilt their head down to the point of breaking their necks, and walk slowly, except in Japan, where they crawl. But the most significant component is unquestionably the long hair, forever blocking the females' faces. So here comes another Korean flick, Bunshinsaba, noted by several public audiences as one of the scariest asian horror films ever made. Do they have long-haired females? Oh yes, they do. In fact, I would like to hand the Guinness World Record to Bunshinsaba, for the category of "Longest screen time for scary long-haired females." Now is that a good thing? Ummm……

Bunshinsaba follows Yoo-Jin, a transfer student from Seoul, who is constantly bullied by her classmates. One night, Yoo-Jin and her friends, using an Ouija board, place a Bunshinsaba curse on their enemies. Yoo-Jin warns her friends to keep their eyes closed until the spell is finished. But for some reason, Yoo-Jin herself opens her eyes, and that is where the horror begins.

The cast of characters here is mostly female-based, taking place in a girl school. And no, the girls here will likely not sexually thrill male audiences, for they all look creepy even in their normal state. However, they are good and nice to follow, not to mention they are rather convincing in their acting. The actress who portrays Yoo-Jin clearly shows her effort, and even though she is often pulled down by the story and the script, she inevitably tries her best to flesh her character out. All in all, the acting is convincing and passes the criteria for a horror movie.

The editing of the film is a little choppy, and the narrative moves too fast at times without taking enough time to introduce characters. In a way, it felt as if the filmmakers focused on the second half of the film too much, and then suddenly rushed the first half. Unlike other notable horror films, Bunshinsaba also lacks a memorable soundtrack, however it does flourish with good lighting and cinematography.

Now to settle the argument: Is Bunshinsaba really the scariest asian movie of all time? Without even thinking, the answer is no. In fact, I would go so far as to question who in the world found this movie more unsettling than Ringu or Ju-On: The Grudge? The music queued scares, despite some of their originality, lack in quantity, meaning most of the film relies more on its storytelling rather than crawling under our skin. For a horror movie, it is completely understandable that it focuses more on narrative than scares, but when the story is extremely confusing and uninteresting, the audience loses attention and thus would desire more scares. As a result, Bunshinsaba ends up disappointing both sides of the scope. Not to mention, the second half of the movie suddenly converts into a painting fest, painting most of the screen with blood.

Even with the scares not being efficiently delivered, Bunshinsaba suffers tremendously from a confusing storyline. As mentioned before, the curse somehow states that one must keep his/her eyes closed. So what happens when they are open? The victims then become open to possessions, slowly consuming souls. However, only one actress portrays this entire process. To make things more clear, there is Actress One portraying Girl One, who also portrays Girl One being possessed by Girl Two as well as Girl Two taking full control of Girl One's body. As for the original past life of Girl Two, that is where Actress Two comes into play, and of course she needs to look similar to Actress One. Confused yet? In fact, I will challenge the reader. I challenge you to watch Bunshinsaba in one complete sitting, then orally explain it to someone without pausing or stuttering. Believe me, it will be the most difficult task you will never expect to have after watching a horror movie.

In conclusion, Bunshinsaba is a huge disappointment, and is another prime example of an asian horror film that tries to scare the audience, but trails behind due to the plot being illogical or confusing. Bunshinsaba begins with promise; it bears great cinematography, use of locations, and an appealing cast of females. However, at the end of the day, it is excessively convoluted, affected both from confusing storytelling as well as fractured editing. Furthermore, as a horror movie that is designed to just purely scare us, Bunshinsaba does not deliver when it could have, and therefore it will be hidden in the very very back of the shelf labeled "Asian Horror Movies," with no memorable recognitions, except the Guinness World Record for "Longest screen time for scary long-haired females."


Upcoming Horror Reviews (10/14 - 10/20)

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Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 7:21 PM | Posted in


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Bunshinsaba 분신사바 (2004)
1408 (2007)
Ju-On: The Grudge 呪怨 (2002)

Saw (2004)

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Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 6:39 PM | Posted in


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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 4.8/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 9/10

SAW (2004) - James Wan

A man trapped in a cage filled with razor wire. An individual burned to death by flammable substance. A female rigged to have her jaw permanently ripped open. Behind this sits the Jigsaw Killer, a psychopathic mastermind, the sick architect of these twisted "games." Yes, the killer is sick. But he is sick of people who do not appreciate their blessings, people of scoff at the suffering of others.

Known as James Wan's directorial debut, Saw primarily focuses on Adam (Leigh Whannell) and Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes), who both wake up chained in a dilapidated bathroom, each given instructions to a "game." For Adam, he must escape the bathroom. For Lawrence, he must kill Adam within a certain amount of time, or else his family will die. The rest of the film revolves around other victims of the Jigsaw Killer, Adam and Gordon's abductor, as well as police detectives who attempt to locate him.

Originally rated by the MPAA as an NC-17 film, Saw is notorious for its violence. Picture yourself as a surgeon, currently operating on a patient. Next, give yourself a shot of adrenaline and play fast-paced music in the background. Use your imagination. Your projected images drive the movie. Yes, there is gore and there is a lot of blood. Fortunately, James Wan is not a complete psycho, for he still uses the power of implying over the power of exposing every bit of the movie's brutality.

For each victim of the Jigsaw Killer, they each find themselves put in a certain condition, in which they must sacrifice a part of themselves to escape. Each "trap" is theme-based, specifically designed for the trap's victim. As mentioned before, these traps range from a man being cut tremendously by razor wires to a woman having her jaw ripped open. This is where Saw closely but not completely descends into "torture porn," the number one criticism given by film critics. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, "torture porn" represents a movie where its goal is to make the audience squirm, by having them watch characters suffer to their very core, without a story or a well-written script. This is where my argument comes in. Despite Saw conveying several portrayals of violence, it mainly focuses on the two men trapped in the bathroom, and this is where a film's cinematic content comes in.

Saw is Leigh Whannell's acting debut, and it puts him in a great advantage, since he wrote the screenplay and fleshed out his own character. Even when Whannell is an unfamiliar face, a rookie to the film industry, he comes forth as one of my favorite actors in a horror film. You may not like his personality in the movie, but he is inevitably an engaging and absorbing character to watch on screen.

I have seen several movies that star Cary Elwes. These movies range from Rob Reiner's masterpiece The Princess Bride to the cinematic portrayal of the Civil War in Glory. Oh, and don't forget Mel Brooks' Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Throughout his career, Elwes tends to do humorous and family based movies, where his character is usually lovable and charming. Rarely has he done something serious, not to mention disturbing and dark. Watch Saw and get ready for an eye-opener. In this critic's perspective, Saw is Cary Elwes' best performance to date, and I would go so far as to say that it will be his greatest performance ever in his entire career, no matter what future films he will be in. The script of Saw favors Elwes' character the most out of all the characters. With Lawrence Gordon being a doctor, the film begins with him making deductive reasoning, using his head to try to figure things out. As the film progresses, Gordon slowly transitions from using his head to losing his head, from doctor to madman. Elwes portrays this with great attention to detail, from facial expressions to his style of delivery when it comes to dialogue. Again, you may not like his personality, but when his family and his own life at stake, it is inevitable for the audience to have some form of emotions for him.

Combine Elwes with Whannell, and the chemistry between the two is breathtaking. The plot of the film becomes as engaging as ever, as they slowly learn more and more about each other while trying to escape. The story, emphasized on the pair, is definitely straightforward as well as minimalist, but it is greatly executed with skill and creativity. The narrative, clever and cunning, knows when to pace slowly and when to escalate, and once it escalates, it escalates rapidly, all the way to the shocking plot twist at the end of the film. With many words to describe the twist (startling, unexpected, extraordinary), Saw thrives as one of the greatest horror movie endings, even recognized by AMC.

Initially, Saw was planned to be a direct-to-video movie, but was later released for limited time to the theaters, quickly becoming a cult. Knowingly, I predicted that a Saw II will be released. My prediction was correct. What I did not predict however is that by the year 2010, the Saw franchise would be made out of eight movies total. Despite Saw II having an interesting explanation of the origin of the Jigsaw Killer, it is best to leave Saw alone as an independent horror film, unique in its own way and distinctive in the horror genre.

In conclusion, Saw is one of the greatest horror films in recent years. Even under the criticism that it is "torture porn," with its excessive amount of violence, blood, and gore, the movie still contains an engrossing storyline, led by powerhouse performances on both lead characters. Probably the greatest thing about Saw is that it does complete justice to the type of horror film it wanted to be. It achieved its goal and went even farther, with a plot twist that was never expected from a mile away and a narrative method that is disturbing yet stunning. With one of the best collaborations in the horror genre, James Wan and Leigh Whannell are indeed masterminds, and have truly created one of the most unforgettable horror films of the 2000s.


Paranormal Activity (2007)

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Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 2:07 PM | Posted in


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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 8.2/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 8/10

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2007) - Oren Peli

What happens when you sleep?

With a budget of only $15,000 against its successful box office of nearly $200 million, Paranormal Activity is one of the most recent horror cult films, spawning an entirely new franchise with two sequels, a third to be released this year. Based on return on investment, Paranormal Activity is the most profitable film ever made, and analytically from many film critics, the scariest film ever made.

Paranormal Activity follows a young couple who believe that a supernatural presence is haunting their new home. Each night, they mount a camera on a tripod in their bedroom to record any paranormal activity that might occur while they are sleeping. The film itself is presented in "found footage" style, from the camera that the couple sets up.

After the success of The Blair Witch Project, the "found footage" genre slowly died away. Paranormal Activity, along with the monster flick Cloverfield, are the two present movies that revived the genre.

The premise of the film is the most intriguing. The plot makes logical sense of why the movie needs to be presented in the found footage format, and thus the shaky camerawork no longer bothers the audience. The story becomes more and more real as the narrative progresses the characters and audience forward.

Paranormal Activity follows specifically the couple, and thus there are mainly two faces on screen the entire time, both being unfamiliar. However, both actors delivered and convinced as a couple, thanks to the fact that most of the script is left wide open for them to improvise under the scenarios made. When it comes to open room being given to actors, naturalism is key, that the lines they give fit well and belong in the scene. Fortunately, naturalism is present here in the acting, one of the greatest engines that drive the soul of Paranormal Activity. However, when it comes to the actual characters that they portray, sometimes they do stupid or illogical things that one would simply not do if thinking straight. This is where the script begins to reveal its gaps.

Despite the film working as a very simple and possibly amateurish, the script itself shows signs of amateurism. As mentioned before, the script opens up room for actors to improvise. However, the open room being given only exists in the scary scenes, letting the fear factor kick into our protagonists. The problem is that the places where the script does exist are not good enough, meaning the scenes where characters just simply talk. With the characters sometimes doing things that the audience simply would not, the movie's screenplay slowly trails from provocative to dodgy, causing Paranormal Activity to slowly become a gimmick.

Behind the film's small flaws, Paranormal Activity is undoubtedly atmospheric and moody. The scares are definitely sudden, might as well call them jump scenes instead. In an interview with the producer, he claimed that "many people walked out," thinking that they did not enjoy the movie. It was not until later when he realized that the audiences were walking out because the movie was too terrifying for them. In many horror films, filmmakers rely on visuals to disturb our eyes, most notably spraying our eyes with an immense amount of blood. Here, the scares are mostly implied or innuendoes, touching on the philosophy of "what you do not see is more scary than what the filmmakers can put on screen." The content is undoubtedly arresting, petrifying, and alarming. In spite of many public audience members claiming the movie to be "boring," the film still bears the dimension of expectations, where the audience is expecting something sinister to happen, we just do not know when and how. It will capture your attention and hold your breath to the end.

In conclusion, Paranormal Activity is a very unique horror movie. It arrives during the glut of horrible slasher-visual flicks, as a silent rebel to the cliche horror genre, and goes back to the reason why we found The Blair Witch Project so frightening in the first place. For its defected script and boring moments, it does polarize the audience into two sides: a love-it-hate-it relationship. Nevertheless, Paranormal Activity is definitely considered as a horror cult today. It lives up to its praise of how it is the "scariest movie ever," however I would not say it is the scariest "ever," but is pretty nerve-racking. You just might not want to sleep again, in fear of what might happen around you while you are sleeping.


Grave Encounters (2011)

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Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 11:32 PM | Posted in


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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 5/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 7/10

GRAVE ENCOUNTERS (2011) - The Vicious Brothers

As mentioned before in my past reviews on found footage films, this entire genre of first person camera usage erupted into the industry due to the release of The Blair Witch Project. Described by critics as "absolutely terrifying," the film takes advantage of the setting, giving the audience a sense of claustrophobia out in the open -- an infinite span of forest. Now what if the claustrophobia sense is taken back to its original roots -- a building where you simply cannot get out of? Welcome to the indoor version of The Blair Witch Project. Welcome to Grave Encounters.

Declared to be a horror cult since its release, Grave Encounters begins with a television producer, who describes how the fictional paranormal reality television show Grave Encounters was canceled after five episodes. The film itself follows the crew of the television program, who put themselves in an eight-hour lockdown in a haunted psychiatric hospital in search of evidence of paranormal activity. This "footage" is claimed to be raw footage from the sixth and final episode of their show. Of course, as time progresses, everything goes wrong.

Like every horror film should do in its first act, Grave Encounters efficiently builds its atmosphere within its narrative. As if it is a ghostly setup, the film's first act invites us in just like the psychiatric hospital inviting in the crew. We as the audience naturally step in, and we become trapped into the terror with the characters. The screenplay may not be the best in the horror genre, and it may lack originality, but it is simplistic and blunt enough to deliver. All the director needs now is strong execution to make this seemingly cliche film appear original once again.

The acting here is solid, may not be powerhouse performances but they are undoubtedly natural enough to make the film feel realistic, although I never truly cared for them from beginning to end; the reason is because we never have time to bond with them and warm up to them. In the big picture, the dialogue is naturally delivered as well, if only the movie can cut down half of the f-words being used. In agreeing with New York Times, "The uniformly annoying characters stumble around, screaming and cursing, [and] we don't give a hoot for their survival." I understand, they are all panicked, but there are times where they are all just being stupid and people start to not think logically. In addition, it is possible that the cast of characters can be seen as a bit irritating due to their vulgar language. That being said, the scares themselves make up for the flaws within characterization and any holes in the script.

This psychiatric hospital is more than just haunted. It is alive. This is the maze from Stephen King's The Shining meets Stephen King's Rose Red. As for the scares themselves, this is Paranormal Activity meets [REC] meets The Blair Witch Project. Despite the fact that the film's best scares are visual-based, they are efficiently builded up by suspense and tension in the first and second act. Then again, the tension might be cut off once in a while by the annoying cast. It seems here that the filmmakers' goal is to make the scariest movie ever out of a cliche premise. In certain ways, it worked. Look at the film's cult status, it is the most talked about horror film in recent years, comparable to Insidious, and the release of Grave Encounters 2 is approaching.

To be clear, Grave Encounters is not an original movie. The whole film bears the atmosphere of the typical "been there, done that." Like I said, it is practically three other horror movies thrown into a blender. However, it is completely edge-of-your-seat thrilling once the scares begin to kick in. The film takes great advantage of location. The psychiatric hospital is the last place I would wanna be, alongside the locked down apartment in [REC], and….…practically every location in found-footage films.

In conclusion, Grave Encounters is a great unoriginal scare. It deserves its cult status for simply being one of the more successful films that achieved its goal: to get under our skin. However, it is not the greatest horror film of all time. It is scary, but that does not mean it is a piece of cinematic genius. The movie is a straightforward low-budget horror film that makes you have the chills, the shivers, and of course, some grave encounters.


Upcoming Horror Reviews (10/7 - 10/12)

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Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 9:04 PM | Posted in


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Grave Encounters (2011)
Paranormal Activity (2007)
Saw (2004)

Silk 詭絲 (2006)

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Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 10:12 AM | Posted in


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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 4/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 7/10

SILK 詭絲 (2006) - Su Chao-Bin

When it comes to asian horror, ghosts are always introduced to us by answering two questions: What can they do and how did they come to be? For the latter question, it is always in the supernatural aspect. Ever approached it in a scientific aspect? Avoiding the typical long-hair ghost tropes that have plagued the asian horror genre for so many years, comes forth one of the most expensive Taiwanese films at the time.

Silk revolves around Hashimoto, a crippled scientist, who leads a small team sponsored by the Japanese government to search the world for ghosts. With the help of his invention, the Menger Sponge, he is able to successfully capture the ghost of a young boy in a broken-down apartment. By applying a Menger Sponge-enhanced spray on one's eyes, one can visually see the ghost. The team then calls upon Tung (Chang Chen), a Taiwanese sharp shooter and lip reader to come in and analyze the behavior of the ghost child. With further observations, the team realizes that the ghost boy follows a fixed pattern of activities, from walking to the door to staring out the window. This then leads to the team letting the ghost out, with Tung shadowing his every movement. Leading a trail of silk wherever it goes, the ghost becomes the pivotal plot device as Silk continues to unfold, revealing the ghost's past.

The film is extremely demanding to immerse us into its world. It has its rules, and we are commonly asked to follow them. This is due to the fact that Silk attempts to provide scientific explanations for all supernatural occurrences, maybe too hard. It might be interesting and original in the horror genre, but the science is definitely not genuine. However, for this film, the fake science still works, even though most of the logic are done with human-made theories instead of facts. As much as the Menger Sponge spray can convince us that we can see ghosts if our eyes are sprayed on, it does not mean that Menger Sponge-sprayed bullets can transform a gun into a ghostbuster.

As much as the ghosts in Silk are viewed scientifically, it does not mean they are harmless. The ghost child may be innocent, but he can squeeze the life out of people too. Just don't look at him directly in the face. This is where Silk still has some elements of an asian horror film, but in a way, they are much creepier. Notice how slow the ghosts crawl in Japan? Well, would you like it if the ghosts here crawl like human-sized spiders? Yes, they move their arms and legs that fast. The scares themselves are not as horrifying as they can be, which puts Silk one full rank below our familiar asian terror-fests. But this is completely acceptable, because Silk is far more thoughtful that pushes the boundaries of a one-dimensional horror film. Nevertheless, Silk does contain several moments that cause us to abruptly "check out."

The biggest flaw in Silk is the filmmakers' handling of the budget. The CGI in this movie is sincerely bad, something that either education programs on TV or video games in the new decade would pull off. The worst part about it is that almost every visual effect driven scene can be avoided by using a different clever technique of telling the story. It seems here that the director is either a novice in the horror genre or just a novice in general filmmaking.

In spite of its unskillful direction and marginal acting, Silk does succeed with characterization, not by the powerhouse performances, but by the conceptual idea of each character's desires. Aside from the underdeveloped minor characters, the two leads in the film both touch on the philosophical debate on life's value and the clouded realm between life and death. Hashimoto wishes to become a ghost, to live a life with no responsibilities. Tung's mother is on the verge of dying, but Tung himself is unwilling to let her go, unsure if it is better to be dead than to be alive. This is the official factor that puts Silk separate from the other plagued asian horrors. 

Silk offers a second layer, another dimension into its story that explores with depth, even if the film on a technical basis did not execute itself to its full potential. The movie may suffer from several aspects of filmmaking: direction, acting, a simplistic script. It asks us to turn on our brains when its pseudoscience forces us to turn off our brains instead. In addition, as mentioned before, Silk suffers the most by cheesy effects. But to quote the Hollywood Reporter, the film "appears to be so well meant that these flaws are easily forgiven." It leaves an imprint in our heads after the viewing, not your normal roller coaster of terror where it is over once the ride is over.

In conclusion, Silk is a very special asian horror film. For once, here comes a film that tries its very best to avoid all the flaws that the asian horror genre have went through and brings forth a ghost that we can fear and have feelings for at the same time. It is often pulled back at times by un-interesting scares or bad CGI, but Silk craves for thoughtfulness and intriguing premises within its story, and it still manages to keep us interested, keep us entwined around its silk of thematic material.


Insidious (2011)

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Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 1:07 PM | Posted in


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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 6.7/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 7/10

INSIDIOUS (2011) - James Wan

What many filmmakers do not understand in the horror genre is that what you *do not* see can sometimes be far more terrifying. To quote The Wall Street Journal: "[W]hat makes a movie scary isn't what jumps out of the closet. It's what might jump out of the closet." An impressive element here is that Insidious is not your average haunted house flick. Even more impressive, the suspense building and flesh crawling techniques are delivered by a director who came out into the industry in 2004 by a film that is flooded with blood and gore, that film being Saw.

Named by critics as one of the scariest films in recent years, Insidious follows Renai and Josh Lambert (Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson), who have just moved into a new house with their three children. After their ten-year old son inexplicably enters a coma and several strange events unfold in the household, the worried couple moves into a new home, only to find the scares following them. Soon, they discover that it is not the house that is haunted, it is their son.

The movie is undoubtedly atmospheric, smartly executed by the director with strategic uses of color correcting, Kubrick-like cinematography, and creepy music. The vibrancy on screen is bleached, closer to a black and white approach. This cleverly brings about the sense that the household in the film is "lifeless," providing an eerie mood that things are not going to go well for our characters. Aside from his previous film that relied on visuals to scare, Wan takes the Shyamalan approach with Insidious, barely showing one drop of blood and yet being able to crawl under our skin.

Cinematography is crucial in a horror film, usually heavily assisted by skillful manipulation of lighting as well. Here, Insidious takes on the style of Stanley Kubrick for its camerawork, following characters' backs really closely, turning corners with them, opening doors with them. Despite it having an effect different from scaring us, it surely disturbs us, dragging us into the dread forcefully since we are locked to where the camera goes. This brings about the same nightmarish effect that Kubrick's The Shining delivered so memorably, and when the cinematography this time is enhanced by bleached coloring and purposely dissonant use of strings in its music, Insidious is guaranteed to create the mood.

The acting in the movie, however, is mediocre, which is a shame if you were one of the audience members who was heavily convinced by the performances in Saw. This is where Insidious loses part of its full potential. Underneath all the technical elements that build up a horror film, it also needs an engaging storyline as well as a powerhouse performance. Although the film does indeed have the storyline done, it lacks the performance aspect. None of the characters in the movie are lovable nor easy to follow, even when the protagonists are parents caring for their children. Rose Byrne, despite noticing her efforts in the film, cannot push through the boundaries of contrived acting to naturalism. One cannot feel her as the mother, but still an actress portraying a mother. This goes the same for Patrick Wilson, which is even more disappointing because of all the great films he has been in before this. When it comes down to what kind of execution it approached in the horror genre, Insidious did not go for strong acting, but rather just pure atmospheric building. Even when Leigh Whannell makes a minor appearance, you would rather rewatch his portrayal of Adam in Saw.

Fortunately, Insidious is not your average supernatural film. Its first half may appear as predictable and cliche, but its third act introduces something completely new. Despite many critics calling the third act "weak" and "shaky," it is a far more compelling concept to go with instead of picking something in the familiar realm. Indeed, critics also criticize Insidious for borrowing too many horror movies to assist itself. This may be true. In simple words, Insidious is probably Paranormal Activity plus The Omen plus Poltergeist. Nevertheless, it is no doubt that Insidious is still an engaging thrill ride.

Now to settle an argument: Is Insidious scary? Or better, is it really what people call it "one of the scariest films in recent history"? Well, if those people call the atmosphere scary, then yes. But does it put us to the stage of ultimate fear? The answer is no. Going back to Saw, maybe Saw is more scary than Insidious simply because it was far more intense. In spite of Insidious having legitimate jump scenes at times, they are still random and out of the void, and thus, the scares are sadly unmemorable. All in all, the film is more of an impressive direction that James Wan takes after doing Saw. That's about it. It is indeed heavily packed with clever tension building, cinematography, and music, but it is also slow in its narrative at times. This is not the most unique horror film of all time and is definitely not the scariest. It only deserves its respect if one already knows the history of its director. As a horror film alone, it is just the usual, and that is perhaps the biggest disappointment in Insidious.

In conclusion, Insidious is a nice approach made by Wan in the horror genre. The story comes forth as cliche at first, then becomes original afterwards. The film is entirely equipped with sinister music and powerhouse atmosphere, though it lacks powerhouse acting. Setting the film's interesting premise aside, it is not the scariest film in recent years, but there is still a lot to recommend in this haunted house supernatural roller coaster of a movie. Perhaps the greatest respect I can give Insidious is the fact that it can make us feel uneasy without showing a drop of blood. To quote Rolling StoneInsidious is still indeed an interesting and captivating horror film, "mostly because [it] decides it can haunt an audience without spraying it with blood."


Dark Water 仄暗い水の底から (2002)

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Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 2:07 PM | Posted in


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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 7.7/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 8/10

DARK WATER 仄暗い水の底から (2002) - Hideo Nakata

Child abandonment is the act of giving up interests and claims over one's child with the intention of never returning to them, caused by a frequent occurrence of social and cultural factors, and in cinematic drama, mental illness. What if the soul of an abandoned child comes back to haunt you? Should the soul be feared? Or pitied? Director of Ringu, Hideo Nakata touches on the souls of abandoned children with his secondary most popular horror film Dark Water, later remade three years later by Hollywood.

Dark Water follows Yoshimi Matsubara (Hitomi Kuroki), who is in the midst of a divorce, and is struggling on her relationship with her daughter Ikuko. They move together to a run-down apartment, whose ceiling has a leak that worsens on a daily basis. As the atmosphere turns more and more eerie, Yoshimi and her daughter begin encountering a creepy girl in yellow who appears tie in to their story and seems to be communicating to them.

The first step Nakata took as a director was to lead the story with a character so simple that we can relate to instantly. The protagonist is not a detective, not a journalist, not a celebrity. This is a struggling mother who is trying to bond with her daughter and spend more time with her. Yoshimi has little money to afford the apartment. She has to constantly go for job interviews. She has to see her divorce lawyer to fend off her crude husband. And if that is not enough, she enrolls her daughter in a nearby kindergarten school and needs to pick her up every day. By using the "plain folks" technique, Nakata does not have us step up to the characters' level. Instead, he has the characters take a step down to our level. With well-written dialogue, screen chemistry, and a magnetic lead performance, Dark Water captures the audience with characterization immediately, even if the film takes a little too much time building its first act. In this film's case, it helps a lot, for the main storyline requires strong characterization.

The second step Nakata took was to immerse us into the world of Dark Water. Halfway into the movie, you will have the entire apartment building's blueprint clear in your mind. You will know what the hallways look like, what the elevator looks like, how the stairs are aligned. As the film progresses, one will slowly find him/herself breathing the apartment's air, and it is a simple enhancement that increases the eeriness in the atmosphere as the film slowly descends into darkness.

As spooky as it might be, Dark Water is not too scary of a movie. Its purpose is separate from Nakata's previous film Ringu or other classics like Ju-On: The Grudge -- to scare the living daylights out of the audience. With more convincing characters, Dark Water is meant to just show us something dark and disturbing, never meant to get under our skin.

In terms of film genre, Dark Water is more of a drama than a horror film. It is a sad drama that strives with a compelling cast of characters and deals with the subject of children abandoned and lost by their parents. I was not scared, but scarred -- scarred and disturbed by the tragedy of the film's story, especially at the film's ending, the most emotionally powerful conclusion Director Nakata can pull off for a film like Dark Water. The movie steps on the fine line between fear and pity, as mentioned before, and this approach is very unique for Nakata. Hardcore asian horror fans might not like this one, but view Dark Water as just a movie, not a plain horror flick.

In conclusion, Dark Water is one of the greatest asian horror films I have seen. It may start out a little slow and its scares might be a bit murky, but the movie efficiently builds its narrative and immerses us into the living space of its characters, helping us to understand them more. Just below the surface of terror, Dark Water bears a pool of themes on humanity -- addressing subjects like mental breakdown, family breakdown, mental illness, and of course, child abandonment. It is not just a unique film in Nakata's career, but a unique film in the Japanese horror genre, putting it on the shelf of memorable films to watch.