Tag Archives: The Moth Diaries

“Emilie” (2015) is a superb, gut-wrenching thriller.

I’ll come straight to the point — “Emilie” is an exceptional horror-thriller that belongs on your list of films to see, provided you can stomach some disturbing content.  This movie hooked me in under a minute, even before its title appeared on screen.  Then it kept me glued to it throughout most of its running length.  It could have been an even better film — a classic on par with “Psycho” (1960) or “Fatal Attraction”(1987), were it not for some key creative choices about halfway through.

I’d give this movie a 9 out of 10.  It succeeds for two reasons — great acting and a script that perfectly employs dialogue that is at first subtle and nuanced, and then increasingly frightening.  The title character is a babysitter who is not what the parents expected, in more ways than one.  After some deliberately awkward character interaction with the departing parents, she proceeds to subject the children to a series of progressively more demented psychological games.  What follows is a thriller brimming with pathos.  The movie reminded me a lot of the critically acclaimed and controversial “Funny Games” (2007). That film also showed ostensibly innocent adversaries entering a family’s home after gaining their trust, and then doing awful things.

Emilie is played to perfection by Sarah Bolger, who has a beautiful, kind face, which only makes the character’s incongruous psychopathy even more unsettling for the viewer.  It took me a while to place the actress’ face, until I recognized her as the somewhat feckless protagonist of 2011’s “The Moth Diaries.”  I was impressed with her talent then as a hapless good guy, and I think her performance here was phenomenal.  She plays the innocent-looking, yet icy antagonist here with subtle, unnerving malice.  The rest of the cast is also uniformly quite good.  This is true even of the young child actors, but most especially of Joshua Rush.

The movie is briskly paced, but its sparing dialogue still manages to rattle and then shock.  It’s a sometimes obscene story of imperiled children that really gets under your skin.  Most of its directing is clean and clear.  Combined with the unusual score, it gives the story a dreamlike quality.

The movie loses its way just a little at about the 40-minute mark, when its perverse, moody dialogue and strictly psychological horror give way to the familiar elements of a boilerplate thriller.  An unnecessary backstory is given for our antagonist, delivered by an overly convenient, standard flashback sequence that feels out of place and that disrupts the pacing.  (“Her mind was shattered.”)  Then, other plot points also feel just a little by-the-numbers, moving “Emilie” away from true cinematic greatness and toward just being a very good horror flick.

Finally, Bolger’s villain is defanged a little when the script calls for her to lose her calm demeanor after the plucky, oldest child (Rush) defies her, in a well executed but entirely predictable David and Goliath story.  And her character’s reliance on a nameless, voiceless and superfluous confederate here also makes her a little less enigmatic.

How much greater would this movie have been if Emilie’s motivations remained a mystery?  What if, like “Funny Games” or “The Strangers” (2008), all we knew is that she was an highly intelligent sociopath acting for no discernible reason?  What if she were acting entirely alone?

And what if the horror remained strictly psychological, with no actual violence to up the ante until the closing minutes?  The most disturbing scenario I can think of is this — what if she were able to psychologically manipulate the children to violently turn against one another, or against their parents upon their return?  That could be an ambiguous, darker and far more thematic story than the second half of the film we see here.

Still, this was a damned effective scary movie, and that’s good enough.  I recommend it.

One more thing — there actually is a famous, heartwarming French romantic comedy entitled “Amelie” (2001), which I have not seen.  I think it would be blackly funny if some sentimental filmgoers wanted to rent that and accidentally picked up “Emilie.”

 

wjjgzh7t

 

1280x720-cOf

 

The Lazarus Effect on the Flatliners’ Jaunt. With Dark Phoenix.

[THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS FOR “THE LAZARUS EFFECT.”]  “The Lazarus Effect” (2015) is a good horror – science fiction movie, just not a great one.  I’d give it a 7 out of 10.

It’s well put together.  There are some scary parts, and the characters are likable, if thinly drawn.  One part of this movie expertly recalls Stephen King’s amazing short story, “The Jaunt,” which I believe is the scariest story I’ve ever read.  The closing moments of the movie are damn creepy.   (Watch carefully until the end.)

If you think you recognize Eva, that’s the talented young Sarah Bolger, who was troubled by a vampire prep-school classmate in “The Moth Diaries” (2011).  The smart-mouthed lab assistant?  That’s none other than Quicksilver from “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (the likable Evan Peters).

But here’s it’s problem — this film’s story device was already employed a hundred times better 25 years ago by the far superior “Flatliners.”  That 1990 classic exceeds it on every level — even visually, despite today’s CGI.  I just can’t recommend paying to see “The Lazarus Effect” if the star-studded, funny, genuinely frightening “Flatliners” is available at home.

Even “The Lazarus Effect’s” modern special effects are nothing new.  When Zoe (Olivia Wilde) completes her horrifying transformation, I swear she looked exactly like Jean Grey after her transformation into Dark Phoenix in “X-Men 3: The Last Stand” (2006).

We’re also left with a lot of questions.  (Again, I’m trying to keep this generally spoiler free.)

1)  Are we seeing the real Zoe?  A possessed Zoe?  A traumatized Zoe?  An angry version of Zoe?  All four?  I’m still not sure.

2)  Why does Zoe’s transformation appear to happen gradually?  Why not immediately?

3)  Why is one character made to face consequences for a childhood mistake, no matter how serious it may have been?

4)  What exactly is the significance of the side effects we are told about (increased brain activity and aggression)?

5)  Given what we know about what’s happening to Zoe, does it really make sense that the dog should have a comparable experience?

6)  Can the process we see have a happier outcome for a different subject?

7)  Why does Zoe object to the lab assistant using e-cigarettes in the laboratory?  “Vaping” produces no smoke or odor, and contains no tobacco — it’s just a water mist.

Anyway … do any other horror-sci-fi fans remember “Flatliners” the way I do?  I never hear it mentioned.  Its contemporary, “The Lost Boys,” (justifiably) still gets praise and brings tons of nostalgia to 80’s horror movie fans.  Why not “Flatliners?”  EVERYBODY talked about “Flatliners” back in the day.  It was even better “The Lost Boys,” and it’s served up with both Kief AND Bacon.

The_Lazarus_Effect_(2015_film)_poster

A Review of”The Moth Diaries” (2011)

“The Moth Diaries” (2011) is actually a decent vampire movie. Yes, the protagonists are teenage girls at a boarding school, but this is much more “The X-Files” than it is “Twilight.” It actually reminded me a lot of the fantastic “Let Me In” (2010), the Americanized version of “Let the Right One In” (2008).

Rebecca (capably played by the talented Sarah Bolger) grows concerned when her best friend is seemingly enthralled by the creepy new girl (Lily Cole). Vampire mystery ensues.

This is a really good movie for the first hour and 15 minutes or so, even if the sparing flashback sequences are a little awkward. Regrettably, its chances of being a truly great horror film are foiled by a quick and underwhelming anticlimax, complete with special effects that are about at the same level we would expect from network television. It’s like the screenwriter and director ran out of energy and decided to wrap up the whole shebang so they could grab lunch.

It’s still a fairly good movie, though – I’d give it a 7 out of 10.

Postscript: you know you’ve seen a lot of horror movies when their titles all begin to sound alike: The Moth Diaries, The Mothman Prophecies, The Vampire Diaries, The Zombie Diaries, Diary of the Dead, etc.

moth_970x390