Friday, October 16, 2015

The Quick and Dirties: A Saw Ruins the Strangers

If you've been here once or twice, you know the drill. This is the feature where I talk about a few movies all at once since I just couldn't be bothered to give them my complete love and attention long enough to create an in-depth review. What can I say? Some days I'm lazy. Anyhoo, here we go...


The Ruins
(2008)
Two young couples on vacation in Cancun decide to spend their last day in town with a fellow tourist at an archeological dig of an ancient Mayan site. Weirdness and bloodiness ensues. It does a nice job building momentum as the situation gets more and more desperate. Having one of our heroes as a med student (Tucker) is a stroke of genius. He quickly tries to grab the mantle of leadership and often imposes his will on others as his "skill" is sorely needed for their survival. However, the others attempt to rebel, giving us a nice Lord of the Flies type friction between them. Gore is used sparingly but very effectively. We also get a pretty nice ending. How and why this particular place got to be this particular way is a completely unexplained mystery. Since we're talking about killer plants here, I don't think a scene of one of the local yokels explaining the history would be too much to ask. Instead, we get a faceless group that seems to be a tribe guarding the outskirts of the site. None of them speak the least bit of English and none of our heroes speak Spanish. Therefore, the disconnect meant to add to the horror is merely an inconvenience for the audience. Horror fans should still have a look because it's a solid film, overall.. That's not to say it's a classic or even remotely close to being one but I found it enjoyable.



The Strangers
(2008)
A group of masked strangers terrorize a young couple at their summer home in the woods. The movie works hard to extract fear and dread from the tension of the situation and resists the urge to compile a bunch of cheap jump-scares or use a lot of gore. Liv Tyler proves to be a capable scream queen. Unlike much of his other work, her leading man, Scoot Speedman actually appears lifelike. Our bad guys can get in and out of the house apparently at will yet still resort to cheap "scary" tactics like axing the front door. They can also control sound, I guess. They make extremely loud noises sometimes, which I get. What I don't get is they also do some things in silence that should be audible for at least half a mile. This gives them a superhuman quality that isn't needed. It makes the grave mistake of telling us the ending at the beginning. That has worked in lots of movies but in this instance it renders the whole thing pointless. It tells you what's going to happen and then spends the next hour and a half barrelling towards that inevitable conclusion without any mystery as to how we're going to arrive there. Therefore, an ending that could've been shocking, disturbing or some other awesome -ing is left impotent, or more accurately limp from its pre-mature activity. It's actually a pretty good watch at home, at night, in the dark because the possibility of the situation is one most of us have at least thought about once or twice. However, it's not as good as it should be. Horror fans give it a look but don't expect the next great thing.


Saw IV
(2008)
A tiny audio tape is discovered in the stomach of serial-killer Jigsaw (Bell) during autopsy. In true Saw fashion, we get to see this in vivid detail. Also in true Saw fashion, once played the tape sets in motion another of his deadly games. This time, the action focuses on the police department, particularly Officer Rigg (Bent), that had been trying to catch him. You watch a Saw movie for the twisted games and the devilish puzzles they use as well as the gore that results from failing to escape. You also hope to get a fairly surprising twist and a horror movie that’s smarter than your average slasher flick. Whether or not any of these movies is “smart” is debatable but for a series based on torture-porn they’re downright brilliant. We get all of those things but it still falls short of its predecessors. The twist feels more contrived because they play with time in a manner that makes absolutely no sense. There's not as much tension because the puzzles are generally excuses to kill its victims rather quickly instead of something that can be solved & drawing out the agony of figuring them out as in the previous movies. On the plus side, seeing how Jigsaw got into his special brand of "saving" people was intriguing. Also, it’s accomplished as much as just about any other horror series ever by not becoming a total parody of itself & maintaining some level of quality despite being 4 movies deep. However, they made sure to set us up for Saw V.




10 comments:

  1. The Ruins I thought was alright. It actually tries to do something different in the realm of horror and actually engaged you into the situation. Yet, I'm also kinda biased considering that it stars my boo, Jena.

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  2. The book of The Ruins is GREAT. I can see where it would make a good movie, but I've only heard not-so-good things about this one. I will still probably check it out at some point, though.

    I really liked The Strangers - it's super-effective at building tension within individual scenes, if not overall (since, as you point out, we do know the ending, more or less), and the cinematography and editing are gang-busters. Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman are super-believable even if the titular creeps aren't always.

    For some reason I've seen the first three Saw movies, and none of them are any good except for like half of the first one. But then, I can't stand torture porn.

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    1. The movie for The Ruins isn't GREAT, but I do think it's worth a look. For me, The Strangers played all the notes properly, but the whole melody still felt a bit out of tune. The Saw movies are a take it or leave it affair so I understand.

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  3. I haven't seen any of these. I checked out of the Daw franchise after 3, and I never saw Strangers, but I did see the French version, Them, which I really liked.

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    1. Never saw Them. Might have to check that out.

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  4. The Ruins and The Strangers are both good quality horror flicks. I love the use of gore in The Ruins like you mention - it's in all the right places. That movie really surprised me because I wasn't expecting much. I remember being scared out of my seat when I saw The Strangers in theaters but I haven't rewatched it, so this post might have just inspired me to put it at the top of my dvd queue!

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    1. Glad to see some love for The Ruins. It's a solid flick. The Strangers didn't quite do it for me, though.

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  5. I almost take it personally when a film with a great title is disappointing. The Strangers is one of those films that would jump off a list.

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