Thursday, 30 July 2015

Maggie (2015) - Zombie Film Review

Despite not showing at my local cinema I made the effort to see Maggie by travelling to the next town over, after all how often do you get to see zombies on the big screen? I kinda felt like I knew the vibe going in so wasn't expecting a balls to the wall action flick.

Maggie takes place in a world that has been swept with a deadly zombie apocalypse, the world is coping but only just with strict quarantine rules in effect. Wade Vogel (Arnold Schwarzenegger) has been searching for his daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin who was also in Zombieland) ever since she ran away from home, he finally finds her in quarantine having become infected by a zombie attack. A friend high up in the medical profession has pulled some strings so that rather than live out her remaining weeks at a special centre she is able to return to Wade's farmhouse, but when the time comes will Wade be able to do the right thing for his beloved daughter?

I was expecting a slow burn of a film and this didn't disappoint with it being almost excruciatingly slow in places. I was expecting something along the lines of The Road and the mournful, sad tone did feel similar but this is far more drama than even that. This is the first zombie film which really seems to show the effects on the family and friends of the infected. Having lost his first wife Wade's daughter is a constant reminder of her, as such she is pretty much the most precious thing to him, more precious and important than his second wife and their young children. I was not expecting Arnie to be able to do a straight up serious film but with the role he has he does a decent enough job, and while there are no scenes of real emotional weight behind them it is obvious through the character of Wade and Maggie what a close bond they have, he even gets to shed a tear in a couple of scenes. His character doesn't really have much to him in the end though, aside from the loving father you don't really get to see what kind of a man he is.

Maggie has much more to her character, the struggle of knowing she is not only going to die, but to turn into a flesh hungry monster is etched onto her face, often sad and with society shunning her to a degree you get to experience what she is going through on a week by week basis; PTSD nightmares of the moment she got bitten, her revulsion at her decaying skin, and her break downs all link up to create someone who feels believable in their role. Sometimes this has more of a feeling of a terminal illness victim knowing their time is coming up rather than a zombie victim, with a gestation period of six to eight weeks it is all about how they choose to spend their days.

There are hardly any undead shown in the film but the effects looked pretty decent, a zombie child in particular stood out as being the best (worst I guess) looking zombie child I have seen in film, an unsettling moment. Thankfully there are not too many scenes involving kids as Wade's young son has that creepy adult way of talking that so many directors think is realistic, least he only really gets one scene before him and his sister are carted off to an aunts house never to be seen again. Supporting actors on the adult side are all pretty decent, Wade's friends in particular are a strong cast, while his wife has a bit of an evil step mum vibe to her but her concern is hardly unwarranted. The teen side of things most the characters are forgettable aside from Maggie's best friend who has one pretty moving scene.

Muted grey skies, sun rises that never quite come and the depressed dying world combine to make a film that is pretty sad at times with not much relief or hope. The whole film I was waiting for the inevitable yet when it came it was unexpected in its outcome, I left the cinema close to tears but not quite there. A sad film then but one which maybe was just too slow in places, good to see Arnie in a more serious role for once, and in a zombie film no less.


Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate (2013) - Fantasy Videogame Review (Playstation 3)

Don't ask me how I came to be reviewing all the Batman Arkham games on my blog, occasionally they have horror elements to them I guess. With all the main line games reviewed I find myself left with the downloadable companion game to Batman: Arkham Origins.

Blackgate takes place three months after the end of Origins and starts with Batman encountering Catwoman for the first time, they fight and after capturing her she is sent to Blackgate prison. A few weeks later Batman learns there has been a riot at the prison, all the staff have been taken hostage and three super villains have taken over parts of the complex. Black Mask's turf is the industrial complex, Penguin rules over the prisons, while Joker is in control of the administration block. After arriving at Blackgate, Batman forms an alliance with Catwoman who tells him the staff are being held in the Arkham wing and to get there he is going to have to battle everyone.

I had muted hopes for this game but I still had hopes nonetheless, I loved Origins so hoped this would at least manage to capture some of the magic of that. The game is a Metroidvania 2.5D  explorer with you able to tackle the three areas of the game in any order you choose, though the plot will eventually lead you to all three regardless. As you progress the main story you unlock new abilities that let you get to previously inaccessible areas. One thing the game does right is giving you the freedom to do either of the areas first. The three main bosses can be battled in any order with the ending changing slightly depending who you were last to defeat.

My initial complaint is just how dull Blackgate looks, the levels are grey and dreary and ooze a level of blandness that made everything look all the same. The administration block is the most varied due to Joker's graffiti everywhere but even that is dull as dishwater. There was a similar problem with Castlevania: Mirror of Fate that seemed to think that turning a third person battler into a side on game meant locations should be passable but with no love given to them. This is not helped by the confusing map screen that makes it hard to get your bearings and the fact that the 2.5D perspective means often you view will switch round so a simple walk down a straight path will take you all over the shop.

The combat is ok, your attacks seem to have no weight behind them but other than that they are fun enough with combos you can do and slow motion finishers. Later in the game regular enemies suddenly become invincible with no warning or explanation, it was only after many many trials and errors that I realised they were wearing explosive devices on their backs; a single line of text on the screen to tell me this would have been enough rather than just expecting the player to know from constantly getting killed seemingly at random.

The bosses are all different and all require different ways to take them down but again this led to huge frustration as again regular attacks inexplicably just didn't work. An example is the Penguin boss that requires you to get above him and kind of jump on his head; this method takes off a bunch of his health bar, should you get to him any other way though your attacks just don't register and you get instantly killed; very frustrating when you don't know why, again a single bit of text could have prevented this annoyance.

Your tools and gadgets can be used on the environment to say blow open a hole in a weak wall, or electrify a junction box, all good in practice but first you have to go into detective mode and slowly scan the environment which takes a fair few seconds, once again this is an annoyance when it is blatantly obvious what you need to do but the game forbids you until you jump through its hoops. Talking of level design a lazy way to prolong the games conclusion later on gets you sent on a tedious fetch quest back through all the areas of the game. This was an archaic method that did nothing to improve my enjoyment.

The plot is bare bones and dull with characters acting out of...well character, it all ends badly too with the final boss pretty much being a rehash of the very first boss and no harder at that really. The plot is told via comic book cutscenes which are ok I guess but look a bit amateur though the voice acting isn't bad. There are side missions that involve scanning items that appear as question marks on your map, these result in a few lines of text explaining bits of the games back story. There are also collectable items for you to destroy as well as power ups that increase your health and give you different suits. None of these were interesting enough for me to see to completion.

Overall I was disappointed with Blackgate, I didn't expect it to be mind blowing but I at least hoped it would keep me entertained for at least a moderate chunk of it's six hour run time. Maybe one to avoid as it doesn't really bring anything to the series.


Sunday, 26 July 2015

Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010) - Thoughts on the final two zombie maps

Each time the expensive Call of Duty: Black Ops map packs go on sale I buy one, even at a reduced price they are nearly £9 each, and that becomes even more expensive when you take into account of the five maps you get in each of the packs it is only the one zombie one I want, only the one zombie one I am going to play with. Anyway recently the packs went on sale once again and I decided to buy the remaining two that I did not yet own.

First off is Shangri La which is set in the ruins of an ancient shrine in the middle of a jungle, from the loading screen it looks like this is a place out of time. The map is quite large and loops around on itself. Exterior parts include spike traps and pressure pad traps, a large rope bridge and a small lake. Aside from a few tunnels the other main part of the map is some mines that run under the exterior level. These mines include a generator room which provides power to the machines of the level and some flooded areas. The most fun part of this map is all the short cuts you can use, there is a cool water slide that takes you down through the underground as well as an equally as fun mine cart that does the same. In the mines there are a few water sprouts which fling you back up on to the surface if you wait on them for a few seconds.

The zombies in Shangri La are an assortment of emaciated male and female zombies, these look far more skinny than the undead in other maps but are just as powerful. There seems to be two types of special infected, the first runs at you and if it attacks you it manages to blind you for a few seconds which is terrible if you happen to be surrounded! The second type is a flaming zombie that rises up out of the ground, this one not only explodes if you shoot it too much, but also it can self destruct to instantly kill a player. Then there are the monkeys which are really quite cheeky. These simians are not zombies and you don't get any points for killing them but if a power up appears these damn creatures will attempt to steal the power up and run off, should you get it before them they will attempt to attack you with a swipe of their claws, thankfully it only takes one hit to kill these!

The second map is Ascension that takes place at a Soviet launch site. This is another large level mostly made up of corridors in the interiors and semi open spaces outside. The puzzle box always spawns in the same place (the generator room). Bizarrely the level is in black and white until the power switch is thrown which can make it hard to see the undead. Dotted all over the level are rocket stations which you can use to summon a rocket platform which gives you a useful escape route as it will fly up into the air and take you either to the starting room or if another player has summoned it it will take you to their location, these are a lot of fun to use.

The zombies are made up of scientists and soldiers but every now and again you get a special round were you have to fight off a bunch of monkeys wearing space suits who explode when shot! The level has a few unique weapons including a sickle that is a powerful melee weapon, a black hole bomb that sucks zombies into it, and a Russian doll that is like a cluster bomb.

Both these levels were a lot of fun so despite the price I am glad I got them. I like that the dialogue of the characters seems more self aware than usual with characters complaining about Treyarch (the maker of Black Ops) in various different ways quite a lot. I now have all ten of the zombie maps, I really wish a stand alone zombie game would be released with all the maps from all the Call of Duty zombie mode included.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Silent Retreat (2013) - Horror Film Review

Silent Retreat is one of director Tricia Lee's first feature length horrors, the second being Clean Break that I shall be reviewing soon. This film won Best Canadian Feature at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, and was an official selection at the Nocturna International Fantastic Film Festival.

After being arrested Janey (Chelsea Jenish) is given a choice; go to prison, or spend a month at a female retreat out in the middle of nowhere where she will be rehabilitated. Arriving at the strange place she is informed that included among the many rules are the ones that no one is allowed to speak, and that everyone has to go to bed at sunset. The retreat is ruled over by a strict doctor (Robert Nolan) and his two sons, it soon becomes apparent that something sinister is going on with clues suggesting the patients are being brain washed. This isn't the only threat though for in addition there seems to be a creature on the loose, and that the rules may not be in place just as a means of control but also to avoid rousing this dangerous beast...

This is quite a slow burner, but with something always going on and with questions ever on my lips I was not bored, this was despite the lack of much dialogue which I actually found to be quite novel. The first hours horror really comes from Janey slowly figuring out what is going on with the strange doctor's experiments, it kind of felt like a Goosebumps episode with scenes of girls being dragged away against their will only to turn up more mellow and controlled, punishments to any rule breaking usually resulting in having the food taken away. Nolan does a good job as the main antagonist, looking like an older version of Leonardo DiCaprio he oozes control, his sons though are quite under developed, all I really got from them was that one was stupid and the other handsome but both stooges and with no personality of their own.

With glimpses of a strange beast prowling the grounds I knew at some point Silent Retreat would change tracks and become a creature feature and that is indeed what happens at around the hour mark. Of the creature itself it is slowly revealed, thankfully so as things always look more threatening when you can't see it is just a guy or gal in a rubber suit. I was dreading the moment I would finally see it fully as I was expecting a travesty but actually it wasn't that bad a look, not amazing but far better than many others I have seen. With this change in genre there is a sudden onset of blood and gore, characters get covered in crimson, while there are some violent deaths including someones entrails getting pulled out, and someone getting a shard of glass through their eyeball. The fact it is so late into the film that it becomes so gruesome was effective in making it seem all the more over the top in the best possible way.

Silent Retreat has a quite a feminist tone to it which gets nearly too heavy handed at times, the overseers are all male of course and by their rules they put their control over their female wards. Meanwhile the girls who have been sent there for rehabilitation are all supposed to have committed crimes but of the two who have their 'crimes' revealed one is shown to have attacked a man who tried to force himself on her, while another was arrested for holding some sort of gay pride demonstration in the middle of a street (something like that). Without spoiling things there are more obvious displays of mans controlling nature throughout with the message seeming to be being meek and submissive isn't a good thing.

The monster looks ok but it has some more unique properties to it, with the reason silence is treasure being a clue about it. The plot is a bit silly in that why the men would think living in such a dangerous place was a good idea I do not know, and how they have managed to get away with their crimes for so long is ridiculous. Meanwhile the creature is pretty inconsistent in its reactions to certain things. There is a clear plot arc and while bizarre at least Silent Retreat did something different, also the score is pretty decent, mournful almost but fitted the tone well.

I enjoyed the film and if you stick around to the final third the pace really picks up with some great looking blood and effects, just be prepared for a slow opening and some under developed bad guys. Silent Retreat is available to buy now.


Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Miss Meadows (2014) - Horror Film Review

Sometimes when I get offered films to review I don't do my homework and end up with something that shouldn't really be on this blog, so when Miss Meadows started and seemed to be a quirky comedy (albeit a black one) alarm bells started to ring. Thankfully over the hour and a half run time the tone changes to something a lot more dark and thoughtful.

Katie Holmes stars as Miss Meadows; an oddball substitute teacher who also happens to be a serial killer in her spare time, going after people who she sees as deserving of death. The town sheriff (James Badge Dale) takes a romantic interest in her and they start dating, unaware that a series of vigilante killings taking place that he is investigating is actually down to her. As she starts to crack under the pressure of her secret life can she still manage to come out on top?

While the first scene of the movie sets up the idea that Miss Meadows is a remorseless killer this idea is then not touched upon for a further half an hour, instead it becomes like a romantic comedy with the blossoming relationship between her and the sheriff. I was not fond of this part of the film, especially with the Holmes's character. She dresses in kooky outfits, has a bizarre manner of talking and dances when there is no music playing, like she is going out of her way to be weird. I found this character to be irritating at first but thankfully she really gets some development down the line. It soon becomes apparent that she is not just an odd ball but that she is actually legitimately mentally unstable.

As the film progresses we start to see cracks in her facade, this isn't all twee and bright but instead as more of her character is revealed you see damaged goods who has a strict black and white view of the world. This is revealed not only in her actions but also in the people around her. A conversation about justice with her sheriff boyfriend, a recently released criminal who later becomes almost the films antagonist keeps telling her she is just like him, and the way the two are portrayed this almost seems correct with this bad person seeming like a physical manifestation of her conscience.

Enough about the main character, what about the film itself? Miss Meadows has quite a sunny vibe to it, but one with darkness rippling underneath. The world the film takes place in seems almost too simple with bad characters just bad, no redeeming features are provided for them, while the good characters are also just made to seem one sided also. Whether this is purposely done to demonstrate the vigilante's view of the world I do not know, I hope that was the intention as otherwise you get left with a series of one dimensional people. The film shares many similarities with the excellent show Dexter (well apart from the terrible final episode!) featuring as it does someone who kills believing that what they are doing is right while trying to keep a normal life. Also in common with that show is the terrible police work done as if there had been any proper work done at all Holmes's character would have been locked up at around the five minute mark.

The supporting characters are for the most part the children in Miss Meadows class and they are actually not bad for child actors, they don't over act as children often do, and they don't have that creepy adult way of talking that often plagues them. Dale as the sheriff does as good a job as he can but I don't feel the script was the best for him, some of his actions are just bizarre with his motivations not justifying reality. Talking of being unrealistic I found the sickly saccharine ending to be ill fitting, things are just tied up too easily .

Surprisingly Homes steals this film, she puts in a fantastic performance, Miss Meadows was very nearly a fantastic film, it has some decent twists and the directing isn't bad, but due to a few little niggles I had it is instead just a good film, worth a watch but not something I would go out of my way to recommend. Miss Meadows is due to be released on DVD and Digital on 27th July.


Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Terminator: Genisys (2015) - Sci-Fi Film Review

I had no plans to review the new Terminator film for the sci-fi series can never really be said to contain too much horror, yet looking back I realised I had in fact reviewed Terminator: Salvation and so I grudgingly decided this would come to review too. Minor spoilers to follow, but then if you have seen the trailer these have already been ruined.

Genisys starts off in the future and shows how Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) got to time travel back in time to rescue Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), so far so normal. The twists come fast and thick though as finding himself in 1984 it is not a scared waitress he finds but a battle hardened head strong woman. Time travel has again mixed up the events that lead to Judgement Day, Sarah having been visited by a friendly Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) when she was 9 years old and so protected by him her whole life. To mix things up more the more deadly model; the T1000 is also in 1984 and so much chaos ensures. Eventually the friendly trio end up in 2017 which is the new date for Judgement Day (again due to time travel shannegins) where their efforts to delay the end of the world are made a lot harder by John Connor (Jason Clarke) of all people who is now working for Skynet (rebranded as Genisys here).

Now this is not horror, this is pure sci-fi action for the whole of it's two hour run time. The initial introduction complete with voice over was fantastic for setting up the vibe of the Terminator world, while the first half hour of this film is its very best with unrelenting action. The parts set in the future, and the parts set in 1984 were my favourite by far as the present day sections while entertaining enough lose some of the retro vibes associated with the earlier films. There is a lot of fan service here, crazy amounts in fact with the first two films in particular referenced a heck of a lot. Sarah Connor wears her iconic black vest top, all the famous one liners are repeated here (obviously 'I'll be back' and 'come with me if you want to live') but there are spins put on them that are pure fun for the viewer.

Schwarzenegger is getting on in age now but thankfully this older looking Terminator is explained away in the plot which I appreciated, meanwhile flashbacks to the 1970's show a youthful looking Terminator that looks identical to the first film, while the 1984 version also has some cool special effects to make him look younger. The T1000 on the other hand, and by association the John Connor robot have some fantastic looking special effects that just could not have been possible in Terminator 2: Judgement Day, this makes for some fantastic action sequences. Emilia Clarke looks bizarrely similar to Linda Hamiltons while Courtney as Reese is not badly cast either. Schwarzenegger's Terminator is even more down the friendly good guy route with it even being implied he has actual emotions towards Sarah, and many of the jokes come from him.

It is not all good though, I found John Connor as the human to be a bit strange looking, I guess him being the fourth different actor in a row playing John has led to this disconnect from the character. When he appears later as the main bad guy I found him to not be interesting at all, his motivations are flat and there seems to be nothing left of the human John even though it is shown that the robot assimilated his body and so I had hoped there would be some human side to him, alas he just comes across as a bland bad guy, the amount he talks really takes away from his presence as someone to be feared. He has some good scenes such as one on the golden gate bridge, and an enjoyable finale but is the biggest mis step to be found in Genisys. It was kind of jarring to see the Terminator and T1000 models so easily dispatched here, when you have two films of them being bad-ass the ease of which they are removed from play while entertaining felt a bit of a cop out.

With lots of time travel, some great chase sequences and plenty of fights this is a spectacle to watch, it is all action though, and not even strong in violence, as such it is just not a patch on the first two films even if it far excels from Terminator 3 and Salvation. The main bad guy is uninspiring, the time travel plot while decent enough doesn't really do enough and I was left wishing it had just been more visceral. Still I can't fault the special effects and I did leave the cinema feeling thoroughly entertained.


Monday, 20 July 2015

The Gallows (2015) - Horror Film Review

Oh joy I thought as The Gallows started and the realisation that it was yet another found footage piece sunk in to my despairing brain pan. To be honest I long got tired of the genre, I had already heard nothing but bad things about this film so my expectations plummeted even lower into the depths of hell.

Twenty years previous to the events of the film a high school student called Charlie is accidentally hung to death during the performance of the play 'The Gallows'. To honour the anniversary of this tragic event the school is once again going to perform the play. Jock Reese (Reese Mishler) has quit the football team to concentrate on the production as he has landed a leading role with the girl he fancies; nerdy Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown) playing his love interest. However his obnoxious best friend Ryan (Ryan Shoos) has concocted a plan to get him to leave the play, the  plan involves breaking into the school at night and trashing the set. Convincing Reese and his girlfriend Cassidy to this ridiculous idea they go ahead. Discovered by Pfeifer in the midst of this the group abandon the plan and go to leave the school but discover all the exits have become locked, it soon becomes apparent that the ghost of Charlie is haunting the place and does not wish anyone to leave alive...

The actual location is a great choice I have to say first. A school at night is actually an effective spooky place, the theatre location in particular is very atmospheric, the grim set design for The Gallows play coupled with the vast seating area and dingy back stage areas make for some unnerving scenes. Found footage films can be as dull as dishwater, there is kind of justification for everything being filmed in that the lights in the school are not working and so everyone uses their phones as a light source, still doesn't really explain why everyone is filming.

After the initial day scenes there are only the four characters to follow around, the main person filming at least initially is Ryan who is super irritating and unlikable, basically a nasty bully, while his girlfriend is really bitchy and not a nice person either. I was hoping there would be some character development, but no there isn't, they don't change their character types at all so I found it hard to care at all about them. Reese on the other hand is a bit of a weird character,he seems easily led is the nicest thing I can say about him, while Pfeifer is kind of bland, she looks pretty but not much is revealed about her. Of the plot it is not too complicated though with a lot of characters who could wish the group harm introduced early on I did find myself wondering if the whole Charlie ghost thing could all be an elaborate hoax. Of course with blatant paranormal events happening this idea of mine soon seemed to be shot down.

All the usual tropes for found footage are used; crazy running sequences with the camera pointed at the ground, glitches and static, night vision sections, and even a Blair Witch Project style girl crying close up at the camera scene. Cheap tricks are used to generate fear such as people suddenly bursting into shot, or sudden loud noises from the distance. Apart from these jump scares there is not a lot to be scared of here, as I said earlier the location itself is actually a lot more scary than what actually happens in this film.

Charlie's method of death is of course death by noose, his arrival heralded by ghostly footsteps and the sound of tightening rope, this is never really utilised too well, it is often far too obvious when something is going to happen. The teaser trailer for The Gallows consisted solely of a character being killed off so I wasn't thrilled to see this scene replayed here in it's entirety, no suspense at all, trailers really do just show too much nowadays. There seems to be an inconsistency to the spirits actions also with him chasing or tormenting people only to vanish for no reason. He came across as far more irritating than spooky and the motivations provided are pretty lame even for a vengeful spirit.

Overall this wasn't the worst found footage I have seen, at least the location was decent, it's just a shame the characters are dull stereotypes, while the bad guy of the piece is nothing special. Mostly it is the anticipation rather than the result which creates fear, should have been a lot more terrifying and so it is merely ok.


Sunday, 19 July 2015

Swords of Insurgency: Episode 1 (2015) - Post Apocalyptic Show Episode Review

Back at the start of February I did a small blog post about upcoming post apocalyptic show Swords of Insurgency (directed and produced by Michael Neal), now I have had the pleasure of watching the first episode and I have to say it really was not bad, in fact the premise is actually really interesting.

Swords of Insurgency takes place 30 years after the end of civilisation, with the electrical grid long since destroyed and guns in extremely short supply the world has entered a new dark age with feuding warlords battling for control over the land. The show takes place in the territory of Taneg; a cruel lord who rules along with his psychotic son from his prison compound where political prisoners are kept. One such prisoner is Abigail, and she has been waiting for an opportunity to escape the hellish prison and meet up with the local insurgency...

The first episode was around twenty minutes long and had very little dialogue to speak of, in fact Abi (Rebecca Hausman) barely even speaks, her acting all told through her desperate actions that reveal her to be a force to be reckoned with. The idea of a new dark age makes for quite a unique look to the show, the warlord Taneg for example wears combat fatigues, his guards all wear boiler suits and balaclavas that all look so normal. A post apocalyptic show were people actually wear sensible clothes; how novel!

I noted in the trailer that it seemed to be well shot and I was pleased to see that my opinion was backed up by some beautiful scenes here, one in which an escaping prisoner runs down a water logged tunnel while David Firth style dreamlike music plays was so well done. Locations also were well chosen, the prison compound is a great place that feels authentic, while a later shot of a ruined apartment block gives a sense of the devastation that has wracked the world.

The fight sequences are short and snappy, though one involving a samurai sword was let down for me a bit by CGI blood spurts which seemed a bit too obvious they were not real. It was hard to judge the vocal acting, the bad guys maybe seemed a bit too hammy and one dimensional though it will be interesting to see if they, as well as the other characters get a chance to be fleshed out and made to seem more real.

Overall I was impressed with the quality of Swords of Insurgency, the directing in particular was top notch, with a Kickstarter campaign to be done to raise capital for further episodes I hope to get to see more of this web series, if you are able then I would certainly say to check it out.


Saturday, 18 July 2015

Z Nation: Season 1 (2014) - Zombie Horror TV Series Review

Being a zombie based TV series comparisons between Z Nation and The Walking Dead were always going to be unavoidable. I have tried to base this review of Z Nation on its own merits, as with a far lower budget this was never going to be able to stand up, Thankfully they know this would be the case so have gone out of their way to make the show as different as possible.

Z Nation takes place around three years after zombie Armageddon has swept the globe. A group of survivors get tasked with an important mission; to escort a convict named Murphy across zombie infested America, from New York all the way to a secret government facility in California due to the man being immune to the undead disease. The group are helped on their journey by 'Agent Z'; a intelligence officer operating out of a government base deep in Alaska, along the way they encounter all sorts of crazy.

Things did not start well at all for the show, the first few episodes were excruciatingly boring to watch, the low budget was super apparent, the characters an unlikeable bunch and the plot lines dull and uninspired. Yet an episode that starts with the Liberty Bell bowling its way through throngs of zombies fittingly rings in a change, the episodes get more and more stupid and insane and the hated characters mostly develop into people you actually root for and care about. By the spectacular finale 13 episodes later I was completely hooked and dying to see Season 2.

The way Z Nation sets itself apart is by putting no end of insanity into its ghoul ravaged USA, by the end of the season the survivors have encountered a zombie vomiting tornado, stoned, nuclear and baby zombies, crashed astronauts, a vandalised Mount Rushmore and even a 'zomnami'. The group come up against cannibals, zombie worshipping cults, a travelling zombie fair, power plants going into nuclear meltdown and encountered a whole range of zombie animals including dogs, monkeys, and even a damn bear!

The characters are not a bad bunch either. Episode one tricks you by setting up someone as the main character only for him to be needlessly killed later on the same episode by a baby, the actual main characters are Roberta and Charles; two members of the national guard, Addy and Mack; a young couple and Cassandra who are all ok characters, Roberta is well played and is actually a pretty decent one but the others are pretty bland with back stories invented to make them seem more fleshed out but only high light how dull they are. The great characters though are Doc; an old dodgy guy who is kind of the groups medic, 10K who is so named as he is on a mission to kill 10,000 zombies, Citizen Z (played wonderfully by D.J Qualls) who provides various sub plots of increasing surreality, and by far the best; the convict Murphy.

Murphy starts off as petty unbearable, he is terrified of the undead after being left to be chewed on by them and so acts cowardly and aggressively. Yet by the seasons end his character arc had made him into by far my favourite character. The biggest and best thing Z Nation does is Murphy. He gets almost super powers as the season goes on. Zombies ignore him to begin with but eventually he is able to not only control zombies but also to control anyone he has bitten or scratched. With these new powers come lots of pretty awesome scenes.

Supporting characters are a zany and varied lot but none really stick out, you can usually assume by episodes end all but the main cast will either have left or been killed off. Still one episode features the legend Bill Moseley playing a deranged army Captain which was great to see.

To begin with I did not think the zombie effects were that good, yet by the seasons end the effects seemed to have picked up quite considerably, plus there are many many times when hordes of the undead appear, it is never just the odd few. There are really some quite violent deaths, funnily enough off the top of my head I can't recall any but I know there were several times I winced at the violence inflicted on the poor undead. The show also features a mixture of running and shambling zombies, the logic of the universe stating that the recently turned have more access to their basic motor functions while the long dead have slowed down to the traditional type.

The overall plot of transporting Murphy across America leads to the opportunity to go to many different locations, each episode sees the group in a different part of the states, The overall story really takes a back seat as it is more a 'story of the week' kind of show with most stories getting neatly wrapped up in 45 minutes and they are mostly full of incidental humour, such as a man who got turned while on the toilet so is stumbling around with his trousers by his ankles, Meanwhile on the action front there is some quite cool use of special effects where the camera follows the trajectory of a bullet fired from a gun, or some awesome slow down during a sword attack. It also experiments by having episodes devoted to specific characters running concurrently much like The Walking Dead. Unfortunately one of the episodes is dedicated to just Addy and Mack who are dull as dishwater, even here inventiveness is created as the majority of this particular one takes the form of a protracted Groundhog Day style dream sequence.

Z Nation by setting the bar so low initially led to my expectations constantly being exceeded, soldier on through the initial three episodes and you will be in for a nice surprise. Sure the budget is low, sometimes some of the ideas are not so original, but often the sheer scope and the character development wins through.


Thursday, 16 July 2015

Silently Within Your Shadow - Horror Film News and Trailer

Back in February I mentioned about a Kickstarter for Silently Within Your Shadow; a horror about a ventriloquists' doll. This potential film was interesting to me as horror legend Bill Moseley (The Devil's Rejects, Exit Humanity) had been signed on to provide the voice of the murderous doll Hugo.

While there is not too much actual information about the film there has now been a teaser trailer released. The trailer is quite brief but shows a couple arguing while Hugo lays on the ground, it is safe to assume the guy arguing is the ventriloquist. I still am unsure if Hugo is going to move around on his own in the style of Chucky from Child's Play, or if the owner of Hugo will have a split personality projected onto the doll. Either way I am looking forward to this film thanks to Moseley, check out the trailer below for yourself...

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Knock Knock (2015) - Horror Film Review

Knock Knock sounded like a terrible idea on paper; a home invasion film starring bland Keanu Reeves who has the emotional acting range of a vase. This film is directed by Eli Roth though (Cabin Fever, Hostel) and so my interest was successfully gained.

Reeves stars as family man Evan Webber who is left home alone for the weekend when his artist wife Karen and their two young children head off to stay at their beach house. Late at night Evan gets a knock at the door, answering it he discovers two teenage girls who are looking for their friends house. As it is pouring with rain he invites them in to dry off and call for a taxi, but it is not long before the duo have seduced Evan. The next day riddled with guilt he is horrified to then find out the girls were underage, he eventually manages to get rid of them and thinks it is all over with, but the following evening the girls turn back up, and this time they are there to teach him a lesson he will never forget...

The best thing about this movie is the excellent soundtrack, really cannot fault that at all and even ends on a classic Pixies track (that coincidentally I had been listening to on my drive to the cinema). It also does not look bad either, despite a small cast and a small location the set design is pretty solid. The main cast of Reeves, and the two psychos; Genesis (Lorenza Izzo who is actually Eli Roth's wife in reality) and Bel (Ana de Armas) are all easy on the eye and so it was not a bad film to watch, also nudity if that is your thing. The theme of paedophilia runs deep in this film with it pretty much sign posted that an event from at least one of the crazies pasts is what has set into motion their nefarious plans.

For a lot of the 99 minute run time I thought this was a terrible film, home invasion thrillers have been done to death and this seemed nothing too different. Reeves playing the guilt ridden husband and father increasingly tries to outdo himself with impassioned pleas and monologues where he tries to justify his actions, the two insane girls on the other hand are so crazy and over the top that they become increasingly irritating. A lot of Knock Knock sees Reeves tied to an office chair, it was quite humorous to see him wheeling himself around on the chair trying constantly to find a way out of his terrible situation.

This is where Knock Knock really steps up a gear, I came to the conclusion the decision to cast Reeves was a stroke of genius. Not just me but several other people in the cinema were laughing out loud at every single thing he does and says by the halfway point, such as seconds after getting hold of a weapon accidentally flinging it out of shot never to be seen again, or tied in his chair shouting empty threats and begging to be let go but with the monotone way he speaks coming across as absurd. This was not so bad it was good, this was a poor film, but it became bearable by Reeves's performance. The joke was on me though, the events gets increasingly bizarre and more silly until it dawned on me that this was all purposeful; Eli Roth was playing a joke on the audience it seemed to me! A real curve ball ending devolved the thriller into a farce and seemed to become a parody of home invasion films, the humour became more obvious and purposefully funny and I was left feeling I had been played for a fool.

The plot is not the best thanks to a fair few glaring plot holes and conveniences, not least the fact that despite living in a suburban neighbourhood in Los Angeles all the neighbours have apparently all left for the weekend which one of the girls usefully explains when Evan is in the back garden screaming his head off for help (though this could also be a jab at other home invasion films were no one ever intervenes to help). Also just how they came to choose him as their victim is never explained when they insinuate they had somehow been spying on him previous to first meeting him. Also, and minor spoilers here they state he is not their first victim yet with the astonishing amount of DNA they must have left at his house it is baffling how they have never been caught before.

While I did enjoy the fun ending (which had a frankly hilarious scene involving social media) the rest of the film did not stand up, Evan is flawed enough that I didn't really care if he escaped his fate or not, while Reeves does a terrible job of playing a loving father. The two girls I really wanted to be brought down a peg or two with their over the top antics reminding me of Harley Quinn from the Batman franchise but they barely ever have anything bad happen to them. This certainly has Roth's stamp mark on it but with its strong themes of sex and not too much going on this just didn't really appeal to me.


Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Batman: Arkham Knight (2015) - Videogame Review (Playstation 4)

I broke my usual rule by buying Batman: Arkham Knight new rather than waiting for it to be reduced in price, Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham Origins were both fantastic games, while Batman: Arkham City was merely ok, so I was excited for this new and allegedly last entry in the series. There was a huge fuss over a costly season pass, impossible to get pre order DLC, and there are a scary amount of issues with the buggy PC port so things did not start off great. Spoilers for Arkham City will be upcoming.

Taking place nearly a year after the events of Arkham City the game begins with Scarecrow unleashing a terror attack in a diner. He reveals to the people of Gotham that in 24 hours time he will unleash his fear gas across the whole city, this in turn causes a massive evacuation of the place with the only people staying behind being criminals and the police (as well as Batman of course). Scarecrow has teamed up with a mysterious solider named the 'Arkham Knight' who is in command of a huge army that quickly takes over the town. With the odds stacked against him yet again, Batman, over one evening must save the day (night?) once again.

The biggest change for this new game in the series is that you now have access to the Batmobile throughout. The vehicle has two different modes, the driving mode which has a speed boost, and a tank mode where you can use both machine guns, missiles, as well as use a winch to solve various environmental puzzles. The car is a lot of fun to drive, and you get to drive it around the biggest Arkham game yet. The tank mode of the car is used a lot as there is a heck of a lot of tank vs tank battles going on, a fair few of the side quests involve this tank as well as (too many) story missions. Having completed the game now my first complaint would be that the tank fights got kind of stale by the end, the decision to have several boss fights be vehicle based was a bit of a let down as they are never fun, involving as they do stealth based combat. One iconic fight I was looking forward to against a villain of a previous game ended up being just a tank battle. This was a big disappointment considering the boss fight he had in Origins was really quite special and taxing. From my memory all but one of the boss fights in the game are vehicle based ones and all are quite dull.

Hand in hand with this over reliance on vehicle combat is the fact that there really are not many traditional level based missions here, much has been made of the fact there are no load screens once the game has started, but with only a handful of small indoor locations that doesn't seem as special. The open world nature seemed to lead to a huge proportion of the game taking place out on the city streets. For the most part the main story missions were not fantastic, nothing really stood out, thankfully there are a lot of side quests that are a lot better than the forgettable ones of City. A lot of these side quests involve taking out various parts of the Knight's armies control on Gotham (destroying watch towers, check points, defusing bombs, and chasing down commanders) but a fair few others involve various super villains. Being the fourth game in the series (fifth if you include Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate) a lot of these characters you have faced before so some of the more obscure ones turn up. In addition to encountering the usual ones such as Penguin, Two Face, Riddler and Scarecrow, you get less known ones such as Man-Bat and Simon Stagg. The side quests while fun are not varied, each villain has just one type of side quest associated with them (eg: stopping Two Face bank robberies, and finding Penguins weapon shipments).

With Joker killed I had figured he would still make an appearance somehow, yet the way it is done was not the best. Due to Batman still being infected by the Joker virus he contracted previously, and coupled with Scarecrow using fear gas on him, for a lot of the game you are followed around by the ghostly presence of Joker. He makes jokes and observations throughout, coming across like a comedy side kick. He must have the most lines of any Batman game as he really never shuts up and I mostly found him irritating, especially a very ill judged musical number that made me cringe a lot. As a main villain I was disappointed by Scarecrow, he has no real presence in the game, mostly appearing on bill boards broadcasting messages, the few times you actually encounter him are underwhelming, the plot in general was not exciting or that interesting. The mystery of just who the Arkham Knight was I found initially to be fun but the game extremely heavily foreshadows who it is going to be and so when the reveal came I was not in the least bit surprised, more could have been done with that aspect. That said there were a couple of moments were I really was taken by surprise on where the story went and it ends fantastically.

Combat is as solid and fun as ever while you start the game with a lot of the gadgets and skills you gained in the previous ones in the series. A new Batsuit leads to a new type of fear based take down that was a neat addition, while at several points you get to team up with other heroes that leads to some cool duel take downs. All these controls along with all the new Batmobile controls led to me getting quite confused. The grapple ability that lets you glide around the city is a lot better this time around, you can easily get anywhere in quite a short space of time. As before there are Riddler trophies hidden everywhere, around 243 of the damn things, they seem easier to collect but I wish they wouldn't stick so many in the games, 100 would be ideal. There are also other challenges such as destroying military emblems and solving riddles which when done lead to some short stories and recordings that were all pretty decent. Unlike the other games it is essential you do the Riddler challenges as it is only when they are all completed you get the games true ending.

What was the best for me was just how much of the past games were referenced, while the team who made this had nothing to do with Origins and Blackgate those games are still referenced a lot, especially Origins, it was great getting so many nods for fans of the series. Also making a very welcome comeback was battle damage on Batman's suit, this also applies to his Batmobile. In this game the GCPD acts as a kind of hub were the cells gradually fill up as you progress the stories giving you a real sense of progression, about the best thing about Arkham Knight.

Arkham Knight
looks and sounds fantastic, I just wish the story had been better and that the level design was a lot more varied and interesting. While the Batmobile is a needed addition I dislike how much focus of the game is put on the dull tank combat, and how there are no decent boss fights at all. More could have been done with the fear side of things, I was expecting at least one platform section involving Batman having a nightmare, in previous reviews I had said these parts were getting a bit tired, but they would have been welcome here. I had fun with Arkham Knight, and it was better than City but does not come close to rivalling the stories of Asylum and Origins. Time will tell if the extensive DLC is actually worth getting, having played the Harley Quinn DLC I can report it was fun but very brief, length being my biggest concern for the rest of the additional missions to come.


Update (02/10/21): I did eventually get around to playing most of the DLC here. While it integrates neatly enough it maybe fitted in a bit too well as none of it stuck in the mind. Still, was certainly better than the underwhelming travesty that was Batman: Arkham City's Harley Quinn DLC.