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Monday, 2 April 2012

Untraceable (2008)

So, whilst looking for the opening picture for my Dead Silence review, I came across another review site (which I naturally stole the image from), which seems to have been reviewing a few Horror films lately. The remake of Straw Dogs was on there, as was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Woman in Black (the reason I watched "Dead Silence" last night, in fact, because whilst discussing that film with a group of people, we got onto other scary movies and I asked my brother "what's that scary film with all the dolls with Donnie Wahlberg in?" and he told me straight away "Dead Silence" so I went out and bought it. and by "went out" I mean "ordered online" because I'm an aspie), but so was a review for a film I hadn't heard of before, named "Untraceable", also starring a 2nd Lt from Band of Brothers.

Now, when I'm working, I don't usually do much more than steal images and get the fuck off peoples' sites. But since this guy is in my line of work also, it felt only proper that I give his reviews the once over, (A) to support my fellow bloggers and (B) to judge the competition to see whether it's worth my while continuing to post. So, I took a look at his review of Untraceable, and wouldn't you know it - It's another fucking remake! But you won't hear about that from the producers, no. And IMDB doesn't list anything in either the "trivia" or "connections" sections. Because this movie is a complete rip-off of an episode of the classic TV series MillenniuM.

Now, just to be fair on Untraceable, I went through the list of writers for both screenplay AND story and checked their other works, just in case it was the MillenniuM guys making a feature film out of their own story - but it fucking wasn't. I even went to Wikipedia to check if there was any controversy over such a blatantly stolen idea, but the only controversy with the production listed is "Several critics viewed the film as hypocritical for indulging in the 'torture porn' it condemns". So, nowhere is it acknowledged this this is not an original story, and yet the plot summary is so close to that the the MillenniuM episode "The Mikado" that it was enough for me to go crazy and start typing this shit out at 3 in the morning.

Now, I know what you're thinking - it is entirely possible for 2 people to come up with the same idea individually, without being aware of the other's works. I agree, that is entirely true. I once made a short film which featured a scene in which I injected myself with heroin and passed out whilst "Perfect Day" by Lou Reed was playing in the background, oblivious to the fact that Danny Boyle had already done this some 15 years earlier. however, had my short film also featured me falling back into the carpet so it was as though I was looking out at the world from inside a deep hole, before my friend dragged me to the corner outside the hospital because I was ODing, then you could be fairly certain I had stolen the idea from Trainspotting.

So, let's see how closely linked these two are, shall we? On his Review Blog, "Tom" lists the plot of the film as

"A secret service agent, Jennifer Marsh, gets caught in a very personal and deadly cat-and-mouse game with a serial killer who knows that people (being what they are – both curious and drawn to the dark side of things) will log onto an “untraceable” website where he conducts violent and painful murders LIVE on the net. The more people who log on and enter the website, the quicker and more violently the victim dies"
Whereas here is my personal synopsis for "The Mikado" (Season 2):

 "A serial killer, whom Frank has attempted to apprehend once before when he was operating back in the 1970s, sets up numerous untraceable websites, showing females tied to a chair, who are then brutally murdered live on the net when the sites reach the correct number of hits, which is painted on the wall in the background. The killer leaves clues for Frank in each of his web streams, and by the end it becomes a deadly cat-and-mouse game, as Frank attempts to apprehend the mysterious "Avatar", who is always one step ahead of police."

So, we have a personal relationship - Frank knows the killer and has tried to stop him before. A serial killer using untraceable websites, which he uses to host streams of himself killing his victims when the correct number of hits is reached (as the killer knows that people will be drawn to the sites out of morbid curiosity), and it leads to a cat-and-mouse game which becomes almost deadly at the climax.  Yep, it's the exact same fucking plot. Not only this, but in the IMDB trivia section for Untraceable, it is revealed that in the climax as Agent Marsh is tracking the killer down, she appears on one of his cameras on the website - something which happens to Frank as well when he is hunting down Avatar (originally set to be named "Omega", incidentally, this idea had to be scrapped when the writers learnt that a large portion of the show's budget came from product placement, including payment from Omega, in exchange for Lance Henriksen wearing one of their watches, who certainly didn't want a serial killer named after their company).

On Tom's blog, he also refers to the style of the movie Untraceable, saying "it was just like a longer CSI programme". Well, anyone with half a brain (or who is a regular here) can tell you that CSI is simply a rip-off of MillenniuM anyway, simply focussing more on the forensics side as opposed to profiling, and keeping things far more light-hearted, so it doesn't have the depressing after taste of MillenniuM. Basically, cop shows prior to MillenniuM were either cheesy over the top Miami Vice style shows, or proper old-fashioned detective shows like Morse (or featured Dennis Watermann saying "You're nicked you slag!"). All these shows obsessing about new ways to catch criminals, from 'CSI' to 'NCIS' to 'Lie to Me' to whatever the fuck other shows they've brought out that fit this bill, are all based off MillenniuM, since this was the first show to do that.

There is nothing in what I've read which separates Untraceable from "The Mikado", except I already know which of the two is better written. It just pisses me off so much that people can get away with ripping off an idea from a show, and not even crediting the writers. There was a discussion on IMDB a while back about the overlaps between Natural Born Killers and the X-Files episode "Lazarus". In Lazarus, the bank robber uses the line "No matter what happens, we'll both be looking up at the same stars. You make every day like New Year's Eve." - similar to Mallory's line to Mickey about looking up at the same stars in Natural Born Killers, as well as her line "You Make every day feel like Kindergarten". Then, later in the episode, when the robber describes what he and his wife did on their wedding day, he says "We went down to the beach, and I got out my buck knife, and slashed open my palm, and then I slashed your palm, and we held hands like this, and let the blood run in the ocean." Then he says "We'll be married in all the oceans now". Now, these two lines make me think that either Tarantino or Oliver Stone watched that episode and stole their ideas, and there was less than a year between Lazarus and NBK. So for there to be 10 times the similarities between Untraceable and "The Mikado" that there were here, with the Mikado preceeding Untraceable by a clear 10 years, there is no doubt in my mind that these bastards saw this episode, thought "ha! no-one watched that show! we'll steal the plot and rework it slightly and make a film out of it without even crediting the guys who came up with the idea" - and that makes me mad. So, please, watch "The Mikado", and marvel in the beauty of the writing (this actaully also applies to the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta for which the episode is named). Season 2 was probably the worst season of Millennium, and yet that episode is still absolutely incredible, and not one to miss. I, meanwhile, intend to get behind, like, 7 proxies, and track down the makers of Untraceable to kill them horribly online for bringing shame on a great TV show by ripping it off so blatantly.


Dead Silence Review

It's just a bizarre coincidence, but for some reason I've found myself watching and reviewing a horror movie on the exact same night this year as I did last. It must just be some psychological thing that whilst everyone else is spending April 1st playing jokes on each other, I'm hiding in my garage watching movies which scare the absolute shit out of me. And Dead Silence certainly succeeded in this department.

I think this movie was written as a counter-argument to those who say the Saw movies are just "torture porn", and not real horror. I've got no proof of this, but I get the feeling from watching it that the producers finally had enough of hearing people say they couldn't make a proper horror movie, and decided to show them just how good of a horror film they could make.

You know a movie's scary when you've seen the banner image for my Blog but will still rather hide behind a pillow than look at the screen...

This movie is filled with horror cliches, the sort of stereotypical things that come to your mind when you think "horror movie" - creepy dummies which appear to look at people, disembodied voices, a freaky as fuck soundtrack. Hell, they even included a clown at one point. This movie is, in essence, a walking talking horror cliche. And yet, this makes it a perfect example of what the horror genre can achieve.


The plot of the film is simple enough, our protagonist, Jamie Ashen, has his wife murdered brutally soon after a package containing a ventriloquist's dummy is delivered to their apartment, and as he returns to their home town to bury her, he starts to investigate the myth of Mary Shaw, a ghost whom the townspeople have a poem about: "Beware the stare of Mary Shaw. She had no children only dolls. And if you see her in your dreams, do not ever, ever scream.". Naturally, with the mysterious delivery of one of Shaw's dolls to his apartment right before his wife's murder, Ashen decides to investigate whether this ghost really was responsible for her killing, and also intends to unearth why.

He can also unearth why the Secretary of State is in a wheelchair whilst he's at it.

From a technical standpoint, this movie is incredible, but again from a cliched perspective. The colours are muted, or given a blue hue throughout, except for the few colours the director really wants you to pay attention to - the yellow taxi Ashen pulls up in, the red of his car, and the red motel sign shining through his window. A lot of the shock moments come from things being seen in mirrors, or in your peripheral, and the makers clearly had a lot of fun with lighting their "jump moments". The way the shots transitioned as well, moving out through someone's eye from one scene to another, or watching a map as it turned into the actual landscape and we see a car driving down the road, were great transitions, and of course, remarkably similar to the style they perfected in Saw, albeit at a much slower pace to fit the tone of the film better.

No, that's clearly "built". "tone" just implies low bodyfat.

Perhaps the most impressive technical aspect to this film has to be the use of background noise throughout the film. As we all know, Foley sounds are added to movies on top of the noise recorded by the microphones, because this is the only way to make things sound completely natural, and give a movie a realistic feel. To quote wikipedia, "Without these crucial background noises, movies feel unnaturally quiet and uncomfortable." - and this fact was clearly not overlooked by the makers of Dead Silence, who muted all foley sounds whenever a scare moment was approaching, to create a sense of unease, and make the audience dread what was coming next. Some may argue that this is just a cheap and pathetic trick, telling people when to be scared, in the same way as a sharp, stabbing, high pitched note on a jump moment would be considered to be. Though I felt that this worked perfectly in creating suspense, and would liken it more to the eerie background screeching of "The Shining" more than the "in your face" jump cues. Hell, in a sense, because it is the lack of noise which is designed to disturb, perhaps Dead Silence is more comparable to Irreversible than any classic horror film, as the soundtrack of that movie was designed to go largely unnoticed, yet was set at such a pitch and frequency so as to make people feel uncomfortable and even nauseous.

It's so hard to masturbate whislt you're throwin up as well...

So, now that I've explained where the title comes from, let's get on with discussing some of the other aspects of the film, shall we?

The acting is fairly decent throughout, for a horror movie. With an estimated budget of $20 million, this wasn't exactly a blokbuster they were making, and yet all the cast turn out decent performances, even the kids. There was not one moment in this film where I felt that someone was over/under acting, bringing me out the movie. Of course, Donnie Wahlberg's entire part was essentially over-acted, as he was the comic relief of the piece. However, he was a real treat to see on screen, and certainly made the entire film more enjoyable. This may be his worst performance as a character named Lipton, but he was still great, and the character was fantastic as well.

The make-up effects used in this film were terrifying as well, especially when combined with the shock lighting and general atmosphere. And hell, seeing a witchwoman with a dolls face is fucking terrifying no matter how you cut it!

Ok, so it doesn't even need a doll's face to be terrifying.

The music for this film is also great, with the producers getting their old friend Charles Clouser back again, although this time writing a proper score, rather than ripping off the keyboard part from a Rammstein song.

Don't act like you can't hear the similarities....

Of course, this makes the soundtrack less memorable (hell, you really remember the silence more than anything else. Hence the title, I guess), but it does make it a little more fitting, just as how the soundtrack to The Thing was very understated (and nominated for a Razzie - because what the fuck do they know about decent scores?)

All in all then, this was a fantastic horror movie, and a real frightfest - you can tell it was good because after I had watched it and was walking to my computer, my dog let out a heavy sigh and I nearly jumped out of my skin in terror. Then again, I couldn't play Manhunt with the lights out, so I'm evidently easier to scare than most. Still, it was great to see the Saw guys make a "proper" horror film, and do such a damn fine job of it. Of course [spoiler], they still kept the obligatory twist ending that they have at the end of all their films, but I was rather impressed with this one, because it was so far removed from what I was expecting, I imagine I got the same feeling watching this as the people who watched Saw before everyone started talking about it and giving away the plot must have gotten from that [/spoiler]

So, looking for another horror film for 2nd April? The Thing was certainly my top recommendation last year, and this year that recommendation goes to Dead Silence. Watch this movie.