Deliver Us From Evil


Eric Bana is impressed by Edgar Ramirez' iMDB page.

Eric Bana is impressed by Edgar Ramirez’ iMDB page.

(2014) Supernatural Horror (Screen Gems) Eric Bana, Edgar Ramirez, Olivia Munn, Sean Harris, Joel McHale, Chris Coy, Dorian Missick, Mike Houston, Lulu Wilson, Olivia Horton, Scott Johnsen, Daniel Sauli, Antoinette LaVecchia, Aidan Gemme, Jenna Gavigan, Skylar Toddings, Sebastian LaCause, Steve Hamm, Sean Nelson, Tijuana Nicks, Lolita Foster. Directed by Scott Derrickson

Usually when you hear things that go bump in the night it’s a sign that it’s time to move. In horror movies, most people who hear such things tend to go looking around for what’s causing those noises and that’s never a good idea.

Ralph Sarchie (Bana) is an NYPD detective stationed in the Bronx. His partner Butler (McHale) is an adrenaline junkie who relies on his partner’s “radar” to figure out when real bad stuff is going down. Ralph, a lapsed Catholic,  thinks of himself as having a “hard hand” as a cop and he has the scars to prove it. He’s a family man too, with his wife Jen (Munn) pregnant with their second child – adorable moppet Christina (Wilson) is their first. However, as of late he hasn’t exactly been present at home.

The truth is Ralph is beginning to crack a little. Finding dead babies in dumpsters doesn’t do a lot to maintain your faith in humanity. When he arrives on a scene where a disturbed mother (Horton) throws her infant into the lion pit at the Bronx Zoo, he has an odd confrontation with a painter who turns out to be an Iraq War vet named Santino (Harris) who had a strange and frightening encounter in the Middle East.

Taking an interest in the case is Father Mendoza (Ramirez), an unorthodox Jesuit priest (which is something of an oxymoron) who has seen true evil in his time. He knows that what Ralph is facing isn’t run of the mill evil perpetrated by deranged or amoral men, but something more primordial and far-reaching. Ralph is skeptical of this at first, but when his daughter starts hearing scratching noises under her floorboards and her stuffed animals begin to menace her, the pragmatic cop begins to realize that he might be in way over his head.

Derrickson, who also helmed the horror hit Sinister has got the creepiness factor down. He orchestrates an excruciating terror that begins early on and never lets you out of its grip for the remainder of the movie. A good horror film requires the proper atmosphere to work properly and Derrickson supplies that.

Bana is a very underrated actor, one who has done impressive work in films like Munich but has never really crossed over into superstar territory. He probably won’t with his work here, but it’s very capable which is a standard with Bana. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him turn in a bad performance even in films that are not very good.

There is a real Ralph Sarchie and this is based on some of the cases that he has been involved with. As with most horror movies that use real life events as a springboard, this takes an awful lot of liberties with Sarchie’s story (he wrote a book with Lisa Collier Cool entitled Beware the Night). There are elements of a lot of different cases in this single case and the character of Father Mendoza is an amalgam of a couple of different Catholic clerics. Take the “based on a true story” thing with a grain of salt; true stories are rarely as exciting as they are portrayed to be on the big screen.

This is equal parts police procedural and gross-out supernatural scare film. Some of the scares are legit here, and there’s plenty of squirm-inducing images. Cat lovers, be forewarned – there are some scenes that you will find quite disturbing and there are a couple of gruesome murders shown in detail onscreen. While there’s nothing here that is particularly standard-setting, neither do the make-up and special effects disgrace themselves either.

This movie is a bit of a metaphor for the overall summer season; while it has a lot of elements that could have made it a great film, it goes the safe route in a lot of ways and ends up being just a solid, entertaining film. I will say the climactic exorcism scene is pretty nifty, but it lacks the sheer on the edge of your seat tension that the similar scene in The Exorcist possessed (no pun intended). From my point of view, this is solid but unremarkable horror entertainment for the summer months.

REASONS TO GO: Bana always delivers and Ramirez is an interesting priest. Some legitimate scares and uninterrupted creepy vibe.

REASONS TO STAY: The usual horror movie cliches.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are some disturbing images, a good deal of violence that is generally bloody and gory, salty language and yes, terror. It’s a horror film after all.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Ralph Sarchie role was originally offered to Mark Wahlberg who declined. Eventually Bana accepted the part.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/20/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 30% positive reviews. Metacritic: 40/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Devil Inside

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Tammy

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones


Stop! In the name of love...

Stop! In the name of love…

(2013) Supernatural Fantasy (Screen Gems) Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Kevin Zegers, Robert Sheehan, Lena Headey, Kevin Durand, Aidan Turner, Jemima West, Godfrey Gao, CCH Pounder, Jared Harris, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Harry van Gorkum, Stephen R. Hart, Chad Connell, Chris Ratz, Elyas M’Barek, Melantha Blackthorne, Lucy DeLaat. Directed by Harold Zwart

Even William Shakespeare knew enough to write “tis nothing new under the sun” and nearly 500 years later that’s even more true. We’ve seen it all and there is little out there that is going to be completely original. Of late there have been a spate of young adult fantasy books that have gone for film franchise-dom a la Harry Potter and Twilight with varying degrees of failure – most don’t get past the first installment. Is this another would-be phenomenon destined to crash and burn?

Clary (Collins) is a fairly normal Brooklyn teenager who has just had her 18th birthday (at least I think so – she’s apparently old enough to go to bars and drink) who has had enough of her overprotective mother Jocelyn (Headey). She’s not really seeing anybody, although her bookish buddy Simon (Sheehan) wouldn’t mind changing that which Clary is wholly oblivious to.

However Jocelyn has good reason to want Clary home early – she’s part of a half-human, half-angel group of warriors called the Shadowhunters, who battle demons in the ongoing war of good against evil. When Clary witnesses (apparently) a brutal murder in a nightclub, she’s pretty shaken up but more so when she comes home to find her apartment trashed and her mother missing. Oh, and there’s a demonic dog waiting to play fetch with her intestines.

She’s saved by a Shadowhunter named Jace (Bower), a blonde even prettier than Clary who’s a bit of a badass in his metal band leather pants and bad boy with a heart of gold attitude, certainly enough to have teenage girls hearts melt in ways that Buffy’s Angel and Twilight’s Edward could only dream of. He takes her to the Institute, home base for the few remaining Shadowhunters where they and housebound Hodge (Harris) discuss ancient runes and compare Goth tattoos.

Apparently Clary is being stalked by Valentine (Meyers), a renegade Shadowhunter who only wants to rule the world (doesn’t everybody?) and his thugs as well as vampires (bad) and werewolves (good). They discover that Valentine is after an artifact called the Mortal Cup, one of several powerful artifacts that Hodge is aware of. Clary and her friends will seek the help of a somewhat agoraphobic witch (Pounder) and a mackin’ wizard (Gao) but the only salvation for Clary and her mother will lie inside Clary. But when Clary finds out the truth about who she is, which side will she choose?

The source young adult novel by author Cassandra Clare was over 500 pages in length. There are a couple of ways to go about adapting it – one, cut extraneous plot points out and condense the novel into a 120 page script, or cram as much as you can in there. The filmmakers went the latter route and unfortunately that leads to the serious drawback of an often confusing and conflicting plot. While those who love the series (and there are 22 million copies of the book sold worldwide) will be happy that they didn’t skimp (although the book is far more detailed on the background of the Shadowhunters), those that are less familiar with the books may feel like they’re treading water.

We might be able to tolerate the overabundance of plot if it weren’t so darn familiar. Those who wait for the home video edition of the movie can have themselves a nifty little drinking game if they try to spot all the plot elements borrowed from other movies – I stopped keeping track after I saw things from Twilight, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Priest. Someone can get themselves smashed real good playing that game.

The mostly young cast are exceptionally attractive (even the semi-nerdy Simon is quite the hunk) so that will appeal to the teen audience to whom such aesthetics are important. In terms of their skills as actors, let’s just say they’re an attractive cast and leave it at that. Collins in particular doesn’t seem to have done much more than reprise her work from Mirror, Mirror.

While the movie looks good and the CGI isn’t bad, the movie’s final confrontation suffers from an excess of histrionics. I do think they were going for an epic scale on this one but really fell short of the mark. I also think that they are really trying to play to the Twilight crowd with a plucky heroine with hidden powers who has two gorgeous guys vying to be her protector and both deeply in love with her yet she merely bestows semi-chaste kisses on one and not even that on the other. Screen Gems confidently green-lit the sequel even before City of Bones opened but the anemic box office and terrible critical reception may cause them to reconsider. Unfortunately, this is just another in a long line of young adult fantasy adaptations that fails to make it as a cinematic franchise which begs the question – maybe if they tried doing some adult fantasy series (i.e. The Wheel of Time, The Codex Alera or Shannara) maybe they might attract a broader audience – but maybe people who read a lot of books don’t have time to go to the movies as much.

REASONS TO GO: Attractive cast. Decent effects.

REASONS TO STAY: Meandering plot. Overwrought climax. Borrows from other sources a bit too freely.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s violence of a fantasy nature, some fairly disturbing-looking demons and some sexually suggestive content.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Collins, who was an ardent fan of the book series, active campaigned for the role of Clary when she discovered that there was to be a film made of it.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/18/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 12% positive reviews. Metacritic: 33/100

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Seeker: The Dark is Rising

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: American Reunion

Evil Dead (2013)


Better Evil Dead than Evil Red.

Better Evil Dead than Evil Red.

(2013) Horror (Tri-Star) Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore, Phoenix Connolly, Jim McLarty, Sian Davis, Stephen Butterworth, Karl Willetts, Randal Wilson, Rupert Degas (voice), Bob Dorian (voice), Ellen Sandweiss (voice). Directed by Fede Alvarez

One of the best horror films of the 1980s and a personal favorite of mine was 1981’s Evil Dead which starred Bruce Campbell and was directed by a young Sam Raimi. Now it’s getting the remake treatment (although Raimi and Campbell are on board as producers); is it worth the effort?

Five friends gather in a remote cabin which belongs to David (Fernandez) and Mia (Levy). David’s girlfriend Natalie (Blackmore), best friend Eric (Pucci) and his girlfriend, RN Olivia (Lucas) are there not for drunken revelry but for a more sober reason – to get drug-addicted Mia straight. She’s going to quit cold turkey and David, who’s been absent from her life (hell, he’s been absent from everybody’s life) is getting the cold shoulder from Eric and Mia and to a larger extent, he deserves it.

Mia soon begins ranting about seeing a strange young girl in the woods, and complains about a terrible smell. When they discover a hidden door that goes into the basement, they are shocked to find all sorts of dead cats hanging from the ceiling, some burned alive. They also find a book, wrapped in barbed wire and all but screaming “DO NOT READ. YOU’LL BE SORRY…”

What does Eric, the supposedly smart one do? Reads it aloud. Are you effin kidding me? And of course all Hell literally breaks loose – Mia goes for a walk in the woods and gets attacked and restrained by the trees, at which point the young girl vomits up a kind of cross between a vine and a snake and that….well, you can guess where it goes. Maybe not.

After which the young people get picked off one by one, becoming possessed, desperately trying to hack off their infected limb before the entity takes over and then…being taken over anyway. It’s grueling, gory and only 90 minutes long, by which time either you will care what happens to the survivors (assuming there are any) or you won’t. It all kind of depends on how you view horror movies in general.

This one isn’t all that bad despite the fact that it suffers from Young People Doing Incredibly Stupid Things syndrome. Of course it’s easy to judge the reactions of people from the safety of a movie theater with a mouthful of popcorn being chewed noisily, ice cold soft drink at the ready to wash it down with. I assume that in a situation in which my perception of reality was challenged I might actually…panic. I might not even act heroically which of course throughout the movie I’m thinking “David you idiot! If it were my sister, I’d shoot her in the head in a heartbeat.” The trouble is, I don’t think I could shoot my sister in the head, even if I knew she were literally suffering the tortures of the damned. I’m not sure if that makes me a coward – in the context of horror movies, however, it makes me a wimp of the highest order of magnitude.

The performances are solid enough for movies of this type with Suburgatory‘s Levy getting the most props for her portrayal of a troubled, addicted young woman. There is plenty of gore, nearly all of it practical which for my money looks a lot better to this point than the computer generated stuff. There are some pretty decent scares as well, although more of the roller coaster variety than the slow build-up and payoff type.

There are a couple of things missing here. First and foremost is the sly humor that marked the original – this is much more serious horror, no sly winks or edgy gags. And no Bruce Campbell who was responsible for a lot of the not-taken-seriousness of the first trilogy. That sense of humor is what made the original trilogy a classic; by comparison the remake is a bit stodgy.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t without its own charms however. While it doesn’t really hold up to the original, it does what it’s supposed to do competently and as modern horror films go, it holds up its end of the bargain adequately.

REASONS TO GO: Some pretty impressive visuals and scares. Maybe the ultimate “lonely cabin in the woods” story.

REASONS TO STAY: Needs a Bruce Campbell sort to make it work. In the end nothing really distinguishes it.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is a ton of blood, guts and ultra-violence, plenty of bad language and some sexual references.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Swanberg directed six films that were filmed in 2010 (and co-directed a seventh), one of the busiest years for a single director since the silent era.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/24/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 62% positive reviews. Metacritic: 57/100; the critical acclaim wasn’t exactly overwhelming.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cabin in the Woods

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me

Lovely Molly


Lovely Molly

Molly may be lovely but she’s also scary as Hell.

(2012) Psychological Horror (Image) Gretchen Lodge, Johnny Lewis, Alexandra Holden, Ken Arnold, Shane Tunney, Tony Ellis, Katie Foster, Lauren Lakis, Daniel Ross, Brandon Thane Wilson, Dan Franko, Todd Ryan Jones, Tara Garwood. Directed by Eduardo Sanchez

 

Going back home is usually considered a bit of a warm fuzzy; all of our glowing childhood memories of safety and security packed with the joy of childhood. Of course, if your childhood as awful filled with sexual abuse and drug use, going back home carries a whole different connotation.

Molly (Lodge) is a new bride, having married her sweetheart Tim (Lewis). She works as a janitor in a local mall while he drives a truck for a living and is gone for long stretches at a time. The new couple has moved into Molly’s childhood home, which she inherited after her  father passed away. Her sister Hannah (“Franklin and Bash” regular Holden) has serious misgivings about this since in that home Molly was repeatedly molested by her father, which sent her into a downward spiral of drug abuse and psychosis from which she’s only recently recovered.

At first things are lovely and idyllic in the bucolic Maryland countryside house that goes back to the Colonial era. Then, Tim gets called away for a long haul just before Molly’s birthday. She begins to hear noises in the night – terrifying footsteps, and doors slamming on their own accord. She hears voices, male voices whispering unintelligibly in the night. Molly carries around a digital video camera around with her but can’t seem to get more on film than things that can be explained away.

She starts to see shadowy but hideous demonic forms out of the corner of her eye. The noises and unexplained phenomena are beginning to get more intense and threatening. She talks to a pastor (Arnold) about her fears but he can’t really help her – and she can’t afford health care in order to see a therapist or psychiatrist.

Tim has been supportive but even he is wondering what’s going on with his bride. Is she having some kind of psychotic break, or perhaps relapsing into drug use again? Or is the truth that she is legitimately being haunted, perhaps by the ghost of her father – or something more insidious, sinister and ancient?

Sanchez, whose first movie was the legendary Blair Witch Project, has made a career out of creating atmospheric horror films in which the audience is never 100% positive about what they’re seeing. One of the things I liked most about this film – and in fact of all of Sanchez’ films – is that he casts doubt on the evidence of your senses. Is that really ghostly whispers or the minds of the protagonists playing tricks on them?

It helps having an unknown actress throwing down a powerful performance in the lead. Gretchen Lodge doesn’t have a lot of on-screen experience but she makes up for it with a nuanced performance that captures her fragile psyche as well as her dangerous and unpredictable aspect. If Molly isn’t genuinely beset by supernatural forces then she is surely psychotic and maybe even schizophrenic. That you cannot be certain which is both a tribute to the writers and to Lodge herself.

The problems here are also in the writing; there are some logical leaps of faith that are a little bit too much to ask of the audience, particularly when it comes to how other characters react to Molly. For example, if Molly were truly having so many problems in the house, why not go stay with her sister who evidently lives close enough by to make regular visits? Also, there’s a sense that some of the elements have been seen before, like the horny pastor. That little subplot doesn’t really work and could easily have been excised from the film to the movie’s benefit.

Da Queen didn’t like this movie at all when we saw it at the Florida Film Festival, but then again these are the types of movies she really doesn’t care for at all so that must be taken with a grain of salt. There are a good deal of things that work here, particularly in regards to keeping the audience guessing about Molly’s veracity. That makes this the kind of movie that is a candidate for repeated viewings as audiences will want to see it again with a different point of view in mind. This isn’t a remarkable film – it’s too cliché for that – but it is genuinely spooky and innovative in its own way. If Sanchez could have tightened up a few things here and there he’d have made a genuine classic.

REASONS TO GO: Creepiness factor through the roof. Lodge performs well in a demanding role.

REASONS TO STAY: Lapses in logic. A bit too vague in places.

FAMILY VALUES: There is graphic violence and sexuality, some disturbing images, nudity, drug use and let’s throw in some bad language for good measure.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Gretchen Lodge’s first feature film.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/20/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 50% positive reviews. Metacritic: 50/100.The reviews are decidedly mixed.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Silent House

COLONIAL LOVERS: The home in the film is an actual Colonial dwelling in Maryland not far from where The Blair Witch Project was shot.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Dark Shadows

Mirrors


Mirrors

You should see what Jack Bauer does with more than 24 hours...

(2008) Supernatural Horror (20th Century Fox) Kiefer Sutherland, Paula Patton, Cameron Boyce, Erica Gluck, Amy Smart, Mary Beth Peil, John Shrapnel, Jason Flemyng, Julian Glover, Tim Ahern, Josh Cole, Ezra Buzzington.  Directed by Alexandre Aja

There are questions in the universe that bear asking – some of them are not what you’d call obvious. For example, if eyes are the mirrors of the soul, does that mean that mirrors are the eyes for the soul too?

Ben Carson (Sutherland) has taken a few hits to the soul lately. A recovering alcoholic – not a good place to be if you’re a cop – he was involved in a shooting that left an undercover cop dead. His antics have alienated his wife Amy (Patton) to the point where she’s kicked him out of the house, severely limiting his contact with son Michael (Boyce) and daughter Daisy (Gluck). He’s been suspended from the force and is reduced to sleeping on his sister Angela’s (Smart) couch.

He gets a job as a night watchman at the Mayflower Department Store. A burned-out husk that is awaiting resolution of an insurance company squabble, it was the site of a fatal fire years ago. Soot coats nearly every square inch except for the many pristine mirrors, oddly looking polished and untouched.

He begins seeing strange images in the mirrors, horrible murders that come to pass. He has terrifying, realistic hallucinations of burning alive. The mirrors begin to communicate tasks that he is expected to do, and when Ben resists, family members are threatened and even killed. Soon, Ben is in a fight of his life against an enemy that is supernatural – one that can travel to any mirror or in fact, any reflective surface – and can kill with its reflection. His only salvation may lie with a cloistered nun who is not exactly jumping at the chance to help.

Aja is one of the most promising up-and-coming directors in the horror genre. His French films – particularly High Tension and his remake of The Hills Have Eyes are strong from a visual standpoint, and he knows how to make characters relatable. The visual sense of Mirrors is pretty dark, which you would expect in a deserted, burned-out department store. Sometimes underlit is a good thing, and it adds to the creepy element.

The effects are a little on the chintzy side – the mirrors use a kind of television static ripple effect that looks a little bit like a low-rent Ring. However, there are some pretty successful moments, such as a death scene in which a naked woman in a bathtub is killed by her reflection pulling off her mandible. It’s one of the highlights of the movie.

Most people know Kiefer Sutherland through his TV show “24” and this role isn’t too different than Jack Bauer. Ben is a little more damaged than Jack (I know, I know, Jack is plenty damaged) but they’re both men of action who when backed up to the wall. He has demonstrated a terrific action hero persona and there’s no doubt in my mind that if he continues to pursue parts like this, he’ll continue to be successful. This is the perfect role for him.

Smart is one of those actresses who just does a good job every time out. She doesn’t get big time leading roles but whenever she gets a part, she runs with it. Patton is a beautiful actress who has little else to do but look beautiful. I would have loved to see more motherly instincts from her when her kids are threatened; she doesn’t seem anxious enough.

The movie is a bit on the talky side; too many conversations between Patton and Sutherland about how they really should be together but she just can’t get past his actions and he needs to get his act together…okay, we get it. Other than that, this is a competent horror film that while a bit pedestrian about the whole mirror conceit, has plenty of scares, enough to recommend it.

WHY RENT THIS: Aja is one of horror’s most promising visual stylists. Sutherland has plenty of charisma in the lead role; Smart has a memorable supporting role.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Could have been a little less talky.

FAMILY VALUES: There are lots of images that may be too intense for youngsters, plenty of violence and bad language and some nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The unfinished Academy of Sciences building in Bucharest, Romania doubled for the nearly-demolished Mayflower Department Store.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The Blu-Ray edition includes a vignette showing Anna Esseker’s none-too-cheerful childhood, and there is also a featurette on the role of mirrors in urban legends and myth that may well be more informative and interesting than the movie.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $77.5M on an unreported production budget; the movie was undoubtedly a hit.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Rocket

White Noise 2: The Light


White Noise 2: The Light

Katee Sackhoff is thrilled that fans think "Battlestar Galactica" is better than "Firefly;" Nathan Fillion isn't so sure.

(2007) Supernatural Horror (Universal) Nathan Fillion, Katee Sackhoff, Craig Fairbrass, Adrian Holmes, Kendall Cross, Teryl Rothery, William MacDonald, Josh Ballard, David Milchard, Tegan Moss. Directed by Patrick Lussier

I don’t often review direct-to-home video releases; they are almost always uniformly bad. I caught this one because it was initially going to get a theatrical release but was pulled and exiled to direct-to-video land instead. I expected the worst; instead, I actually was rewarded.

Abe Dale (Fillion) has a wonderful life that becomes shattered when his wife (Cross) and son (Ballard) are murdered before his very eyes while taking breakfast in a local diner by a psycho named Henry Caine (Fairbrass) who then turns the gun on himself. They had just been sitting down to pancakes; the crime was as senseless as it was brutal.

Understandably, Abe is distraught and eventually becomes overwhelmed by grief. He takes a bunch of pills with the intention of easing his pain permanently but his best friend Marty Bloom (Holmes) discovers what he’s up to and rushes him to the hospital. There Abe dies and experiences travelling through a tunnel of light where he sees his wife and son waiting for him, but it is not to be. His heart is re-started and he returns to the operating room.

He wakes up in a hospital bed and things don’t look quite right. He is administered to by a sympathetic nurse named Sherry Clarke (Sackhoff). Dr. Karras (MacDonald), his attending physician, writes off his enhanced eye-sight as a by-product of the trauma to his system, believing the effect will go away after a few days. Abe can see electrical auras, discharges from iPods and cell phones, even the auras of people. The horror is that the only auras he can see are in people who are about to die.

He also discovers that he can prevent those about to die from expiring and when he does, their auras go away. However, he then discovers to his horror that three days after their lives are saved they are possessed by the Devil and go on a murderous rampage. He also is shocked to discover that Henry Caine is still alive and moreover had the same ability as Abe does. It becomes his mission to get to the bottom of it and discover how he can prevent the devil from possessing the saved – because one of those he saved was Sherry, whom he has developed a certain attachment for.

Director Patrick Lussier makes some really smart choices here, going for more of an atmospheric thriller and distancing the movie from White Noise, a surprise hit horror film that concerned itself more with Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) and wasn’t nearly as good as this is.

Much of the reason this works so well is Nathan Fillion. I think he’s one of the most underrated actors out there; he is just so damn likable, even when he’s playing a scoundrel (as he does in Serenity). I’d be willing to bet that Katee Sackhoff is going to join him on that list. She’s as far off from Starbuck (her “Battlestar Galactica” character) as it’s possible to get, and she’s actually very likable here.

The problem with the movie has to do with a couple of elements. First off is the ending of the movie. I don’t mind a movie taking a leap off the deep end into fantasy, but when it does so sideways and in a manner that defies logic, I take exception. Without going into much detail, Abe – who’s shown himself to be a smart fella throughout the movie – does some pretty dumb things. That’s a screenwriting sin that just absolutely drives me crazy; changing a character for the sake of advancing the climax. Write better is the only advice I have in this case.

For the most part, this is well-directed, well-acted and well-conceived. While it fails when it tries to combine science with the supernatural, it nonetheless is a solid bit of horror entertainment (although I somehow doubt most would qualify this as a horror film – it’s more of a supernatural thriller). And as for a direct-to-video sequel outshining the original? That in itself is a feat worth recording.

WHY RENT THIS: Fillion is one of my favorite actors right now. There is a pretty good concept here that deserved a better fate. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The ending dives into the deep end of the preposterous pool.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some fairly disturbing images and a few instances of blue language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Dr. Karras character’s name is an homage to Father Karras, the priest played by Jason Miller in The Exorcist.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: While deleted scenes are a home video staple, there is more than half an hour’s worth of them, making this an abundance of unseen footage. There is also a nifty featurette on Near Death Experience survivors.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Surveillance