Film Reviews by NP

Welcome to NP's film reviews page. NP has written 749 reviews and rated 847 films.

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Nocturnal Animals

A little long, but you wouldn't want to miss a second

(Edit) 28/08/2020

Described as ‘neo-noir’, Nocturnal Animals is one of those films that’s ‘bigger’ than us. That is, it is a production so meticulously put together, and exploring so deeply its own narrative, it isn’t even satisfied to tell only one story: it tells three.

It requires concentration to notice what is being told in present time, in flashback, and also the long moments taken from the book written by the character of Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal) – these moments, it should be noted, are from the perspective of ex-wife Susan Morrow (Amy Adams). If any confusion does arise from this, it all clears up as time goes on, and the beautiful cinematic flourishes (Director and Producer Tom Ford has a reputation for rewarding those who watch closely) are a wonderful diversion.

By being ‘bigger’ than us, I mean that every level of ‘Nocturnal Animals’ features people at the top of their game, from the utterly brilliant actors to the extraordinary production values, to Abel Korzeniowski’s heart-rending musical score. By being ‘bigger’ than us, it doesn’t even have to bother with closure for some of its characters – by the heart-breaking close, which is too open-ended for some, you wonder what happens to some of the characters you’ve become so heavily invested in. The film doesn’t even have to rely on excessive gore or horror to make you despair for their fate.

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Dark Amazon

Surprisingly dull

(Edit) 28/08/2020

Astonishingly dull Blair Witchery taking place in the Amazon jungle. Characters with limited personalities are frightened by unsubtle animal noises. If the barks and warbles sounded as if it was deep in the jungle, or far in the distance, that would be more effective, but the snarls sound as if they have been recorded close to the camera in post-production. This is impossible, however, because we are told that the footage we are watching is actually real, even down to the ambient incidental score present during the rare moments of tension.

“I need to go pee.”

“Why are you filming this?”

“It’s in my blood.”

“OMG, OMG,OMG, OMG, OMG.”

I couldn’t get worked up about this at all. My score is 3 out of 10, with an extra point for a fairly satisfying revelation toward the end.

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The Butcher

A film made up of moments from other films

(Edit) 28/08/2020

Six stoned, horny twits decide to take a shortcut on their trip to Vegas. Rachel (Catherine Wreford), Liz (Tiffany Kristensen), Atlanta (Ashley Rebecca Hawkins), Sophie (Myiea Coy) and Adam (Tom Nagel), and squealy beefcake Mark (Alan Ritchson) are collectively furious when their journey is sabotaged by razor wire. Mark pouts a little more and almost instantly proves himself to be the biggest idiot of all in this lacklustre bunch. Whatever becomes of them in this ‘Wrong Turn/The Hills Have Eyes/Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ amalgam, it had better be nasty.

Despite peppering the fast-moving storyline with influences from more polished films, this soon becomes a little dull. The shrieking and witless attempts to escape the gang’s increasingly desperate situation becomes commonplace, mainly because as usual, the characters aren’t particularly interesting or likeable. Also, the audience is always one step ahead of them, making them appear stupid – but then, they were never presented as anything else.

Yet, ‘The Butcher’ moves along nicely, we don’t have to wait too long until horrible things begin happening, it’s nicely shot and competently acted. The young ciphers make a lot of questionable decisions, but despite their initially crass attempts to have a good time, are far from the worst I have seen of this type. There are also some nice twists along the way and some genuinely gruesome moments. The films makes absolutely no apology for blatantly taking ideas from elsewhere, and I quite admire them for such shamelessness. My score is 6 out of 10.

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Redwood

Stay on the path, kids

(Edit) 28/08/2020

Musician Josh (Mike Beckingham) and his girlfriend Beth (Tatjana Nardone) are good company. Their (mostly) gentle banter is naturalistic and often quite funny – which is just as well because for a good portion of this film’s 78 minute run-time, we accompany them on their fairly uneventful camping trip designed to clear their minds after some devastating news.

That isn’t to say nothing happens during this time. We get many impressive bird’s eye views of the huge national park. At night-time, we are witness, along with the couple, to some strange noises out there in the wilderness. When the aggressors make themselves known at last, Beth and Josh scamper into their tents … as if that is going to make any difference, bless ‘em.

I have read in some reviews that the ending was ‘obvious’. Well, it was a twist I didn’t see coming, and it was handled very well, bringing the story to an effective close. I’ve said before in reviews that, if the audience cares about the characters, then that is the key to a good cinematic experience. I don’t know why so many other projects of this type fail to grasp that simple rule. I enjoyed ‘Redwood’ greatly, mainly for that reason. My score is 8 out of 10.

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Terror Birds

"Al it takes is one bad egg."

(Edit) 21/08/2020

Two outsized birds escape captivity and cause CGI havoc amongst a cast who appear to be having a great time. Such ebullience is addictive, and if you’re in the mood, this is pretty good fun, on a strictly Scooby-Doo level.

Dumb adults and funny, smart-arse cute teens (of whom, my favourite might well be constantly sniping Taylor - Lindsey Sporrer - the silliest of all) hog too much of the running time when what we really want to see is some decently rendered birds pecking some poor blighter to death. This being a fairly family ‘friendly’ ScyFy project, there are no profanities and nothing too shocking.

My score is 6 out of 10.

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Tonight She Comes

An intense ride into uncertain horror

(Edit) 21/08/2020

Tonight she comes

Bodily fluids and gore, with a Tangerine Dream-style score.

This darn thing starts off oddly and gets a good deal weirder, almost as if director and writer Matt Stuertz is out to tick as many ‘offensive’ (whatever that truly means) boxes as he can. If that is his intent, he makes a good effort.

We meet a group of characters, the dreaded ‘group of friends’. As usual, their number comprise of the drunken and the horny – but they are strangely appealing and quite funny too, despite dialogue that indicates their desire for sex overrides all concerns for their safety. So it’s a true shock when those you expect to make it to the final reel end up dispatched partway through, and in a fairly gory fashion too.

The gross concepts, carried out with a suitably gratuitous flourish, overwhelm the storyline, especially towards the shock-stacked ending. However, there are enough horrifically scenic moments and visuals not to let that bother us too much.

All the cast put in powerful performances (especially Larissa White as Ashley, Jenna McDonald as Felicity and Nathan Eswine as James), really buying into the growing series of extremes Stuertz has dreamed up. Brutal and ultimately often open to interpretation, I found myself tangled up in this gleeful weirdness. Maybe you will too, but it’s far from certain. My score is 7 out of 10.

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Night of the Big Heat

Perspiration-infused genteel horror

(Edit) 21/08/2020

The teaming of Christopher Lee (Hanson), Peter Cushing (Callum) and Terence Fisher (Director) often means great things. Praised and in some cases worshipped for his work on Hammer’s early Dracula and Frankenstein films, Fisher’s magic wasn’t all-reaching – in my view, subsequent Werewolf and Mummy films were a little dull. So too, were Fisher’s occasional exercises in sci-fi.

Night of the Big Heat reminds me of the previous year’s Island of Terror – both feature an isolated community filled with stoical British folk fighting some mostly unseen alien horror. The former film, however, didn’t boast the talents of Jane Merrow. Despite sterling performances from the cast, it is Merrow’s sultry, slutty, manipulative Angela Roberts steals the show. So rushed is the ending that she is robbed of any kind of closure, which is one of the disappointments this production has to offer.

That this is a low budget affair is not an obstacle – the effects are crude but charming, and very brief. Planet Films were a short-lived company who often managed to attract big names, despite distributing more films than they produced. The fact is, it is very talky. Very talky indeed, despite the urgency the cast injects. Patrick Allen gruffly plays the flawed hero, Sarah Lawson as his loyal wife Frankie, very often undermined by the cocky Roberts. In fact, this love triangle is more interesting than the central plot, which sees the reliable Cushing relegated to a secondary role and Lee doing his usual grumpy academic. William Lucas, Kenneth Cope and a miss-spelled Percy Herbert also star.

Additional dialogue is provided by prolific Pip and Jane Baker, who went on to oversee the departure of Colin Baker and subsequent arrival of Sylvester McCoy in late Eighties Doctor Who.

My score is 6 out of 10.

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Stephanie

Interesting, unpredictable horror

(Edit) 21/08/2020

Home alone, Stephanie (Shree Crooks) and her friend Francis goes about the business of looking after herself. Her food preparation, teeth cleaning and story-reading exploits are directed in such a way (by Akiva Goldsman) that the audience is constantly on edge concerning her safety. Stephanie is about ten years old and it becomes obvious her parents are not away on a night out: she is alone. Apart from Francis, who is a toy dinosaur. Shree is charming company, which is more than can be said for the mysterious entity that occupies her huge house.

Moody and brooding, these early moments are handled so deftly that, as a seasoned horror film fan, I was worried about something horrible happening to Stephanie. If something horrible happened to Francis, I’d be mortified.

And then her parents return home.

The bursts of television news that punctuate the action have a grim relevance as I write this. Three years after this film was made, we endure our own worldwide pandemic – and it’s a pandemic that seems to be keeping the outside world far from Stephanie and her family and their plight – but what has caused it? The specifics of all of these things are kept carefully under wraps until the very end. It’s well worth sticking around for.

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Set the Thames on Fire

A dark, seedy, funny, tragic fairy-tale

(Edit) 21/08/2020

… in which Salvidor (Max Bennett) – ‘the pretty one’ – and Art (Michael Winder) – ‘the ugly one’ – meet up and decide to raise enough money to go to Egypt. On their way, they meet a variety of extreme and brilliantly played characters. Sadie Frost, Sally Philips and Noel Fielding (now co-host of family-friendly cookery shows, here playing a foul-mouthed sex-crazed cross-dresser) are exceptional in these roles. David Hoyle plays probably the most affecting of them all, a down-on-his luck, tired old magician. His character in particular represents what ‘Set the Thames on Fire’ is all about – extravagant and often hilarious superficiality hiding a pure, terminal melancholy.

To say this film is merely a ‘great experience’ is difficult, because the heart of it is difficult to pinpoint. It has been described as a tragicomedy, and uses its low-budget as an advantage, making deliberately dream-like locations and architecture with only one foot in reality.

It is sick, seedy and tragic – so how then, is it also so genuinely funny? A skilful balancing act on behalf of director and writer Ben Charles Edwards and Al Joshua, that’s how.

It reminds me in part of 1989’s extraordinary ‘Sante Sangre’ in its absurdist setting, with characters that seem inaccessibly strange, but that are in possession of real humility once we get to know them.

My score is 8 out of 10.

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Wish Upon

Dark surprises right until the end

(Edit) 07/08/2020

I liked this undemanding horror film. It isn’t going to reinvent the concept of fear, but it doesn’t try to. The bratty kids we are supposed to dislike are thoroughly dislikeable, and equally, the good guys are appealing enough for us to enjoy spending time with.

The idea of a Chinese wish box is a good one, but it does seem to take Clare (Joey King) an awfully long time to realise that a Chinese wish box … grants wishes. However, there’s a price to pay, and this results in some of the few gory scenes ‘Wish Upon’ has to offer (including one truly wince-inducing episode involving a sink’s rubbish dispenser).

It keeps you guessing what is going to happen right until the final frame. It’s a twist so effective, you won’t get any spoilers form me. 8 out of 10.

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Tooth Fairy

Painful extractions

(Edit) 07/08/2020

It’s difficult to know what to make of this. The first few scenes made me think the production was a spoof, so incredible were the casting choices. Jen (Claudine-Helene Aumord) is visited by her resentful daughter Carla (Claire-Maria Fox), who looks exactly the same age. Father Rueben (Will Dodd) looks even younger, resplendent with a few grey flecks of hair and growling for all he’s worth to convince us of his ‘advanced’ years. It’s difficult to think of a worse start to a film.

Things improve slightly when the Tooth Fairy turns up, all distorted voice and Halloween mask. Suddenly, there’s a bit of gore and the tantalising idea of people suffering other peoples’ pain when having their teeth hammered out. In among the grubby soap-opera-level squabbles, the creature is revealed as a family curse, in a series of flashbacks spread throughout. All accompanied by the strains of a mournful piano.

This is an independent film, and I like independent films. And yet it suffers more than most with its limitations - it has no pace, and the acting varies from scene to scene. Even so, the location is beautiful and well-photographed and some moments are well directed. My score is 5 out of 10.

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Ghoul

Czech cannibal horror - in English (mostly)

(Edit) 07/08/2020

Three young film-makers travel into the middle of isolated forest area to find out about a legendary monster. Sound familiar? 1999’s ‘The Blair Wiutch Project’ has spawned a great many found-footage films like this, some of which are rather banal, and some – like this one – are very good indeed.

Jenny, Ethan and Ryan (Jennifer Armour, Jeremy Isabella and Paul S. Tracey) are all personable and natural, as are those they meet. The Ukrainian location and characters seem genuine and entirely believable. There’s little time wasted in building up the story. When the film begins, the characters are already there, ready to start recording. And things get creepy pretty quickly …

Of course, you could say that many of the events trotted out here are horror/found-footage cliché, but I have no problem with that when they are done this well and immersed in such an inhospitable, run-down location (including some horribly claustrophobic subterranean shots) – freezing cold as well, by the look. Many acclaimed horror projects feature moments dismissed as cliché – the haunted house, misty graveyard, characters acting illogically to further the drama, jump-scares, apparitions etc. It all depends on how they are handled.

As a found-footage cannibal ghost story, this is unnerving and well produced. The occasionally glimpsed spirit of Andrei Chikatilo is effectively sinister. At the risk of sounding like the ageing horror fan I am, the profanities thrown about might be a little excessive. Did I really say that, and does it matter these days? My score is 8 out of 10.

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Among the Living

Weird, compelling and violent

(Edit) 07/08/2020

You know how, in slasher movies, people get knifed/cut down/etc and then get up and carry on fighting? Well, to get it out of the way, it’s not really a spoiler to say there’s a fair bit of that during the second half of ‘Among the Living.’

That is the nearest I can come to any kind of criticism concerning a film that, from the pre-credits sequence until the final line, is terrific. Compelling. Weird. And violent! Three of the main players are 14 years of age, and their tender years gave me the feeling that things wouldn’t get too grim. Happily I was wrong.

Victor (Theo Fernandez), Tom (Zacharie Chasseriaud) and ‘nerdy’ Dan (Damien Ferdel) are three scamps skiving school. They visit an abandoned film lot – an excellent location for horror, and one I’m surprised isn’t featured more often. They are enjoyable company and very well played. They witness frightening brutality from Klarence (Fabien Jegoudez), who is a truly frightening individual.

No-one gets through this film without receiving some sort of bloody graphic punishment, and the audience is given no clue as to who will survive and who won’t. I had a great time with this subtitled French film and recommend it fully. My score is 8 out of 10.

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The Toy Box

Gets going as it gets going

(Edit) 07/08/2020

A pleasingly gory pre-credits sequence gives way to a suburban street, bland rock music, and a functional American family. They’re about to embark on a holiday in Grandpa’s camper van. Also included in the family unit are the wholesome husband, the wayward, bad boy young Uncle Jake, the palm-slapping little daughter and the pumped up wife, sunlight gleaming off her shiny Botox.

A story about a possessed camper van that kills people sounds ludicrous, and it is. Possibly in order to counter this, there is a half-heartedness about the production, despite some good gore effects. For the first half, it seems that no-one’s heart is really in this. Therefore, the growing disagreements between the characters, ‘shock’ set-ups and the laughably relentless attempts by the adults – particularly ‘mommy’ - to convince little Olivia that every unexplainable horror cliché is perfectly normal and that everything’s great, is difficult to take seriously.

As is often the case though, it is worth sticking with this. Once it is clear what kind of story this is, then there is a growing temptation to see how things will play out. We have some family bonding moments that try to add to the characters’ development, which are partially successful and particularly well placed, for what follows is quite shocking.

‘The Toy Box’ threatens to be a plodding horror effort, but turns out to be rather more than that. There is much potential in a story of a haunted camper van in the middle of a desert region, and the location is used to good, isolated effect. It’s nicely photographed and, while the acting only occasionally reaches for greatness the characters are competently played. My score is 6 out of 10.

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Dark Mountain

Stick With it

(Edit) 18/07/2020

Three girls, all as daft as each other, invite the sardonic, permanently bored Nancy to accompany them on a camping trip. Nancy brings with her sensible Annie (Sharron Calvin) – who nevertheless manages to trip and injure herself - and off they go.

The performances occasionally lapse into wide-eyed, over gesturing drama-school gurning, but the characters they are playing are often ditzy – essential for horror films. They even remember to exclaim designer reactions like ‘eewww’ and ‘er, hello’ when they see something gross half covered by leaves. After a while of tramping through woods, they find, Blair Witch-style, that they appear to be travelling in circles. Other things happen, few of them terribly frightening – although some of them will make you wince - despite the effectively ominous rumblings of the soundtrack.

As they become further entrenched in the wilderness, seemingly at the behest of a vengeful spirit, it is difficult not to become concerned for them and their ever-worsening plight. The locations are terrific and the cinematography is beautiful, and for an independent project, the effects are decent and show a commendable restraint. Stick with it – ‘Dark Mountain’ turns out to be a decent horror experience.

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