WORDS Rich Wilson
It’s surprising that so few movies have tackled the themes of Armageddon and the biblical end of days; it’s tailor-made for grand Hollywood treatment, with a story that has already written itself. Perhaps the unavoidable religious elements and the ease of slipping into cliché and preaching is what keeps major filmmakers away.
Director Casey La Scala has created an odd mix of genres with The Remaining: part disaster; part horror-thriller; and way too much melodrama. This is also firmly Christian-based entertainment, and will appeal more to those with faith than non-believers. That aside, it’s hard to become invested in either the plot or the thinly sketched characters, as the Rapture here follows a group of twenty-somethings who are attending a wedding when Judgement Day strikes. Those around them who have made the cut have their souls ripped from their bodies for a heavenly journey, leaving an abundance of corpses in the streets. Those left behind make a frantic rush for safety at a nearby church while trying to avoid the winged demons and other horrors that have been unleashed on Earth.
The Remaining generates initial suspense through a solid set-up and by gradually picking off a collection of increasingly desperate characters — a standard horror staple — but quickly runs out of ideas, lapsing into a second half that features long monologues about what has happened and why, and the answers given are less than subtle. “I went to church and did everything right,” one character whines. There’s nothing wrong with putting out a message, but here some of the reasons for non-Rapture are ludicrous (premarital sex and dancing to hip-hop are but two). Much of the unabashed sermonising is handled badly by a weak cast working with a poor script, and unintentional laughs are abound. This is a shame, because La Scala works some impressive effects and visuals on a tight budget, the demons and sound design are effective, and a good story can be told here. It just needs a better approach that will appeal to more than a niche audience.
The Remaining opens today
WORDS Jim Reader
Dead Funny, edited by comedian Robin Ince and macabre master Johnny Mains, is a collection of 16 works of short horror (bizarre, brief and absurd like the tales in Night Shift by Stephen King or Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions by Neil Gaiman), with some wonderfully dark surprises in its pages. Stewart Lee, Richard Herring, Phill Jupitus, Reece Shearsmith (The League of Gentlemen) and Matthew Holness (Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place) are all present, plus a few names you wouldn’t expect, namely Katy Brand and Al Murray. The way in which each contributor tackles the genre is vastly varied. It’s those who approach it through the scope of contemporary social commentary that arguably produce the best results.
No one does this better here than Stewart Lee, who opens up “A View from a Hill” with a fictionalised account of himself being arrested for ‘arson, assault and grievous bodily harm’ on Christmas Eve. It is instantly reminiscent of political satirist Hunter Thompson, who frequently framed an article with a fictionalised and consciously sensational account of himself in order to heighten the institutions he was attacking or satirising (excellent examples of this literary technique include “The Kentucky Derby is Decedent and Depraved”, “Memo From the Sports Desk & Rude Notes from a Decompression Chamber in Miami” and of course both parts to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream). Lee even states early in “A View from a Hill”: ‘I have a simple and repetitive comic formula, which I dispatch in the voice of a semi-fictional version of myself.’ Lee dares the reader to draw the line between satire and genuine opinion, and then goes on to wage a violent vendetta against a wide selection of contemporary capitalist and consumer symbols, including everything from Paddy Power to London’s corporately-controlled mainstream press. These witty and hilarious snipes, jibes and pokes, which are loud and deliberately unsubtle, seem to also draw influence from the works of Bret Easton Ellis (Less Than Zero) and Martin Amis (Money) in a rejection of what can be summed up in this short story as ‘grubby commerce’. The fact that Lee’s Christmastime rampage is triggered by the pressures of promoting his stand-up DVD, being forced to write in a ‘punchy lad-mag style’ for a ShortList article in order to appeal to a wider, younger audience, proves that this story is an outright rejection of media-controlled promotion and advertising (which is something Richard Ayoade made an excellent example of in a recent interview with Krishnan Guru-Murthy while promoting his own book on live television). The ending even echoes tones and themes from the likes of Edgar Alan Poe’s “William Wilson” and Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club. In short, this is work of skilfully-crafted dark satire that thrives on the tension between its literary influences and its jeeringly unrepentant social commentary.
Richard Herring’s offering, “Woolboy”, is like a Grimm brothers’ fairy tale set in South England (‘In Hertfordshire, just like in space, no one can hear you scream’), and Phill Jupitus’ drug-fuelled and American Psycho esque “Anthemoessa” are also notable highlights, but above all else, Dead Funny as a collective emphasises the quality, depth and audacity of British comedy. I would have liked to see Charlie Brooker, who proved his horror chops with Dead Set, and the always dark Chris Morris put their horror-writing skills to the test, but there are still an enormous amount of surprises here — who would have thought Al Murray could write a beautifully bleak short story like “For Everyone’s Good”?
Dead Funny is available from 7 November
WORDS James Gracey
With its pint-sized menace, light comedic tone, buckets of splatter and irreverent humour, Jacob Vaughan’s latest oddball offering echoes the work of Frank Henenlotter, particularly Brain Damage and Basket Case, as well as other miniature-monster titles such as It’s Alive, Critters, Sewage Baby, Ghoulies, and of course, Gremlins. Its central concept — a downtrodden everyman’s identity manifesting itself as a murderous force — also calls to mind Stephen King’s Monkey Shines.
The actually rather cute titular critter, whose behaviour resembles that of an unruly toddler throwing a tantrum, is brought to life using practical puppet effects, which imbue him with a real sense of character and personality, and, most importantly for a monster movie, a degree of sympathy. Central character Duncan’s barmy therapist (Peter Stormare) persuades him to try to accept and tame Milo, and the diabolical little tyke becomes something of a metaphor for mankind’s inner demons; the dark and primitive emotions that become harmful when not acknowledged and kept in check. Vaughan makes satirical jabs at modern family issues, New Age therapy and anger management as Duncan works through his various personal anxieties and fears of parenthood by bonding with Milo (in a rather absurd and strangely touching montage) and there are plenty of humorously subversive parallels with pregnancy.
Despite the obvious toilet humour, of which there is a lot, Bad Milo surprises with a slyly witty script and unexpected sentimentality. The violence is comical and splattery, the sound effects icky. The various murder scenes are conveyed through low-level POV camera work, heightening the absurdity. Tension is built around a succession of increasingly awkward and stressful moments Duncan encounters, and there’s an almost constant sense that he will snap at any moment and Milo will emerge. A particularly uncomfortable and cringeworthy scene involves Duncan, his wife, his mother, her considerably younger lover and a sex therapist having dinner and discussing Duncan’s possible erectile dysfunction. The various moments in which Duncan is confronted by his progressively unreasonable boss (a brilliantly smarmy Patrick Warburton) and being made responsible for overseeing redundancies while operating from a makeshift office in a bathroom, also help ratchet up the tension.
Bringing new meaning to the phrase ‘a pain in the ass’, Bad Milo is a fun little slice of schlock that genuinely surprises with the amount of heart it exhibits. While the central concept obviously lends itself to crass humour and gross-out gags, the film actually unfolds as a delightfully quirky comedy — with much B-movie monster mayhem thrown into the mix — about relationships and the pressures of modern society.
Bad Milo! is available on DVD today. To win a copy, enter details below.