Two Eyes Staring
Dutch chiller in which a family move into an old house inherited from Mum’s estranged mother, only to be threatened by a Dark Family Secret. Early on, Dad Paul remarks “You could fit a whole orphanage in here,” which only further serves to remind one of the Spanish film – though this time it’s the nine year old daughter, rather than the mother, who may or may not be seeing a ghost.
This starts out well, with the mysterious noises and sudden spectral appearances all handled well (including a classic something-under-the-bed moment). But in plot terms, things go a bit awry in the second half. While director Elbert van Strein and his co-writer Paulo van Vliet manage to keep us guessing about what’s really going on, the final revelations make the nature of the haunting very clear (though to be fair, the twist is not the one I had been expecting). I like a little more ambiguity in my ghost stories. But it remains a worthwhile watch for J-Horror fans, and has an excellent performance from child actor Isabelle Stokkel, who manages to switch between childish glee, terror and blank-eyed menace as required.
The Last Rites of Ransom Pride
Perhaps it’s because I saw this right after the slow-burning Two Eyes Staring, but Tiller Russell’s western began to annoy me immediately. With it’s flashy sharp cutting, time-lapse shots and brief flashbacks used as scene breaks, it’s the very definition of (attempted) style over substance. And that’s a shame, because there’s some potentially good stuff in here.
Lizzy Caplan, who looks remarkably good for someone who lives a pretty rough life, stars as Juliette Flowers. Her attempts to retrieve the body of her outlaw lover Ransom Pride make her, and ultimately Ransom’s younger brother, thye target for a string of killers. The film boasts a number of what could have been interesting characters, and a fantastic supporting cast: among them, Peter Dinklage as a shotgun wielding dwarf, Dwight Yoakam as an alcoholic killer turned preacher, and Jason Priestley (who I would never have recognised in a million years) as a thoroughly unpleasant bounty hunter.
Sadly, their work gets no opportunity to shine, as Russell seems perpetually in a rush to get to the next scene (the picture only runs to 84 minutes). It also suffers from having been shot digitally, presumably for budgetary reasons, leaving the fast action – already cut so quickly you can barely tell what’s supposed to be happening – with that irritating blurry effect you get with digital filming. This could have been so much better, but as it stands is eminently missable.
Couple of quick mentions for two more good films: World’s Greatest Dad, a black comedy starring Robin Williams, and The People Versus George Lucas, a documentary about Star Wars fans and their love/hate relationship with the films’ creator.