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‘Abigail’ is a Delightfully Gory Addition to Vampire Movies – Review

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‘Abigail’ is a Delightfully Gory Addition to Vampire Movies – Review

Becky checked out Abigail to see how it stacks up to other vampire movies.

I need to start off with a bit of blunt honesty: I initially thought it was a mistake for the trailers to give away that Abigail is a vampire. It would’ve been an immensely satisfying twist had the audience gone in completely blind to the truth of what Abigail really is.

That being said, having seen the film, I can now admit that it wasn’t a mistake at all. In fact everything given away in the trailer only serves to whet the appetite, so to speak, for what’s to come in the rest of the film.

Abigail, an extremely loose re-interpretation of Dracula’s Daughter (1936), follows a group of kidnappers as they snatch a wealthy mogul’s daughter, the titular Abigail, to hold her for ransom. It seems like a simple job: hold the girl until her father coughs up the ransom, everyone gets paid, everyone is happy. There’s just one little detail the kidnappers don’t know: Abigail is actually a vampire, and she’s very hungry.

The story does take a bit of time to properly get going, with a major chunk of time passing before anything remotely supernatural happens. However, once the creepy vampire activities start happening, the story kicks into a whole new gear. The basic set up is frightening, as these criminals find themselves locked in a house with a vampire and no exits. The thing is, the story also comes across as funny at times, in a weird and twisted sort of way.

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For instance, there’s a scene revealed in one of the trailers where the group debates how they’re going to take the vampire down and they list off the different kinds of vampires known in fiction (citing Anne Rice, True Blood, and Twilight among other things). It makes sense that this is how most people would have any information about vampires, yet the way it’s presented you can’t help but laugh a little when it comes up.

The cast is one detail that makes Abigail a very good film. Alisha Weir almost completely steals the show with her performance as Abigail and proves she has a bright future in movies. Kathryn Newton also rocks as Sammy the hacker. This is the second horror film I’ve seen her in this year and she is rapidly becoming one of my favorite actresses. However, all praise needs to be given to Melissa Barrera’s performance as Joey. She absolutely killed it throughout the film and it’s mesmerizing to watch her interactions with Abigail shift throughout the story.

One thing that needs to be noted is that Abigail is a very gory film. It’s not constant, but when it does happen, it’s a lot. The filmmakers definitely played these moments up for maximum effect and it works.

Something that worked unexpectedly well is the theme of ballet that is woven throughout the film. That is one detail I wasn’t sure would work, but if anything it serves to make Abigail even more terrifying. To be followed throughout the mansion by a vampiric ballerina is quite unsettling and definitely makes Abigail one of the more memorable additions to the lore of vampiric cinema.

In conclusion, Abigail is equal parts scary, gory, and believe it or not, fun. It likely won’t win any awards, but I truly feel that most people who go in to see it will leave feeling satisfied. Abigail is the very definition of a good ‘popcorn movie’ and one I wouldn’t mind seeing again.

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Movie Reviews

‘The Village Next to Paradise’ Review: Somali Family Drama Doubles as a Potent Portrait of Life in the Shadow of War

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‘The Village Next to Paradise’ Review: Somali Family Drama Doubles as a Potent Portrait of Life in the Shadow of War

Mo Harawe’s debut feature The Village Next to Paradise is a haunting offering. The film, which premiered at Cannes in the Un Certain Regard section and is the first Somali film to ever screen on the Croisette, presents a compelling narrative of one family’s survival in a sleepy Somali town. But it’s the devastating backdrop against which their drama plays out that lingers long after the credits roll. 

The siren wails of drones soundtrack each scene of Harawe’s film, which opens with footage of a real-life report of a United States drone strike on Somalia. Since the U.S. began using drones in the East African country in the early 2000s, Somalis have suffered at the hands of an enveloping and ravenous counterterrorism operation. According to data from the New America foundation, there have been more than 300 documented uses of drones resulting in hundreds of known civilian deaths.

The Village Next to Paradise

The Bottom Line

Uneven but affecting.

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Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard)
Cast: Ahmed Ali Farah, Ahmed Mohamud Saleban, Anab Ahmed Ibrahim
Director-screenwriter: Mo Harawe

2 hours 13 minutes

The fatal impact of contemporary warfare organizes life in Paradise village, a locale whose name seems more melancholic with time. Marmargade (Ahmed Ali Farah), a principal character in Harawe’s languorous film, makes money doing odd jobs, but one of his most lucrative gigs involves burying the dead. Some of the people for whom he finds a place in the sandy terrain died of natural causes, but many of them are victims of foreign airstrikes. When this business slows, Marmargade reluctantly smuggles a truck full of goods — the contents of which play a pivotal role later — to a nearby city. 

Because Marmargade knows the realities of living in a place shrouded by the shadow of death, he strives for a better life for his son Cigaal (Ahmed Mohamud Saleban), a buoyant kid who thinks nothing of the constant buzzing coming from the sky. When the local school cancels classes for the year because of chronic absenteeism among the teachers, Marmargade works to send Cigaal to a school in the city, where safety is more than an illusion. But Cigaal doesn’t want to leave his family, friends or his life in the village. When Marmargade proposes this new life to him, the child rejects the idea. 

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The main narrative of The Village Next to Paradise revolves around the conflicting desires within this makeshift family. Marmargade lives with his sister Araweelo (Anab Ahmed Ibrahim), a recently divorced woman who wants to build her own tailoring shop. The two have the kind of fractious relationship resulting from years of mistrust. She thinks her brother should be honest with Cigaal instead of trying to trick the young one into going to school. Marmargade wants his sister’s financial support more than her advice. After she refuses to lend him the money for tuition, Marmargade makes a series of decisions that threatens all their livelihoods. 

Harawe’s film contains many admirable elements. With its unhurried pacing and tender focus on a single family, The Village Next to Paradise recalls Gabriel Martins’ 2022 feature Mars One. And the way Harawe structures the film around a broader geopolitical conflict resembles the role the Chadian civil war played in Mahamet Saleh Haroun’s  2010 film A Screaming Man, which also premiered at Cannes. The cinematography (by Mostafa El Kashef) offers truly striking images that conjure up the ghostly atmosphere of this village without turning its people into caricatures for a Western gaze hungry for a particular kind of poverty porn. 

But The Village Next to Paradise is also hobbled in places by its meandering narrative and occasionally wooden performances from Harawe’s cast of local nonprofessional actors. The sharpness of Harawe’s vision is dulled by a story that takes one too many detours before settling into itself. Characters with dubious relevance are introduced and then dropped, while ones who come to play crucial roles don’t get an appropriate amount of screen time.

The film becomes more dynamic in its latter half, when Marmargade’s desperation leads him to questionable decisions that clash with Araweelo’s desires. Indeed, it’s also during these parts of the film that Harawe pulls the strongest performances from his actors, who otherwise struggle to shake off an understandable stiffness. 

Despite these flaws, Harawe’s film does have a real staying power. The Village Next to Paradise orients itself around a quiet optimism and surprising humor that mirror real life. There are moments throughout that serve as a reminder that even in places where death feels close, hope for tomorrow is still alive.

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Short Film Review: Karita (2023) by Virginia de Witt and Koji Ueda

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Short Film Review: Karita (2023) by Virginia de Witt and Koji Ueda

“So I came here…”

Headed by actress-turned-director Virginia de Witt and Koji Ueda, a Kyoto-born Tokyo-based director, photographer, and filmmaker, “Karita” is a film inspired by the manga series “Nana”, while trying to answer the question, what if “Lost in Translation” was cast with the “Fleabag” character. The 17-minute short will be premiering at the Dances With Films Festival on June 22nd in Los Angeles.

The film begins with a series of impressive images from nighttime Tokyo, while the ominous music suggests that something dangerous is about to happen. The next scene has two women walking in the streets during the day, as Nico, an American, is shown around Tokyo by her friend
and supervisor at a local record store, Rumi. The camera is shaky and the cuts frantic, while there is a different dialogue heard in the background. The next, dominated by neon pink lights scene, brings us to the location the dialogue is taking place, inside a bar, where the two girls are talking to two boys and one girl, with Nico asking them if they have ever done anything dangerous. One of the boys, Ren, starts talking about people stealing cars. Nico shares her own experience in the US, which makes everyone in the table rather amused.

The night continues with a lot of drinking and eventually, Rumi decides to go home, cautioning her friend not to do anything stupid, before she goes. The next scene takes place in a garage with a sports car, which belongs to the uncle of the second of the boys in the company, Kenji. Suki, the other girl, who is quite drunk, insists they take the car for a drive, despite the yakuza-like uncle having specifically cautioned his nephew otherwise. In the end, with Ren in the driver’s seat, they take a drive around Tokyo.

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Unfolding much like a road-movie/music video, “Karita” will definitely stand out due to its impressive visuals, with Koi Ueda’s cinematography, in combination with the impressive lighting and coloring, capturing night time Tokyo in the most impressive fashion. Curtis Anthony Williams’s frequently frantic editing also adds to this sense, while the rather fast pace definitely suits the overall aesthetics here.

At the same time, there is a part of the movie that is quite realistic as the group visit various locations, as a pier, a convenience store, the record store, and the aftermaths of getting drunk and doing stupid things is also highlighted. A pinch of humor, as in the whole concept of the uncle and Suki’s actions, and some notions of romance, cement the rather entertaining narrative here.

Virginia de Witt plays the foreigner that tries to appear cool in order to fit in with gusto, while Haruka Hirata as Rumi is quite convincing as the “cautious” friend, with the chemistry of the two also being on a very high level, presenting a rather kawaii relationship between them. The other actress that stands out here is Mika Ushiko, who is quite convincing as the drunk Suki.

As mentioned before though, the aspect that makes “Karita” stand out is definitely its production values, which are on a level very rarely met in short films, while being the main reason the movie definitely deserves a watch. All in all, a very appealing film, in an effort that intrigues on what the filmmakers could do with a bigger budget in their hands, that would allow them to explore the script and the characters more.

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Woof Woof Daddy: Aaron Kwok plays a reincarnated mutt in doggy mess

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Woof Woof Daddy: Aaron Kwok plays a reincarnated mutt in doggy mess

1/5 stars

Filmmakers’ relationship with dogs over the years has proved just as rewarding as other people’s bond with their loyal, four-legged companions. They have produced classic weepies (Old Yeller), thrilling adventures (The Call of the Wild), uproarious comedies (Beethoven), and countless animated favourites.

Asian cinema has supplied many memorable entries, including Hachiko and Koreyoshi Kurahara’s Antarctica, both of which inspired Hollywood remakes.

The secret to a compelling canine caper is either brilliantly trained animal performers or engaging animated characters – whatever effectively brings a dog’s personality to the fore – and showing them having meaningful relationships with human characters around them.

Sadly, Aaron Kwok Fu-shing’s new movie Woof Woof Daddy accomplishes none of this; it is an underwhelming combination of lazy writing, unlikeable performances and woefully subpar visual effects.

There is so much wrong with the film it is difficult to know where to begin. Suffice to say that, even within the fuzzy lines of its own insultingly half-baked premise, the film does not make a lick of sense.

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Kwok plays single father Siwang, who moonlights as a rock star between shifts at a confectionery factory. His only fan is his nine-year-old daughter Lulu (Xing Yunjia), who is left to fend for herself when Siwang is killed in a freak accident.

Banished to the afterlife, the desperate dad rebels against his assigned fate and, 24 years later, is magically reincarnated as a puppy.

Xing Yunjia as a young Lulu (centre) in a still from Woof Woof Daddy.

With remarkable ease he tracks down Lulu (Lyric Lan Yingying), who is a failing pop singer trapped in a loveless engagement to her sleazebag manager (Darren Wang Da-lu).

Siwang muscles his way back into Lulu’s, determined to help his daughter get back on her feet, despite being trapped in a small furry body.

Chief among Woof Woof Daddy’s many failings is its visual effects; the dog looks absolutely rotten, even for a modestly budgeted mainland Chinese quickie like this.

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On the page, the film fares even worse. Siwang the dog is essentially magic: he walks on two legs, holds objects between his paws, and responds to literally anything said to him; he even plays the guitar. Yet nobody bats an eyelid.

Why Siwang does not make Lulu a millionaire simply by existing is never discussed. All director Kexin Lu Ke deems to be of value is Kwok’s immature father earning a redemptive reunion with his daughter; that, and the fact the dog lays a few scatological poop jokes along the way.

Lyric Lan (front) as the adult Lulu in a still from Woof Woof Daddy.

Laboured from start to finish, Woof Woof Daddy is one bad dog that deserves to go straight to the pound.

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