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Quint on haunted hotel flick THE INNKEEPERS and the Edgar Wright produced ATTACK THE BLOCK! SXSW '11!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing right now. I have an interview in 7 hours and another full day of SXSW to hit tomorrow and thanks to the goddamned fucking bastard daylight savings time I also lose an hour.

If I were sane and/or treated my body with any sort of respect I’d be sleeping right now, but I saw two films tonight that I had to report on.

Let me start off by saying just how bizarre today was. I was up early to moderate the Source Code panel and got to chat with the cast, including the gobsmackingly gorgeous Michelle Monaghan, and introduce Jake Gyllenhaal by saying “he’s been in many films, but you’ll probably know him best for what some describe as his career defining turn as Billy Crystal’s son in City Slickers… Mr. Jake Gyllenhaal!”

Then I saw Being Elmo, complete with a Q&A with Kevin Clash who brought out Elmo to answer some questions. I’ll have a full review of that one, but the easy version is it’s great. Then I moved to the Paramount theater where Pee-Wee Herman was throwing out free Ice Cream. I snagged this shot:

 

 

And then I saw two movies in a row that were awesome. Before I allow myself to sleep, I have to comment on them.

Let’s start with Attack the Block, a movie produced by Edgar Wright and directed by first time feature director Joe Cornish, long-time Wright collaborator.

When Cornish took the stage to introduce the film he described it as “Super 8 Mile” and shockingly that’s a very apt description. It’s about pissed off aliens that land in gang-ridden South London and the teen thugs that stand up to them.

 

 

Before the film rolled Cornish rattled off his influences, mostly supernatural American films of the ‘80s, including ET, Predator and Critters. Of those Critters is the closest to the tone of this movie… and I mean that in the best way possible.

What’s truly impressive about this film is that this gang of 15-19 year old hoodlums don’t start out as likeable by any stretch of the imagination. They rob a poor woman walking home alone and are interrupted by a meteor crashing into a nearby car. This event kickstarts a journey of discovering personal responsibility… all while being hunted down by dozens upon dozens of David-werewolf sized shaggy monstrocities with no eyes and glowing teeth.

Critters’ tone is very close to this one. That first Critters movie is played for laughs many times, but when shit gets serious, shit gets serious. Here there’s a very solid and very real dramatic arc subtly happening as our lead character, a tough teen gangbanger named Moses (played by newcomer John Boyega) discovers the hard way that his carefree fuck-everyone attitude has consequences, consequences he has to make amends for.

While that dynamic is running, we also have a fun kids-defending-their-home action-horror flick. Thanks to the great guys at Spectral Motion and Cornish’s obvious nostalgia for movie monsters of my heyday the threat is very real.

In a nice twist on the formula these creatures have glowing teeth (instead of the usual glowing monster eyes), which gives us the ability to see these black-furred hulks as they creep up in the dark.

Oh, and the great Nick Frost shows up as a Weed Dealer to essentially give us a known face and personality to really settle into this crazy world.

A lot of credit has to go to Cornish for bravely casting real teens from this neighborhood, which adds an air of authenticity to a ridiculous genre-comedy that sets this film apart from the rest. In particular John Boyega is a real find as is every one of his crew, all young non-actors that don’t feel like it.

 

 

The effects vary from CG, practical and a combination of the two so that you never can really spot the effect… which was good for me as that it kept me involved with the survival horror aspect and the character relationships.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Attack the Block marks the debut of a filmmaker we’ll becoming more and more desperate to see new material from. He has the geeky enthusiasm of an Edgar Wright, but with a uniquely bizarre amalgam of influences that all mesh into one exciting vision.

 

 

Next up, before I collapse, is a little look at Ti West’s The Innkeepers. You’ll recognize the above totally rad poster from the debut a week or so ago and I’m happy to report that the movie is good, so if you wanted that poster on your wall you can go ahead and find yourself one.

In many ways this is the movie I was told Insidious was. It’s low budget, it’s a slow burn, but to me this film succeeds in all the ways Insidious failed.

The Innkeepers takes place in an old hotel that is notoriously haunted, but not in a hidden Stephen King kinda way, but in the way that most medium-sized towns have that old hotel with a history.

Austin’s is The Driskill, which is supposedly haunted by suicide brides and, from different accounts, a little girl ghost. I’ve talked with people who have stayed there and reported things moved in the room while they were there and I’ve even spoken with employees that to the person have heard the pattering of feet in the dead of night where no living soul would be.

What makes The Innkeepers work is that for a good deal of the film it doesn’t play like a horror movie. In fact, it’s almost a light romantic comedy as we get to know the final two amateur ghost-hunting employees at this small, old hotel.

Sara Paxton plays Claire, a perky, adorable, excited young woman and Pat Healy plays her co-worker that obviously has a massive crush on her despite his aggressively cynical smart-ass exterior.

 

 

There’s a real feeling of history with these two, a friendship that feels authentic and not forced and that spark keeps the film alive as it inches closer and closer to the horror movie we’re all expecting.

In typical Ti West fashion the flick is a slow burn, filmed classically and with a great amount of respect to the audience in that he trusts us to stick with it, trusts that we don’t need Avid-fart editing and shaky-cam shit every 4 seconds.

The first third of the film plays more like Clerks than The Shining. We see these two flirt, joke, invent little games to pass the time in their dull job sitting at reception in the lobby of a hotel that has, at most, 2 rooms occupied at a time. One of their distractions is a little ghost hunting website they set up and as the hotel moves closer and closer to its closing Paxton becomes more and more desperate to get some hard evidence of the their famous ghost, Molly O’Malley.

It’s not until the last third that the horror really begins and West uses every tool in the horror filmmaker’s toolbox. We have auditory horror as Paxton and Healy use headphones and a recorder to try to pick up spectral voices, we have implied horror where the characters see something we don’t (my favorite piece of the movie, actually) and then there’s the regular horror movie imagery… ghosts, blood and creepy things moving about on the screen.

But West shows a clear understanding of filmmaking not just in how he juggles the different kinds of suspense, but in how he casts two great people in roles that are written so well that I’m genuinely invested in these characters by the time they’re in harm’s way.

Especially Sara Paxton. Adorable is an understatement. This is the kind of girl every geek guy wants… cute, into geek shit, but real… not necessarily a tomboy, but filled with wide-eyed excitement.

So, West gives us a relationship we like, that we start pulling for, spends so much time building them up that when the curiosity passes the point of no return and things start getting dangerous that we don’t want to see either of these two put in harm’s way. That’s not easy to do and I commend him for drawing me in so skillfully.

If I have any nitpicks it’s with the last few moments of the movie. The finale itself is fine, but the last scene feels a little to stereotypically horror that it stands out in a film that is otherwise so fresh and atypical of the genre.

I also want to make a point to single out Jeff Grace’s score. It’s fantastic and unlike Insidious’ score it doesn’t dictate the scares… in fact, it drops out a few times to really make the creepiness fill the theater. However it’s fun when the film is fun, light when the film is light. In these moments it reminded me of Ghostbusters. Top notch work.

So, that’s what I got. Now, if I’m lucky I can get 4 hours of sleep before another full day… Back with more SXSW coverage soon!

-Quint
quint@aintitcool.com
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  • March 13, 2011, 7:57 a.m. CST

    Both These Flicks...

    by SonOfChiba

    look awesome - and great to see that they actually are. And yeah, that INNKEEPERS poster is all kinds of 80s-Stuzany-esque loveliness.

  • March 13, 2011, 7:57 a.m. CST

    Attack the Block

    by bod33

    Looks interesting, but i just don't know if i can watch a film will all those London wannabe gangster chav's.

  • March 13, 2011, 7:57 a.m. CST

    Stephen!

    by Gu Stokes

    just coming...

  • March 13, 2011, 7:59 a.m. CST

    how long before these come out?

    by harold_maude

  • March 13, 2011, 8:40 a.m. CST

    Black Squadron Command:

    by Red_Cloak

    Defend the Earth from Extraterrestrials!

  • March 13, 2011, 8:44 a.m. CST

    Both look great

    by kwisatzhaderach

    Looking forward to them.

  • March 13, 2011, 9:47 a.m. CST

    Stephen!

    by Mr Lucas

    Hope Joe Cornish goes on to great success as a director. However, I'll miss his and Adam's radio show (returning soon to BBC 6 Music I hear).

  • March 13, 2011, 10:01 a.m. CST

    The Innkeepers sounds good to me.

    by AsimovLives

    I bet i'll have to wait for DVD to see it.

  • March 13, 2011, 12:23 p.m. CST

    Ti West

    by blackwood

    HOUSE OF THE DEVIL floored me. I think it sits comfortably with ROSEMARY'S BABY -- not just as a pastiche or homage, but a genuine contemporary (the distance of decades notwithstanding). Such a fantastic slow burn of a film. Really looking forward to THE INNKEEPERS (which, as asi says, probably on DVD). West is a true talent. I hope he keeps getting to make films on his own terms, and that some studio with vision and balls will someday pick up the tab.

  • March 13, 2011, 2:11 p.m. CST

    "Super 8 mile"

    by blakindigo

    Fucking hilarious. Will definitely see them both.

  • March 13, 2011, 2:39 p.m. CST

    I wasn't interested until the Critters comparison

    by CHRISTIAN_BALE_TRASHED_MY_LIGHTS

    I might have to watch Attack The Block now.

  • March 13, 2011, 2:45 p.m. CST

    just coming. adam and joe back in april

    by therootstheroots

    looking forward to the film, the review above seems like a good descript, based on what i;ve seen in the trailer.

  • It's also one of the few nostalgia horror movies made recently that does it right without trying to be smart-ass or post-modern. The movie is like if one of those old horror movies from the early 80s had been discovered lost in a vault and brough up to the light of the day last year. THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL. Damn good movie.

  • March 13, 2011, 3:59 p.m. CST

    blackwood

    by AsimovLives

    I'm very glad toknow you also liked THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL as much as you did. Which, going by your words, seems like you loved it as much as i did. That movie was aces. One of the best use of slow burn for mood and tension i have seen lately. I loved every moment of seeing the main girl character alone in the house, where you knew that eventually something was going to happen, but what and when? And the main actress, Jocelin Donahue, is just so adorable! The right amount of beauty but also a nerdiness to her that just made her such a great girl-next-door type loveliness. Yeah, i kinda felt in love with Jocelin Donahue. And the attention to detail of the time the movie was set, the very early 1980s, is esquisite. I bet you must had also a laugh at the walkman, right? I had one just like that back then. And then there was the Volvo! The period references are just great, and if you wereone of those who were around back then, as i was, in my early teen years, then THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL is just a blast! A blast from the past. Good to know we both are groupies of that movie. I'm damn proud to be so. Can't wait to see THE INNKEEPERS. Somehow, Quint seem sto have forgotten to mention that the aborable girl in the photo above and who's the female lead in THE INNKEEPERS is the same actress that played the surviving raped victim of the remake of THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT.

  • March 13, 2011, 5:43 p.m. CST

    elgyn6655321

    by AsimovLives

    I think Ti West shares your opinion of the movie. I think he's even harsher about it then you are.

  • March 13, 2011, 6:17 p.m. CST

    Cheers, asi. And elgyn...

    by blackwood

    ...the amount of fuckery that went on with CABIN FEVER 2 caused West to try and get his named removed. Studio refused. He has publicly and repeatedly disowned it. It does not count as a Ti West film.

  • March 13, 2011, 7:43 p.m. CST

    asimovlives & blackwood: I was not aware of that.

    by Elgyn6655321

    Interesting. I just watched "CF2" the other night, I actually turned it off before it was over. To be honest there were moments when I could tell it could've been a cool movie...the studio interference makes sense. Oh and "Attack the Block" sounds cool.

  • March 13, 2011, 7:50 p.m. CST

    ATTACK THE BLOCK is unambitious but fun

    by palimpsest

    Most of its effect comes from being set in London 2010 rather than middle America 1985 (and so will play better to middle-aged genre nerds than those who are the same age as the leads because part of the joke is the ironic juxtaposition between US 80s teen creature features and a here and now), but its an unashamedly enthusiastic pic. Nick Frost adds little except perhaps some production values and a small marquee name for a friend (he does nothing he's not done before and if they'd have wanted to go the whole hog Cornish would have called in Johnny Vegas to reprise Moz from the BBC dealer sitcom IDEAL). Hopefully the movie will turn a buck, and it'll let Cornish go wild next time out. It's in all honesty a rental rather than worth a night out, but there's some fun to be had here and it should be seen as a stepping stone movie for Cornish.

  • March 13, 2011, 8:10 p.m. CST

    I hope the queen shows up

    by Thehairyhandedgentwhoranamucinkent

    A lora lora

  • Quint, Start a petition on AICN, then move it to the other movie sights, then move out to the real world. I cant imagine a soul who wouldnt sign a petition to do away with DST. If defeated, it would go down in history as the day the geeks did away with one stupid ass peice of leftover stupidity. MAKE IT SO!

  • March 14, 2011, 2:20 a.m. CST

    Joe Cornish is a genius..

    by BookhouseBoy

    And he does a mean David Bowie impersonation!

  • March 14, 2011, 4:34 a.m. CST

    cabin fever 2

    by JohnGaltShrugged

    was stolen from Ti by the studio. They tore it out of his hands before he got even remotely close to achieving his vision. His plan of what the movie would be is only barely there. You're basically watching MAYBE 20% his vision, the rest is studio filled in pieces, lots of which don't even look VISUALLY the same.

  • March 14, 2011, 5:59 a.m. CST

    Love this quote from the Guardian article...

    by biscuithead

    ..."It kind of what Mr Spielberg was doing with ET. Those dinner scenes are kind of like a Ken Loach film, and then this little alien pops up. Yet it's still realism." Never thought of it that way but very true!

  • March 14, 2011, 6:02 a.m. CST

    Here's the article btw...

    by biscuithead

    http://bit.ly/hjz8Bg

  • March 14, 2011, 8:08 a.m. CST

    http://www.chic-goods.com/

    by chicgoods71

    Wonderful. Share a website with you , put this url in google sirch (http://www.chic-goods.com/ ) Believe you will love it. We accept any form of payment.

  • March 14, 2011, 2:28 p.m. CST

    biscuithead

    by AsimovLives

    You now made me curious about what a Ken Loach alien invasion movie would be like.

  • March 14, 2011, 6:30 p.m. CST

    Can only imagine Asi...

    by biscuithead

    ...don't think it'd be ID4.

  • March 15, 2011, 1:03 p.m. CST

    Block Looks Like A Total Shitfest.

    by HarryWhereIsYourInceptionReview

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