October 10, 2013

Nothing Left to Fear (2013)

"Wendy, her husband Dan, and their kids have just moved to the small town of Stull, Kansas, where Dan is the new pastor. But in this sleepy community of friendly neighbours, a horrific series of occurrences awaits them: Their teenage daughter is being tormented by grisly visions. Her younger sister has been marked for a depraved ritual. And deep within the heartland darkness, one of The Seven Gates of Hell demands the blood of the innocent to unleash the creatures of the damned."

In case you've missed out on the buzz surrounding this debut from Slasher Films—a new horror movie production company created by Slash (the former lead guitarist of rock band "Guns N' Roses")—allow me to tell you that it very nearly lives up to the hype. Of course, there are a bunch of haters out there who will say the opposite, but whatever their agenda is for doing so, you can ignore them. Regular readers of this blog know that I'm not easily pleased by anything, and I thoroughly enjoyed "Nothing Left to Fear".

Dealing with the most negative aspects first (although I will come back to them again later), "Nothing Left to Fear" isn't far from being a remake of Tobe Hooper's "Mortuary" (2005) in that it shares the same Lovecraftian atmosphere, artistic licence with the actors' real ages, a little bit of the plot, and some of the computer-generated imagery. Tendrils spreading out venously from a demonic entity aren't that new, and also appear in the well known Asian horror movies (and their remakes), but these aesthetic clich├ęs are nothing to get bent out of shape over when done properly. If you were creeped out by the long-haired ghosts of "The Grudge" (2004), "The Ring" (2002), or the original Asian versions, you'll soil your pants over the visuals in "Nothing Left to Fear" too!

Thematically and plot-wise, "Nothing Left to Fear" borrows heavily from Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" (1948), "The Wicker Man" (1973), and is even reminiscent of the "Harmony" episode from the "Night Visions" anthology TV series, but is it really worth playing the lack of originality card for any horror movie in 2013? The questions raised by this movie about human nature, good and evil, and what would you do in the same situation are clearly third or fourth-hand tropes now, so I'm not silly enough to praise "Nothing Left to Fear" for bringing up any of those subjects again, despite debates over such things always being entertaining every time they are presented in a new environment.

Horror has been creatively dead since before the members of the "Horror Haters" clique were born, and I've run out of patience for their foolishness. Of course, the same plot has also been used in "The Reaping" (2007), "The Ruins" (2008), "Jug Face" (2013), and dozens of "The Wicker Man" clones, but none of those movies have ever received as much hate on message boards and blogs as "Nothing Left to Fear"! It's already been downvoted to 4.5 out of 10 by jealous 12-year-olds on the IMDb who probably haven't watched it yet! Christ, what a world we live in!

I'm tempted to go off on a tangent about other bullshit practices which have been going on in the horror community recently involving yet another talentless hack climbing up the ranks of the "Horror Socials" through hypocritically ass-kissing the "big boys", and a couple of respected genre actresses shitting on where they came from amid a cacophony of sycophancy, but I'll save that for another time. Suffice it to say that I'm getting truly sick of other horror fans, particularly the backstabbing, lies, and sneakiness which has infected everybody. It's almost made me want to defend everything new just to be a contrarian! Don't worry though, I won't.

My honest review of "Nothing Left to Fear" will now continue.

If you don't want spoilers, stop reading!

Rebekah Brandes and Ethan Peck as "teenagers".

"Nothing Left to Fear" is the first attempt by Anthony Leonardi III (whose previous claim to fame is as a storyboard artist) to prove himself as a feature length horror movie director. Given the estimated budget of merely $3,000,000, he's certainly achieved his ambition, and made a satisfyingly R-rated (not PG-13!) scary movie. Yes, he's made something for adults! Anything that keeps the little kiddywinks with their cellphones out of the movie theatres is great! I dare you to fault him for that!

Okay, so maybe he messed up a little bit by not giving the bigger stars such as Anne Heche and Clancy Brown as much screen time as their fans would like, and the nepotism which led to James Tupper playing the husband of his real life mother is amusingly incestuous, but you have to laugh at anybody who hates a movie for those reasons. I don't even have a problem with Rebekah Brandes and Ethan Peck who are both in their late twenties playing teenagers because they look the part. It's all smoke and mirrors at the end of the day, and if it looks right on screen, who cares?

While I would like to agree with the naysayers that there's maybe too much time devoted to establishing the characters and the blossoming romance between Noah (Ethan Peck) and Rebecca (Rebekah Brandes) which actually makes you care about them, I can't. I was impressed that, for the first time in ages, I wanted the good guys to survive purely because they weren't the usual stereotypically douchebaggy teens. Give or take a few disapproving looks from Rebecca which hinted at a couple of naive hang-ups that, fortunately, didn't get explored, I liked her as a character. Noah, I didn't warm to as much until later, but you'll see why for yourself.

Contrarily, Rebecca's younger sister Mary (Jennifer Stone) annoyed me instantly for being the epitome of everything wrong with girls her age, but once she got possessed by whatever the Hell kind of demon-thing it was, she also won me over. If any character can affect you emotionally one way or another, the actor or actress has earned his or her wage. I'm pleased to say that the whole cast of "Nothing Left to Fear" were perfect in that respect.

It was so easy for me to willingly suspend my disbelief and accept everyone for being the characters they played, I'm tempted to say that "Nothing Left to Fear" is one of the best horror movies I've seen this year. I won't, of course, because I don't want to end up being quoted on a DVD cover for something that may come back and haunt me by December, but "Nothing Left to Fear" is definitely in with a chance.

Effects-wise, "Nothing Left to Fear" is CGI heavy with just some blood, a couple of nasty-looking wounds, and gallons of oozy black stuff used practically. There are no severed limbs or things being hacked off for gorehounds because it's not that kind of movie. The make-up, however, is very good, and as I've already said, the homage to Asian horror is obvious, but you have to give credit where it's due. Mary's "sick" make-up and its change to "demon" make-up is outstanding.

With it all being shot on location in rural Louisiana, "Nothing Left to Fear" has a "Jeepers Creepers" (2001) look and vibe to it which I couldn't shake off, especially as the plots are based on similar urban legends. But as I like "Jeepers Creepers" (which was filmed in rural Florida), that's another point in this movie's favour. I will also add that the cinematography is decent. Only a few handheld-shot scenes are noticeable in a bad breaking of the "art is best when hidden" way.

Tough luck, kid, you're screwed!

Finally, lest I be accused of being a shill, I wouldn't be me if I didn't point out the bigger flaws with even bigger spoilers. Ignore the next three paragraphs if you don't want negativity, backtracking, or repetition. (Note: I was exhausted when I wrote this review. It got way out of control due to two of the new Rockstar Pure Zero energy drinks, and my mind was racing. But as "Dr Blood's Video Vault" is just another "unintelligible" blog that nobody ever reads—I write it for my own amusement and don't make a penny out of it—I'll probably not bother to tidy anything up later. Enjoy this self-referential chaos which would have worked better as a podcast and remember that even Homer nods!)

"Nothing Left to Fear" starts off as a very slow drama with hardly any clues that it's a horror movie. A slaughtered sheep ("No animals were harmed during the making of this movie", by the way) is par for the course in a rural setting, so it's left to Rebecca's portentious nightmares to hint at something more sinister going on. Even a cake with an large animal tooth inside is diffused with a logical explanation! Consequently, there's no tension or gradual build-up to the supernatural events which kick-off after an hour.

When things suddenly start going bad, the action is perfectly paced, and among other themes, there's a blatant Biblical "Angel of Death" allusion (except it's a "Demon of Death" instead). No punches are pulled with the last kill either. Unfortunately, the third act is slightly spoiled by having a horribly rushed denouement, but I suppose you can't have everything. Basically, a final blood sacrifice causes the monster to revert back to CGI tendrils and go back into its hole, everybody gathers round Rebecca's prone body, there's a flash of white light to symbolise the triumph of good over evil, the end. After everything else, that's rather disappointing.

The epilogue is a standard "Twilight Zone"-esque twist/reveal that another cycle of letting the demon out to feast on a new family is about to start, and it finishes with one shot too many for people, like me, who want everything explained and wrapped up neatly. As all the other questions are answered within the body of the movie, this last minute "question posing" is as irritating as the epilogues to "Friday the 13th" (1980), "A Nightmare on Elm Street" (1984), or "Deadly Friend" (1986), but perhaps the idea behind this hanging "lapse in logic" is another stylistic homage. Cynically, I believe it's only there to cause debates on message boards for people who like to overthink everything.

I'll end this review by quoting Slash from the official "Nothing Left to Fear" Facebook page:
"As a long-time fan of the Horror genre, I want to produce films that are in an older tradition of the genre,” relates SLASH. “That is to say, films that leave more to one's imagination, that are psychologically scary and character-driven, and what scares you is more cerebral then superficial. Slasher Films is my vehicle to realize that aim, and NOTHING LEFT TO FEAR is the first film with more to come."
Good on you, Slash, for keeping it old school. I had a great time with "Nothing Left to Fear", and I'm looking forward to what you and/or Anthony Leonardi III have for us next.

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