Sorry for the one day delay on this column, folks — due to unforeseen circumstances, I was without a computer on Tuesday. But damn, did Frazier hold down the news updates well or what? Make sure to thumb through all of his terrific recent posts if you haven’t already.
If you’re going to pick up a new video release this weekend–or, as you cool new agers might be inclined, stream one–then it better be Ti West’s The Innkeepers, which while critically praised, barely received a theatrical release. Like West’s masterful 2009 effort The House of the Devil, this is a retro take on the horror genre, putting atmosphere and a dreadful sense of impending doom ahead of the in-your-face brand of shock and awe often employed by bigger budget productions. The setting is the allegedly haunted Yankee Pedlar Inn, which is soon to close for good (talk about old-fashioned spooky). Over the joint’s final weekend of operation, amateur ghost-hunter inn employees Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) are determined to conjure up the rumored spirits. The third act is something of a let down, especially when one considers how great that stretch of House of the Devil was, but West’s ability to keep you on the edge of your seat throughout, anticipating each scare only to have your expectations subverted, is masterful. Horror is one of the most beloved genres and yet, for all its fans, there are so few good new horror films. This is a welcome exception to the rule. B (Buy on Amazon — only $13.99 Blu-Ray and $9.99 DVD!)
Another film releasing this week that was talked about a lot more by critics than by audiences is Dee Rees’ Pariah, which unlike The Innkeepers was not worth the disproportionate amount of coverage. The movie is yet another “be yourself” coming-of-age Amerindie, tainted as usual by the clear hand of directorial catharsis — a schlep through one teenager’s embrace of lesbian womanhood. Adepero Oduye is as raw and real as you’ve heard in the lead role, but one performance can’t hold together an entire film, especially when the supporters seem to be laying it on so thickly that they could just as well be in a Tyler Perry melodrama. On the whole, Pariah doesn’t offer any great realism or expressions of grander truths — it’s just the same old gobbledygook, dressed up in slightly different clothes. C- (Buy on Amazon)
Lastly, there’s the Hollywood release everyone’s heard of: Contraband, starring Marky Mark Wahlberg as a smuggler on the high seas, trying to bring counterfeit cash from Central America into port in his native New Orleans. That he’s a NOLA resident rather than a Bostonite is about the only thing original about this paperback thriller (must be the tax incentives). The characters are as thin as Angelina Jolie, the filmmaking constantly feels like a cheap attempt to imitate Michael Mann, and the third-act violence is so brutal that you can’t even enjoy the film as lazy afternoon background noise. Ben Foster is a small bright spot in a supporting role, but he was much better in The Messenger, which I bet you still haven’t seen — rent that instead. It may be a downer, but it’s nowhere near as depressing as the experience of enduring a movie as bad as Contraband. D+ (Buy on Amazon)