The first film works due to its charismatic protagonists and the reality TV aspect, which makes for an interesting spin on the found footage concept. All of that is lost in Grave Encounters 2. This time, the main character is
an arrogant jerka student film director who, after watching Grave Encounters, is adamant that the film is real. By thoroughly interviewing the crew, their family and finally the film's producers, he learns that the deaths in Grave Encounters were, in fact, real. Grave Encounters 2 stretches suspension of disbelief to near impossible lengths as, although the protagonists know of the horrors that await them, they still enter the asylum, video cameras at the ready. Dumb plot aside, the film is a constant barrage of predictable jump scares and recycled scenes from the first film, which is further compounded by the most unsympathetic, horribly-acted characters in the history of horror.
You're Next, from Adam Wingard, the director of the V/H/S series, is a home invasion thriller with a slight twist; one of the potential victims is a complete badass and isn't going down without a bloody fight. Earlier movies in the subgenre (The Strangers, Them, The Purge) have made this set-up almost cliche; affluent family, expansive house, faceless killers and a singular night of bloodshed. You're Next subscribes to these plot conventions but does so in almost self-mocking, comical fashion. As a 'final girl', Sharli Vinson is incredibly entertaining and refreshingly adept with a weapon, be that claw hammer, gun or a blender (yes, a blender!) A disappointing plot twist (that any horror veteran could see coming from the opening ten minutes) attempts to add logic and reason to the bloodshed but it feels tonally out of place. If watched as a meta, tongue-in-cheek slasher though, You're Next should push the right buttons.
After the events of the first film, Hiccup and his family of heavily-bearded warriors have embraced dragons. Every man, woman and child has a dragon counterpart, using them for sport, work and as companions. Whilst flying around with Toothless, Hiccup discovers a cave full of previously undiscovered dragons, all led by a mysterious dragon trainer who has many things to teach Hiccup. As sequels go, How To Train Your Dragon 2 definitely delivers in scale and as a visual spectacle. Physically, the characters travel a great distance and the discovery of new dragons, not least the gargantuan-sized 'Alphas', is a compelling aspect of the plot. However, thematically and emotionally, the characters travel at a snail's pace and it feels like the exact same story is being told as Hiccup continues to struggle with his identity. A third film is already in the works but I'm not sure how much more the writer's can mine out of these characters before everybody gets tired of them. *cough* Ice Age *cough*
The Frozen Ground is based on a set of real life abductions and murders and the torturous, frustratingly-long investigation that resulted them. Set in the gorgeous, snow-blanketed tranquility of Anchorage, USA, it's hard to believe that a sadist serial killer would be at large in such a gorgeous part of the world. Scott Walker's direction expertly portrays this dissonance between humanity and mother nature, by juxtaposing the killers horrific actions with the beautiful, forested backdrop. The Frozen Ground is also filled with brilliant performances from surprising sources; Nicolas Cage is a restrained, sympathetically driven investigator, John Cusack is the effectively creepy serial killer who has the whole community wrapped around his finger and Vanessa Hudgens turns in a revelatory performance as one of his victims. The Frozen Ground is a must see for fans of procedural thrillers like last year's Prisoners or Fincher's Zodiac.
Short Term 12 follows the difficult, emotionally-involving work of Grace (Brie Larson) and Mason (John Gallagher); two staff members at a residential facility for under-privileged youths. The film explores an important time-frame as Grace and Mason try to balance their romantic relationship with the demands of the kids, some of whom are at important junctions in their lives. Short Term 12 is a masterpiece of contemporary independent film-making. Uncomplicated and simple in its presentation, director Destin Cretton lets the phenomenal cast and realistically-written script work their magic. Brie Larson and John Gallagher deliver impossibly endearing performances that will break your heart. The child actors are just as enchanting, with emotionally strong performances that belie their age. Short Term 12 tackles its difficult subject matter with compassion and sincerity but never becomes bogged down by sentimentality or melancholy. Considering its budget and the story it set out to tell, Short Term 12 is perfect.