Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Graphic novel mini-reviews

Crossed (Volume #1)
By Garth Ennis and Jacen Burrows

Published: 2006

My Thoughts: Remember how I reviewed a few single issues of Crossed a few weeks back? Well I finally got my hands on Volume 1 and 2 of the primary story. Volume 1 was fantastic!! Infusing elements of the zombie genre (these aren't zombies though), with global fears of contagion, primal aggression and the end of the world, this book is dark and nihilistic yet incredibly compelling. I found it so easy to slip into the mind frame of the primary characters, which only made it more clear how ill-equipped I would be for anything like it! This isn't for the faint hearted...if you find it hard to read violence, viewing it in graphic novel form is not going to make it any better. However it isn't mindless violence, the social commentary runs thick through it and it never feels like it's just for shock and awe sake. A really great read, I highly recommend it.

Crossed: Family Values (Volume 2)
by David Lapham and Javier Barreno

Published: 2011

My Thoughts: Remember a few lines back when I said the violence wasn't gratuitous...wasn't simply for shock and awe? Well one volume later, that's all that I could take from this story. A new writing and art team tackle a new story with all new characters in this volume. The only similarity is  that the world is still over-run with the "Crossed". Where the first volume showed restraint, reality and was full of commentary on the state of our current society, this volume  just took it too far, horrendously far, and lacked the substance to back it up. It wasn't terrible, there was a few really decent story threads and the basic premise was very promising. I just wish it hadn't felt like a snuff film. Only read this is you're a completest.

Locke and Key: Keys to the Kingdom (Volume 4)
By Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

Published: 2011

My Thoughts: I seriously cannot say enough good things about this series. The writing is fantastic, the story is amazing and every time I think the artwork has hit a new high Rodriguez goes and blows himself out of the water! This book continues to advance the story of the Locke family as they discover even more mysterious keys and slowly seem to be piecing together the larger mystery. Dodge is batshit crazy as ever, and the sneakiest motherf*cker of all time....but man oh man do I love him! This is such a rich series, even if you don't normally read graphic novels you simply have to start reading this one. It will blow your mind and convert you to a comic lover for life!!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Book Review: The Shelter by James Everington

The Shelter
Written by James Everington

Published: 2011

Synopsis: It’s a long, drowsy summer at the end of the 1980s, and Alan Dean and three of his friends cross the fields behind their village to look for a rumoured WW2 air raid shelter. Only half believing that it even exists beyond schoolboy gossip, the four boys nevertheless feel an odd tension and unease. And when they do find the shelter, and go down inside it, the strange and horrifying events that follow will test their adolescent friendships to breaking point, and affect the rest of their lives...

My Thoughts: After submitting a draft to my supervisor I decided to celebrate by finally picking up something that wasn't a graphic novel or text book! A couple of months back James Everington approached me about reading his new novella, The Shelter, and now seemed the perfect time to dive into his claustrophobic and moody horror. I really need to congratulate myself for making this choice, because not only did I love the book, but I am now incredibly eager to really kick start my reading...even if it means reducing my sleep to 2 hours a day!

The Shelter is quite a small book (hence referring to it as a novella previously), which works incredibly in its favour. This is a very immersive book, and I think it will resonate to readers much more distinctly if they read it from cover to cover in one go. Which is where the length comes in as a real benefit, obviously. I found myself stuck right in amongst the claustrophobic fear that builds and builds to oppressive heights as we follow Alan Dean's story, and I honestly think if I had tuned out and come back to it the next day it might not have impacted me quite as heavily. That isn't to say it relies on this, and I'm sure there are people out there who have read it in shorter bursts and still enjoy it. But if I can offer one piece of advice, it'd be find a comfortable spot, dig yourself in and read, read, read until The Shelter is complete. You can thank me later.

The Shelter is reminiscent of a Stephen King short story. In fact, James Everington mentions in his Author's Note that he was heavily influenced by the work of King at the time. It shows. Like King, Everington has a fantastic ability for painting the characters for you in great detail that captivates every sense. I could smell the sweat steaming off Tom's body, I could see the glint of Mark's earring under his long hair, and I could hear the ever present "thud-thud" of Alan's heart as he grew closer to the ominous shelter. Also like King, the book manages to balance that precarious line between real and supernatural horror. The story is, for the most part, grounded in the real, but there is that ever present "what if"  that you simply can't ignore. The real focus of the story are these four boys, Alan in particular, and this one day in their life, a hot summer day where everything changed. What happened doesn't really matter, what matters is the interactions and the reactions of these boys and the oppressive tension that builds because of it. Like Stephen King, James Everington manages to hit all these highs and produce a dark and moody horror that stays with you because of the possibility of its reality.

The Shelter is a great book that manages to wind itself tight around you until you find yourself struggling to catch you breath. This is definitely a "stayer" and I imagine parts of the book will continue to haunt me for weeks to come. So for any fans of Stephen King, atmospheric horror or short, unique reads then consider reading The Shelter, I think it'll be right up your alley!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Film Review: Sauna (2008)

Directed by:Antti-Jussi Annila

Starring: Ville Virtanen
Tommi Eronen

Synopsis:As a 25-year war between Russia and Sweden concludes, two brothers who are part of an effort to outline new border accords become undone by their actions, and their mistreatment of a young woman during their journey.

My thoughts: Sauna was a real treat. The Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) here in Brisbane was running a program of Scandinavian cinema a few months ago, with a regular weekly horror film as a feature. Most of the movies in the program we had already heard of and many we had already seen (TrollHunter, Anti-Christ, Let the Right One In), but Sauna was something which had slipped complete under our radar. Sometimes God just throws you one...

The story follows two brothers in 1595 tasked with the job of marking the official borders between Sweden and Russia after a 25-year long war. The youngest brother Knut is an academic who has been sheltered from the worst of the war, while his near-sighted brother Eerik has been dehumanised as a result of a lifetime as a soldier. When they and their Russian counterparts discover a village on the border that shouldn't be there, the sins of the past catch up to haunt them. The sauna in Sauna is a creepy looking concrete shed in a swamp outside the mysterious village where it is said that you can wash your soul clean.

Much like the other films in the GoMA program, Sauna is a horror film with an arthouse slant. And if you've read many of the other reviews Kayleigh and I have written, you'll know that these are generally the stories which get us excited. It's a slow-burn movie which isn't to everyone's tastes. Reading some of the IMDB reviews and comments (I know, I know... I was asking for trouble), the most frequent criticism is that it wasn't scary enough. While being 'scary' is a fine pursuit for a supernatural horror story, it's not the genre's most interesting convention. Supernatural horror at its best explores the darkest element of human nature without being constrained by reality. It manifests the dark and unnatural itches that lie in our collective unconsciousness, brings them to the surface and gives them a face. And Sauna did this about as well as any film I've seen in recent memory.

Sauna had some great imagery. The juxtaposition of the rigid, rectangular sauna sitting in the stagnant water of the swamp makes a powerful symbol. The weeping apparition that stalks Knut across the landscape is terrifying in broad daylight, and looks as if it has been influenced by style of ghost in J-Horror cinema. Just as the ghost cannot look at Knut (it keeps its face buried in its hands), Knut cannot face his own sins.

But in the end, it is the relationship between the brothers which makes the film interesting and beautifully tragic. Eerik, a man who keeps his sins numbered and has long since abandoned any hope of personal redemption tries to rescue his brother from the destruction his soul has suffered. Knut, who is naive to the horrors of war and is riddled with guilt over an incident involving a young woman in the brothers' travels, learns a valuable lesson about wiping clean sin.

I'm guessing that there is a lot of Finnish mythology which I'm not familiar with, so I there may be a lot I've missed as well. But overall I found Sauna to be beautiful film (in a Goya-esque kind of way) and recommend that if you can find it, you should see it.

4.5 out of 5

Friday, May 4, 2012

Graphic novels mini reviews

Crossed: Badlands (issues 1-4)
Written by: Garth Ennis and Jamie Delano,
Illustrated by: Jacen Burrows

My Thoughts: This is actually a spin-off from a larger graphic novel series, but I'm not really sure how much or how little relates between them. In Crossed: Badlands a small troop of survivors are trying to make their way through the Scottish back country without encountering the "crossed". The crossed are people who have been struck by a mystery illness which creates a rage-y/zombie like response in them. I really liked this one, the pacing was perfect, the characters were interesting and multi-sided (a certain red-headed royal plays a role!) and the situations they found themselves in were grim, tough and decidedly real. The artwork beautifully accompanied the writing and the story, and the crossed appearance of the infected people is chilling. I'm looking forward to reading the primary story!

Written by: John Smith,
Illustrations by: Edmund Bagwell

My Thoughts: Shane is out of juvenile detention and is trying to keep out of trouble, but there's trouble all around his neighbourhood and it's not going to be easy to keep out of... I really enjoyed Cradlegrave (except perhaps the ending) but man, is it gross! I won't say anything to give the story away, but this is one of those stories that will make you feel queasy as you read it, and probably for a little while afterwards as well. The story is well written and, ending aside, it held my attention throughout the whole thing. The characters all look a little too similar, so it gets a little hard to tell them apart now and again, but if you like a twisted district/home horror to make you feel uneasy, then this one is for you.

Dominique Laveau: Voodoo Child (Issues #1 and 2)
Written by: Delwyn Seyfu Hinds, Denys Cowan and John Floyd

My Thoughts: I've only just begun this new series, but so far, so good. Set in the New Orleans, there's an interesting mix of voodoo, magic, shadow worlds, action and mystery. The story bounced around quite a bit during these two issues, but I'm hoping it'll smooth down as the story progresses.  It's a little early to say for sure, I'm loving the female leads and focus and I think there's real potential for this to grow into a great series. I'm definitely going to keep my eyes out and see where the writers take this one.