Thursday, October 11, 2012

Movie Appraisal: The Deaths of Ian Stone (2007)

The Deaths of Ian Stone surprised me. I was honestly not expecting to like this movie very much. Sad, but true. I don't like being biased against films when watching them, but I was certainly biased against this one. Maybe it was because the main character's name is Ian Stone and he looks like the exact opposite of any person I could ever even hope to like. He looks like a prick. Boy does he look like prick. Maybe it's because from the way the film was shot I really expected to find myself making fun of the movie rather than enjoying it... but... BUT!!!!!

I liked it a lot. I really thought that it was a breath of fresh air when compared to some of the Japanese horror movies I've been watching lately. Say what you will about Western Horror as a genre (and I certainly have a lot to say about it) but when it works it really does work. Now, part of it is that things actually happen in this film. It's not all about a slow buildup with little to no payoff. No, this has the gore, the excitement, the thrills, and I couldn't have been happier. It blew me away with a lot more of everything than I ever would have expected.

Now, admittedly, I have a pretty huge tolerance for bad films, but I really didn't think this was a bad film, more like it was very similar to other films and... enjoyable despite everything it had going against it. That's the keyword here: enjoyable. This movie was fun to watch, which is quite the compliment when most movies I watch are either boring, predictable, or just plain rubbish... or just so mediocre that I can't even really find insults to throw at them. The Deaths of Ian Stone was not predictable. It had a plot. It was a weird plot, granted, but it was a plot that moved and existed. It had characters that were meaningful and even felt real at times. It even had horror movie THINGS in it! It was even a little disturbing and creepy for a few seconds! I couldn't imagine giving the film more stellar praise than that! Dario Piana directed a film which actually is kind of a horror movie! YEEEEESSSSSSS!!!!

I kid.

No, seriously, I'm not kidding at all. I've been watching Japanese horror or fairly bland horror movies for the better part of two months at the moment of writing this review, and this is really a breath of fresh air (Well, this movie and They Live! but that movie is already one of the best films ever made, so... yeah.).

Is this a great movie? No, but it works as both a horror movie and a narrative. The characters are surprisingly well executed. The actors do a fantastic job. The visuals are pretty well done too. I mean, I do have some complaints, but this is such a competent film that does what it attempts to do very well. So, first off, I recommend it even if it isn't your style. As long as you enjoy kind of stupid horror with a plot, you'll probably like this well enough.

Now, what style is the film? Well, it's an odd mash-up. I was thinking a very dark The Truman Show for about half of the movie. It also reminds me of a horror version of The Matrix, or maybe more fittingly, an actually engaging Dark City. Look, I hate Dark City by the way, and The Deaths of Ian Stone actually is so much better than Dark City that Dark City should be incredibly embarrassed with itself for being one of the worst movies I've ever seen. The Deaths of Ian Stone has basically a similar plot to Dark City, but its flow, its characters, its everything is so much better. I mean, Dark City infuriated me, making me feel almost idiotic for not liking it. I felt like it was talking down to me, and I can't stand that. It was a movie I should have loved. Noir mixed with horror mixed with intelligent thought and weird occurrences? Yeah, I should have liked that... but when the first vampire thing showed up the movie just lost me... The Deaths of Ian Stone, on the other hand, drew me in enough before its (odd, but strangely interesting) reveal that I actually enjoyed the reveal. It was well set-up, well executed, and well done in general. That's more than I will ever say about freaking Dark City.

So, there are these "Harvesters" and they feed on fear and pain and death and such. Okay, it sounds like those blighters from Harry Potter, the Dementers from the prison, but I have an inkling the idea of these things existed long before Harry Potter did. I didn't really like the visual design for the Harvesters, but I liked how they were introduced and executed. It was well done and I have no real complaints about their existence. At least the world wasn't actually on a rock floating in goddamn space...

Sorry, I'm still bitter...

Anyway, the movie is basically what it says on the tin: dude named Ian Stone dies a lot. Bam. We're done here. Let's pack it up and go home. That's a show.

Okay... all right... I guess I'm not done yet. Let me compose myself a little here. Thoughts of Dark City have made me grumpy.

Okay, well this dude named Ian Stone (played very well by Mike Vogel), who is an American living in Britain, goes through various lives and scenarios basically each day, dying through each life and also seeing the same group of people in each life and each day. As he finds himself in more and more lives he starts remembering the previous lives. (At the beginning of the movie he doesn't remember his previous lives immediately upon waking up with a new life. Later on he basically remembers everything right away.) Ian is a little confused by the whole thing and through the story we learn that he is to be killed by the Harvesters because of a memory he has within him. It's confusing, but is presented pretty well in the movie. It gets confusing at first, but then you remember the name of the movie and it gets a little clearer.

At the same time a girl named Jenny (played by Christina Cole) seems to hold the key to Ian's deaths and new lives while an odd older gentleman (played by Michael Feast) keeps showing up to tell Ian about what's going on. These stories converge when the gentleman, called "Gray," tells Ian that Ian himself is a Harvester, but no longer relies on pain, fear, or death because he fell in love, much like Gray did before. And Ian, the big softy, fell in love with Jenny, the girl who keeps showing up in his life, the girl who he keeps close to him in his various lives.

All throughout these odd revelations, a very creepy seductress Harvester named Medea (played by Jaime Murray) keeps trying to kill Ian... or at least make his life a living hell. Ian and Medea had a thing or something back in the day and she's a clingy broad and can't let go. Well, that and she's a little on the loony side. The chick is easily the scariest thing in the movie. Her expressions change so quickly that I'm surprised she doesn't get whiplash. She acts in such a way that her conviction is kind of as terrifying as her methods. I mean, the woman plays a great villain. I didn't expect that when first seeing the movie, but damn. DAMN. That's all I'll say on the matter.

The movie ends with the revelation that Ian killed an unkillable Harvester, and then he proceeds to hunt the rest of them down because that's how he rolls. The creepiness goes right out the window at that point, but I had a fun time watching him kill everybody, so I didn't mind so much.

I also enjoyed his demon Fabio hair. Human Ian has close cut hair. Harvester Ian has wonderful Fabio hair. I loved it. I loved that Fabio hair so much. I had such a question mark above my head when I saw it there, swaying to some unseen breeze like he was about to seduce everybody in the room with his ugly mug. I mean, how can you say no to hair like:

Oh my... Ian Stone, you are a sexy man. Please, take me now. TAKE EVERYONE NOW.

Seriously. There has to either be some sort of sense of humor here or a rather large oversight in this HORROR MOVIE. I shouldn't have been laughing. I shouldn't have been laughing so hard that I couldn't breath. I shouldn't have been crying with laughter to his Fabio hair. My vision was turning red. I was losing oxygen because I thought Fabio Harvester here was the funniest thing I think I've ever actually seen in a horror movie, especially a horror movie that was pretty good. I mean, even with this rather... insanely amusing image that's never leaving my head... seducing me in my weirdest and most awful nightmares... I still liked the movie. It was just an odd... no, no... more than odd... baffling design choice. Look at his puckered lips... those soft eyes locked so far into his head... and then his beautiful hair. I don't even know what things are anymore. Why do movies do this to me? Why do they make me feel like I've lost my own mind? I'm not imagining how funny this is, right? I mean, this is actually really, really, hilarious... I think? I don't want to be the only one laughing my brains out of my skull while everybody else just kind of stares at me while I giggle about corpse Fabio seducing the dead. Oh boy, I need to stop. I think I need a long rest...

Despite the rather... awful decision that Fabioed inside of my head, the movie was pretty good, often very enjoyable. I liked the atmosphere, the acting, even the horror... though the horror was few and far between. There were some thrills though and some gore, all of which were well done. The suspense is very well executed, and I found myself more than once wondering what would happen next. The movie wasn't predictable in the slightest, and that might be the best part about it. I did find that there seemed to be a few instances of really bad CGI though, mostly with the Harvester eyes, but it only occurred a few times and only irked me slightly.

Anyway, the movie has an effective use of shadows, even if it does turn less effective as the movie progresses. It feels like a horror movie especially in the beginning. It's never really scary though, except with Medea. She actually was quite the good terrifying villain. I would not want to deal with a chick like her. I mean, seriously, when she starts going at Ian, saying she doesn't enjoy hurting or killing him, I'm thinking, "Uh-huh... tell me another one, lady. You're definitely enjoying it a little with a smile like that on your face." Because of her and her alone the hospital scene is probably the most uncomfortable and real in the entire film. It is also probably my favorite scene. Easily the scariest and it does start getting pretty good and really meta in there, which I always enjoy. I don't understand why the evil characters get all Matrixed out in sunglasses and leather, but I rolled with it despite being confused and a little weirded out (I don't like The Matrix even slightly and found the design decision odd to say the least.). Medea looked good enough in red leather that I wasn't about to complain even though I kind of wanted to complain.

Anyway, I liked this one. Even if it isn't the best movie it made an impression on me. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, even Ian Stone's long flowing Harvester hair... no, especially Ian Stone's long flowing sexy Fabio hair. It's a movie I recommend, but realize that it's rough enough around the edges that some people may dislike it. I mean, I went into this expecting the worst, and I could certainly see other people getting the worst out of it, so take my recommendation with a fickle bit of doubt spread into your head. So... yeah. It was much better than absolutely awful which translates to me actually liking it quite a bit.

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