Friday, March 10, 2017

Sleepover (2016)

"It was supposed to be a fun night..."

I know that feeling.  I get that every time I sit down to write one of these damn blog posts.  It was supposed to be a fun night.  Then it goes to shit and I watch crappy movies and dissect them.  Oh well, it's my cross to bear.

I return to the world of Amazon Prime to explore more horror movies made in the 2000s.  This one, I admit, has something going for it.  Yeah, last week I watched a horror movie that followed an overused idea that what you saw was "based on true events" when, in fact, it's almost entirely bullshit.  Horror movies still do that by the way.  But I think most will say that the Conjuring movies are generally well made and get the pass for being as good as they are.

Now, it's time for another trope of 2000s horror - the found footage or first person filming of events.  1999's The Blair Witch Project, though hardly the first to do this, popularized the idea of found footage shot from the first person perspective of those in the movie.  Over time, and the next 17 years, this phenomenon would be used hundreds of times.  It led to the Paranormal Activity series and those led to increasing numbers of movies to follow the same idea - set up a camera and watch people watch for ghosts.  It's pretty boring if you ask me.  The Blair Witch Project was fresh, new, and incredibly tense.  Paranormal Activity sucks and pales in comparison.

I'd explain more about my thoughts and comparisons between the two movies, but that's not what we're here for this week.  Nope, we are here for 2016's Sleepover.  By far the most recent of any B-Movie Enema pictures.  I saw the suggestion come up on Amazon Prime and watched the trailer on YouTube.  At the very least, whoever made that trailer knew what they were doing because it seemed pretty creepy.  But what is the actual plot?

According to Amazon Prime: "A couple of girls get together for a sleepover in a large house.  As the night goes on, they begin to hear moaning sounds that are getting closer and closer.  One fo the girls suspects it is her fiance trying to scare them.  The girls begin to search room by room and it soon becomes clear that they are not alone."

Seems like something we can go with.  Let's get this flick rolling...


First of all, I'm glad it's only 70 minutes.  I like my enemas to be quick and as painless as possible.  That's not always the best of signs (see Full Moon Fever to see where that twice bit me in the ass).  As the movie begins, there's a girl sitting at a table looking at a rose.  There's a sound of dripping water.  I think this might be Chelsea Clinton.  I could be wrong, but I think that's who we're looking at.  This house might also be haunted by the ghosts of emails.

Nah, I'm fuckin' with ya.  It's haunted by demonic alt-right bullshit articles on Facebook.

Someone walks behind her and she gets up to check who's there.  I LOVE that shot.  We only see what looks like a girl's arm and her skirt.  We don't see any other detail and we just hear the water dripping.  Take note people hoping to get into horror movies... This is how you do something creepy and scary.  You don't put gaping mouths on children.  You don't rely on constant jump scares.  You build tension.  You create atmosphere.  Also, you obscure your monster.  Even when the "ghost" walks in front of the camera when the main girl is looking around, we don't see much.  We just have a figure that we know nothing about.  It's the third time we see the ghost girl that you do a jumpy scary thing.  Well done movie!

So after our main girl, Jamie, finds the ghost girl outside by the pool and it jumps and screams and runs away, she wakes up from a nightmare.  The movie goes black and white.  She talks to her mom about her dad's death.  She apparently has this same nightmare often.  It is nearly 10 minutes before any kind of music starts and it only lasts for about a minute.  This movie relies on ambient noise.  This...  This is a beautiful thing.  I'm ten minutes into this movie and I'm loving it.

Jamie goes to school and, that afternoon, is walking to a hangout spot with her friend Rachel.  We learn about Jamie's guy friend who has graduated from high school, but Jamie and Rachel are still in school.  Matt, Jamie's guy friend, and his friend, Ben, tell Rachel and Jamie about a legend of a ghost lady who haunts a river.  Matt suggests Jamie and Rachel have a sleepover and he and Ben can bring some ecstasy over for them to mess around with.  Rachel is pissed about them joining their girls' night.  When Matt gets a little too roughhousy with Jamie, Rachel punches Matt in the arm which sets him off against Rachel.  Ben pulls out a rifle and threatens to kill them and Jamie's mom for whatever reason.  The guys laugh and say they are just joking because those guys...  They have fun, ya know?

Rachel is legitimately freaked out by the woods around Jamie's house.  She also is still sure that Matt will try to mess with them while they are doing their sleepover.  Even though Jamie says there's nothing to be concerned with about the woods or Matt, Rachel still wants to make sure all the doors are locked so they are safe.

Fifteen minutes into the movie and the titles appear.  Fifteen minutes of a super tense scene with a ghost and exposition about everything we need to know about Jamie, Rachel, and the guys.  I'm in.  Sleepover, you got my attention and I'm loving you.

Jamie's mom leaves for a party or some sort of social event.  While she is saying goodbye to her mom, something seems to sneak up behind Jamie.  As she shuts the door, the movie shifts back to color and we now see Jamie's point of view.  We are seeing the movie play out from her perspective.  This isn't a dumb ass guy running around with a camera that he could very easily put down to run away from the ghost or monster thing.

There is a second perspective shot that is going on as well.  It starts outside, looking at the house from the ground.  It then moves inside.  While the girls are doing their normal thing, Jamie keeps hearing a moaning sound or a splashing sound from outside.  Rachel dismisses it as a dog the first time, but when Jamie goes outside, Rachel starts to believe it is Matt who is making the noises.  They go downstairs to catch him in the act.  When they go outside to investigate the sounds or catch Matt, the door they left open closes and the lights go out.

Despite taking a moment to adjust to it, the POV perspectives
work very well and keep everything natural between Jamie
and Rachel.
When they go back into the house and look around for Matt in mostly dark, there's another thing happening here.  Yes, there's tension that is building because you are expecting to see something jump out at you or a scary monster demon girl or something.  Tension is good.  That's what these types of movies lack in most cases.  That's not what I'm talking about though.  There are these paintings around the house that are very basic paintings of a guy or a woman or a little girl.  When the camera is sweeping around, these paintings are there.  You kinda know they aren't the monster ghost demon thing.  But that's not the point.  It's almost atmospheric in its representation.  It adds to the idea that you expect to see something, you are seeing something, and I'm willing to bet, that's going to make the reveal of the ghosty thingy pretty goddamn effective.

They don't find Matt and Rachel says they should just go upstairs and ignore him.  If they don't give into the attention he's going after, he'll reveal himself or go away.  As soon as they settle, we get that other perspective from outside on the other side of a window looking into the house.  When it shifts back to Jamie's perspective, the howling moan is heard faintly and the sounds of footsteps coming up the stairs can be heard loudly.  When Jamie opens the bedroom door to see if Matt is upstairs, the howling continues.  Jamie wants to go find Matt, but Rachel wants to stay upstairs in the bedroom.

I gotta say, this feels very realistic.  Rachel is scared, but based on what we saw of her standing up to Matt earlier, she's not going to admit it.  Also, goddamn I'm at the edge of my seat.  I know there's going to be a monster.  I know something is going to reveal itself, but I'm still not quite ready to see it!

So Jamie goes downstairs while Rachel is upstairs and when she turns on the light and walks into the kitchen, she finds water on the floor.  They decide they are simply going to call the cops and/or Matt's mother to end his little jokes.  When Jamie tries to call, they can't get service.  She claims she always can when she's in her house, but, for some reason, there is no service now.  This ties together something from earlier when Rachel was trying to load a video from online to show Jamie but the page wouldn't come up.

Again they hear noises from outside and inside that makes them think someone is inside the house.  Jamie wants Rachel to try her phone but that is downstairs.  Rachel doesn't want to go get it alone, and, in fact, would rather Jamie just do it herself.  While they try to coax Matt out from his hiding place, the moan outside gets closer and this time, instead of a slow creaking noise like someone coming up the stairs, they hear the pitter patter of feet like something is running or crawling very fast on their hands and knees.  As they talk about that skittering noise, whatever is making that noise jiggles the door knob and makes a noise against the door causing them to freak out and run onto the balcony.  While out there, the bedroom door opens and whatever is in the room shuts out the light.

They stay on the balcony for more than five minutes contemplating their next move.  This may seem slow paced, but you'd be shocked how realistic this movie feels.  They don't know what is in the bedroom.  They think it's Matt messing with them and he isn't backing down.  There are weird noises all around them.  There's even a slight breeze where they are shooting this that makes the curtain at the sliding door move and gives you a reason to pause to wonder if that really is the breeze or if it is a monster.

Gee, we sure see a lot of this pool.
I wonder if it will be important or have something to do with
the end.
Whatever is in the room also starts knocking at the sliding door window too.  It's hard to even know what you should be focusing on.  You look one way, the howling gets louder and closer.  You look in that direction, something makes noise in the opposite direction.  It's an intense experience.  The girls start to actually call for help while on the balcony in desperation for how scared they are.  Once they start doing that, the wailing moan is so close it sounds like it is in the bedroom.  They try to reason with what is going on and what they need to do.  They still believe someone is actually messing with them.  They have no reason to believe it is a ghost or animal or anything like that.  Any mention of a ghost story concerning the woods was told in a very quick and, seemingly, unimportant way earlier as a way for a guy (Ben) to flirt with a girl (Rachel).  They didn't dwell on it at all.  Even earlier, when Rachel said the woods around Jamie's place freak her out, it was quickly dismissed as less to worry about than having Matt and Ben try some shenanigans later.

Even now as they hear the wailing moans and cries of what is clearly an upset woman who is circling around and running here to there, they aren't immediately going back to the idea that this is a ghost or anything other than an elaborate prank to scare them.

This, my friends, is another way to do sophisticated horror.  You don't assume that there is anything wrong with the environment.  It's part of the world as an urban legend or a joke among friends.  It's not treated as a real boogeyman or anything of the sort.  You also let things build as they have in this movie.  This is only 70 minutes in length, but it does so much to build the horror around the scenarios and let that tension bake and bubble over.  It's that same feeling you get when you go to a haunted house.  A good one, not one of those shit ones that just rely on people hiding behind every corner with a Michael Myers mask.  These are the ones you can't see what's coming.  You know something is out there ready to grab at you or acknowledge you in some way, but you can't see it coming.  You're on edge.  You can't help but seize up.   Your breathing gets short, you want to hide your eyes or pull the covers over your head, etc.  It's fear.  Not scares, but fear.

See this?  This...  This is horror.  Don't blow your load all at
once!
So now, the girls decide to grab a flashlight from inside the bedroom.  They both freak out at the sight of something that we can't see because of it being too dark, but they both say they see it and they even seem like they can't believe what they saw.  All they know now is that it isn't Matt messing with them.  They haven't even gotten the flashlight yet.  Jamie says she has to get it and knows exactly where it is.  Rachel, rightfully so, doesn't want to go back inside.  I can't say I blame her.  They finally get the courage to go inside and get the flashlight.  Just as they get it, another moan is heard very loudly.  This causes them to cower in a little vanity area in the room and shine the light into the larger portion where they see a hand reaching around from the other side of the wall.

This leaves them stuck in this little corner of the room for a few more minutes of real time.  Again, it may seem like not much is happening, but this is more real than any other horror movie I've seen in some time.  Certainly more real than any of the garbage I normally watch for this blog.  There are levels to this whole thing too.  While they are stuck in this little section of the bedroom, they talk about something moving by itself and asking how it is doing that.  I don't see what they are referring to.  They are definitely seeing something moving (we can see the curtain blowing in the breeze, but I don't know what they are specifically seeing), and the terror in their voices is scaring me.  I want to try to find what they are seeing moving, but I also don't want to.  I'm terrified at this point.  I'm so immersed that it's hard to watch more than a few minutes at a time without being completely unhinged.  Just when I think I know what's going to happen next, the sheets on the bed in front of them start to flip up on their own.

They finally are able to get out of that area of the bedroom and decide they are going to get out of the house.  When they get to the kitchen door, Rachel is unable to open it.  When Jamie looks back, she sees a little girl with long black hair and white skin huddled in the corner.  When the light reveals her, she scurries away.  Not totally unseen in horror movies these days, but the fact that she scurries away and doesn't hurky jerky move toward them with the gaping eyes and mouth effect gets much more of a rise out of me.  Additionally, if you listen closely during this moment, you can also hear her whispering after she's scurried away while Jamie and Rachel scream about not being able to get out of the house.  It's extremely well done.

As the whispers get louder, we get flashes in the flashlight's beam of Rachel being grabbed and pulled away by the ghost girl too.  Not pulled on a wire like you see in Paranormal Activity.  Nothing over the top like you might see in a demon possession movie, she's dragged away by another actress.  The timing to have Jamie chase after but remain enough behind to not catch up to them and just see Rachel's hand trying to grab a corner of a wall is perfect.  All you hear of Rachel are her screams getting farther and farther away.  She gets pulled into a room that won't open for Jamie so now, it's safe to assume Rachel is deadsville.  Killed by ghost - which is a great method of death you don't see in a lot of movies.  Even ones with ghosts running amok.

Jamie does get outside and tries beating on the window to the room Rachel was pulled into.  The blinds open, but Jamie doesn't see anything.  She goes back inside hoping to find Rachel, but is only  met by another really loud wail.  After several moments of silence after the wail, she hears the whispers again.  She gets a knife from the kitchen to protect herself.  She also begs for whatever is in the house to go away.  Jamie goes back to the bedroom and her cell phone receives a call after previously being unable to get any service.  No one speaks to her on the phone, but she thinks she hears Rachel outside.  She goes out to the balcony but doesn't see anything.  She eventually comes back inside and gets another call from an unknown number.  This time she declines the call.  As she searches the bedroom, she finds her mother's gun.  When she gets another call from the unknown number, she begs the caller to give Rachel back.  This time, she hears Rachel and asks where she is so she can come get her.  When Jamie can't hear what she's saying, she tries to go outside through the kitchen again.  This time, the door opens.

Rachel slowly approaches the pool in the backyard.  She hears all sorts of noises around her but can't pinpoint what they are or where they are.  Things come to a bit of a head when she hears rustling and the moan near her.  Soon, the moan is literally right in front of Jamie.  She sees a ghostly woman and gets thrown into the pool where the ghostly woman holds her underwater trying to drown her.  It's interesting because the "camera" cuts in and out with some static sounds as if she was purposely wearing a camera.  She isn't.  It's almost like it is representing the life flickering out of her.  She then sees the sky through trees like she is flowing down a river on her back and the sound of a laughing baby.  The ghost story told earlier by the guys was that a lady drowned her baby in the river and haunts the river looking for unsuspecting people to kill.

The last we see is Jamie floating in the pool before she wakes up in the from another nightmare.  She goes downstairs and gets a glass of lemonade while the credits roll.  While the credits play, she goes to the kitchen door and looks out the window expecting to see something but nothing is there.

That's the end, and you know what?  You might think the ending was anticlimactic and the movie ultimately just created one big loop, but, frankly, you knew everything you needed to know about what was going to happen before the credits.  So, in that entire preamble that talked about Jamie suffering from nightmares, and the ghost story, and the guys threatening to crash the sleepover, you were given the entire premise of the movie.  There's a local ghost story about a woman who drowned her child and haunts the area looking for other victims.  That's dismissed, but the guys' antics and threats of coming over are taken seriously to the point the girls think the guys are fucking with them for a chunk of the movie.  Then, you see that Jamie is just having a nightmare.  Either that, or she really did die and is in some sort of purgatory stuck having to live out being haunted by a scary ghost again and again.

I checked out some of the reviews on Amazon.  There were a ton of 1-star reviews.  They mostly pointed out three things - the movie was badly acted, didn't have a story, and/or all they had to say was a very short partial sentence that just said it was "very bad".  Some of these reviews read like a Donald Trump tweet.  (Shit, two political jokes in one review during a non-election year...  Wow.)

I could very much argue that there wasn't any acting as it really seemed as though these girls were either friends before the movie was made or were very natural with each other.  That's the thing, oftentimes, these types of movies aren't scripted.  So they aren't really acting, just reacting to noises or things that happen in the room with them.  I don't think it had bad acting.  I thought it was relatively real and engaging.  As for story...  If you love the Paranormal Activity movies but hate this or Blair Witch, I...  Well, I don't know what to say to you because you're just wrong.  If you could see me, you'd see me sticking my tongue out at you because you're wrong.  Talk about boring, the Paranormal Activity movies are so goddamn boring, I really do believe the actors take naps because we literally watch them sleep.

I get that this isn't everyone's cup of tea, but it actually marries The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity very well.  It provides movement of the characters through the entire thing, limits what you see of the ghost until later, and it keeps it confined to a home where you should feel safe.  It throws a twist in there for you too.  Maybe you don't like it, but it's 70 goddamn minutes long.  Give it a shot.  You might actually like it.

And if you watched it using your Prime account and didn't like it, maybe you shouldn't bitch too much because you didn't pay for the rental anyway.

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