“Satan’s Daughter”/ “Trinidad and Tobago World War II Diaries”

satansdaughter

 

The first time I ever heard of “Satan’s Daughter” was a few weeks ago when my mother saw its TV spot during the nightly news broadcast. Last Wednesday, I saw the poster for the film, placed oddly enough on top of another poster with the words “Trinidad and Tobago World War II Diaries” displayed in large text (as you can see above), in the “Now Showing (Port-of-Spain)” page for the Movie Towne multiplex website. Advertised as a “local horror movie/documentary” in the synopsis, this was one of the few rare moments in Trinbagonian film history where two local films were billed as a double feature. The last instance I can remember was the pairing of “The Panman” (1997) and “Bacchanal Time” (1978).  Curious, I looked at the trailers for both films on YouTube. While the World War II documentary intrigued me greatly, the horror film – or at least what I can decipher from its shoddy trailer – didn’t.  Skeptical but still curious, I made the bold decision to watch and review this double feature- BY MYSELF, with the intention of making my fellow readers aware that these local films exist, and uncovering the worth, if any, that these films possess.

 

I did exactly what I set out to do. I went to Movie Towne, paid TT$50 (normal price) for my ticket and stepped inside the cinema which ran the two films. Upon entering, I realized that I was only one of four individuals inside the actual cinema. I shrugged off this realization, and reminded myself that people nowadays are more interested in Hollywood films like “Carrie”, “Escape Plan” and “Gravity” instead of local film entertainment. Sure enough, the lights were turned off and “Trinidad and Tobago World War II Diaries” (Jeez, why didn’t the distributors shorten that fucking title?!) began.

 

The intro was exactly what the trailer presented: the archival footage from a WWII naval battle, the clearly-added-post-production-sound-effects, and of course, composer Alan Silvestri’s heart-pounding musical piece “The Chase” from his movie soundtrack to the CLASSIC example of 1980s cinematic BAD-ASSERY known as “Predator” (Like I wouldn’t fucking know the music from the scene where Arnold Schwarzenegger yells “RUN! GO! GET TO THE CHOPPAAAAAAH!”. Come on! Besides, I grew up on “Predator” anyway! “Predator” for life,, bitches!!!). But “T&T WWII Diaries” (See? Now that’s easier to type!) was actually a very well-made documentary. In a nutshell, the film showed the history of Trinidad & Tobago’s involvement in the Second World War, from the British West India Regiment and Trinbagonian navigators working for the Royal Air Force, to our oil industry which helped fuel the Allied war machine. The interviews (mostly from surviving participants of WWII) are very informative, and the use of archival footage used in the film (both video and audio), while extensive, is impressive, The cinematic sound design was distracting at times (like the instances where loud stereo sound effects were added to low-to-medium-level mono sound in the archival footage), but it was still quite effective. But even more interesting is the fact that the documentary looked and felt like it was made for TV. And why shouldn’t a documentary like this be shown on television? It’s about a topic in our history that many people, myself included, aren’t fully knowledgeable on. And it’s a shame that not many Trinbagonians would get to, or want to, see it.

 

And then something happened. About a half-hour into the film, the end credits started rolling up the screen, and the male narrative voice-over informed me that this important topic in Trinbagonian history will be continued in the “next episode”.  Assuming that the entire documentary was a two-part affair, and further assuming that “Satan’s Daughter” was actually shorter than I originally expected, I eagerly anticipated the “next episode” of “T&T WWII Diaries”. For my 5 seconds of patience, I was rewarded with……..”Satan’s Daughter”. First of all…….THE FUCK?!! Why would you raise my expectations of witnessing what happened next to the Trinbagonian soldiers in WWII, and then throw it all away for the sake of a horror movie?! Secondly, why would you screen the FIRST PART of a documentary in the first place when you already have a feature-length horror film lined up? Was this an attempt from the distributors to showcase – or show off – the great “strides” they’ve been making in terms of local film entertainment, or was it just a clever marketing ploy to get patrons to pay their hard-earned money to watch a film so COMPELLING that they must be inclined to sit through it in its entirety (“T&T WWII Diaries”), only to cut the film short for the sake of a film that honestly, no one gives a shit about (“Satan’s Daughter”)? But I digress.

 

The haunted house “horror” film “Satan’s Daughter” deals with a “Ghost Hunters”-like film crew of six Americans (three male, three female – you know…..the usual) who arrive to Trinidad (called St. Germaine throughout the film’s narrative) to explore a legendary haunted house. Transported by one of the locals (famed comedic actor Errol Fabien who plays ‘Yani’) to the site, the film crew set up webcams in nearly every area inside and outside of the house. Why this house in particular, you ask? Well, you see, one of the male crew members is actually a descendant of a French baron who owned the home. From what I gathered from the opening voice-over narration that was edited so sloppily (as if the narrator reading his lines too fast weren’t annoying enough, one line would fade out at the last word, and then another sentence would start immediately at that fading out), the French baron fell in love with one of his female slaves. That slave was actually a succubus (or “La Diablesse” – i.e. a popular character of Trinbagonian folkore – as it’s sometimes called in the film), who kills the Baron in his bed during their sexual escapade. The elderly curator of the house, played by veteran actor Errol Jones who does his best Vincent Price impersonation (“The kitchen…………is in the back”; “”I’m……….going now”; “I don’t come out after dark” ) and supposed stepfather (I think) of one of the two blonde-haired women in the crew, warns the Ghost Hunters about an evil presence (the “La Diablesse”) in the house. On the subject of blonde-haired women, that one, in particular, is very, VERY pretty. And as an added bonus, she can hear the voices of spirits, sense the presence of spirits and is knowledgeable about the mannerisms of spirits. With those credentials, it shouldn’t be too hard for her to get a boyfriend. Anyhoo, for the sake of this review – and because I forgot her fucking name in the movie – I’ll call her “Spirit”. From the moment the film crew arrives to the house, weird shit takes place. Satanic objects are discovered in different areas of the house, the La Diablesse (in spirit form) is spotted outside roaming about, and (as you’d expect in a haunted house movie) the crew members are attacked, one by one.

 

“Satan’s Daughter” looks like a mid-90’s direct-to-VHS movie. I’m not bullshitting you here! The colours are washed-out, the cinematography is flat, the acting is uninspired, the actors, with the exception of Errol Fabien and Errol Jones, either try way too hard or don’t try at all to act, the camerawork is amateurish and the visual effects (’cause what would a great haunted house movie be without flashy visual effects? *COUGH!*“The Conjuring”*COUGH!*) are lame as fuck! Even SyFy Original Movies, terrible as they are except for their unintentional humour, have better VFX than this film does. Don’t believe me? Here’s an example. A group of local men sneak inside the house, while the “Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated” find themselves in different areas of the house, and in danger of being attacked by the La Diablesse. After one of the men is grabbed by the legs by the La DIablesse, and dragged into the nearby room, the others quickly exit the house. And when I say quickly, I mean at 2X speed. But with the fuzzy colours and overuse of shadow, you probably wouldn’t have picked up on it – that is, if you were willing to suffer through this movie. Anyhoo, the men jump into a car and drive off – also in 2X speed. When the car reaches the end of the road, it suddenly explodes. And when I say explodes, I mean EARLY After Effects explosions that’ll make even a novice VFX artist laugh his/her ass off!  And on the subject of cheap special effects, the movie itself is so cheap that nearly every opportunity to truly scare and disturb the audience is wasted on quick-cut montages of distorted imagery (which also serve as transitions during most of the film, by the way). First and foremost, distorted imagery that’s confusing and disorienting doesn’t equal scary. I’m just saying.

 

What “Satan’s Daughter” tried to do was combine the haunted house horror sub-genre with that of the found footage sub-genre (which was revolutionized in “The Blair Witch Project” (1999) and since then, mercilessly exploited in films like the “Paranormal Activity” franchise). The film is a series of pre-Windows 98 computer-generated scenes from the perspective of camcorders and webcams, all of which add to the already-90s direct-to-VHS look and feel that it presents. Even the dialogue feel like something out of a shitty, late-night cable horror film. Here’s a few examples: “So what exactly is a zombie?”, “You’ll become Satan’s whore” and my personal favourite (and the one that I can relate to) “Do we have scary yet?”. And just like a shitty, late-night cable horror film, there’s even a few nude scenes thrown in for the hell of it. All three women….yes, even Spirit, are shown in scenes of nakedness.  Ahhhh yeeeeeah! What’s a haunted house horror movie without some naked female flesh (*COUGH*”The Conjuring”*COUGH)?

 

“Satan’s Daughter” is idiotic, boring, witless, non-frightening, unintelligible and unnecessary. The fact that it was shot in Trinidad makes it bad.  The fact that a bargain-basement rap song plays in the end credits (which was a huge slap to my face) makes it worse. And the fact that “Paramount Studios” (I SHIT YOU NOT! Seriously! I’m not lying here!) appears twice in the end credits makes it……even more bizarre than it already is. The “Ghost Hunters” episode (which I suspect was the inspiration for this film) where they came to Lopinot, Trinidad, to look for “jumbies” is QUALITY ENTERTAINMENT compared to this piece of cinematic shit! And that’s a show from SyFy! Imagine that! And while you’re at it, imagine greater.

 

THE LAST WORD: When the lights came back on after the end of “Satan’s Daughter”,  there were only two persons inside the cinema: myself and an elderly man. As we silently exited the cinema, I considered asking the man to share his thoughts on what he saw. But I could tell that he was, like me, unspeakably disappointed, so I chose to forego that undertaking. Keep in mind, ladies and gents, I knew exactly what I was getting myself into. I knew that I would hate the LIVING DEAD out of “Satan’s Daughter”, but I still spent my time and money watching it. I had hoped that the “T&T WWII Diaries” documentary would have been worth at least half of the ticket price, but it didn’t even add up to more than a third thanks to its discontinuance. Minutes after I left Movie Towne, I found myself deliberating on the fate of local film, in relation to the “double feature” I had sat through. As I mentioned in my recent review of “Escape from Babylon”, there are “local film naysayers” out there. They’re the ones who bash, scoff at, and turn a blind eye on local films because, simply put, they believe that local films aren’t entertaining or appealing enough to them.

 

Four local-made feature films  (“Home Again”, “Escape from Babylon”, “God Loves the Fighter” and “Between Friends”) have been released this year, each with considerable success. But when a movie like “Satan’s Daughter” comes out, and the obviously poor critical reception reflects the piss-poor attempt at making an entertaining and appealing film, and a meaningful, informative documentary about our country’s history is unashamedly used as a LURE to attract naive moviegoers to watch local films in late-October, then what would those moviegoers say when they realize they’ve been deceived? Will they dismiss the film as a pathetic local horror movie and continue to support local film, or will they give up on local film entirely and become naysayers themselves? And what about the advertising? “Satan’s Daughter”/T&T WWII Diaries” wasn’t advertised as much as the aforementioned feature films were. Matter of fact, many people are STILL UNAWARE that these movies even exist! Can this be blamed simply on poor advertising, or is it another reflection of the film’s “poverty line”?

 

But look at the Hollywood film industry. There’s hits and then there’s flops. It’s inevitable. But Americans will still spend their time and money on movies, good, bad or so-so, not just because these movies are marketed and advertised better, but because the people are aware of the power and value of film in their lives. Our film industry is still in an embryotic state. A “Godfather” or “Seven Samurai” or “City of God” won’t happen overnight, but there is still the hope and possibility that our films will be appreciated and revered throughout the world – and most importantly, in our country. Like Hollywood, there’ll be good films, bad films and so-so films in our film industry’s future, but I believe that eventually, it will develop into something greater than anyone, local film supporter and local film naysayer, would expect.

 

In closing, I continue to ponder on the future of local film. Will there be more flops than hits? Will we continue to support Trinbagonian cinema, or dismiss it every time a local film misses the mark? Only time will tell. But until the day “T&T WWII Diaries” is shown in its entirety on local television, or screened during another film festival, and until the day “Satan’s Daughter” finds itself in the ninth circle of hell, and even beyond that, I WILL continue to support local film.  As before, take my criticism as you will, and please feel free to discuss.

 

MY RATING:

(INDIVIDUALLY)

“T&T WWII Diaries” – 4 out of 5 stars (“See this movie…oops, I meant episode)

“Satan’s Daughter” – 1 out of 5 stars (“Of course it sucked”)

 

(AS A WHOLE) 2 out of 5 stars (“I want my TT$50 back!”)

 

(UNRELATED) “Predator” – 4 out of 5 stars (“‘Predator’ for life, bitches!!!“)

 

– Matthew

Definitely see this movie – “Gravity” (2013)

During the Dawn of Man, early hominids – we’ll call them ape-men – looked up to the sky and wondered with their feeble, primitive minds what existed beyond it.  And then one day, a gigantic black monolith found its way onto the African desert. The ape-men became smarter, wiser and more self-aware. One of the ape-men – we’ll call him Daniel Richter – learned how to use a bone as both a weapon and a tool.  Set to the non-diegetic music of Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra” – we’ll call it the entrance theme of WWE Hall of Fame wrestler Ric Flair – he demonstrates his knowledge by going ape-shit (get it?) on a small pile of bones – all in lovely, lovely slo-mo.  Later during the week, Daniel uses the bone to kill the leader of a rival tribe.  Either out of triumph or out of a sense of having no clue what to do with his life from that point, Daniel thinks to himself “Fuck it”, and throws the bone into the air. And then, through the power of the ‘match-cut’ film editing technique, we are now thrust millions of years into the future, where man has found his way to the far reaches of outer space.

 

Yes, that was the first part of Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 magnum opus “2001: A Space Odyssey”. But it made for a damn good intro, I must say! Now where was I? AHEM…..

 

SPACE – the final frontier.  Man has navigated through outer space in large starships that they gave really grandiose names like “Enterprise”, “Nostromo” and “Serenity”. Man has explored new worlds, set up new colonies, confronted extraterrestrial life, fucked with extraterrestrial life (*cough*”Captain Kirk fucking a green bitch” joke *cough*) and had extraterrestrial life fuck them back (*cough* the ‘Alien’ franchise*cough). They fought wars with grotesque aliens, gigantic bugs and……stars for some reason (get it?). But most importantly, they have renewed the inward human desires to learn, explore and seek adventure. There have been a great many films that visualized man’s fascination with outer space, while using visual effects to express this dream in ways unimaginable.

 

Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” is the latest film to continue this tradition, following the earlier releases of Joseph Kosinki’s “Oblivion” (starring the greatest guest of the Oprah Winfrey Show EVER – Tom Cruise), M. Night Shyamalan’s critically-panned “After Earth” (starring an over-stoic Will Smith and his over-acting/under-acting (depending on the scene) son Jaden Smith) and Sebastian Cordero’s “Europa Report” (which I have yet to see) . But in the sub-genre of space movies, will “Gravity” be ranked among the greatest (“2001: A Space Odyssey”; “Alien”), the guilty pleasures (“Starship Troopers”; “Total Recall”), the cult classics (“Dark Star”; “Serenity”) or the fan favourites (“Star Trek”; “Star Wars”)? Or will it find itself in the cold, dark reaches of cinematic space, never to be seen again (*cough*”After Earth”*cough)?

 

(Cue ominous voice, “Also Sprach Zarathustra”…….and Ric Flair’s catchphrase “Wooooo!” ‘ Cause that was a great catchphrase. I’m just saying.) TIME TO FIND OUT!

 

 

Gravity-poster

 

“GRAVITY” –  It was once said that “In space, no one can hear you scream”. Even in its inclusion in the marketing of Ridley Scott sci-fi/horror classic “Alien”, this still-iconic tagline still evokes feelings of dread and terror up to this day – even if you haven’t seen that movie (which you really should, by the way).  Of course, there was screaming, but it all took place inside of the spaceship Nostromo. In “Gravity”, however, most of the action occurs in space. And you hear screaming….and dialogue……and music. But first things first: the plot. Mission Specialist and medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and the crew of the space shuttle Explorer are introduced in the film repairing the Hubble Space Telescope during a routine spacewalk.  Suddenly, Mission Control over in Houston, USA, warns them that space debris from a satellite have caused a chain reaction of destruction as it hurtles towards Earth. The team has no choice but to abort the mission and leave the area. And then…. disaster strikes! Explorer is severely damaged and crew members are killed by the debris, leaving Stone and Kowalski as the only survivors.  Tethered together, they find themselves adrift in space, spiraling out of control.  Will they make it back to safety before the next wave of space debris shows up? Will they return to Earth or die in space? And will there be aliens? I mean, the movie’s set in outer space. The least you can have is an alien species or two! Anyhoo, at least two of those questions might be answered in “Gravity”.

 

At the recent Venice Film Festival, world-renowned director James Cameron called “Gravity” “the best space film ever done”.  After viewing the film for myself, I can clearly understand why he made such a bold statement. My six eyes (i.e. my two human eyes, my glasses and the IMAX glasses with the stiff-ass frame handles that rubbed against my fucking earlobes) were literally glued to the screen from the opening shot. Speaking of which, “Gravity” opens with one of the most AMAZING opening shots I have ever seen in my entire life!  This opening shot runs interrupted for at least 13 minutes (I SHIT YOU NOT! 13 goddamned minutes!! ) as the camera slowly observes the features of a gorgeous-looking planet Earth and then reveals the astronaut team on their spacewalk mission before the arrival of the debris.  This sequence alone is a visual expression of the ambition behind “Gravity”. It’s an exuberant celebration of the beauty of outer space, and at the same time, a tense and taut thriller about survival in the extreme conditions of space itself.

 

Alfonso Cuaron, who gave us great movies like “A Little Princess” (1995), “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (2001) and his dystopian masterpiece “Children of Men” (2006) (which contained TWO excellent uninterrupted shots which you can gawk at…..oops, I mean, look at on YouTube), is effortlessly and brilliantly in command of his directorial skills with this film.  With the assistance of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (who collaborated with him on those films), Alfonso crafts a virtuoso cinematic experience like no other. Through some clever camera techniques, equally clever use of 3D and EXCELLENT sound design, the viewer is literally given a visual and sonic first-person perspective of everything occurring on-screen.

 

The story, written by Alfonso and his son Jonas (who’s already followed in his father’s footsteps as a director, producer, screenwriter and editor), is compelling, well-plotted and concise for the film’s running time. And on the subject of running time, for its 90-minute duration (which I can imagine 10 minutes of it dedicated to closing credits), the movie does feel a bit too short.  But this is a survival film, and one that can be classified under the “race against time” category. As such, it isn’t necessary to have a lot of time focused on both characterization and characters trying to get from Point A to Point B. You get a sense of who the main character is, what’s at stake, the tasks that must be performed and the obstacles (both physical and emotional) that must be overcome.  Besides, it’s only so much spiraling camera movements one can sit through anyway.

 

Notice that I said “main character” in the last paragraph. Though the film opens with George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, it switches its gaze to Bullock herself after the debris attack. I won’t say what eventually happens to Clooney’s character but I can safely say he won’t be revisiting “Solaris” anytime soon. HAH! See what I did there?! I said, “he won’t be revisiting Solaris anytime soon”. See, “Solaris” is the name of a space movie that George Clooney starred in way back in 2002. Get it?! HA HA HA……..heh. Sorry.  Anyhoo, Sandra Bullock does a very impressive job of carrying this film on her shoulders. Though I wasn’t entirely emotionally invested in her character (and no, it has nothing to do with the fact that I’m not a huge fan of her movies – with the exception of “Speed”, ’cause “Speed” is the SHIT!!!), I couldn’t help but root for her as she overcomes every obstacle thrown at her in her quest to return home.  And she delivers a fantastic, and dare I say, OSCAR-WORTHY performance throughout the film. George Clooney is just as impressive for the duration of time he’s on-screen, but all in all, this is Bullock’s film. And a great one at that.  Take that, fans of “Miss Congeniality”!

 

In the end, “Gravity” is a masterful space thriller that celebrates the great space films of the past while transcending them in scope and emotion. Simplistic as it is, its story – like “2001” and “Alien” before it – continues the cinematic exploration of man’s willingness to survive, despite his miniscule role in a vast universe. The jaw-dropping visuals alone are worth the time and money invested in an IMAX theater – even if you have to wear the IMAX glasses with the stiff-ass frame handles that rub against your fucking earlobes).  Even after it wins an Oscar or three in next year’s Academy Awards (hopefully for best visual effects, best sound mixing and dare I say it again….best actress), “Gravity” will be remembered for years to come. So yeah, I answered my earlier question concerning whether or not this film should be ranked among the greatest space films of all time. And yes, I’ll answer your question concerning whether or not this film is one of 2013’s best movies: 

 

(Cue ominous voice and “Also Sprach Zarathustra”) Duh. “Wooooo!” 

 

MY RATING:

“GRAVITY” – 4 1/2 out of 5 stars (“Definitely see this movie”)

– Matthew