Lauded for its mesmerizing action set pieces in the months following its screening at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, The Raid: Redemption (note to readers: despite the subtitle, this is not a sequel or a prequel) has finally received a moderately wide North American theatrical release. Iko Uwais plays Rama, the film's protagonist. On this special day, of all special days, he and his fellow SWAT team members are called upon to infiltrate a seedy apartment building complex in Jakarta and take out, once and for all, a drug kingpin (Ray Sahetapy).
That's about sums up the plot. Were this a review of regular length I very much doubt the plot synopsis would be much longer than the one supplied in the paragraph above. The Raid does what a lot of recent martial arts films refuse to, that is, get straight to the action and offer the audience little to no respite until the final frame. Granted, there is perhaps a tiny bit more to the film than just that. The SWAT team is unaware of just how well connected and protected the kingpin is, with most of the members being wiped out before they even reach the halfway point of their march up the stairs. There is also some mumbo jumbo about corruption in the police department. In fact, a fellow writer at Sound on Sight, Michael Ryan, felt the movie had far more to offer beyond the fight sequences. You can read the article here. It's a well written piece that makes for a good read, although I believe he is searching a little too deep for thematic resonance. Yes, there are attempts at a 'story' but even what little plot writer-director Evans tries to integrate is pretty muddled. The action, on the other hand, is absolute top notch. There is creativity, physical prowess and speed all meshed into one salad, and what a mean salad it is. Martial arts junkies could not possibly leave the theatre disappointed. I would argue that there are even a couple of scenes with genuine tension, the sort of tension found in solid suspense thrillers. That was what surprised me more than anything, that director Evans managed to diversify the entertainment throughout as opposed to limiting everything to just pure adrenaline-induced action. For the quality of the featured fights and tension, The Raid: Redemption is really, really good.
Cabin in the Woods (2011, Drew Goddard)
I was taken by surprise upon learning that filming for this Drew Goddard directed and Josh Whedon produced movie occurred about 3 years ago in 2009! It appears that MGM could not release it once that studio fell on hard times, not to mention that at one time there was discussion about up-converting the picture to 3D. After a long, long wait (albeit a rather quiet one given that not many people talked about the film) here is what many people are describing the best horror film in recent years...and by a country mile at that.
No plot synopsis. If you have seen the film, you know why. If you have not seen the movie, you'll be thankful afterwards. The marketing for this movie is, in some ways, very much along the same lines as the marketing for last year's Hugo, in that the trailers revealed but one half of the movie's overall story. We all saw the Hugo trailers and thought it was interesting that Scorsese a) chose to do a family film about a homeless kid who works train station clocks and b) chose to flex his directorial muscles with 3D only to learn while watching the movie that c) it was really about the historical and emotional value of film as an art form and as entertainment.
Cabin in the Woods is, of course, no family film, but the trailer basically does the same thing: a group of young adults head to the woods for a weekend of alcohol and sex, only to be hunted down by mysterious creatures. That's 50% of the film with the other half venturing into totally unexpected territory. It was a fun time, seeing it on a Friday night with a packed theatre. Cabin earns the laughs when it aims for them, although the gags seem to be more for the sake of making the film even more fun than it already is, which is different from the purpose gags in horror films usually serve, which is to relieve the tension within the audience and let them breath a little. Is that to say that Cabin has no scares? Well, it depends on what sort of movie goer one is. If one scares easily, then it may be safe to assume that they will shriek a few times, but it should mean something that on opening Friday night in packed theatre room nobody, at least not to my recollection, released any yells of horror. We all laughed or cheered all the way through. The reason why there are not many scares does, in fact, have to do with this mysterious other 50% I keep referring to. This review is getting pretty complicated to write the more one tries to remain secretive and cagey about the details, ugh. Suffice to say that while the final third is a tad (just a tad) overwritten, the overall film is barrels of fun, with plenty of real surprises that go much further beyond any horror fanboy service. Because of the nature of the plot, Cabin actually proves to be, dare it be said, provocative. Provocative within the parameters of a mainstream horror film, but there is something smart going on here nevertheless.