Vampires, birdwatchers and gun-runners, the latest DVD releases review

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Vampires, birdwatchers and gun-runners are all on the agenda as Paignton film critic Tom Leins reviews this week’s weirdest DVD releases.

Matt Reeves found his career prospects boosted immeasurably in 2008 when his old friend JJ Abrams plucked him out of obscurity to direct the monster movie pet-project Cloverfield. For his follow-up Reeves took the brave – some might say foolish – decision to remake cult Swedish vampire flick Let The Right One In.

Relocated to 1980s New Mexico, Let Me In (Icon) follows an almost identical narrative trajectory to its predecessor, despite the director claiming that he was reworking the original novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, rather than the earlier movie. Whatever Reeves’ chief inspiration was, it seems churlish to complain, as Let Me In is a haunting, evocative piece of work – every bit as memorable as Let The Right One In.

The movie focuses on Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Road), a shy, lonely youngster who is ignored by his mother and bullied mercilessly at school. When enigmatic Abby (Chloe Moretz, Kick-Ass) moves in next door, Owen quickly gravitates towards to his fellow outsider, only to learn that she is actually a vampire. As the pair form a profound bond, Abby struggles to keep her blood-lust in check, and their small New Mexico town is plagued by a spate of grisly assaults. But how long can these misfits survive in a town that reeks of death?

The increasingly dreary Twilight saga may continue to hog the headlines, but the disturbing Let Me In is superior in every way, and should be made compulsory viewing for fans of the insipid crowd-pleasers. What’s more, with two inventive – and utterly different – horror movies to his name, Reeves has all but eliminated ghastly memories of his first Hollywood job – writing the script for the deeply dubious Steven Seagal sequel Under Siege 2: Dark Territory!

Based on the cult novel of the same name by Cris Freddi, Pelican Blood (Icon) is an off-kilter drama set in the world of obsessive bird-watchers, or ‘twitchers’ as they like to be known. Nikko (Devon’s own Harry Treadaway) is a precocious young man, balanced precariously on the edge of sanity following a botched suicide attempt. Reunited with his feisty ex-girlfriend Stevie (Emma Booth), Nikko finds himself embroiled in an increasingly volatile relationship, which has an inevitably detrimental effect on his fragile state of mind. Nikko reveals to Stevie that he intends to kill himself when he reaches the self-imposed target of 500 rare birds, but will his equally unhinged lover pull him back from the brink or push him over the edge?

Treadaway is in typically intense form as Nikko, and he just about carries the film through its unconvincing moments. That said, his awkward character is very difficult to warm to, leaving the film dangerously short of heart. Furthermore, Pelican Blood seems hopelessly in thrall to the Trainspotting school of movie-making, and its photogenic cast and hipster soundtrack struggle to paper over the cracks. Sadly, none of the ingredients really click into place, and Pelican Blood feels simultaneously dated and desperate to impress with its ‘edgy’ credentials. Although it is never less than watchable, the slack narrative and lack of killer scenes render it something of a wasted opportunity.

When their small plane starts to malfunction mid-way through a domestic flight, a group of five teenage friends find themselves sucked into a hellish Twilight Zone-esque neverland where nothing is as it seems. So begins Canadian horror movie Altitude (Anchor Bay). Despite an intriguing premise, within minutes of taking off the movie degenerates into a shrill, hysterical slanging match, and the assortment of aggravating stock characters turn the film into a painful endurance test. What’s worse, of the actors playing the teenagers, none are particularly convincing, and their advanced ages (one of them is 31!) only serves to increase the film’s ridiculous quality. Admittedly, the claustrophobic aspect of the film does work pretty well, although the aggravating cast don’t have to try too hard to convince you that this is an environment you wouldn’t want to be trapped in…

Comic book writer-turned-director Kaare Andrews does a solid job with his first directorial feature, but the unconvincing material doesn’t give him much of an opportunity to shine. It’s a shame that Andrews couldn’t persuade the studio to let him adapt his best known comic – Spider-Man: Reign – instead, as a story about a middle-aged Peter Parker plunged back into web-slinging duties would be far more interesting than this hopelessly overwrought concoction. Frightful stuff.

Of all of the rappers-turned-actors currently plying their trade in Hollywood, 50 Cent is arguably one of the least convincing. Coming soon to a bargain bin near you is Gun (Icon), a ham-fisted urban thriller about self-assured gun-runner Rich (50 Cent) who forms a ‘special bond’ with Angel (Val Kilmer), a shadowy figure who saves his life when a gun-deal spirals out of control. But who is Angel, and can Rich really trust him? Back in 2009 50 Cent and Val Kilmer starred together in New Orleans-based cop thriller Streets of Blood, and the pair evidently got on well, as they seem to be making as many movies as possible together (the next one, Blood Out, is already poised for release). Quite what malevolent hold 50 holds over Kilmer is ripe for speculation, as there is no real reason why an actor of Val’s calibre would want to appear in a movie this half-baked.

Although Kilmer’s career may have hit the skids in recent years, he is still capable of pulling a great performance out of the bag when necessary (witness his grizzled turn in prison movie Felon for proof). Unfortunately, this is one of the laziest performances of his career, and he barely registers a flicker of interest throughout. James Remar and Paul Calderon add a degree of kudos to the proceedings, but Danny Trejo is merely distracting in his one-scene cameo. Despite his frequent film projects, 50 Cent’s acting range is as sorely limited as ever, and his delivery borders on the unintelligible at times. In truth, it’s hard to shake the feeling that Gun is nothing more than an extended vanity project designed to inflate 50’s already-swollen ego.