Tag Archives: Horror

Get Out

Wow. Just, wow.

Probably the best horror film I’ve seen in ages. It has only one open question (resolved about 2/3 through) and one surprise; it derives its horror from how real it all feels. It is honest and rarely keeps you waiting when you’ve gotten ahead of it. That allows you to feel the tension of Daniel Kaluuya’s (Sicario) character to the fullest. He never comes off as dumb. He unpuzzles the plot as fast as the audience and acts. Part of what makes it so scary is the feeling that he really can’t avoid the inevitable. It is a powerful and compelling performance.

Helping that along are some equally solid performances by Bradley Whitford (Saving Mr. Banks) and Allison Williams (Girls). The rest of the family is a bit less believable with Catherine Keener (Begin Again) being marginal, but intriguing, and Caleb Landry Jones (Stonewall) just feeling out of control. I think that was writer and first-time director Jordan Peele’s intent, but I wish he had reined it in more to keep it just a bit less obvious.

However, as the horror of the situation unfolds, we are swept along. It is uncomfortable and frustrating, embarrassing and angering. And, yes, pretty terrifying, but not in a monster-going-to-eat-your-face way, but more in a this-feels-almost-like-it-could-happen way. It makes Peele a great choice for the upcoming series adaptation of Lovecraft Country, which also has to walk that line. (Also a book I highly recommend.)

But Get Out goes beyond just the typical horror movie/teen angst level. There is a sociological aspect to this movie. It will be taught in years to come in universities and high schools by those brave enough to do so. The resonance of the tale, both as personal nightmare and social commentary is loud and disturbingly clear.

If this had released even 8 years ago (maybe less), it would have felt like propaganda or blaxploitation. In today’s times of stress and fear it comes across more as object lesson and metaphor. What is white privilege? What is it to abandon your own culture or have it co-opted? We get a complete spectrum of the latter with LilRel Howery (Carmichael Show) at one extreme end, Kaluuya as a middle ground, and Lakeith Stanfield (War Machine) at the far extreme end, with two painful touch-points by Marcus Henderson (Pete’s Dragon) and Betty Gabriel (Good Girls Revolt) as the family help. It isn’t, of course, that straight forward, but from an academic standpoint it is ripe for debate and examination. Add to it the realities of the plot itself, once revealed, and it is even more powerful.

This film had a huge reception in theaters, earning $250M worldwide. And while $$s aren’t always the best way to judge a film, in this case it is a great measure of the chord it struck. This isn’t an easy film to watch, but it is well done, well conceived. Like Hell or High Water, it is a movie of its time, though with frankly much more meat to the bone. If you somehow missed Get Out, make time for it. It is a great ride that also happens to comes with a message. If nothing else, it is guaranteed to start a conversation.

Get Out

The Devil’s Backbone (El espinazo del diablo)

Between making Mimic and Hellboy, Guillermo del Toro (Crimson Peak) co-wrote and directed this creepy piece of horror in a 1930s Spanish orphanage. It is loaded with trademark elements of del Toro (underground venues, visually disturbing images, odd characters). Backbone sits somewhere between classic and modern horror films in its approach. It is much more loaded with suspense than gore, but it also tackles subjects that are disturbingly human. The visual metaphor of the unexploded bomb is also a fascinating bit of understated drama and comment.

The Criterion disc is filled with extras. Perhaps the most intriguing bit of information was the guidance from del Toro that Backbone was intended as a companion piece for Pan’s Labyrinth.  There is a certain visual synergy between the two, though the later film was so strongly influenced by his Hellboy efforts that it is leaps ahead in the production design. But the essentials of the effects of war on children remain a constant.

If you’re looking for a del Toro you’ve missed or are in need of a quieter form of horror in counterpoint to most of what’s out there now, this could fill the bill.  It isn’t his best, or even his most entertaining from that time period, but it is solid and, with Pan’s an interesting set of commentaries.

The Devil

Thale

Aleksander Nordaas’ award winning bit of cinema is one of those rare films that lives in the horror genre but manages to transcend it as a story. This tale lives somewhere between suspense, horror, and fantasy by focusing on the characters, mystery, myth, and story. Most horror forgets that good story is based on characters, not just about setting up mildly interesting characters so they can be killed off in spectacular ways.

This is a very short film (81 minutes). While there is certainly some carnage (and perhaps a bit too much vomiting at the top) most of the film is dialogue and relationship work. You get to know the four main characters and, to some degree, understand and sympathize with all of them. It is, in some ways, reminiscent of Spring in its feel and approach. It is, at time, beautifully filmed, but also quite good at stretching the tension to provide a good ride.

Thale

Split

There are two things that you expect from any M. Night Shyamalan (The Visit) film. The first is tight construction that leaves virtually no thread loose by the end of the film. Split certainly delivers on its tight plotting. Shyamalan is also known for his twist endings. And, for a change, this movie doesn’t rely on that. There are gifts and surprises in the film, but no real twist. Instead we get a well executed suspense/thriller that is riffing on some very real movements in the Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) community.

This film also continues Night’s push into small, intense stories with few characters. In this case, it is really driven by three actors. First and foremost is James McAvoy (Victor Frankenstein), who does a great job of flipping between identities. Anya Taylor-Joy (Morgan) holds her own against him, both directly and in her own scenes, as she attempts to survive while revealing her past to us. Finally, there is the great Betty Buckley who strikes the perfect tone of a caring but driven psychiatrist. The dance of these three characters is tense and, ultimately, explosive.

It is almost impossible to say more without slipping and giving away information, so I’ll wrap here. I had several points spoiled for me by ads and internet babble. Frustrating. Avoid all info if you can before watching it. If you like Shyamalan’s films or just good, tense thrillers, throw it in the hopper or turn on the stream. You won’t be disappointed.

Split

Blood Glacier

Yes, it is time for silly again. I needed some silly, and boy could I find it. You gotta love the hyperbole in a title like this one. I mean: Blood! Glacier! It is everything you’d expect, and perhaps just a little bit more. This crazy B-flick is an unabashed riff on The Thing, but with a more environmental message. The result: an over-the-top environmental horror.

It isn’t as bad as you’d expect with that set-up. There is some actual attempt in the script to make it all seem a bit more realistic. Of course it uses a lot of shortcuts, bad science, and even worse science characters. But it moves along crisply, has some amusing f/x, and doesn’t apologize for any of its predictability or its genre.

In its favor, it isn’t all splatter. A few of the characters are entertaining and even have a bit of a real story to go with them. It also has a couple strong female characters. And there is, of course, a twist(ish) ending; that’s the genre and you can see it coming for miles. There is an aspect to the plot which I did find a tad objectionable, but I understand why it was there and why it had to be such a strong choice. Still, I suspect many folks will cringe when it is revealed as it weakens one of the characters particularly badly.

I do suggest seeing it with the subtitles rather than the dub. I checked out the dub (evil curiosity) and it was really pretty bad. For a rainy night or just a silly afternoon, I kinda enjoyed this film, but this isn’t  a movie for everyone… but for those who it is for, you know who you are.

Blood Glacier

Witching & Bitching (Las brujas de Zugarramurdi)

Imagine From Dusk till Dawn in Spanish … and with witches rather than vampires… and you have some sense of this horror mash-up. It manages to ride the line of dark humor and midnight horror well, never quite flying off the rails of the genre it has embraced. And within that boundary it succeeds. That is a credit to director/co-writer Álex de la Iglesia (Oxford Murders). A more general assessment of it would be considerably less kind, but it isn’t pretending to swim in the big pool.

The acting is, by design, broad and unrealistic. This allows for a considerable amount of slapstick humor as well as situational. Eventually it provides the bedrock for the insanity that is the final act. Though full of well-awarded actors, only Javier Botet (Mama) had hit my radar before, and he is more often than not loaded down with heavy make-up so you could be forgiven for not recognizing him in this or previous roles.

Witching is a movie for popcorn lovers of horror. But, be warned, the subtitling is rapid fire. If your Spanish is strong, no problem. If it is weak or non-existent, prepare for a marathon. The movie is also full of splatter and intentional grotesqueries. It is a fun run, but not a brilliant one. It does really try to have complete throughlines, motivations, and plot at least. Sit down expecting nothing more than entertainment and you’ll likely have enough fun to make it worth your time.

Witching & Bitching

Life

You sit there at the end of this movie stunned… at just how bad and predictable it was. It is almost as if they just gave up as they realized what they had and edited it down to something approximating a good space-horror film before sending it out into the world to survive, or not.

It starts off promisingly enough. There is some light humor (thank you Ryan Reynolds [Deadpool]) near the top that suggests a good direction. There are nods to Alien in what is probably the best shot of the film from the opening sequence; what you think are titles turn out to be something else which is then followed by the title slate which does resemble the Alien logo. They knew what they had was a copy. But still, that is no excuse to have no characters… and I mean none. Characters are indicated, clichés put in place, and dialogue spoken that suggest actual individuals exist in this movie, but they don’t.

And if they did, allow me to state unequivocally they are all too bloody stupid to live. The number of obvious dumb decisions beggars imagination. Worse, no one, other than Rebecca Ferguson (The Girl on the Train) and Olga Dihovichnaya, appear to even know the ultimate risks and protocols that they signed up for.

Life never deserved the CPR that got it to screen after bouncing around the schedule. Despite some small attempts at biology, the Reese\Wernick script is embarrassing and worries for me for Deadpool 2, which they are also writing. However it does explain why Reynolds got all the good lines.

OK, to be fair, I’ve seen way worse in theater (yes, I speak of you Resident Evil: Final Chapter), but my expectations were a bit higher. An intelligent script alone would have helped. At least the f/x were good and no one was truly bad in their roles. I trusted the cast, which also included Jake Gyllenhaal (Nocturnal Animals) and Hiroyuki Sanada (Mr. Holmes), and Ariyon Bakare (Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell); but despite completely committing to the tale, they couldn’t Spackle-over the gaping holes and bad choices.  But that is about as much as there is to recommend here.

Skip this. Don’t even bother to rent it. I had gone knowing it was a shadow of a shade of an idea, but had no clue it was going to be so bad.

Life

The Girl With All the Gifts

You have to respect a horror film that really considers the biology and implications of their conceits. Zombie films, in particular, tend to be rather silly, even when fun. It has been a long while since I’ve seen a world where the science was derived from real life and thought through to give us a plot. Think 28 Days Later or Pitch Black (or even to some degree The Great Wall). Girl is a plague story with planned and realistic motivations, and with a script that doesn’t insult the viewer. In fact it goes places and considers issues with an incredible intelligence that belies its gory genre.

At the head of it all is the diminutive Sennia Nanua in her first major role. Expect to see more of her. She is confident and layered in her performance in a way that few young actors can achieve. She is supported by a talented adult cast as well. Paddy Considine (Miss You Already), Gemma Arterton (The Voices), Fisayo Akinade (Cucumber), and Glenn Close (The Great Gilly Hopkins) round out the main cast and become Nanua’s way to understand her world.

I have to believe that part of the reason for the success of this picture is the wide range of material under the directorial belt of Colm McCarthy. He does a great job of revealing the world and focusing the performances for Carey’s adaptation (of Carey’s own novel), navigating the genre without losing its humanity. McCarthy also understands the rhythms needed, keeping the emotional intelligence and human moments suitably calm so that the explosions of violence have impact. Even where it is predictable it is often unpredictable or satisfyingly complete; it never feels cheap. It is a rare that a director doesn’t give in to the histrionics and clichés in established horror tropes.

If you are looking for something fun and intelligent, this is your bowl of popcorn. It is full of action as well as thought and is every bit as good as you may have been hearing. If it weren’t for the genre, you’d probably have heard a whole heck of a lot more about it.

The Girl with All the Gifts

Ouija: Origin of Evil

There is something especially fun about movies that know what they are and embrace it. The first Ouija movie was entertaining. Not brilliant, but with enough originality to get me back for this prequel. This second installment knew it had an uphill battle. Going backwards rather than forward was a smart move for the story. But that opened other challenges… was their audience really going to be interested in a story from the late 60s, before a man had even orbited the globe?

To help tackle that, director Flanagan (Oculus) decided to embrace the nostalgia, much like Stranger Things. It opens with the Universal logo from the era and even has the marks on the film for reel changes (and occasional audio clues to reel changes as well). It doesn’t make the film better, but it acknowledges what it is and offers some amusing memories for those that even recognize what they’re seeing. That sensibility allows the necessary distance to just have fun with relatively well understood tropes.

Helping things along, Elizabeth Reaser (Hello, My Name is Doris), Annalise Basso (Captain Fantastic), and Lulu Wilson (The Millers) all bring great performances to what could have been laughable silliness. They are all endearing and believable. Wilson, in particular, manages a level of clinical evil that is nicely disturbing. And, completing the nostalgia trip (though about 20 years the wrong era), is Henry Thomas in a key role, who is best known as Elliot from E.T.

There are cheap scares in this film as well, but it is the credibility the 3 women bring to the screen that make it work as a horror movie. This film does bring the creepy and the disturbing… and nicely, though not unexpectedly, bridges to the first Ouija film if you stay through to the end of the credits. It isn’t anything particularly new, but it was a fun ride if you like these kinds of rides.

Ouija: Origin of Evil

Resident Evil (first to last)

Resident Evil, the original from 2002, is a surprisingly robust bit of entertainment. It is well paced, has good action, unexpected moments, a bit of humor, and a reasonable mystery. It also has a surprising cast. I’ve rewatched it many times always thinking I’ll just turn it off in a minute… only to be there when the final credits roll as a devastated Racoon City fills the screen. It is both a good ride and a commentary on hubris and the rise of corporate power. Despite being drawn from a video game, it took on its own life and became a success.

That success spawned 5 more movies whose total box office exceeds one billion dollars. That amount is even more shocking if you’ve followed the franchise down the drain as each successive movie got more ridiculous and less crafted (Apocalypse, Extinction, and Afterlife). By the 5th installment, Retribution, I’m not sure I could even tell you what the story is anymore, though there were attempts at nods back to the first of the movies to try and anchor it. Those attempts don’t work. Even the two interstitial animations (Degeneration, Damnation… and a third, Vendetta, due later this year) only serve to confuse things.

The Final Chapter (let us hope so) was much delayed due to timing conflicts for our heroine. In prep for seeing it, much like for Terminator: Genisys, I tucked in to rewatch the first and most recent of the series (not really wanting to invest time for the other 3 intervening films which were likely not necessary). For Terminator, this proved a necessity and a boon. For Resident Evil…

… remember a few days ago when I up-rated Snowden because it deserved to have a higher rating for its material and intent? Well, I’m down-rating Resident Evil: The Final Chapter for the same reason…

From the top, the movie attempts to rewrite its history and ignore implications. But as if that’s not enough, the filming is horrible, making fight scenes unwatchable, and the new plot is just utterly absurd, minus one nice small bit of thinking. I only watched the whole thing because we were in a theater and not at home, where it would have either been turned off or become the butt of a very nasty drinking game of “spot the stupidity.” Or, perhaps, “act out a better fight.” Resident Evil thrived on its fight scenes in the past, despite any other lacks in the script… but this last of the franchise can’t even stay that.

So, yes, skip this… with prejudice. The series never regained its footing after the second film, which still had some good qualities. Save your time and your money, and don’t reward shoddy work and insults to the fan base. Cause I promise you, you help this earn money through tickets or rentals or by any means and you empower other filmmakers to slap you around with impunity.