Tag Archives: Horror

Color Out of Space

[2.75 stars]

Tackling HP Lovecraft is an act of hubris most of the time, especially if done in complete earnest rather than humor (such as Cast a Deadly Spell).  But what do you expect when you’re dealing with subjects like elder gods that can make you insane just by looking at them? It isn’t easy to make that serious and genuine without a nod and a wink.

Despite the risk, Color Out of Space tackles the material head-on. And there are some good aspects to the result. The cinematography and production design of the landscape are exceptional. However, the script and direction by Richard Stanley (Hardware) lacks credibility for almost every character. The only one even close to believability is Elliot Knight (Life Sentence). However, I will admit happily that the script doesn’t talk down to its audience. There is a lot of subtle and unexplained action where the answers are in the background or obvious when paying attention.

I can’t say I understand why Joley Richardson (Emerald City) agreed to join this adventure, but credit to her for committing to it utterly. And Tommy Chong (Zootopia) adds a certain sort of meta fun to it all. The two young adult actors, Madeleine Arthur (Magicians) and Brendan Meyer (The OA), tackle what they can with what they’ve got. Sadly, poor Julian Hilliard (Haunting of Hill House) is only allowed to stare emptily most of the time rather than exercise any real craft. And despite a lot of chatter likening this to Nick Cage’s recent Mandy, this film at least has an understandable and semi-logical plot (as logical as Lovecraft ever was). It does, however, allow Cage to cut loose again as he loses his grip on control and reality.

Perhaps the best way to think of this is as a horror version of Annihilation since it shares some ideas at the root. Color Out of Space, however, veers away from Annihilation’s intellectual path and quickly devolves into a slaughter-fest once it gets going. I can’t say that the resolution and implications are exactly clear, even with some of the explanation, but at least it tries to wrap it up into something complete. Ultimately, this is going to depend on your personal taste. I would have been fine if I hadn’t seen it, even having appreciated some of its better qualities, but if you love Lovecraft or enjoy purely grim slasher events, this may fill the bill at a reasonable level for you.

Color Out of Space

The Pale Horse

[3 stars]

Sarah Phelps (The ABC Murders) is becoming the preeminent adapter of Agatha Christie. Her skills are best when she sticks close to the original material, as she did for Ordeal By Innocence. But when we she veers from that material, like The ABC Murders, the work is less worthy. It should be noted that she also works outside Christie’s ouvre, with intriguingly built adaptations like Dublin Murders. In other words, the writer/creator has chops.

The Pale Horse is one of those lesser known, rarely (if ever?) produced stand-alone Christies. Previous incarnations of it dragged it inappropriately into the Marple or Poirot worlds, as I recall. It is, as a book, still in the cozy category, with a pair of intrepid lovers discovering and solving a string of murders. Phelps reconceives the tale as something closer to Turning of the Screw crossed with Crime and Punishment, bringing it squarely into the psychological horror arena and putting the lovers at odds with one another. It has a highly stylized presentation, with a lot of creep factor; think Midsommar (the horror film, not the series).

Led by, and generally through the eyes of, Rufus Sewell (Judy), the story begins as a dark mystery of loss and fear and spins out from there. As a horror story it is effective, if not entirely satisfying by the end. Kaya Scodelario (Maze Runner: The Death Cure) gets to stretch her muscles into a role that is more adult than teenager for the first time. Her stressed 60s housewife is both darkly funny and depressing. Sean Pertwee (Gotham), on the other hand, gets somewhat abused as Inspector Lejeune. And Bertie Carvel (Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell) has some fun in the mix, getting to wear a pair of the ugliest dentures ever seen on TV. But, generally, all of the cast do well filling out the world, victims, and those pulling the strings.

Perhaps part of the delivery gap of this series is down to young director Leonora Lonsdale. This is only her second full-length delivery. While the result, absent context, is fun, she allowed Phelps script to lead her too far astray from the source material. Depending on your relationship with Christie, your opinion and enjoyment of the story will vary. It is definitely not a light tale of murder on the green, but it is a complicated and layered tale of loss and greed, with just a suggestion of the supernatural.

Ready or Not

[3 stars]

I wanted to like this silly satire more than I did. To its credit, it doesn’t even pretend to try to surprise. The movie’s opening scene lays out for you the mystery and some roots for the resolution. The rest is just snarky comments and mayhem. Certainly it can be entertaining, but it is no Cabin in the Woods, Bad Time at the El Royale, or even Knives Out, though it shares aspects of each. What it is missing, as compared to any of these, is layers. It’s a simple popcorn distraction.

What makes it work, as far as it does, is the complete commitment of the actors; Samara Weaving (Picnic at Hanging Rock), Adam Brody (Life Partners), Mark O’Brien (Marriage Story) in particular. These three have the only emotional conflicts and complexity to them. Though Nicky Guadagni (Suspiria) has a subtle sort of path to follow, and is a hoot and it was fun to see Kristian Bruun (Orphan Black) even if he really wasn’t given much to do.

If you’re looking for some bloody distraction with some amusing, if obvious, humor, this is your treat. There isn’t much more to it than that, and the ending is both oddly satisfying and weirdly disappointing. To its credit, at least it doesn’t go for cheap ways to try and build a franchise.

Ready or Not

Slaughterhouse Rulez

[3 stars]

Whenever Simon Pegg (Terminal) and Nick Frost (Fighting With My Family) are involved, even just as actors and producers, you know it isn’t going to be a straight-forward story. Slaughterhouse Rulez reteams them with Crispian Mills’s (A Fantastic Fear of Everything) for a coming-of-age bording school black comedy…with an eco-message and monsters and not a few oblique swipes at Harry Potter and a dash of St. Trinian’s thrown in.

That crazy salad aside, there is little to surprise in Mills’s script; it’s all about the delivery. And Mills got the talent to deliver it with for sure. Michael Sheen (Dolittle), Margot Robbie (Bombshell), Asa Butterfield (The Space Between Us), and Tom Rhys Harries (Hunky Dory) carry a good part of the story. However, like Kingsman: The Secret Service, it finds in Finn Cole (Peaky Blinders) the pleeb in us all to let us root for someone to survive, as much as you do engage on that level.

Because it isn’t riffing on a specific genre, like Shaun of the Dead, it doesn’t have quite the same underlying punch or support. That doesn’t make it unfunny, just not quite as focused and digestible. But the reality is that either you like this kind of comedy or you don’t. If you do, give this the time. If you don’t, there are better options out there to try it out.

Slaughterhouse Rulez

Midsommar

[4 stars]

Looking for something different in your horror? This may be the answer. Like his Hereditary from last year, writer/director Ari Aster’s lastest takes a page from horror past from tales such as The Wicker Man (and a bit of an “Hereditary in the sun vibe”). It isn’t about blood and guts, it is about human frailty and weakness. If there is a supernatural element, it is purely as part of the psychotropic drugs used by the characters in the film.

What sets Aster’s work apart is the level of detail he puts into his worlds. Midsommar has a deep mythos and culture governing its world and characters. It isn’t unpredictable…you’ll likely know exactly where it’s going early on. But that’s OK. It works because of how it slowly reveals itself in inventive and, often, unexpected ways. Aster continues to improve his craft with this film, showing he has a very trained eye and a unique voice. As challenging as his films are, he is someone I’ll continue to pay attention to regardless of content.

Aster’s other gift is in casting. While the structure of the movie will pull you along, it’s Florence Pugh (Little Women) that really serves as lynch pin holding the whole thing together. Her raw performance often grabs you by the throat even as you want to shake her and make her choose differently. Her journey through Aster’s world is complicated and, often, uncomfortable. Pugh makes this movie work the way that Collette raised Hereditary to a different level.

Pugh’s story is, at least initially, driven by her association with Jack Reynor (On the Basis of Sex), William Jackson Harper (The Good Place), and Will Poulter (Black Mirror: Bandersnatch). None of these men are paragons of, well, just about anything. That is clear from the beginning, but their presence is essential as part of the facets Midsommar reflects upon. If there is a fault here, it is that they are not really sympathetic, which makes them and their journeys less interesting. They aren’t unrealistic (entirely) but they aren’t anyone you really care about.

So for some creepy, beautifully appointed horror, Midsommar is a solid choice. It isn’t fast, but it is intense.

Midsommar

Dracula (2019)

[4 stars]

I’m not here to stake Dracula, but to praise him. Well at least Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss for their imaginative retelling of Stoker’s classic. The two used their Sherlock chops to capture the original’s sense and structure, but recast it and the dialogue into something more digestible for today’s audience.

Gatiss (Christopher Robin) also took the plum bit part of Renfield for himself. Who can blame him, it is always a tasty role.

But while Claes Bang (The Square) burns up the screen as a rather self-aware Dracula, it is Dolly Wells (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) who steals this show utterly. Her alacrity with language and facility with accent set her apart. She really has the best lines as well. Which isn’t to say the rest of the cast isn’t strong. They are, and many are recognizable from earlier Moffat/Gatiss collaborations. Outside of the known ensemble, there was also a nice showing by Matthew Beard (Vienna Blood) and Lydia West (Years and Years) in smaller roles sequestered to the third episode and a nice, if type-cast role, for Patrick Walshe McBride (Shakespeare & Hathaway).

The 3 90-minute episodes allow the story to expand in ways that a 2 hour movie just can’t manage. We get depth and scope as well as answers (some clever, and some inconsistent) and a solid parallel to the book that is usually a jumping off point rather than template. That said, the series definitely departs radically from the book in specifics, but somehow retains the intent and purpose, making it the most authentic version I’ve seen. Even the ending, which is not exactly satisfying (to say the least), best mirrors Stoker’s final pages as compared to other adaptations (the book ending was challenging as well).

Overall, this is an emotionally and intellecutally dense portrait of Dracula, with enough of all the bits we’ve particularly loved about this tale over the last 123 years (sex, violence, murder, seduction, romance). Moffat and Gatiss yet again prove they can take dated, original material and honor it without just slavishly following it.

 

 

Child’s Play (2019)

[3 stars]

The Child’s Play series hit its peak with Bride of Chucky, to my mind. This reboot of the series tries to recapture that self-awareness and humor to keep the horror and mayhem moving along. It is a mixed success.

Tyler Burton Smith’s script, his first, is clever, even if it’s cloaking his very relevant idea in an old franchise to sell it. But director Lars Klevberg (Polaroid) doesn’t quite find the tone or pull the needed performance from his young lead, Gabriel Bateman (Dangerous Book for Boys), despite the kid’s chops. Bateman is generally OK, but often goes shrill, ruining the moments. On the other hand, Beatrice Kitsos (Exorcist) navigated her smaller role with real charm and ability, taking control when necessary, deftly.

But the actual best part of the film is the throw-away humor from Brian Tyree Henry (Hotel Artemis). Henry’s role is more than a little forced into the story, but he lifts the film nicely every time he comes on screen. However, Aubrey Plaza (Ingrid Goes West), who should have been a natural for this material and venue, was a bit lackluster and not always credible as the struggling mom.

One amusing surprise was Mark Hammill’s voice work for our new electronic Chucky. He stayed suitably saccharine, and then deftly flipping to rude, crude, and evil.

Overall, this isn’t a bad distraction. It isn’t a great one either. The core idea didn’t need to be shoe-horned into an existing property, but it was probably the only way to get it made and distributed by a studio. But in shifting the core reason for the bloodlust, it loses something. The whole idea behind the series, that of a trapped, evil soul unwilling to give up on life and his mission carries a bit more terror with it than just having your Alexa going psycho. The end result is some chuckles, some shocks, and a good deal of splattering blood without a lot of real, existential terror. A shame as the truth behind the plot is a bit terrifying and affects just about everyone these days (he wrote, staring at the ominous plusing of the blue ring on his Echo)…

The Boy (2015)

[2 stars]

Motels and psychopaths go together like cookies and milk, or so the modern lore would have us believe (and not a few true tales of mayhem). But I didn’t know that was the focus of this movie going in. Based on the description I’d read, the story sounded something more like traditional supernatural horror of some sort. I was incorrect. I also came to this movie for Rainn Wilson (Backstrom) and David Morse (Horns), two actors I enjoy and who often deliver complex, interesting characters. While they both certainly delivered on that aspect, neither was the lead.

The focus of this story is really the young son of Morse’s character, played by Jared Breeze. He is the quintessential dissaffected youth. Though in his case it is due to isolation, maternal abandonment, and well, something not quite right inside. Breeze comes across as suitably creepy and even a little bit sympathetic at the beginning. But he is quickly identifiable as a sadistic sociopath in the making. And, lucky us, we get to watch his blooming.

Whether or not this was the story I wanted to see, it still might have pulled me in. But the pace dragged for me as it is about as subtle and inevitable from the opening moments as you can get. And, frankly, there isn’t a totally likeable character to latch onto in the story. Director/writer Craig William Macneill (Lizzie) delivered us Brightburn without the superpowers and with no handle into the family. Though, unlike Brightburn, this depiction takes us on many more small steps and, to Macneill’s credit, through very uncomfortable moments.

Entertaining is not a term I’d use for this journey, so beware before you check into the Mountain Vista Motel. The slow burn train wreck of a tale may be for you. It really wasn’t for me.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

[3 stars]

Solid, classic horror done with just enough self-awareness and creativity to keep it fresh is rare. Scary Stories dances along that line like some kind of refugee from decades past. But unlike Stranger Things, it isn’t so much tongue-in-cheek as it is honest with its characters. Director André Øvredal (Trollhunter) managed to keep the story somewhere between real and fantasy in its feel, though clearly lensing the world through eyes of a young teen.

Zoe Margaret Colletti (Skin) is the solid spine of this movie. Her confidence and vunlerability sell the possibility of the story. She has a cadre of followers in Michael Garza (Wayward Pines), Gabriel Rush (The Grand Budapest Hotel), and Austin Zajur. They, of course, have their nemeses in the guise of nasty high schoolers…complicated by the supernatural.

Dan and Kevin Hagerman (Hotel Transylvania) joined with Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water) to pull together a clever script that manages to maintain the sense of a horror anthology but pulled together into a solid and seamless story. The ending is a little empty, but the journey getting there was better than I expected. As a fun distraction, it was a good evening for snacks and rain pounding on the windows.

 

The Dead Don’t Die

[3 stars]

Is there anything quite as indie as a Jim Jarmusch (Paterson) movie? His latest foray into genre isn’t quite as sharp as his last, sadly, but it is still full of dark, flat humor. The Dead Don’t Die is more of a satirical/meta take on the zombie apocalypse rather than an exploration of what the condition might mean to characters. But the humor is unique and fun. And the story, while unashamedly inevitable, has plenty of surprises.

Part of those surprises is the cast. Jarmusch has always had his stable of actors. Tilda Swinton (The Souvenir) for one, Bill Murray (Zombieland) for another. Along with Adam Driver (The Man Who Killed Don Quixote), the three really drive the story, but they’ve plenty of help from others, like Tom Waits (Old Man & the Gun), Chloë Sevigny (Golden Exits) and Steve Buscemi (The Death of Stalin). Jarmusch is also great at getting his actors to work against expected type. While broad in its approach, everyone remains very grounded and matter of fact. Not quite naturalistic, but definitely not the high drama of your typical horror film either. It is a quiet, if bloody, apocalypse.

What the story lacks is something more than the sly genre humor and in-your-face societal slams. There isn’t a lot being said that is new nor anything being done in a particularly special way (absent one amusing take on zombie focus). Perhaps that is, in part, due to the speed and challenges of its filming? However, if you like his work as I do, you’ll like this latest. It was definitely an enjoyable time spent for me.