Tag Archives: Horror

The Mummy (2017)

[2.5 stars]

This movie was clearly in trouble from the first few moments with the silly voice-over and set up. It then went on to try and recapture the 1999  sense of humor, but misses completely. The relationship between Tom Cruise (Eyes Wide Shut) and Annabelle Wallis (King Arthur) isn’t compelling and Jake Johnson (Jurassic World) doesn’t come across as either a soldier nor suitable side-kick for Cruise.

The original 1932 Mummy is kitschy, but also a wonderful classic. The 1999 remake is filled with action and humor. There have been many spin-off and sequels based on this Universal monster over the 80+ years of its life on screen. So if you’re going to do it yet again, especially to launch a new monster-universe franchise, you’d think the studio would spend some time on the script. I’m not sure how they went wrong, but having six writers involved couldn’t have helped no matter how successful most of them have been on their own in the past.

I have to admit, the ideas and intent were interesting, at least on aspects of the mummy part. But the script and story are simply put: crap. And I won’t even touch the Russel Crowe (The Nice Guys) Dr. Jekyll role, who apparently would be a bridging component between the planned movies. But let’s talk about some of the issues (and only some and a tad spoilery, but nothing that really matters since you’ll know it all going in):

  • Why, when you have an ultimate evil well imprisoned would you have a way to break them out of that prison already set up and ready to go
  • Crash victims are already in the morgue for identification while wreckage is still being discovered and burning
  • Consecrated warriors are taken over by “evil” without a struggle or even a nod to the power of the faith the movie tries to make into reality
  • And let’s talk about the Westernization of Egyptian myth. Set is neither evil nor the devil. He is the ruler of wild lands, the deserts, foreign lands, and the storm, and protects the Boat of Ra during the night journey when it is threatened by the serpent monster of chaos, Apep. (Thanks, Matt, for the detail and correction.) And he isn’t a monster, as stated in the script. To paraphrase one of the great moments in Buffy: he’s a god.
  • Then there was all the distracting nods to other horror films like An American Werewolf in London and Night of the Living Dead (pick a version)
  • The decisions around how to solve the main problem of the tale are a stretch at best and stupidly risky as worst. For the love of a god, just break the offending object of power and be done with it!

But it wasn’t just script choices, and there were so many more, the direction of the characters was often weak and ill conceived.  Annabelle Wallis is completely non-credible as an archaeologist. Sure, she has her secrets and such, but her actions and reactions are all in service to the story to come rather than realistic reactions in the moment of the action. That is on the director Kurtzman more than her, but it was very frustrating and weakened her character.

Generally, this movie was a weak mess that has some entertainment value, but a whole lot of meh (to quote some friends). I leave it entirely up to you if you want to watch it. I won’t be putting it on again, if that is any help in your decision making.

The Mummy

 

 

It Comes at Night

[2 stars]

You have to give this movie credit for being what it wants to be: an intensely personal look at the dissolution of society after an unidentified catastrophe. Basically it asks, “What price, survival?” We’ve seen a lot of these in recent times (a subject I won’t go into here) but this is one of the weaker executions. Both Girl With All the Gifts and Into the Forest manage something more compelling and with better commentary.

The issue, however, isn’t with the acting. Joel Edgerton (Loving), Carmen Ejogo (Alien: Covenant), Kelvin Harrison Jr. (Enders Game) give life to the main family. Christopher Abbot (Martha Marcy May Marlene) and Riley Keough (The Discovery), provide another perspective and a bit of suspense and tension. Sadly, however, no answers. In all cases the families feel real, given the situation.

The weakness in this tale is the story itself. Trey Edward Shults follows up his critical hit Krisha with this latest foray into familial horror. Told primarily from the point of view of a teenage boy, we get a lot of suggestion, but little real resolution. And the ending is both obvious and pointless, and a tad out of left field. Initially the story has many elements of reality and dreams as Travis gets more and more sleep-deprived, whether due to sickness or stress we wait and see. The construct is an interesting aspect to the family’s predicament. However, it never pays off and we’re left wondering about far too much as the path that got us to the end just sort of peters out.

As a bit of tension and nihilist pondering, It Comes at Night succeeds. The film making itself is quite good. As a movie, however, at least for me, it felt unfulfilled and pointless.

It Comes at Night

Mindgamers

[2 stars]

I have to admit, thanks to the inclusion of Sam Neill (Hunt for the Wilderpeople) in this cast, not to mention the design of Enoch, I couldn’t get Event Horizon out of my head. There are aspects that make the two somewhat brethren, though they are movies with very very different intentions. Mindgamers is much more sf/horror while Event Horizon was really just horror with sf trappings.

Admittedly, though Neill is at the core of this story, the movie is driven by Tom Payne (Luck) and his group of hapless geeks. That group is completed with some competent and committed actors: Dominique Tipper (Girl with All the Gifts), Antonia Campbell-Hughes (Split), Oliver Stark (Into the Badlands), Turlough Convery (Poldark). It isn’t really entirely their fault that the script is oblique and over-written.

Working against or with them (depending on the scene and your interpretation) is Melia Kreiling (Last Tycoon). She brings a cool creepiness to her character, though very little depth. 

Director Andrew Goth and writer Joanne Reay  are frequent collaborators. You can sense the simpatico from script and vision to screen. The trip, for there is no better way to describe the result, is fluid and done without apology and with little explanation. It is clear that reality is something that isn’t defined crisply from very near the beginning. I actually applaud the guts of that approach, but the result wasn’t particularly great. A Cure for Wellness, for all its faults, tackled the psychological part of that much more effectively.

Basically, no, I can’t recommend this flick. Despite its amusing launch in theaters (a la William Castle) offering a mind-linked experience, the story just isn’t there for all the visual and choreography cleverness. Their locations also became a distraction for me as they were more interesting than the movie and and some were recognizable from other films (in particular, Spectral). So, my recommendation is either watch this highly altered or simply pass it by. Someone will do the theme better justice at some point.

MindGamers

Alien: Covenant

[3 stars] The main question that was raised when this latest installment of the Alien universe was announced was, “Why?” The previous film, Blow-metheus, as it is lovingly referred to in my circles, had a horrible script, confused expectations, and answered next to nothing about the Xenomorph and the moments that led to the original Alien, even though we’d been promised that. In fact, Ridley Scott (The Martian) confused matters further by denying what little seemed obvious in the film (whether it was Earth at the beginning or not) and obfuscated the overall plan.

Now comes Covenant, which takes place 10 years after the end of the previous movie (though there are problems with that timeline based on Fassbender’s statements as David). But this time we’ve a crew that is, generally, more believable with some exceptions I’ll get to. As colonists I gave them some latitude as to their space worthiness. However it is a science fiction movie as well as horror, and there are some gaffs that really pulled me out of the tale on that aspect.

There will be some minor spoilers in this discussion, but nothing that really matters.

Let’s start near the top with the neutrino burst that sets it all in motion. Do suns have these? Yes. However, neutrinos also have little to no mass and so you wouldn’t be blasted by such an event. A gamma ray burst, maybe, but not neutrinos. And why would a multiyear, sleeper ship be so fragile as to lose all power when one sail is out of alignment? There were better ways to set up these events to get to the same ends.

Then we get to the Star Trek silliness of the entire senior staff of the crew going down to explore the new planet. They are responsible for four thousand colonists (so we’re told, though who lived and died there changes from beginning to end of the movie), but are willing to just take off and leave almost no one awake aboard. Now we get to signs of civilization, which are apparently surprising despite the following of a signal (a signal in English, mind you).

These folks may not be hardened space farers, but they are supposed to be scientists…and yet they go mucking about, touching things and being generally stupid on their arrival, and not taking objects that would make sense (like the photo they find).

And then, with the players positioned on the board, the fun begins…the second of three parts that is supposed to, eventually, close the loop with the original Alien. (Notice I’m not even calling out the scene replications from Alien, Aliens, and the rest of the series that you could take as either homage or laziness.)

Right off the bat we have familiar Alien-like attacks and expectations. Though there is a minimal, core group of actors for the story, there are really just two main crew members who drive the tensions. Billy Crudup (20th Century Women), as acting captain is ineffectual and weak…which was disappointing. Crudup is a good actor, but he was directed by Scott to be unsteady from the start and we never respect him nor believe his religious fervor. His deterioration should have been gradual. On the other hand, Katherine Waterston (Inherent Vice) starts off tough. She, alone in the crew, appears to understand how things should be done despite any personal pain and sacrifice that is going on. She is our Ripley analog and overcomes a lot of the script to show us a solid leader and warrior…if not an intelligent one at times.

The rest of our characters, though set up in the opening scenes as competent individuals, suddenly change. For instance, the pilot, Carmen Ejogo (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), who had nerves of steel through the storm is suddenly a panicked, screaming mess causing mayhem. Callie Hernandez (La La Land) becomes a preening fool. The men fare no better, and the somewhat groundbreaking relationship of Demian Bichir (The Hateful Eight) and his lover is nice, but so glossed over as to be lost in the confused mess of the story and served no real purpose nor had any impact. In fact, if there is any constant in this film it is that the only lives that matter are the ones you, personally, care about. Everyone else’s lives are cheap…so, of course, it all falls apart.

The one steady element of all the Alien films has been the synthetics. Michael Fassbender (Song to Song) does a wonderful job as the semi-psychotic David and the even tempered Walter in this newest sequence. He also gets a great reference to Ozymandias, which is both amusing given Crudup’s turn in Watchmen, and probably far too arch for the type of film this really is.

But the reality is that, while there are the bones of an interesting story, the movie just isn’t that good. It is predictable, recognizable, thin on character and thinner on scares. The plot, the only reason to watch this prequel sequence, is getting stretched out over three films (assuming the next is ever made) and it will have to do backflips to get us to the ship with the Pilot in the original Alien. A place we already were in Prometheus, had Scott had the balls to just do one, simple film to close the series.

So why watch this uninspired, unsurprising sequel? Well, there are a couple reasons. It doesn’t really break new ground, but neither does it do it poorly. It just doesn’t entertain as much as it should because we’ve seen it all before and because we’re well ahead of the story regarding the “surprises.” There is also the dueling Fassbenders, which is great fun; watching him act is always a joy.

Is that enough to spend your time? Maybe. It is pure popcorn with a familiar refrain. It has good production values and some answers to burning questions. Fans of Alien wanted this to be so much more than it was, but it is what we’ve got to work with. The jury is still out as to whether any of it will ever make sense or be worth all the years of effort that have been pored into the endeavor.

Alien: Covenant

A Cure for Wellness

A Cure for Wellness has many layers and is definitely not for everyone. It isn’t a great movie, but it is worth seeing.

It is, at its core, a suspense/horror film very much in the vein of Frankenstein and Dracula, even a dash of Phantom of the Opera. But it isn’t a B-grade flick nor is it histrionic or intended to get you with cheap scares.

Balancing the classic influences, there are also nods to Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch and Kubrik’s Eyes Wide Shut. For the former, it is the thin veneer of reality and matter-of-fact absurdity of what is going on, as well as some of the sense of the imagery. From the latter, it is the use of a simple, repeating musical theme and, particularly near the end, a sequence that echos Eyes and a load of Argento and other films from the 70s including Rosemary’s Baby, The Wicker Man, and others.

Visually, the film is full of gorgeous cinematography by Bazelli. The composition and clarity of the shots will make you want to pause every few moments to really examine the detail and relationship of the various objects. It is painterly in its execution, but always in support of the story.

The story itself is somewhat obvious, but what is reality is somewhat not. There are clues, but it is ultimately contradictory, and the ending is nebulous at best. And yet, somehow this gorgeous, Gothic, mental trip to the Swiss Alps is mesmerizing, even with a 2.5 hour run. The whole is, somehow, more than its parts.

There are several nice, small performances, but are only three main roles that form the framework of the movie. Dean DeHaan (Valerian) as the lead isn’t any more likable than he is in other roles, but he has a bit more energy. Generally, I’m finding DeHaan to always have a cool distance, an odd disconnect between his voice and his physical movement that removes you from caring about him. It can be very effective when you aren’t intended to like him, but it makes it hard to even care about what happens to him.

On the other hand, Jason Isaacs (The OA) is wonderfully creepy. He rides the line between care and conspiring beautifully. And Mia Goth (Everest) is practically ephemeral, going through her inevitable changes in a controlled and believable progression. You can see why DeHaan is drawn to her, why anyone would be. And yet she also manages to have a layer of both innocence and poisonousness lurking beneath her surface, like a toxic flower.

As I suggested, the end feels like it could be read in many ways. It is a strong choice, but not a clear one. And I say this despite one of the characters providing an explicit meaning to the title and their philosophy…I just don’t think it covered all that was going on nor the last image. Honestly, I’m still not sure what I think the entire intent was, and that’s somewhat OK because I’ve plenty to chew on.

Director Gore Verbinski and writer Justin Haythe reteamed for this production after their somewhat confused and misfire of The Lone Ranger. Bazelli returned behind the camera again as well. Seeing their efforts in an unfettered venue, absent any expectations, gives me a much better sense of their creative scope. While the end-result is a little baffling, it is a ride I willingly took and continue to think about. Make time for this when you’re in a mood for something darkly beautiful but very different.

A Cure for Wellness

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