Tag Archives: Horror

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

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