My Friend Dahmer

Jeffrey Dahmer murdered 17 men and boys in the Midwest United States between 1978 and 1991 before being captured and incarcerated. He would become one of America’s most infamous serial killers. This is the story before that story. Jeff Dahmer (Ross Lynch) is an awkward teenager struggling to make it through high school with a family life in ruins. He collects roadkill, fixates on a neighborhood jogger (Vincent Kartheiser), and copes with his unstable mother (Anne Heche) and well-intentioned father (Dallas Roberts). He begins to act out at school, and his goofball antics win over a group of band-nerds who form The Dahmer Fan Club, headed by Derf Backderf (Alex Wolff). But this camaraderie can’t mask his growing depravity. Approaching graduation, Jeff spirals further out of control, inching ever closer to the madness that was destined to overtake him. ‘My Friend Dahmer’ is written and directed by Marc Meyers, and is rated R for for disturbing images, adult language, teen drug use, drinking and sexual content, and for brief nudity.

‘My Friend Dahmer’ is a cautionary tale about observation. Through the eyes of those who knew him best, Jeffrey Dahmer was failed, living without the kind of love and acceptance that every single person living needs to survive. He was failed by his friends, family, teachers, school board, and all around community that ignored the signs of something much more powerful lurking beneath the quiet exterior of a kid just looking for attention. The one constant that rang true throughout this film is the cancer of loneliness that seemed to amplify Jeffrey’s metaphorical voice that was ringing in his head to expose what he was born to eventually become. Because of such, Meyers film feels like the most revealing look into the mind of one of America’s most gruesome serial killers, taking us through the many depositions in and around his tortured life that presented an roarschach test of possible answers for where to point the blame. The most responsible answer is everyone, and it’s in that stance where the film commands its audience to live with your eyes open at all times because the next Jeffrey Dahmer might be right under your nose the whole time.

As a narrative, ‘My Friend Dahmer’ is a bit of a coming of age story with a twist, in that this isn’t just a teenager maturing into what he was born to become, but also into something that terrified everyone else. To be honest, if you’re expecting a bloodbath of epic levels here, you will sadly be mistaken. ‘My Friend Dahmer’ isn’t fully a horror movie, but instead a psychological spin that puts the scattered pieces together and allows us to see the bigger picture from a step back. There are plenty of examples of broken relationships all around the boy that all collide with him on this demolition course that is lacking of any kind of intimacy for him to crutch the pressure onto. Because of this, I found it to be an entertaining sit in spades even if the entirety of the script is hearsay. Because the writer, Bergdorf, is a central character in the film, we rely on him to faithfully color in the lines of mystery for our own satisfaction. The problem is that Bergdorf himself wasn’t in but maybe forty percent of the scenes that are shown in the film, so there is that level of doubt from his script that makes you wonder just how authentic Dahmer’s solo scenes are to the story. With that said, Bergdorf as a writer feels like a valuable piece to the spectrum not only because he accomplishes the menacing presence of a young Dahmer, but also because he juggles it with this light-hearted atmosphere of teenage hormones humor that fills the air until the cloud of Jeffrey’s alienation overtakes the production whole.

For my enjoyment of being a local who lives only fifteen minutes from where these events took place, Meyers decision to shoot in and around Bath Township is one that pays great dividends to immersing yourself in the proper environment. This presents an extra added glee of being able to point out certain roads and buildings that still stand to this day that out of state audiences won’t fully grasp, giving it a surreal feeling full circle because these are the very same halls and roads that the killer once walked. How many biopics can confidently say that they shot in the exact same house that the original story took place? But because I have visited the former Dahmer house on many occasions and can see it fruitfully displayed on camera, I can appreciate the speculated difficulty that went into crafting such a solid truth to this picture. Most of the names remain untouched in the script, and the only change that I saw was that of the school buses that say Summit Township, instead of Bath Township.

The production does a mostly solid job of keeping out of the television movie-of-the-week category that can sometimes doom the immersion into a true story. The cinematography from Daniel Katz omits a kind of cheap aura to its shot selections, but I think this does wonders in feeding into the very look and fashions of 1978 that are depicted all over this film. On that ground, nothing felt outdated or out of place for the era that the story took place in, and I value a film even more that can paint such a picture without it feeling obvious or forced. What I mean is that sometimes a film can drive home a series of songs repeatedly or throw in a bunch of posters of 70’s pop culture to constantly remind you, but ‘My Friend Dahmer’ feels more confident in establishing these grounds more so in its visual compass instead of its physical properties, and it’s a decision that I feel goes miles in determining the kinds of hands-on decision making from the proper people without the interruption of Hollywood big wigs not willing to take the time to understand the character or the world that envelopes him.

As for performances, the majority are solid, but the overdone line reads of some extras were painfully obvious on a few occasions. These are nothing more than the occasional teacher or popular student characters who are clearly reading lines for the first time in their early careers, and thankfully don’t stick around for the long haul. What I can say positively begins with Ross Lynch giving a stirring revelation as the title character. Lynch commands Dahmer with the kind of patience and transfixing movements that faithfully keep your eyes on him at all times. What is so chilling about his performance is the cold stare from his facial reactions through any kind of atmosphere taking place around him, that hint that he’s got a dirty secret that only he knows. In addition to Lynch, Dallas Roberts was also good as Dahmer’s exhausted father Lionel, who feels like the last chance for Jeffrey in keeping him afloat. Lionel is the character who I reasoned with the most in this broken home kind of family, and the few sensitive scenes that he shares with Jeffrey feel like that warm breath that is needed in getting us through some very haunting chain of events that our young protagonist of sorts deals with on an almost daily basis.

THE VERDICT – ‘My Friend Dahmer’ is a cut above the rest in terms of credible real-life biopics that choose to get a step closer psychologically instead of settling for a Wikipedia summary. Though the film’s speculation can sometimes lead to noticeable patches of dry and direction-less scenes, the majority of Meyers provacative work feels sharp for the dissection. Held tightly by the breakthrough performance of Lynch, as well as the charms of a local familiarity in backdrops, and you have a film that Jeffrey would devilishly eat up.

7/10

Murder on the Orient Express

The search for a murderer on board has a group of strangers on the edge of their seats, in ‘Murder on the Orient Express’. Based on the 1934 novel of the same name by Agatha Christie, the film takes place in 1930s Europe, with famed detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) boarding the legendary Orient Express for a small break in between cases. While on board, he meets an interesting assortment of characters. One fellow passenger, Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp), implores Mr. Poirot to assist him while on the train as he fears for his well-being, though Poirot respectfully declines. The next morning, Ratchett is found stabbed to death. With the train halted due to snow build up on the tracks, and with the evidence and suspects piling up, Poirot finds himself diving into a case that could be his biggest and most mind-bending yet. ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ is directed by Kennth Branagh, and is rated PG-13 for violence and thematic elements.

Kenneth Branagh’s modern day adaptation of this legendary crime detective novel offers a dual respect of the past and present that brings to life a special hybrid of sorts for ‘Murder on the Orient Express’. While this was a story that was written over eighty years ago, there’s plenty of artistic merit and expression of modern mastery that instills life into this third live action adaptation, holding its place amongst the vast collection of today’s whodunnits? that establish little in the way of detective procedurals. This film to me was not only a character piece in the eyes of a world renowned detective, but also a thought-provoking narrative that does beg the question if murder is ever acceptable in the most avenging of ways possible. It certainly isn’t an easy thing to cast a near two hour plot in one claustrophobic train-car, but Branagh and his talented cast spin the gears of the wheels , opening up this one setting play in the most elaborate of ways that constantly elevates the tension with each passing clue of development that poisons the air like the swanky soap operas of yesterday that we just can’t get enough of.

This is first and foremost an ensemble piece, garnering with it a collection of top name billers to add prestige to its ages old formula. Branagh pulls double duty here like the few times that he has before, and his command and essence over the character of Poirot proves that if you want something done right, you do it yourself. As this experienced detective, Branagh breathes in a quirky, yet distinguished operational aspect to his madness, establishing why he is the name that everyone turns to in the longest of longshots. Aside from Branagh, I also enjoyed the performances of Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, and Willam Dafoe as suspects aboard this train. There is a big chance that the screenwriters take in the choice to not approaching these characters as anything more than one-dimensional suspects with very little exposition or screen time dedicated to their presence, but I feel that it pays off in spades because we are meeting these characters in the same way Poirot is; as questionable suspects, so I feel that to know too much would render their mysteries silent. Nobody is ever out of place or underwhelming in their displays, and even the brief work of Johnny Depp and Judy Dench prove that no role is too small in getting across the bigger point.

While this isn’t the widest example of free-range storytelling, the film’s investigation into this mystery offers plenty of meat to chew on in keeping the audience at bay. To me, this is a film that definitely has a better second half than first, and I say that because the opening minutes are at times a bit of a chore to get through, with forced humor of the Inspector Clouseau kind being inserted. It isn’t until about twenty minutes into the movie when we’re finally aboard this elegant train that is only one day from spinning out of control. Thankfully, the film does mature along with the subject matter that it encounters, leading to second and third acts in the film that strap on gloves to get ready for to get the hands dirty. One of my only problems with this story that dates back to its literary origin, is that once we find out the one coincidence that links these people together, the answer becomes apparently obvious in where the answer is heading. This to me happens a little bit early, leaving the remaining twenty minutes of film to soak in that question of murder that I asked in this writing earlier. The ending is satisfying, but it does so in a way that could’ve twisted the set-ups differently to present this as something different for the people who have already read or seen any of the two other movie adaptations.

The ending is something that I feel will be divisive amongst audiences, but I myself felt that it was just fine considering this is my fourth engagement with these characters and plot. Knowing this story once will kind of diminish in cliffhanging circumstance what kind of returns that you will get from something that offers very few changes. If you’re seeing this story for the first time in your life, then ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ version 2017 should steer you in the right direction for thrills and seedy developments that will constantly keep you guessing. To that degree, I share an air of jealousy for this being someone’s first dive into this plot, as I feel Branagh’s touch is no doubt the quit-essential precedent for a film in this series before or after this newest chapter. Like any human detective plot with honesty, the film ends without answering all of the questions, but as is life for motives that constantly keep us guessing.

One aspect that definitely should not be understated is in the gorgeous overall cinematography that Haris Zambarloukos displays with prestige in class. This is the Titanic of rolling trains, so everything from the elegant displays of crystal silverware and cozy surroundings does wonder in setting the stage fruitfully for this limited opportunity to tag along. In addition to this, Haris and Kenneth wow us with some intoxicating establishing shots of the many parallel weather patterns and scenery that always gives us something jaw-dropping to gaze at. But to prove that he isn’t just an actor, Branagh knows precisely where to point the camera, guiding us through the many train-cars effortlessly in manipulated one take long-shots that are meant to display the immensity of this setting and mystery that at the start feel completely wide open, but are later chopped down ruthlessly, relaying that the answer is getting closer and closer to the culprit. These aspects alone remind us the rare gifts that remakes can grant us; breathtaking views, luxurious tastes, and puppeteering behind the camera that can do so much with only so little.

THE VERDICT – Kenneth Branagh offers an entertaining upgrade on nearly every aspect of this old-fashioned murder mystery, with enough bends and curves to keep this a bumpy ride frequently. While the overall mystery becomes surrounded with a cloud of convolution, the touch of craft filmmaking involving scene-stealing camera work, overrides those problems, offering a pleasant taste of a golden age of Hollywood production where this train departed from. In lesser hands, this film collapses on its tracks, but the double duty of Branagh as the captain provides enough coal in the engine to power us through.

7/10

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Visionary director Yorgos Lathimos offers us another dive into the deep end of cinematic immersion, in his newest provocative piece ‘The Killing of A Sacred Deer’. Dr. Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) is a world renowned cardiovascular surgeon presiding over a spotless household with his ophthalmologist wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and their two exemplary children, 12-year-old Bob (Sunny Suljic) and 14-year-old Kim (Raffey Cassidy). Lurking at the margins of his idyllic suburban existence is Martin (Barry Keoghan), a fatherless teen who Steven has covertly taken under his wing. As Martin begins insinuating himself into the family’s life in ever-more unsettling displays, the full scope of his intent becomes menacingly clear when he confronts Steven with a long-forgotten transgression that will shatter the Murphy family’s domestic bliss in a sinister game of revenge. ‘The Killing of A Sacred Deer’ is rated R for disturbing violent and sexual content, some graphic nudity and adult language.

Lathimos as a director is someone who has no qualms about pushing the envelope into provocative material. In ‘The Lobster’, we received an honestly unapologetic depiction of the modern dating scene, and in ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ it appears that his focus this time shifts to the depiction of the medical profession and all of its loose ends that come with being the final step for many on their one way trips with death. Perhaps the one singularity that both of these films equally match is in the way they’re shaped as a genre in the attitudes that both movies possess. This is an area where Yorgos succeeds in ways that so many other directors just can’t even comprehend; the emphasis and articulation in tone that faithfully interpret the volume of emotional mass that this director values in teaching us. While the film certainly allows us many moments of intense laughter from the sheer absurdity of character responses, the film never strays far from being a fright first kind of deal. Because of such, ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ and Lathimos alike, does things with horror genre temperament and brash twisted humor that other more obvious students of the genre can’t accomplish, taking us through a dream-like environment where your worst nightmare can and often will come true. This film feels like a melting pot of ingredients that blend together to attain that intended taste, and when it comes to the chef that is stirring the pot, Lathimos highlights where each aspect blends well into accomplishing this feat.

Almost immediately, we are treated to some exceptional overall camera work that explores the unorthodox dissection of how we approach a scene. Lathimos continues his traditional signature shots that include continuous takes down the long corridors of a hospital, wide angle framing that colorfully illustrates the ideas and concepts that are being played over the heads of these characters, as well as depicting just how small they as people are to the everyday bigger picture, and of course the introduction to establishing shots that are done with such gentle precision. On the latter, I love how the camera softly takes the hand of the audience and guides it through each new environment that the screenplay takes us through. It constantly feels like we as guests are trying to sneak into what is going on without much disruption, and the bending around objects and walls to represent such a point treated me to a kind of theatrical engagement that was anything but bare, and proved that Lathimos sets the stage each time appropriately with a canvas that never lacks versatility in getting his points across for the mass volume of themes that the film takes on.

To that degree, the screenplay was one that does have some entertaining deficiencies, but overall strums through nearly two heart-pounding hours that constantly kept my attention. It’s clear that there is something much bigger being displayed at heart here, but to only summarize what I saw in one sitting is sheer madness. This is a film that does cast a lot of emphasis in its premise, but follows up with some exceptional storytelling that slowly unfurls each petal of valuable exposition carefully instead of it feeling like a free-falling storm. As screenwriters, Lathimos and partner Efthimis Filippou let you sample the environment before you revel in the details, and it’s a process that kept me engaged for the ridiculous actions and speech patterns that the film uses to relay that something truly terrible is at play within these friendly confines of characters. What problems that I did have might clear up with future re-watches, but do deserve to be mentioned for taking my grade down a couple of points. The first is that the film never truly explains how any of this threat is truly taking place. I’m sure there’s a bigger picture being hinted at here, but the film kind of requires you to take an illogical leap in logic to believing what is unraveling here, and I was never fully on board with it. Besides this, the third act is prolonged to frustrating levels. While it’s true that Lathimos is getting better about where to end his film, it still stands the case that his editing could still use some work, as many sequences are so needless and redundant that they often oversell the point that has already been driven home. While this doesn’t hurt the overall pacing for the film, I feel like the third act could’ve easily been the quickest in terms of minutes devoted to it, but it is the only true weakness against the first two acts that proved the value of strength in momentum that the film consistently built.

The musical score from composer Sofia Gubaidulina is riveting, strumming along some of the most entrancing notes that I have heard in the entire year of 180 films thus far. Not since 2014’s ‘It Follows’ has a musical score been so effective in not only setting the precedent of terror within each scene, but also in the volume of piercing release that constantly moved me. One negative to the latter is that it can sometimes intrude a little too much on the actors trying to play out each scene without that added manipulation, leading some dialogue exchanges to be rendered deaf because of such. The good news is that those scenes are only few and far between, as a majority of Sofia’s increasing beat of disturbia cashes in often on the true value of an unnerving musical score to not only the layering of chilling circumference that dominates each scene, but also feeding into the dream-like state of being that I mentioned earlier. Because of such, this feels like a world far from our own while monitoring the discontent with the medical practices that are every bit as prevalent in today’s rivalry between patient and practice.

This ensemble cast is mesmerizing, being led by Farrell and Kidman in their second collaboration of the year after ‘The Beguiled’. Lathimos definitely brings them along better than Coppola did, and because of such we are treated to the most versatile of monotonous deliveries that I have ever seen. That may sound like a back-handed compliment, but the approach to emoting these characters at underwhelming and almost un-human-like stances pays off in spades later on in the film when the stakes are the highest, forcing them to finally act logically like any of us rightfully would. Farrell talks fast, often diving into Murphy like an overly-confident routine that brings a life of no surprises. In Kidman, we get almost the total opposite. Because she is the first person to really see the severity of the situation, she attacks first and levels her respective screen time with a juggling of motherly instinct and cunning mental prowess to support her claim as the only logical protagonist to the film. Without a doubt though, the show-stealer for me was Barry Keoghan fresh off of the heels of ‘Dunkirk’ earlier this Summer. His grip on the pulse of a film is felt with much more impact here, as Keoghan transfixes the audience with a calm kind of madness that can only be compared to Anton Chigurh. You believe what Barry says because he drops it with such conviction, and as the gears start to turn to reveal his tortured past, you start to reason more with the method to his mayhem, playing Farrell and family like a game of chess that he’s already won seven moves prior.

THE VERDICT – ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ continues the hot streak of thought-provoking magnitude that often offers a modern day homage to the kinds of films Kubrick may have continued with. The third act is slightly faulty, often taking the sting out of the punch long after the most powerful connection, but with more attention to trimming the fat, I believe that Lathimos best film is still to come. For now, this film exerts a chilling grip that hypnotizes and tantalizes with a presentation that is second to none.

7/10

Jigsaw

Even a decade after his final breath, the sadistic serial killer Jigsaw’s presence is still every bit as dangerous as before. Thirteen years ago on Halloween weekend, ‘Saw’ and the character of Jigsaw introduced the world to a new face of horror. For seven straight years “If it’s Halloween it must be Saw” was a holiday tradition. This time, Lionsgate and Twisted Pictures proudly present ‘Jigsaw’. After a series of murders bearing all the markings of the Jigsaw killer, law enforcement find themselves chasing the ghost of a man dead for over a decade and embroiled in a new game that’s only just begun. Is John Kramer (Tobin Bell) back from the dead to remind the world to be grateful for the gift of life? Or is this a trap set by a dangerous killer with their own set of harmful intentions? ‘Jigsaw’ is directed by Michael and Peter Spierig, and is rated R for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture, and for adult language.

There hasn’t been a Saw film in seven years, the last of which was my overall least favorite for the series, and while ‘Jigsaw’ is a definite improvement upon that supposed final effort, it stumbles at bringing back the fun to the Halloween movie season because of a lack of significant scares and flawed continuity that stretches the logic of the previous films even further. Considering this film was supposed to pick up the pieces from a series that closed its doors air tight, there’s very little reasoning to re-vitalize this series for any other reason than a guaranteed cash grab at the box office. Is there fun to be had? Of course. ‘Jigsaw’ definitely serves as one of those horror movies where the less you think about it, the easier it will be to embrace its mental torture on the perks of coherent storytelling. But being a faithful fan of the previous films means that I can’t in any way overlook the future direction that this film is inevitably heading, lessening the impact of character development and well-timed mystery, in exchange for a thirst for torture and brutality that consistently chooses to up the ante.

What I did enjoy most of all was the much-needed improvement of the Spierig brothers to taking this franchise under its grasp and breathing energy into its sometimes jaded presentation. The biggest aspect of improvement within this film that I can be appreciative of is that the Spierig’s have gotten rid of the choppy editing and horribly annoying transitional scenes that has often made a majority of these death sequences an eyesore, and instead let the tension ride itself out without any unnatural enhancements that breaks the flow of patience. In addition to splicing, this is definitely the first Saw film that looks like it belongs on a silver screen, imbedding some beautiful color palates and simplicity in sequence design that casts a lot of beauty in its painful backdrops. When you consider this film with the earlier efforts, it definitely feels like some money was finally thrust upon this comeback, and if this is the direction that future chapters are heading, then please let the Spierig’s be the breath that blows into the lungs of this 13 year series.

The story isn’t anything mind-blowing until you realize what is really going on here. For once, it really feels like the mystery of the killer is secondary to the overall set-up once the bomb is dropped for how John Kramer walks again. I did enjoy how this installment bent the exposition of some of the previous installments without necessarily relying on their characters and circumstance in telling its own plot. One thing that was glaring to me however, was the logic holes within ‘Jigsaw’ that made me quickly lose believability within the film. Again, I get that this is a stupid horror film that isn’t supposed to be taken, but if we could get such psychological spring from the first two films, why can’t this one follow in the same sacred waters? SPOILERS AHEAD, SO STOP IF YOU DON”T WANT TO BE SPOILED. Some of the examples that really bugged me were the uses of flat-screen television’s within this world, and how jumbled that idea feels once you know the timeframe of when this film takes place. Considering half of this movie takes place before Saw 1 (2004), it’s a bit of a stretch to think that flat-screen plasma TV’s are just walking off of the shelves. In addition to this, the bodies at the end of the film being found in a barn is ridiculous when you consider the barn is owned by Jigsaw’s wife as told in Saw 6, and she was THOROUGHLY investigated for the murders. You think the authorities wouldn’t search a barn that she owns in deed? Give me a break. The timeline of events within the film also gets severely misconstrued in this film when you consider now that the events of films 1-4, as well as this one, as well as the book signing from the lying author in part 6, all took place within a year. That’s either some incredible craftsmanship by one man, or the single greatest bending of time to ever take place within a film world.

As should be no surprise, the characters and performances are kind of secondary to the inevitable violence that we as a society embrace as the soul reason we see these films. With that said, there isn’t a character in this film who I deem worthy of wanting to invest 87 minutes of my time with. Other than the usual flimsy exposition used during the big reveal scenes, there’s very little to any of these characters that give us that kind of investment to want to root for them. To play into Jigsaw’s game, these are terrible people who have done terrible things, so there doesn’t ever feel like any redeeming qualities to even one of them that makes their deaths provide that much more impact. Even for a Saw film, there is a grave lack of attention paid to the progression of these people and their situations that makes it feel like the film has moved on to greener pastures without them. Those pastures are the ones that make us scream for our lives and give us as close to an experience with death as any of us would deem entertainment.

On that subject, the traps still pack a lot of imagination, even if some ideas feel like re-treads of some earlier blueprints. ‘Jigsaw’ has a surprisingly refreshing lack of blood that doesn’t remove it as a whole, but does at least tone it down to heighten the impact when the film does decide to show the red, saving some of the biggest thrills for the final confrontation that doesn’t disappoint. There is a lot of C.G used to enhance effects work of these materials, but with the exception of the final death, it all reigned with an air of truth to it, making the transition from camera to computer feel seamless. Some of the deaths definitely rely on circumstance to further the progression of our protagonists. For instance, there’s one scene where a man accidentally falls through a floor, and a Jigsaw tape is there waiting to be played. What if this guy never crashed through the floor? Would they be stuck in that room for life? Some of these angles are a bit of a stretch in logic, but if you don’t ask for legitimacy in a movie, ‘Jigsaw’ won’t bother you in the slightest for its noticeable stupidity, which does occasionally over-exceeds its grasp on terrifying atmospheres and timely scares that this film didn’t give a single one to me.

THE VERDICT – ‘Jigsaw’ isn’t anything spectacular, but it does return one of our favorite 21st century killers to the forefront of the silver screen where he rightfully belongs. The film sadly can’t add any kind of possible substance in screenplay or thrills to the Spierig’s hardworking production qualities that do visually enhance the artistic vibes from this chapter, and outsells what this hollow screenplay follows through with on its beautiful stages. If you’re a Saw enthusiast, the film should give you a guaranteed good time, but anyone else won’t be won over with this middle of the road chapter that lacks any kind of originality or logic in storytelling sequencing needed to make its many jumbled pieces fit without force.

5/10

Boo 2!! A Madea Halloween

Everyone’s four favorite elderly’s return to once again do battle with another sinister force on all Hallow’s Eve, in ‘Boo 2! A Madea Halloween’. Written and directed by Tyler Perry, the film joins Madea (Perry), Bam (Cassi Davis), Viv (Chandra Currelley), and Hattie (Patrice Lovely) when they take a vacation to a campground with their family members. Unaware that the grounds are haunted, the group must band together to fight the terror, evil, and wacky hijinks of their mysterious opposition. When monsters, goblins, and the boogeyman are unleashed, Madea and company must fight it out with them in a laugh-out-loud battle to the death. ‘Boo 2! A Madea Halloween’ is rated PG-13 for sexual references, drug content, adult language and some horror imagery.

Going through back to back years with a Madea Halloween movie is a lot like getting over diarrhea and then coming back down with it only days later. It’s a real shitty time that keeps you planted for an excessive amount of time and stinks of the toxins that you put into your body. I apologize for the nasty description there, but ‘Boo 2!! A Madea Halloween’ is the perfect checklist for why Tyler Perry and I have been at odds since I began reviewing films in 2011. It’s without question Perry’s cheapest and least entertaining film to date, exchanging in the usual laughter involved in a comedic offering for shallow improv humor that stretches these scenes out longer than the pancake batter that Perry and friends don to immerse themselves in these truly wretched individuals. And there’s no benefit to ripping it to shreds even in the slightest. Making fun of a Tyler Perry movie is like making fun of a three legged dog who is humping a fire hydrant, it’s painfully low-hanging fruit that makes you feel stuck up for even having the audacity to rip it. I could think of much better ways to spend 96 minutes with my life, and most of them involve fitting myself for a noose and testing the strongest board in my house for durability. I didn’t think for a second that this film could possibly be worse than the original chapter that came out last year, but Perry proves once again that I should never doubt him when it comes to how truly low he will go.

First of all is the screenplay and material, or lack there of. So much of this script relies heavily on improv comedy to run up the clock and make the most out of basic outline drafting. When I really think about it, there’s only six different setting changes in this film, and while that may feel like a lot for an hour and a half, it is very minimal when you consider the progression that comes with multiple parties of characters and group conflicts. What this film desperately needs is an editor who doesn’t serve as a Perry enthusiast and straight up tells him when to cut the shit. Scenes drag on for an eternity, and while I remember this being a vital negative to my overall grade for the original movie, it doesn’t even make it into the top five of mind-blowing decisions that went into this production. The screenplay structure is basically the same as the first movie, proving just how little diversity went into this horror spoof that even lacks the kind of versatility for something in that putrid genre. I wouldn’t be surprised if this script was five pages long and used a lot of captions that involved the word IMPROVISE because it feels like Perry has no grip or enthusiasm to treat his audience to anything more, and why should he? this man continues to steal money from the pockets of his enthusiasts the same way that armed robbers do, except a robbery gives you the satisfaction of having an emotional response in being scared to death for your life.

So we know the comedy sucks, but what about the satisfactions with the genre it is spoofing; horror? Well, that direction doesn’t even take place until there is fifty minutes left in the movie, making the opening act and a half feel like you’re watching an entirely different film that just so happens to take place around this night of supposed terror. The shift from one tone to the next is so rough and jagged with the transitioning that there never is any defining moment of exposition when this takes place. As for the scares themselves, this cheap production makes the backdrops and landscapes of fog and woods feel so outdone and often times unrecognizable that I don’t fully grasp what particular movie that they are spoofing. There is a ‘Get Out’ reference that is seen in the film’s trailer, but with a few more of these clever instances, the film could’ve done a better job in subverting our attention to the waning interest in these sequences of the very cheapest denominator. Even for spoof or satire, ‘Boo 2’ offers very little to justify its existence, omitting the taste of a Madea movie that is being force-fed a Halloween motivation.

The performers who make up this complete ensemble offer nothing of any noteworthy praise or momentary break in monotony that they provide in their phoned in performances. This is definitely still Perry’s show, as he commands three different characters in the movie, but oddly enough for a movie that has her name in the title, Madea is relegated to kind of a supporting role in her own movie. A majority of what Perry puts his time and energy into is in the character of Joe, a horny, drug-smoking, horny, immature, horny, man-child who repeats the same few lines over and over to the point that I thought I was suffering from deja vu. In addition to Perry, his supporting cast of characters are equally as agitating. For whatever reason, Tito Ortiz is cast in this as Perry’s best friend, and if Tito is believable in just one thing, it’s that he is an MMA athlete who is trying to make the transition to film. His line reads lack any kind of commitment and visually give off the impression that he is holding in a fart so as not to ruin a scene that they have no money to waste. Yousef Erakat and his collective fraternity of date rapists made me uncomfortable in every stretch of the imagination. Seriously, every time these douchebags are on screen, it has the same feeling as the nerds from a Saved By the Bell episode, complete with cringe-worthy music that narrates every scene they choose to grace us with their sleazy romantic sides. My least favorite without question, yet oddly enough the only positive point that I can give this movie, is still Diamond White as Perry’s spoiled daughter Tiffany. If she does one thing well, it’s in the ability to invest your reasoning to the adults, because the way she treats her Father deserves an ass kicking. Characters like Tiffany are everything that’s wrong with today’s youth, and while she doesn’t do anything different from the oral garbage that she spewed just a film ago, White deserves all of the credit in the world for at least doing what the script asked of her.

All of what I’ve previously mentioned is a walk in the park compared to the cheap production qualities that completely make this film unwatchable for someone looking to escape into good times for even a brief amount of time. The lighting coming from windows surrounding our scenes ruin shots because their volume in brightness doesn’t register well on cheap camera equipment like this. What this does is give off several blurry scenes that are left in the film because they either had no time to reshoot, or they just didn’t have the motivation to fight it. But the most obvious error in this film is the handicap of its PG-13 rating that does no favor to the vicious ADR that takes place in this film. What I don’t understand is characters do cuss in this film. There’s an F-bomb, and several shits left in the line reads, but there’s so many curse words that are edited out of this movie without a smooth overlap that makes it beyond obvious. Think television edits when it comes to movies like ‘Snakes on a Plane’ or ‘The Breakfast Club’, but so much worse. The volume of the replacement word spikes so highly during their edits that you can’t help but notice their rocky inclusion when compared to the lips of characters who are obviously saying a word entirely different to that of what we’re hearing.

THE VERDICT – Any film with the word “Boo” in the title has some unbelievable balls to it. ‘Boo 2!! A Madea Halloween’ is a 96 minute Russian Roulette campaign that has Tyler Perry digging with a shovel to new lows in his already tumbling career. It’s obvious that this film was never going to be good, but the cheap production qualities and noticeable similarities in structure to its predecessor, breathe new life to the nightmares that Perry giftwraps to me every year without fail. What’s scary isn’t anything in the movie, but in the box office numbers that his fans will inevitably drive up, proving that dollar bills do float in toilet water.

2/10

The Snowman

The disappearance of a local woman sends a team of investigators on the hunt for a killer with a chilly side, in ‘The Snowman’. Michael Fassbender , Rebecca Ferguson and Charlotte Gainsbourg star in this terrifying thriller from director Tomas Alfredson. Based on Jo Nesbø’s global bestseller of the same name, the film begins when an elite crime squad’s lead detective, Harry Hole, yep that’s his name, (Fassbender) investigates the disappearance of a victim on the first snow of winter. Harry fears an elusive serial killer may be active again. With the help of a brilliant new recruit, Katrine Bratt (Ferguson), the cop must connect decades-old cold cases to the brutal new one if he hopes to outwit this unthinkable evil before the next snowfall. ‘The Snowman’ is rated R for grisly imagery, brutal violence, some adult language, and sexuality involving brief nudity.

History has proven that novels are often the winner in their often times inevitable showdowns with the big budget adaptations. More times than not, a book can grant you the kind of freedom from restrictions that hinders a film cold from keeping up the entertaining factor. No sentence will better define ‘The Snowman’, as this jumbled, melted mess that limps its way to a finish that had me questioning where it all went wrong. It is my opinion that much of the problems that screenwriters Peter Straughan and Hossein Amini encounter is in their desire to over-convolute a story that doesn’t require a thinker’s approach. The case within this story is your basic serial thriller, so when the film tries to demand that unnecessary reach to intelligence, it comes up short in its returns that bore you out of your seat. At nearly two hours, so much of ‘The Snowman’ can be trimmed or edited to fit its narrative, but this film is so poorly directed that it makes it easier to understand the negative side of when a film is left in improper hands, the making of such a decision that soils Alfredson’s often prestigious name and leaves him out in the cold for a story that fumbles at nearly every given chance.

The story for the film makes the conscience decision to craft this as a dual narrative for the first half of the movie. This second tier is led by Val Kilmer as an alcoholic detective nine years prior whose own obsession for The Snowman Killer ruined his life. I see the importance of what this arc played to our story in the bigger picture, but its insistence upon eating up valuable minutes of exposition comes at quite a hefty price. This could’ve easily been used in various flashbacks throughout the film, but every fifteen minutes or so, we are reminded of its existence by a brutal shoving in the script that doesn’t distinctly signify when this flashback happens or give any kind of indication of the time switch. Elsewhere, this screenplay feels gobbled up by a series of gaps and holes in sequencing that leave its audience struggling when trying to keep up. Things just kind of happen without any rhyme or reason, leaving me to wonder if a bigger director’s cut is lurking on a shelf somewhere. Either way, I’m not interested. As for the mystery itself, it’s somewhat intriguing, particularly during the early third act when it does start to feed into its ambiguity, but it’s ruined on one brutal shot of spoiler with about twenty minutes left in the film, that gives away everything without reaching a beneficial shock in its reveal. The final fight sequence is so underwhelming in its conclusion that I found myself asking repeatedly if that was it.

Possibly my biggest problem with the film is in the editing that can’t possibly be justified at a professional level. I’ve already mentioned that it feels like this script is subject to holes in progression that make it feel like an entire movie is missing, but the true horror comes in the fact that somewhere someone lacks that kind of personal imprint from the director that tells them when a scene should be shortened or ran longer. With ‘The Snowman’, there are many scenes left in this final cut that had me scratching my head for what pivotal role they played. There are also scenes that I felt were finally getting us somewhere, but were jarringly ripped from the screen with malicious intent. The editing is so devastatingly awful in this film that it in its own way is responsible for the mind-numbingly dull pacing that never bothers to pick up momentum or move cohesively as one continuous movement. Until the third act when things start to somewhat pick up in mystery, I was bored to tears because of the lack of energy or impressionable character that exerted itself into this movie.

On the latter of that concept, the performances within the film are about as good as they could be considering this top notch cast is getting no direction beyond the camera. Considering this is a film that takes place in Oslo, Norway, not one character speaks with the proper accent or even remotely struggles in speaking English. Fassbender can only do so much, despite being one of the most versatile actors working today. As Harry, we hear about a legend that has done so much, but there’s nothing about him that ever makes you understand why he is depended upon so much. To me, I feel like Harry’s biggest positive is that he’s in the right place at the right time, and that’s about as underwhelming with a protagonist as you can get. Val Kilmer is depressing because you can see on-screen how much life has worn him down, and shitty films like this will only make it worse. Kilmer’s painfully obvious ADR voice-dubbing is something that adds a jarring aspect of immersive break for me in each scene, and Kilmer can barely move at this point, let alone invest every emotional muscle to giving a performance for the ages. It’s just not there. J.K Simmons and Charlotte Gainsbourg are wasted in the bigger picture that doesn’t involve their characters holding weight within the complexity of this screenplay, and sadly Chloe Sevingly is only in one scene for the movie. Possibly the only actor who gets away with a passing grade is Rebecca Ferguson. Her performance at least feels like one with the proper kind of motivational pull, and there were times in the film where it feels like this should definitely be more of her movie than Fassbender’s Hole (Sounds terrible) because of this perspective. Ferguson commands Bratt with the kind of intensity in vengeance that has me screaming out to Hollywood and begging them to put this woman in a STARRING role for once, atop her own movie. To make something out of this hodge-podge, we owe her at least that.

Not all was terrible for me however, as the film’s visual compass was stunning in its overall cinematography and tonal volume that visually appealed to me. ‘The Snowman’ is very much an absorbing kind of movie that locks you into its setting almost immediately, and you can’t help but feel transfixed by the seclusion in immensity of the grand scale being depicted in the film’s opening shots. The sound mixing could’ve been better in audibly immersing me tighter in the experience, but the landscape shots and shooting locations were used superbly in setting a stage that unfortunately lacks the fire in material to combat the ever-enveloping cold around us. What this setting does wonderfully is replicating in detail the kind of character response that eats away at our main cast almost entirely. It feels like Harry and company have lived here for too long, becoming a product of their cold, harsh environment that has swallowed them whole and left them bitter.

THE VERDICT – ‘The Snowman’ collapses under a series of devastating plot holes and contrivances that leave it struggling to reach air from its numbing series of unnecessary plot contrivances. This underdeveloped mess of a film wastes its talented cast almost entirely, and leaves itself falling as the latest victim to being inferior to its multimedia predecessor of the same name. Adaptations can be done with excitement, but Alfredson’s dreadful direction here leaves this snowman without a base to prop itself up on.

4/10

The Babysitter

The crush of an adventurous little boy is not who she seems to be, in McG’s newest horror comedy ‘The Babysitter’. Currently airing on Netflix, the film revolves around Cole (Judah Lewis) who is madly in love with his outrageously beautiful babysitter (Samara Weaving) Bee. She’s hot, funny, and popular. Everything a boy of his age could ever want. However, One night, in a moment of defiance, Cole secretly stays up his bedtime to discover she’s actually a cold-blooded killer who’s in a league with the Devil. He now must spend his night evading Bee’s band of vicious killers who will stop at nothing to prevent Cole from spilling their dark secret. It’s up to Cole to survive the night (and blow up a few people along the way). ‘The Babysitter’ is currently not rated, but does have scenes of violence, bloody gore, and adult language.

Many of teenage boys first loves are those temporary teenage parental units who bridge the transition from child to teenager with ease. In this regard, there’s plenty to take away from personality alone that ‘The Babysitter’ picks away at in the face of the complicities within a coming-of-age plot that adorns the film. If ‘Home Alone’ and ‘The Lost Boys’ made sweet love and were giftwrapped with a blessed child, that child would be McG’s newest film, and for my money, ‘The Babysitter’ works because of its streaming release that smooths out the problems that a simplistic structure like this inevitably deals with on several logical and illogical concepts within its build. If I paid for this movie in a theater, I would probably be a lot harder on my final grade for the movie, but as a Netflix night in, it’s a full-proof evening planner of laughs and solid kills in execution that offer at least one thing for every respective age group looking to have fun. It’s kind of a callback to those 80’s satanic B-films like ‘Fright Night’ that are disposable because of the fire power that resides within one watch, but the more you re-watch and think about it, the bigger the glaring problems start to arise.

The value from within this script weighs heavily within the bond of the title character and her child client that sets the precedent for everything that follows. The Babysitter feels like a quest to Cole in more ways than just a romantic one, and the deeper the film goes, we start to explore their relationship as one that evolves with each twist in the narrative. I love that this is a film with concrete pacing, clocking in at only an 80 minute sit, yet the film doesn’t feel like it rushes or flies through anything in sacrificing its material. The first act of the film is used almost entirely to build the friendship of these two characters who feel like they should be worlds apart to us at home, but are such a dynamic team that it feels like nothing else can touch them within their anything goes time frame together. The second act hammers home the idea that a babysitter can prepare a child for anything, but there will come a time when that kid will break away from the confines of guidance to blaze his own path to adulthood, and that stance comes to fruition throughout this night of madness that has him taking the reigns of man of the house. Fighting for your life is an easy concept to understand for any character, but when you start to see the carving out of adolescence taking place from within, you start to see that the bigger picture is in this evolution that Cole is enveloped in when he must stand on his own two feet for the first time in his life, setting the stage for a third act showdown that didn’t disappoint in anything that this production threw at the screen.

Perhaps the single greatest positive that I took away from the film was the pulse-setting kicks in production that give the film that much needed uproar in attitude that it required. The editing is sound, cutting into a lot of chase and suspense scenes with the standard panning out shot that quickly reveals the kind of environment that Cole is wrapped in. I also thought the use of on-screen colorful text to visually narrate the various weapons and even sounds that came from this nonstop action, gave the film a crisp throwback to the 70’s shootout flicks that always feel like the sounds required text. This is further emphasis on the kind of personality that the film tries to convey for itself, even if the tone can feel terribly juggled at times. More on that later. The sound mixing is crisp, delivering the devastation of every bone-crunching sound with the kind of impact that brings emphasis to the film’s brutality. In the wrong hands, sound can come across as corny or even meandering, but the work done on this production values the importance of such a presence, blessing the marriage of sight and sound beautifully that a campy horror film commands.

On the subject of some of that jumbled tone, I feel like the film worked best in its individual feats, but failed in bringing them together seamlessly. As a comedy, the film succeeds for its high school kind of personality that grants the movie a ‘Scream Queens’ kind of vibe. As a horror film, there’s plenty to love in gory death sequences that really strike a match for pure imagination. Yet interestingly enough, the two together never merge successfully on the same timeshare to craft a solid hybrid that can articulately juggle both. The film knows this too because by the third act, it loses all of its personality in humor to deliver entirely to the audience that will more than likely seek it out; the horror buffs. I blame a lot of this on the extremely immature direction in tone of the comedy versus the very adult surrealism of these brutal bloodbaths. Because they are so extreme in their respective directions, it makes it much more difficult to guide them back to that point in the middle where they both echo off of one another, catering to a law of averages that could’ve done them both a great justice.

Aside from the sometimes jumbled tone, I had a few problems with inconsistencies and logical stances that hurled a beating of my intellectual investment into this picture. For one, it always drives me nuts in horror films when so much noise and destruction is taking place in a neighborhood, yet nobody from any of the houses see this or call the authorities. One such example is a firework that blows up underneath the house and into the front yard, but five minutes later you never even knew this happened because of how quick it disappears. Speaking of vanishing acts, where do some of the antagonists go during these long fight and chase sequences with Cole? It definitely feels obvious that every sequence is structured as such because I find it difficult to believe that they all wouldn’t try to jump him at once, instead of leaving that gap of possibility for him to escape when going against just one of them. Objects too are getting in on the vanishing act as well, as a police car vanishes from the driveway, then re-appears in the end of the movie to provide an antagonist with a useful weapon. It’s parts like these that drive me nuts with the continuity of a story, and it’s something that holds no excuse for how simple it could all be preserved.

Not all is a negative however, as the performances I felt held up respectively for a magnitude of age brackets. Judah Lewis is solid as Cole, channeling a welcoming of adolescence that has felt as natural for a transition as I’ve seen in quite some time. Samara Weaving is also devilishly delightful as the title character who orchestrates this whole night. Weaving is the cousin of Hugo for those unaware, but to me she gave me such Eva Green kind of vibes in a crooked smile and rebellious demeanor that makes it easy to fall in love with her. The chemistry between these two is the single most important benefit for the film because without it, you never comprehend the betrayal and the tragedy that envelopes the spinning road that their friendship takes. Also, the entire group of antagonists each add something clever and defining for their respective character arcs. My personal favorite is Bella Thorne’s annoying cheerleader type who toes the line admiringly with a satirical sting that kept me laughing and rolling my eyes an equal amount.

THE VERDICT – Like its child protagonist, ‘The Babysitter’ grows up before our very eyes the longer it goes, even withstanding the blow of a few logical inconsistencies and constant tone juggling along the way. The film harbors an underlying gentle fable of growing up to counteract its bloody brigades, providing an earning of the coming-of-age tag within its funhouse of horrors that satisfies many crowds. Lewis and Weaving indulge in the teenage fantasy mindset above the clouds of imagination, leaving us anticipating the occasions they come down to transfix us with their bond. As for McG, you’ve finally done something valuable. Don’t screw it up from here.

7/10

Happy Death Day

Blumhouse Pictures is back with another horror story just in time for the Halloween season, with ‘Happy Death Day’. Teenage girl, Tree (Jessica Rothe) requires the simplicities in life around her college existence and her ever-growing number of friends who adore her. While trying to enjoy her birthday, she soon realizes that this will inevitably be her final one. That is, if she can’t figure out who her killer is. For whatever reason, Tree must relive that day, over and over again, dying in a different way each time to place her closer to the killer. Along the way, she will learn more as well about the way her closest friends view her. Can she solve her own murder and live to see another day? ‘Happy Death Day’ is directed by Christopher Landon, and is rated PG-13 for violence/terror, crude sexual content, adult language, some drug material and partial nudity.

To anyone longing for the campy 90’s slasher vibes and mysteries within its plot, look no further. ‘Happy Death Day’ is a film that surprisingly has a few lasting positives to take away from it that lifts it from being one of the more dreadful fall films that I wasn’t looking forward to. I compare it to that timeline because this film feels like it could’ve been lifted from that particular era of filmmaking, combining personality and horror together like the kind of humbling marriage that the genre was destined for. This isn’t a film that will win over many faithful fans like myself who are thirsty for frightening atmospheres and bloody gore to boot, but it will keep the masses entertained for a good old fashioned whodunnit? while treating us to a positive message from within that surprisingly comes from the strangest of places. The film does still suffer from a lot of the same tropes and handicaps that keep it from establishing anything new to the overstuffed Blumhouse Productions catalog, but there was never a point in this 91 minute film where I was ever bored, and that should be commended especially for a plot that doesn’t exactly present anything groundbreakingly original.

This is yet again another example of a character living through the events of one day over and over again, similar to ‘Before I Fall’ or ‘Groundhog Day’, and if you’re looking for a reasoning in explanation for how any of this is possible, you’re surely set to be disappointed. ‘Happy Death Day’ has one of those storylines that requires you to shut your brain off just long enough to ignore some of its gaping problems in execution like logical setup or obviousness in mystery, and keep pushing forward with some light-hearted atmosphere that keeps things fun. It’s also great that once again we have a setting of Louisiana, yet no character speaks with a Southern  drawl. I guess the producers or director doesn’t care about those important details of immersion.  One thing that I positively took away was that in this film the pain of previous days carry over into Tree’s next attempt. This gives the protagonist urgency despite there being no chance of permanent removal from the story. As for the mystery itself, it was something that I figured out in the opening twenty minutes of the movie, mainly because the comparisons of character height and setting made it easier to weed out the many list of possible culprits that we are engaged into early on in the film. A major spoiler scene for me involved a cop pulling Tree over after she thinks she has escaped the clutches of the killer. If you’re paying attention closely here, you’ll notice something that the killer has that only one person could possibly have gotten. If you figure it out, you will be waiting for the film to catch up, but thankfully the heartfelt resonance of living for each day is one that kind of takes over for the film midway through, treating us to the empathetic side that holds Tree prisoner in repetition.

It’s in that aspect where I feel like the performances of this youthful cast keep the film plugging away at making anything about this memorable. No more finer example of this is made than its main star Jessica Rothe, who sports Tree with the kind of energy and magnetic charm late in the film that totally turns around her character’s likeability. To say that I hated this girl during the first act of the movie, is an understatement. At the beginning of the movie, you almost feel that dread of having to be stuck once again with a character like this, but that helpless element in Rothe’s performance starts to take over early into the second act and introduces us to an actual person who has gone through a lot of suffering long before this day from hell came into her routine. Rothe knows especially how to play up the repetition that coils around her day like an inescapable poison, and we start to see more vulnerability in the way that her other defining traits start to widdle away. Rothe is someone who I will definitely be looking for in future roles, but it’s in her uphill climb of peeling back the layers of an arrogant sorority girl that will always earn her a respectable place in my heart, because without her this film is a complete mess.

Some of the biggest problems that ate away at my surprisingly growing enjoyment of this film is in the very tone that keeps the environment fun, but does eat away at the concepts of what establishes this as a horror film. To me, ‘Happy Death Day’s’ presentation felt a lot like watching an ABC Family show on the same grounds as ‘Pretty Little Liars’. Sure, it’s entertaining and even compelling when it wraps you in its mystery, but it comes up roughly short in the horror element that satisfies us with a condemning payoff. For me, the PG-13 labeling is felt especially tight here, limiting our thirst for blood that kind of should go without saying in this kind of plot. The death scenes themselves thrive mostly on imagination, and if they were able to build the tension of something truly horrendous before that cut to the next day takes place, then we might be able to see something truly devastating in our minds without actually visually witnessing it. The death scenes in set-up aren’t anything that hasn’t been done, so there’s nothing other than the handicap of a rating that explains their absence from the torture that Tree goes through. Certainly the idea is to cater to a wider audience that includes the very teens that will shuffle out the cash to see this movie, but if it comes at the mercy of hindering the impact of said product, wouldn’t it just be better to go with artistic integrity?

To counteract some of the limitations of horror, the film’s presentation is capable enough in carrying the workload between editing and camera work to play soundly into the pleasures of pacing that constantly keep this one moving. The chase scenes, particularly the ones in the hospital, are thankfully given the choice to film in standard instead of handheld. I feel like the merits of this decision gives us the ability to capture more of not just Tree and the antagonist roughing each other up, but also the set pieces in environment that play to everything around them. The editing sticks with quick-cuts that present the rapid fire progression of the next day, and I like that because there’s a tight-rope that the editing team walk during a film like this on when to cut into each death scene. If they cut too early, there won’t be enough indulgence for the audience, but if they cut too late it can give away too much of what is left to imagination. This editing ratio is perfect, and I give much praise to the work of Gregory Plotkin for implementing his stamp of precision.

THE VERDICT – ‘Happy Death Day’ is never really scary, but it is campy enough as a comedy to treat viewers to enough entertaining factors to eat away at the horror limitations by its safe rating. The star making performance of Rothe, as well as its hearty message to live each day like it’s your last is one that comes with great eye-opening value for a film that I originally dismissed as just another cheap Blumhouse offering. It’s a lot like Halloween candy that you get every year; it might not be safe or good for you, but the sweet tooth from within demands that you indulge in it for this time of year.

6/10

Super Dark Times

A gruesome cover-up between two best friends will have them running from the ‘Super Dark Times’ that haunt them. A harrowing but meticulously observed look at teenage lives in the era prior to the Columbine High School massacre, the film marks the feature debut of gifted director Kevin Phillips, and stars Zach (Owen Campbell) and Josh (Charlie Tahan) as longtime best friends growing up in a leafy Upstate New York suburb in the 1990s, where teenage life revolves around hanging out, looking for kicks, navigating first love and vying for popularity. When a traumatic incident drives a wedge between the previously inseparable pair, their youthful innocence abruptly vanishes. Each young man processes the tragedy in his own way, until circumstances grow increasingly complex and spiral into violence. ‘Super Dark Times’ is currently not rated.

‘Super Dark Times’ feels like one of those films that blew completely over my head, leaving a trail of uncertainty to the film’s critical praise that leaves me mostly stumped. The acclaim that this film is currently getting, including a near 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, proves that it is finding a voice within the horror community that warrants it as a modern day classic. For me however, Phillip’s film successfully harvests with much confidence that feeling of loneliness and dread that comes with the awkwardness of adolescence, yet it is in the conflict of his narrative where the film flounders off the very uncertainty in direction as to where it’s headed. I didn’t hate or even dislike this movie, but the juice of positive returns didn’t grant me equality from the expectation grip that I was expecting for the film. On basic terms, the film’s attention comes in the form of grief and how these young protagonists are expected to deal with the consequences of a terrible accident that has left each stumbling in their own emotional release. To that degree, the film garners a conscience that speaks in depth about the kind of teenage tragedies that are unfortunately all the repetition these days. But it’s what it chooses to do after picking up that narrative that will make or break it for those who get the chance to see it.

For me, a lot of the problems with this storytelling reside in a curveball that comes completely out of right field about halfway through the film. For much of the its first half, there’s a meaty edginess to the screenplay that involves these two best friends keeping their secret from the rest of the town. I found great intrigue and investment during this period of the movie because these characters feel very human in the mistakes and clumsy efforts that they take to not getting caught, leaving the door wide open for their ignorance to eventually come back to bite them. It feels like Phillips has spent a lot of time around modern teenagers, replicating their speech patterns and shy communications impeccably with much success. Unfortunately, the film’s curveball that I mentioned earlier comes at the hands of very little build or clues along the way that it lays at the feet of its audience, and suddenly we have a direction that feeds more into the friendship of these two male protagonists, as opposed to the horrifying realities and consequences of what they did. This film does feel like it takes place in a dream world of sorts with Phillips attention residing on the very pulse of victim’s guilt, but the lack of answers from the film’s original set-ups left this one feeling quite inconsequential to the overall structure of what was crafted from a chilling first act that laid the groundwork for an enticingly horrific coming of age story.

Clocking in at 102 minutes, the film stays appropriately paced until that switch in direction that does make you feel the consequence of every following minute. I can say that the first two acts of the film flew by, pushing us closer to the inevitable confrontation that Zach and Josh parlay for themselves, and constantly kept me firmly immersed into this 90’s setting that served as a trip down nostalgia lane. But the final thirty minutes of the film just kind of stands idly by to wait for when the audience catches up to the obvious foreshadowing that screenwriters Luke Piotrowski and Ben Collins supplant. Along the way, there is the decision to implant some meandering reminders to show you that the clues were there all along, even if this spiraling twist comes with more consequences than rewards for the film’s conclusion. The final scene in particular is one that I am still left bumbling about, wondering if the writers are hinting that this story isn’t necessarily over yet, or if the realities of shock and devastation cater on like a cancer to the next unfortunate soul.

As for the positives, the artistic direction and shot composition for the movie are two hearty centers that constantly kept the blood pumping throughout this project. I enjoyed that the setting of the 90’s only popped into focus at certain aspects in the film if you were paying attention, and didn’t cloud too much of the frame from what was transpiring in narrative. The best kind of ways that you can use a time-stamped gimmick as such is when it doesn’t feel forced and lets the audience come to it instead of vice versa. The overall cinematography submits to a kind of handheld student picture kind of vibe, and this decision alone merits the kind of authenticity that comes within the kind of framing set from teenagers that makes us feel like we’ve come across a video project to fight the cure for boredom amongst them. The overall gloomy coloring for the film is also a nice touch, radiating a vibe of impending darkness for the characters involved. It all feeds into a visual spectrum that never quit on us even when it feels like the story does, and whether you enjoy or hate this film, the production will most definitely be your favorite aspect.

The performances are very hit or miss, but none of that falls on the responsibility of the main cast. Campbell and Tahan trigger their positions superbly, giving off the vibe of best friends Zach and Josh impeccably authentic. From their unabashed speech patterns to their blossoming on-screen chemistry, the duo’s “us against them” mentality shines brightly through the cloudy setting and tone for the film, presenting levels of depth in their depictions that are leap years ahead of this being their first starring roles. Besides this unfortunately, the extras for the film are quite bland in delivery, and lack the kind of persistence to line reading that lacks believability. I won’t call anyone out by name, but whenever our acclaimed duo aren’t on screen together, my immersion into the film stalled, being treated to underwhelming emotional release that is well under that of status quo. There were many points in the film where I wondered if this film was supposed to be satirical because of the very lackluster ensemble that slowly omits the energy presented by its two male leads. Campbell and Tahan are definitely in grasp of what the material needs to channel teenage grief and angst alike, but their co-stars would rather phone this one in.

THE VERDICT – ‘Super Dark Times’ feeds accordingly on the very cerebrum of teenage boys when they come into contact with traumatic experiences that idle them for existence. Phillips debut feature film is a visual centerpiece that keys in firmly on the mood of isolation and despair that communicates this disposition articulately to its outsiders. Where the film could be better suited is in an attention to just one detail in the film’s script that forces it into a terribly obscure direction from what we were once promised. The final twenty minutes are the most intense, and yet the most reprimanding in terms of consistency from what message it is trying to convey. In the end, there’s enough unsettling atmospheric tension from the train-wreck that we see coming from miles away, inviting us on for the departure of an inevitably prominent directing debut.

7/10

Gerald’s Game

Seclusion and isolation are the keys to ‘Gerald’s Game’ that sees a woman on the edge for the fight of her life. Based on Stephen King’s 1992 novel of the same name, the film revolves around Gerald Burlingame (Bruce Greenwood) and his wife Jessie (Carla Gugino) as they attempt to rekindle the flames of their marriage with a retreat to their remote lake house. All is hot and heavy, but when a dangerous sex game accidentally kills Gerald and leaves Jessie handcuffed to the bed, the latter is forced to overcome panic and hallucinations from her past if she wants to escape, proving that shackles are only meant to subdue a person and not actually confine. ‘Gerald’s Game’ is written and directed by Mike Flanagan, and was not rated at time of publication, despite having scenes of bloody gore, as well as some minor adult language.

What I think makes director Mike Flanagan and the projects that he chooses to helm stand out as more appealing than that of the typical modern day horror director is that Flanagan realizes the importance of a psychological spin to the horror genre. Simply put, without mental prowess, a horror film is just flashes of mindless gore with nothing appealing behind the wheel. ‘Gerald’s Game’ is perhaps his single greatest accomplishment to date, bringing to life the pages of King’s book in a way that even the sharp tongued critic in Stephen would appreciate. He respects the material that came before him, but crafts it in a way that makes the film his own unique artistic vision, and it’s one that I respect tenfold for its simplicity. This film certainly feels like King’s most faithful adaptation to date based on the source material, offering very few changes in the way of circumstantial negatives for myself or any King enthusiast to balk at. Clocking in at 103 minutes, the pacing is kept appropriately tight, even if this one primary location setting does expectedly hinder what it can do in entertaining value consistently. The production is kept reasonably cheap, and thankfully because of outlets like Netflix, we no longer have to worry about mainstream television standards that chop up King’s films in mini series format for all to wonder what could’ve been.

Because this is a very cerebral screenplay, there’s so much about ‘Gerald’s Game’ that gets inside of the head of its central protagonist, as well as the viewers watching at home, and offers us a glimpse into a tortured woman whose soul never left her dark and abusive past. I do love a slow-burner, and this one feels satisfied cooking its material at 300 degrees, so just to let each square inch of its arresting substance peel back one layer at a time. There’s a very creative take with how Jessie’s character confides and communicates with herself that I feel like really gave the movie a boost of entertainment value towards sarcastic wit, while playing into the adversity of the ever-stacking odds in front of her. The additions of Jessie and Gerald as secondary characters serving as real Jessie’s conscience goes a long way in organizing the strategy that she herself takes to get out of her captivity step by step. This also feels like a therapeutic way to communicate with Gerald from the grave and get out some secrets about herself that she was always too guarded to tell him. Then there’s the dog, who is portrayed as time, the very essence that Jessie herself has limited amount of. These intricate and original takes for their respective positions are what gives this story the kind of personality relevant to a King plot and really maximize the collision of vulnerability when it’s on a course meeting with the inevitable.

The scares in the movie resort more to the psychological torture of one’s past and the role that it plays in shaping the person that stands before us today. There is no need for silly and ill-timed jump scares here, and thankfully Flanagan invests more in what haunts us instead of what stalks us. The difference of course feeding into that age-old theory that the scariest thing that will ever happen to us has indeed already happened, and for Jessie re-living that day brings out the nightmares of her dreams for us to feel warm compassion for her character. There is still the expected blood and gore in the film like there would be any horror film, but they save it for the time when it makes the biggest impact after withholding it for nearly an hour and a half for a finale that had me covering my eyes from the shock factor of it all. From the effect and prop work delivered here, I would expect that this sequence receive no less than Oscar consideration from the academy, as it is every bit believable as it is terrifying from the uncertainty that envelopes its unpredictability.

This is also a very stylish and artistic film at times, even if that vision is kept on the most minimal of terms in majority. The eclipse sequences in the film offer a beautifully decadent red tint that serves as a metaphor for the shackles that envelope Jessie both in and out of her current bedroom setting, and faithfully depict this rare occasion better than any film that I have ever seen with an eclipse in it. The cinematography for the film is impressive considering this is a Netflix first project. There’s many articulate measures that Flanagan and company puppeteer with the natural lighting outside that plays many tricks on the minds of us at home during a film when we never see a clock shown even once in the movie. The camera work offers a very eclectic display of wide angle and close up shots that constantly keeps the pacing of each scene moving fluently, and the establishing shots of the lake and woods area surrounding articulately explore the setting of how secluded these two characters really are, and just what that entails for their current predicaments.

I would be a fool if I didn’t mention the outstanding portrayal of Jessie by Carla Gugino, in her single greatest performance to date. Do they give award consideration for Netflix films? If so, Carla should be at the front of that list, treading the tight rope of the enigmatic Jessie, whom we feel even early on that something terrible has happened to her because of Carla’s tender withdraw from what should be a fun weekend away from it all. The kind of impact in visual storytelling on the face of Gugino touched more than just a nerve with me emotionally, and there’s something to be said about a woman who just witnessed her husband die, and yet that isn’t the worst thing that has ever happened to her. Her performance is flawless in execution, and her hypnotic trance kept my focus firmly planted on her even in the most physically restricted of roles that she’s taken on. Bruce Greenwood also offers plenty despite leaving us early on in the film. The chemistry between he and Gugino feels authentically in depicting that of a longtime married couple whose best days are behind them, and Bruce’s Gerald serves as the catalyst behind Jessie’s motivation to defeat the trauma with the will to live.

THE VERDICT – ‘Gerald’s Game’ proves that you don’t need major budgets or buckets of blood to render a mentally haunting tale of despair based on the things we have no control over. Ironically, it is the complexity of a simplistic approach to detail that returns Flanagan yet another winner in imaginative horror tenfold. Gugino is a whirlwind in performing arts that devastates anything and everything in her wake, and this two person show has enough versatility to field two movies. Netflix continues to kill it with their handled approach to cherished properties that makes them only second to Disney in that category. This is one game with serious consequences.

9/10

Flatliners

An allegiance of friends obsessed with death fight for a pulse in the remake of the 1990 original, ‘Flatliners’. For this chapter, the film takes place more than two decades after the events of those prior efforts. Five medical students hoping to gain insight into the mystery of what lies beyond the confines of life, embark on a daring and dangerous experiment. By stopping their hearts for short periods of time, each triggers a near-death experience. As the investigation becomes more and more perilous, they are forced to confront the sins of their pasts, as well as contend with the paranormal consequences of trespassing to the other side. The film stars Ellen Page, Diego Luna, and Nina Dobrev. It is directed by Niels Arden Oplev, and is rated PG-13 for violence and terror, sexual content, language, thematic material, and some drug references.

Are there no bounds for what films can be remade in the 21st century? It used to be good films were the only ones worthy of a re-imagining, but now it seems that even the forgettable flock of barely twenty five year old films are up for grabs in the race between studios that can’t create an original idea between them. The 1990 version of ‘Flatliners’ felt like it had some thought-provoking ideas about the afterlife and what it all leads to, but ultimately fell short in expanding the original premise into something greater for discussionary purposes. If you thought that film lacked the pursuing of imagination, the 2017 remake will appall you for how much grasping at straws is happening here. It’s not a terrible film, just terribly boring and full of exposition plot holes that ultimately gives it that rushed feeling into embarking on cheap thrills for the kiddies just before the Halloween season. On that tainted direction, and because it was made in 2017, this is yet another example of a film that suffers from a suffocating cloud of jump scares that ultimately serve no purpose in furthering the horror aspects, and counteracts everything from the sci-fi part of the movie that slowly fades away with each following scene.

The story surrounds our five central protagonists, four of which gamble with death and bring back a few sparse positives that pay off this unnatural obsession with the afterlife. I say few because from this film you barely see a positive side to their awakening other than they are remotely smarter, a trait that doesn’t make sense when you combine it with the fact that brain damage sets in after you’ve been dead for four minutes. In fact, when you hear that statement you can start to map out the fictional antagonist that will pursue our latest collection of sexy moron doctors for our satisfaction; everything going on is in their heads. I say this because the movie keeps it a mystery for all of about ten minutes, before giving away the answer from the outsiders perspective in seeing these kids basically fighting with themselves. One such scene that made absolutely no sense to me was a male of the group being stabbed with a knife on his hand that shows up immediately in the next scene as bandaged. How is this possible if it is playing out in his mind? Sure, one could point to the Freddy Krueger dream theory, but there is no physical antagonist here unlike Krueger, so the only way that could physically happen is if the guy stabbed himself, which is a little difficult when he doesn’t have a knife and is swimming for his life when it happens.

Because this group has to experience everything together, there’s a clouded barrage of expositional scenes in the first act that embrace redundancy in a way that doesn’t speed it up or make it any more compelling for the audience with each person’s dive. This makes up roughly almost the entire first half of the movie, saving what little thrills the movie does have for late in the second act, at which case I was entirely bored and over this whole thing by that point. As for the obstacle itself within this film, if you thought ‘Final Destination’ was a bit of a stretch, this film takes it to new levels. I was so disappointed with the final act of this movie and the logic into what goes into defeating concrete brain damage that I couldn’t help but laugh. Even for a science fiction film, this movie feels like it is being written by the writers as it goes along, ushering us to a finale that is every bit as forgettable as it is inconsequential. If I do have two positives with the screenplay it is in the shock factors that happen that don’t exactly add anything to the film, but certainly made me stumble in my tracks of conventional predictability that the film was faithfully riding until those points. One is a cameo by a noticeable actor from the original film, and one is an event that shifts the film into totally different circumstances than I was legitimately ready for. It’s unfortunate that the film never finds a suitable identity after this, but there is the promise that you could’ve seen something of possibility from a movie not afraid to take chances.

The production for the film is very one-note and safe in the artistic expression that it garners from scene to scene. The most evidence of this comes in the free-flowing feel of a collection of scenes that hold very little weight in the way they are edited. I mentioned that stabbing scene a while ago, and the way it is put together and sequenced gives it very little weight in the atmosphere of speeding to the 103 minute mark. The character takes the knife, yells in pain, and I kid you not, in the very next cut is out to dinner with the entire group not discussing the borderline paranormal assault that he just took, but instead to discuss something entirely unrelated to the previous scene. And that’s the biggest hurdle that ‘Flatliners’ is going to face. It feels primed to forget about itself and the undercooked sequences of events long before its audience has a chance. There’s ultimately no faith in this script or presentation that makes me ever want to watch it again, and very little fun with poking at those plot holes that I mentioned that remind you just how little in terms of cinematic expectations is really at play here.

This is an exceptionally talented and youthfully vibrant cast, but their efforts are sadly wasted with very little opportunity to standout in this muddled effort. One thing I can say positively is that Diego Luna is my favorite character here, not because he seems to be the only one thinking with logic, but because he feels like the underdeveloped leader who serves as the voice of reason between them. Luna was the only character who was enjoyable for me because his heart was miles upon anyone else, and yet sadly he received the least amount of backstory between the five characters. Ellen Page is basically the central character of the film, for it is her we are introduced into this film with, but the movie doesn’t remain committed to her cause in a troubled past, and only returns to it when it is absolutely necessary in using to fill the gap between artificial jump scares. Kiersey Clemons is someone who I am falling in love with in each passing film, and for a second it looked like I could feel strong empathy to her cause here, but she plays this character as too innocent and safe to ever believe some of the second act turns that the movie has for her. It sadly wastes the biggest rising star between this cast that could’ve at least pushed an entirety of likability in a film of rough takeaways.

THE VERDICT – Arden Oplov’s science fiction thriller suffocates under a lethal combination of tireless redundancy and never ending boredom from a dependency of tireless jump scares that requires a strong dose of adrenaline to get the heart of this story pumping again. This one is desperate for a pulse, but never finds the complimentary identity necessary in justifying its existence, dooming it dead on arrival before it ever hit the theaters. The term ‘Flatliners’ has now become synonymous with the word ‘Bland’, and we have yet another wasted remake to a film nobody holds close to their heart to thank for it. DIALYSIS…….Pull the plug.

3/10

Cult of Chucky

The world’s smallest serial killer returns once again to torture and brutalize once more, years after the events depicted in ‘Curse of Chucky’. This time, in ‘Cult of Chucky’, we bring back all of the central characters from the previous movies. The film centers around Chucky’s (Brad Dourif) return to prey upon Nica (Fiona Dourif), who’s been confined to an asylum for four years after being framed for the murders in the previous installment. Chucky’s nemesis from the original Child’s Play, Andy (Alex Vincent), tries to save Nica, but he has to deal with Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly) and her sinister intentions, as well as more than one good guy that shows up to wreak havoc on the Asylum and its inhabitants. ‘Cult of Chucky’ is written and directed by Don Mancini, and is rated R for brutal scenes of violence, adult language, and scenes of peril.

The Chucky films have kind of found a new home on the Video-On-Demand route, and it’s all probably a good thing because the last two movies in this series have breathed new life into the decades old franchise, with some new spins and directions that keep it from ever growing stale. ‘Cult of Chucky’ is the latest of that creative spin, and with the exception of the typical leaps in logic that plague these movies, I had a really good time with this film as well. It might not match the originality of the first film, but it makes up for the lack in overall presentation and creative ruthlessness that prove committed to the individual personality that its tiny killer has enjoyed. It’s kind of refreshing to see a horror film in which all of the principal characters from the previous movies return to lend a hand in prolonging the staying power of this series. This points to the fact that more than any other horror series, the Chucky movies seem to really invest everything they have into making a film for its fans that entertain them while playing into their nostalgic feelings for these stories and respective characters. More than anything though, ‘Cult of Chucky’ is as grounded in gore as the series has gotten, cashing in on a collective juggling in offering of practical and C.G effects that will bring out a wince or two in choosing to never cut away on the camera angles.

What’s enticing about this film is that it does require you to watch the prior film before you proceed. This gives these movies a kind of cohesive direction, instead of the choice to craft each one as individual efforts. The movie picks up after the events of ‘Curse of Chucky’, offering a dual narrative between that of Nica and Andy each in their tortured and respective pasts with the doll that has plagued them in different ways to this point. The satisfying feeling in tone with this film is that it more than any previous installment picks up on the very empathy of these two characters. There’s a real sense of sadness within them for how these two lives have been ruined and the common bond that unites them. I also dug the idea of multiple Chucky’s in the movie that really played well with stacking the odds and giving us more of Dourif to soak in audibly. The story is competent enough, despite some glaring plot holes with the Nica and her situation inside the prison itself. Not that this series doesn’t already have enough suspension with disbelief, but the film could be used as a satirical screenplay for our own very accommodating takes with the justice system that sometimes lends more opportunities at these cliche setups than we’d like to admit.

On the subject of that location, the film’s artistic integrity does hold up well with its end of the bargain in supplying some visually stunning displays that pack a punch in and out of our primary setting. There’s almost a futuristic vibe within the design of this prison, in all of its metallic luminous and spot clean corridors that make it stand out more than anything you’ve ever seen by comparison. The death sequences themselves are sadistically hypnotic in the way that they manipulate slow motion technology to play into soaking in every devastating blow. The gore can be quite excessive, but you pretty much know what you’re getting yourself into by this point, especially considering that this property no longer caters to big screen release restrictions. The color filters cater to mostly white backgrounds, and I think this is to replicate the Winter setting that is present outside of the prison, and could be taken for this cold and isolated feeling internally that feeds on Nica. This series of movies isn’t known for its visual appeal, but it’s clear that Mancini continues to approach his acclaimed property with a hands-on approach that gains him illustration points aplenty.

As for characters and performances, Fiona Dourif is once again fantastic as Nica, emoting her as this fragile helpless protagonist who feels like she is alone in the world at this new home for her. Father Dourif as well continues with his most famous role to date, voicing the sinister doll with harmful intentions and endless jokes to give him the extreme likeability that we have come to love. Together, these two are a pleasure to watch, and there’s something pleasantly surreal about watching a passing of the torch in ways from Father to Daughter that surprisingly touched my heart. Unfortunately the rest of the cast are underwritten in ways that bring to mind the very outline of nameless bodies that are known to stack up in these kind of films. Considering absolutely zero expositional minutes are wasted on their respective characters, it shouldn’t come as a surprise where they’re headed, and Chucky has no qualms about wasting time to send them on their ways. This is a continuing problem that I feel with horror today, because I think screenwriters should write for ensembles and not just one or two characters who the audience already knows will be in the final confrontation. With an emphasis on supporting cast, we can use those sparing minutes thoughtfully in ways that won’t drag the film down whenever neither of the Dourifs are on camera, and that’s a though that I think this film should’ve subscribed to dearly in its screenwriting phase.

THE VERDICT – Even seven films deep at this point, Mancini and company splatter enough lowbrow thrills and buckets of blood to add a fresh perspective to this constricted setting. There’s still a great lack for compelling protagonists, as well as a great concern for where this series overall might be heading, but if the future is anything like the Curse or Cult, consider this good guy built for stability. ‘Cult of Chucky’ crafts legitimate scares without succumbing to the overabundance of jump scare cinema that has plagued the genre. This is shock violence at its finest, and who better than one of the famed fathers of the slasher genre?

7/10