Traffik

Directed by Deon Taylor

Starring – Paula Patton, Omar Epps, Roselyn Sanchez

The Plot – A couple off for a romantic weekend in the mountains are accosted by a biker gang. Alone in the mountains, Brea (Patton) and John (Epps) must defend themselves against the gang, who will stop at nothing to protect their secrets.

Rated R for violent and disturbing material, adult language throughout, some drug use and sexual content

POSITIVES

– Usually the confines of cheap cinematography will limit a film’s visual potential, but in ‘Traffik’ it’s quite the opposite. Here, the legendary Dante Spinotti knows exactly the kind of visual entendre necessary for capitalizing on a modern day exploitation film, and because of such we are treated to dim-litted areas, a faded color palate, and an overall sense of B-movie goodness that transports us to a simpler age of cinema.

– Refreshing movements with the camera that give scenes the only personality that this one is going to garner. Some great examples involve the abrupt close-up zooms that happen when something shocking takes place, as well as the vivid flashbacks that give the film a kind of daydream-to-nightmare sense of imagination.

NEGATIVES

– Inconsistent editing that can at times intrude on valued exposition, and other times forget to spring up on scenes that run far too long.

– The film’s deep-seeded material centers around the harsh practice of sexual trafficking, and while this illegal practice certainly deserves a magnifying look, it goes unmentioned until the final fifteen minutes of the movie. This is not only irresponsible, but downright insulting considering nothing that the film wastes time on is anywhere near as compelling or important to us the audience.

– As far as tone goes, the film never fully realizes its cherished exploitation direction fully. In fact, Taylor’s jumbled direction often feels like an action flick that goes horror by the darker third act, speeding towards a dead end with two opposite tastes that contradict instead of converge with one another.

– It takes far too long to get to the thrills of this desolate screenplay, and even then the law of averages within 91 minutes isn’t enough to hold your interest.

– Speaking of thrills, the twists are totally predictable once you know the name of the game with the antagonists. Because of such, this film does reach for the low-hanging fruit of palpability that other more distinguished B-movie classics don’t have the shame to pull from. Often times, I found myself talking allowed “Don’t do that” or “Don’t go there”, and yet every time my worst suspicion was confirmed.

– Patton in particular is trying her hardest in to overcome the director’s desire to film her in skimpy clothing by carving out something of depth to her performances, but she leads an overall cast of characters and performances that collectively miss their mark. The deliveries lack conviction, and even worse, these character outlines couldn’t be any thinner if they were drawn as stick figures. Epps screams cash grab, Sanchez reads these lines in her sleep, and Laz Alonso made me laugh for all of the wrong reasons every time his hot-headed character overreacted.

– Possibly the worst musical score this year thus far. The musical influence in this film is every bit as non-existent as it is repetitive, and this creates a lack of emphasis in impact for when a big chess move has been made between these two sides. This is stock music at its finest, and I hate making that declaration because composer Geoff Zanelli has done some truly compelling work in films like ‘Disturbia’, ‘The Odd Life of Timothy Green’, and even the latest ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movie.

– I’ve heard reports that audiences were bored by this film’s lagging presence, and while the pacing was never really much of an issue for me, I can point to one aspect of the runtime as an issue, and that’s the minimal material that this film actually has. At 91 minutes, this is a pretty easy sit, but the difficulty comes when you realize how stretched thin the material, as well as the inhuman movements that the characters take in squeezing out every last drop of this screenplay. At it’s core, there is a solid one hour of material here, but in reaching a studio-approved runtime, Taylor never capitalizes on the areas (Like the sex trafficking that I mentioned before) that require increased screen time to dramatize effect in the material.

2/10

Truth or Dare

Directed by Jeff Wadlow

Starring – Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Violett Beane

The Plot – A harmless game of “Truth or Dare” among friends turns deadly when someone, or something begins to punish those who tell a lie or refuse the dare.

Rated PG-13 for violence and disturbing content, alcohol abuse, some sexuality, adult language and thematic material

THE POSITIVES

– Despite being plagued by a screenplay that has about as much depth as a box of Cheerios, Beane is leaps and bounds the featured performer here. Despite being only a supporting character, Violett carves out an emotional registry necessary in providing the proper emphasis for her tragic past. At first I thought this character would be nothing more than a blonde bimbo, but she is the only actor here who feels affected beyond that of dialogue that tells us.

THE NEGATIVES

– Speaking of characters, this film has none. This is the basic concept of character outlines if there ever was one, as much of the underutilizing D-list cast never stray far from the verbs that accurately define them. One character is a med school snob, so he must act like that at all times. It’s the kind of exposition that screams out “I could care less, and am only writing this script until something better comes along”.

– PG-13 confinements. Most of the death scenes lack imagination or volume because of their handicap rating, and the overindulgence of quick-cut edits from different angles keep you from ever being able to even accurately register what is transpiring. There is one good death in idea in the film, but it’s one that is plastered all over the overplayed trailers that leave little anticipation to it.

– Scenes feel missing from the finished product. Subplots and important mentions seem to float out of thin air and compromise the continuity of progression. It leaves the overall focus stalling, challenging you to the edge of your abilities to stay intrigued.

– Considering none of these characters are even remotely fleshed out, you have a series of emotionless deaths that come and go like speed bumps. These kids seem to move on quickly from the lack of impact that their closest friends brutal deaths leave them with, begging the question of if they don’t care, why should we?

– Lazy, clumsy dialogue that you usually have to subscribe to Cinemax for. No kidding, one of the lines during this movie comes when a character is being held at gunpoint to get into a car. The person with the gun says “Get in the car!!! I dare you to, it’s the truth”. It’s the kind of material that makes you feel humiliated to even be watching it.

– The antagonist of the film is of course an entity, so the possibility of a positive payoff in terms of confrontation is one that you shouldn’t hold your breath for. On this point and others, the film feels like a post-Final Destination ripoff with half the imagination and twice the desperation in finding a way to end this slop.

– ‘Truth or Dare’ is played entirely too close to the hip, and never embraces the campiness within its premise in capturing something that is popcorn fun. With more of an homage to its genre, or some developments with personality, the film could’ve been at least a fun sit, even if it still lacked common sense.

– That brings me to my next point; the logic in audacity for how this film treats audiences is remarkable. There’s the rules of the game that point out how important it is to stay together early on, only to leave every single character from this point on alone to be picked apart by this demon. There’s also the way it views life. One such scene involves the gang creating a fake Facebook profile to communicate with someone who knows the history of the demon. This is all fine and dandy until it takes them all of three minutes to create a fake profile. The problem with this is that they would first of all need a different e-mail than the one they use for their own personal Facebook page, then they would have to go through Facebook registration, which is anything but a few spare minutes. This isn’t even the best in logic though, as a character who suffered the loss of her father to suicide by gun is apparently allowed to keep it. No way that would be kept in evidence by the police…..yep.

– This film has possibly the most frustrating ending of the last ten years. Not only is the rules of the game torn apart, but also the final scenes allude to this game continuing in the most far-fetched of scenarios that tries so hard to bring out the conveniences of technology. Before these final five minutes, I only thought the movie was brainless, but after these closing developments, I hate this movie completely and wouldn’t make anyone see it even on a dare.

1/10

A Quiet Place

Directed By John Krasinski

Starring – John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Noah Jupe

The Plot – In this modern horror thriller, a family of four must navigate their lives in silence after mysterious creatures that hunt by sound threaten their survival. If they hear you, they hunt you.

Rated PG-13 for terror and some bloody imagery

THE POSITIVES

– Considering Krasinski is pulling triple duty here (Writer, Director, Star), it goes without saying that he digs his grip deep on the pulse of what makes horror films work. Classics like ‘The Thing’ and ‘Psycho’ work because they focus on the characters long before the terror surrounding them. This movie often feels like a coming of age story for two kids that just so happens to take place in a post apocalyptic setting, leaving the ambiance of the antagonists firmly in hand, without soiling their mysticism.

– The performances are equally impressive without needing much dialogue. I don’t get to brag about child actors often, but Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe command the screen, playing a brother and sister duo that harvest such resentment towards their tortured pasts. If this wasn’t enough, Blunt’s on-screen chemistry with real life husband Krasinski transcends any kind of story setting, and illustrates some of that surreal bond between them that gives their on-screen relationship believability.

– Much of the sound mixing and design is impeccable. For Simmonds, she is deaf in real life, as well as the film, so what the film does is highlight her point of view by dimming the volume any time we get a point-of-view shot from her perspective. Beyond this, the film juggles tension in sound so wonderfully that it gives meaning to each of the terrific jump scares that it designs.

– I have mostly good and a few bad things to say about Krasinski’s writing here, but for the positives I will say that he carefully places the focus of each scene on a singular object and watches the madness implode around that object. It’s pretty cool because we as an audience know that thing is there and we know what’s going to happen, we just don’t know how, and it’s in the how where such tension is built continuously until the big impact happens. Perfection in patience, sir.

– As for the C.G antagonists, I loved their mix of Carnage and Predator in design scheme that felt like it brought an entirely new hybrid to 21st century monsters. Much of the effects work for this artificial property does present itself as visually stimulating for a low budget horror flick, and their movements were given plenty of weight to make it constantly breed danger anytime they show up.

– There’s tons of respect that I have for any movie that forces audiences in a theater to shut up and just focus. Because the film’s audio is mostly dimmed for a majority of the scenes, it transfixes us in this kind of muted embrace to immerse ourselves within this world on-screen, making it easy to get lost in the story and characters that outline the rules.

– The combination of Krasinski’s unnerving camera angles combined with composer Marco Beltrami’s stimulating musical score, carves out the most suspense in every conflict. Beltrami never feels intrusive or betraying of the very mood set up in the film, and his score seems to remain guarded until our characters finally decide to make a move.

– Most of this film is surprisingly well paced considering its plot is quite basic. Most of it can be credited to the credible performances, but I feel that the credit in keeping the audience invested relies upon Krasinski’s desire to show us what is boiling in his left hand, while reaching for something else to get ready with the right. It proves that he never stops thinking, and his sequencing of these attacks are something of a worthy prize during the scenes that push us to the edge with ensuing tension.

THE NEGATIVES

– There were a few too many conveniences especially during the final ten minutes of the movie that soured my investment into the well-being of these characters. There are times when their decisions are incredibly smart for a film in this genre, yet others when they fall under the very same stupidities that have made us laugh for decades. Once you know the trick in diluting these monsters, it becomes fairly easy how this family can get rid of them. But they keep them around because the plot requires them to, and the longer the film goes on, the more this becomes obvious.

– As I mentioned before, Krasinski nearly fires on every cylinder in his screenplay, but one such scene gave me the impression that he lost faith in his talented cast’s ability to visual storytelling. It happens during the middle of the movie at a waterfall, and gave me a sour taste with how it reviewed everything up to that point in a cliff notes sort of manner. One character blames themselves for something bad that happened a year prior, and it’s fairly obvious that this person lives with that grief, but the movie wants to keep checking to make sure we know this VIA a father and son talk that serves as nothing but a review for people who haven’t been paying attention up to this point.

8/10

Unsane

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Starring – Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah

The Plot – A young woman (Foy) is involuntarily committed to a mental institution, where she is confronted by her greatest fear. But is it real or a product of her unraveling delusion?

Rated R for disturbing behavior, violence, adult language, and sex references

THE POSITIVES

– ‘Unsane’ was shot entirely on an Iphone, and I can say with the upmost confidence that none of the artistic integrity of a Soderbergh film is compromised here. While the film will obviously lack that expensive cinematography aspect to it, I felt that the faded coloring and unedited technique gave way to the unnerving and awkward tension that constantly boiled hot throughout the movie. In addition to this, the editing is precise for such cheap technology.

– As usual, Soderbergh is a master of luminous lighting. Here, his yellowish tints feed into the very secluded and secretive set locations within the hospital that communicate to you artistically that something much deeper and disturbing is at play here. However, my personal favorite coloring involved a dreary blue-toned twilight in the forest that is a mesmerizing blanket over a volcano of erupting brutality.

– Strong or solid performances all around. Foy gives a ferocious star-making turn, living through Sawyer as a complex woman with a lot of demons from her past. In doing so, Foy leaves just enough room to make you question her mental stability as a result of it all, making us question if the title of the movie serves to obvious foreshadowing. Beyond Foy, Jay Pharoah is great as her inside man inside of the hospital, and Joshua Leonard’s stone-faced stare paints a very vivid picture of a tortured past for Sawyer.

– I can appreciate a film that isn’t afraid of getting its hands dirty, and this film has no problems with feeding its horror appetites. Soderbergh waits with extreme patience for the moments that the violence will impact the most, playing through the anticipation like a composer just itching to drop that sharp note that will change the complexion of any number.

– There’s a surprising essence burning just under the surface of this film in speaking to a higher material of intelligence than just another experimental B-horror film. Soderbergh’s occasional preaching of the mistreatment of women, as well as the overall limited attention of the medical field, gave way to something remotely heavy handed that could’ve steered this into something more than a rental recommend.

– Steven loves his cameos. Midway through the film, a noticeable A-list actor makes a small one minute appearance, signaling once again this man’s unpredictability in popping up whenever he pleases. In the last few years alone, I can think of no shorter than four films that this actor has made a cameo in, but it’s his work here that feeds into the very definition of cameo; make a presence felt, extend the story, and leave them wanting more.

THE NEGATIVES

– Thomas Newman’s stock music entry here feels underwhelming, adding very little to the complexity or rising tension that a film like this needs. I do enjoy the decision to keep the inclusion of music very sporadic, feeding into a sense of surrealism that films are often afraid to do, but many important scenes go by as a kind of afterthought that with music could’ve done wonders in holding the attention of its audience, instead of testing it further.

– This film has some strong lapses in logic, as well as continuity flaws that serve as an argument for its sloppiness. There’s a dead body that magically transports to different places on its own, the decision to use only one room in this entire huge hospital to bed all of the patients together, and appropriate character stupidity that helps in prolonging this film. On the latter, most of it comes from our own protagonist. Thankfully Foy’s stirring performance radiates because her character is written helplessly naive.

– I mentioned earlier about the dual underlying issues that the film surprisingly takes on, but sadly the second half of the movie reverts its ways once the answer to our question is answered far too early in the film. Because of this, the entirety of the third act settles for being just another slasher thriller instead of the political conversation piece that could’ve presented ‘Unsane’ as the ‘Get Out’ of female commentary.

– The longer the film goes on, the more you start to feel the air being let out of the tires. There’s a scene that would’ve been perfect in ending the movie, but it drowns on for another ten minutes without ever truly finding the momentum that it had just scenes earlier. If this isn’t enough, there is a prologue scene that felt sorely tacked on to feed into the 80’s horror crowd that know where this is obviously heading.

6/10

The Strangers: Prey at Night

Directed by Johannes Roberts

Starring – Christina Hendricks, Bailee Madison, Martin Henderson

The Plot – A family’s road trip takes a dangerous turn when they arrive at a secluded mobile home park to stay with some relatives and find it mysteriously deserted. Under the cover of darkness, three masked psychopaths pay them a visit to test the family’s every limit as they struggle to survive

Rated R for horror violence and terror throughout, and for adult language

THE POSITIVES

– If there’s one clear difference from this film compared to the first it’s that this one knows when to have fun with its campiness. I didn’t hate the first Strangers movie, but it clearly took itself too serious during scenes that were laughably bad in the logic department. Here, Roberts instead brightens up the mood by giving his film enough personality where no matter if you like it or don’t, you’ll have a fun time.

– The overall aesthetic touch for the film is surprisingly good considering the budget is so miniscule. Roberts artistic direction is to craft this as an 80’s slasher flick, as opposed to the original which was covered in 70’s touches. In doing so, he treats us to zoom angle close-ups when a character dies, as well a neon infused sequence by the pool that provides us with beautiful carnage in the music video form.

– Speaking of music, the film’s soundtrack and accompanying musical score both did their parts in paying homage to the golden era of slasher flicks. For actual songs, we get Bonnie Tyler, Kim Wilde, and Marilyn Martin to name a few. For musical tones, we get a synth dominated score that is all the rave lately in shows like Stranger Things and movies like It Follows that pay homage to the classic era of horror.

– Satisfying death sequences. I already mentioned the poolside brawl, but in addition the film is not afraid to get its hands dirty with the blood and gore to satisfy its audience. This is yet another stance opposite from the original film, upping the stakes and the brutality tenfold in order to pack a memorable punch with this sequel.

– At 80 minutes, you really have nothing to lose with this film. Even if you hate the movie, the film flies by remarkably fast, giving little to no lag time during the progression of the movie.

THE NEGATIVES

– Awful acting and overall casting. We should come to expect underwhelming emotional response in horror movies anymore, but the work done by this minimal cast is exceptionally bad even for its genre. Bailee Madison is someone who I have adored since her work as a child actress, but her trigger hasn’t aged well, emoting this teenage poser character with artificial tears and hollow line reads that have you fighting back laughter. Beyond Madison, Lewis Pullman (Son of famed actor Bill) is a 24 year old playing an 18 year old. Visually this looks ridiculous, but it’s in his unusual romantic chemistry with Madison, who is supposed to be his sister, that occasionally omitted a weird feeling to this family.

– Lack of logic. Again, it’s normal for characters in these movies to make stupid decisions, but if you can’t take out a trio of knife-wielding psychopaths with a gun in your hands, you’re truly a brainless drone. This, in addition to other things, could’ve ended the film in fifteen minutes, but the writers hope the audience is too dumb to interpret this. Beyond this, the ability for these villains to live through some painful strikes against them makes me feel like Jason Voorhees might be under these masks.

– The film ends terribly abruptly. Considering the last scene ends on a bit of a mystery, we don’t get an answer or anything for our troubles. I guess we’ll find out the answer when we get a sequel in another ten years.

– As to where the cheap budget can sometimes help its cause for replicating an 80’s slasher vibe, it can also limit it in effects work and camera stylings that gave this a straight-to-video sequel feel.

– I’m supposed to believe that this trailer park is a hotbed for vacationing families? The house that the family resides in is twice as luxurious and doesn’t overdose itself on plywood interiors or artificial fog surrounding the place that gives it that just-murdered in look.

5/10

Thoroughbreds

Directed by Cory Finley

Starring – Anya Taylor-Joy, Olivia Cooke, Anton Yelchin

The Plot – Childhood friends Lily (Taylor-Joy) and Amanda (Cooke) reconnect in suburban Connecticut after years of growing apart. Lily has turned into a polished, upper-class teenager, with a fancy boarding school on her transcript and a coveted internship on her resume; Amanda has developed a sharp wit and her own particular attitude, but all in the process of becoming a social outcast. Though they initially seem completely at odds, the pair bond over Lily’s contempt for her oppressive stepfather, Mark (Paul Sparks), and as their friendship grows, they begin to bring out one another’s most destructive tendencies. Their ambitions lead them to hire a local hustler, Tim (Yelchin), and take matters into their own hands to set their lives straight.

Rated R for disturbing behavior, bloody images, adult language, sexual references, and some drug content

THE POSITIVES

– In crafting a hybrid horror/comedy offering, most directors can’t succeed at both without sacrificing one or the other. Here, Finley maintains the feat because of the uneasy atmosphere in tension that fills the air and makes it difficult for his audience to fight against nervous laughter for all the same reasons.

– Supreme camera work. Not only does Finley master the most of manipulated long-take sequences and slow-pan tracking shots, but he also pays homage to classic horror films like ‘The Omen’ with jolting energetic shots that quickly come into focus when a particular character comes into frame. If Wes Anderson were a horror director, Finley might be his alias.

– A scintillatingly gloomy musical score by the great Erik Friedlander that makes us squirm in our seats. Erik spares no usage for any particular instrument here, manipulating the strings of anything within his reach that really turns these luxurious visuals into a full on house of horrors.

– Finley’s puppeteering of shadow play that visually hints at the progression of certain character. Taylor-Joy’s Lily in particular goes through a slow burn kind of transformation into the dark side of her cerebrum, and the deeper she envelopes those traits, the more we see the darkness in each frame surround her to possibly hide from her facial reactions what was once as easy as an open book to read.

– The entire cast brings their A-game here. It was delightfully bittersweet to see Yelchin adorn the screen once more, this time as a drug seller to youths who talks a good game. Make no mistake though, the two leading ladies keep the 87 minutes firmly in their grip, commanding the attention in every scene with a firm dynamic that only catered wonderfully to their impeccable chemistry. Cooke’s monotonous delivery feeds miles into the emotionless body cavity that she has become, and Taylor-Joy’s blossoming menace proves that there’s enough room for two seats at this table.

– What’s interesting to think about is that the entirety of this screenplay is really just talkative exposition, so it serves as a testament even more to the performances, as well as the edgy dialogue that consistently holds your attention. As a writer, Finley almost dares you to look away in hopes that you might miss something, and I never once indulged in his challenge. This is a man who obviously loves to write dialogue, and does so in a way that strives against the politically correct stature that we’re used to.

– The usage of the house and visuals surrounding our cast that tear into the toxic atmosphere being hidden behind these lavish lifestyles. Because Finley was originally a playright, it’s appropriate enough that a lot of these scenes feel like they take place in one room at a time, with the characters coming in and out of frame.

– Perhaps my single favorite aspect of the screenplay is that the film doesn’t force-feed the details of past exposition or violent scenes to us. It’s really what you don’t see that allows audiences to fill in the blanks fruitfully, and gives the film that imaginative touch that only a horror movie can. Finley has faith in his audience, and doesn’t require spoon-feeding them to get his points across. I appreciate that.

THE NEGATIVES

– I’m not going to pretend that I liked the final ten minutes at all. The more I think about it, the more I start to see the bigger holes in logic that just would not hold up in our own real world. If the film were going for an ‘American Psycho’ kind of world-building, then sure, but the neat and tidy wrap-up of it all with absolutely no questions asked is one that I felt did a disservice to writing that was otherwise articulately intelligent up to that point.

– Because the entirety of the film is dialogue driven, the material is stretched a little too thin for even its brief runtime. This is an 87 minute picture, and while the film never lagged or stood still for me, there were definitely times when I felt that corners could’ve easily been cut to get to where a scene took us.

8/10

Death Wish

Directed by Eli Roth

Starring – Bruce Willis, Vincent D’Onofrio, Elisabeth Shue

The Plot – Dr. Paul Kersey (Willis) is a surgeon who only sees the aftermath of his city’s violence as it’s rushed into his ER -until his wife (Shue) and college-age daughter (Camila Morrone) are viciously attacked in their suburban home. With the police overloaded with crimes, Paul, burning for revenge, hunts for his family’s assailants to deliver justice. As the anonymous slayings of criminals grabs the media’s attention, the city wonders if this deadly avenger is a guardian angel…or a grim reaper. Fury and fate collide in this intense action-thriller.

Rated R for strong bloody violence, and adult language throughout

THE POSITIVES

– The decision to set this film in Chicago is definitely one that makes sense to the social commentary on firearms, but also infuses the use of modern technology with such a battle zone so immense.

– If Eli Roth has done anything right in his career, it’s his thirst for brutality and violence that is second to no one. While some of the death scenes feel a bit fetishized when compared to the way the rest of the film is shot, it does at least cast the extra emphasis in consequences for playing this kind of game. Everything else might be watered down, but this simply isn’t.

– Respect is given that Eli can finally stay behind a camera and not insert himself into his own movies. These scenes usually serve absolutely no point, and thankfully he exerts enough patience in keeping his ass in the director’s chair.

THE NEGATIVES

– Every single situation in the film relies on convenience. From Willis not being seen and identified, to pictures of addresses being in an antagonist’s cell phone that helps Willis in finding leads, there are too many of these instances that had me rolling my eyes for just how sloppy this screenplay was. There’s even one scene when Willis so obviously faces the direction of a girl filming with her cell phone, only for it to later not include this instance.

– Mixed signals?? The film never quite made clear what side of the firearms debate that it sits on. There are plenty of times during the film when Roth not-so-subtly hints that the only way to stop this epidemic is if more people arm themselves, yet by the end of the film there’s a violent shove in material to letting the police do their jobs. You can’t be both on this particular issue, and if you can’t make a choice in 102 minutes of screen time, then the film will often feel like it is being written by two different people.

– The performances are terrible. Willis himself hasn’t been a big screen presence for decades, and after seeing ‘Death Wish’ I understand why. There’s an overall lack of emotion or energy from his demeanor, and it never rises from that grounded level. A film will never suffer as much as it does with a main actor who so obviously doesn’t want to be there, and Willis’s can’t-be-bothered retort has a lasting wound on the film that it never sews shut. Not to be outdone however, Shue herself reacts to a break-in with no tears or screaming, giving you the kind of paycheck collection film that big name actors flock to once the scripts come in the mail further between.

– There is nothing remotely fresh of impactful in this film that we haven’t seen in the hundreds of other vigilante films that each borrow from each other. This script feels every bit as recycled and derivative as it does clumsy for inserting no twists or leverage on its audience.

– What I loved about the original ‘Death Wish’ is its gritty psychological unraveling of this protagonist who we ourselves interpret that overwhelming sense of loneliness. How Roth depicts this manner is to instill comedic personality to a man who doesn’t grieve his wife’s death for more than two scenes after it goes down.

– So many directions go unfulfilled. Whether the one-and-done scenes of characters like Shue’s gun-toting father or Mike Epps lone scene as a surgeon (You read that right), or the way the third act treats the antagonist like a mystery that is building to a big reveal, the film never explores these avenues. This is a jigsaw puzzle in which many of the central pieces are missing, and I never settled down from the way Joe Carnahan as a screenwriter proposes so many ideas only to drop the ball with every single one.

– If there is one thing that Willis and this film need more than anything, it’s an antagonist that they can bounce off of. Once the break-in happens, we never see these burglars again until the end, proving just how little the film cares in seeing things from their vantage points. Without this dedication in minutes, we as an audience never feel how vital the revenge of Willis truly is, nor do we ever question if this predictable ending will spin us to surprise.

3/10

Annihilation

Directed by Alex Garland

Starring – Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Oscar Isaac

The Plot – A biologist’s husband disappears. She puts her name forward for an expedition into an environmental disaster zone, but does not find what she’s expecting. The expedition team is made up of the biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, a surveyor, and a linguist.

Rated R (for violence, bloody images, adult language and some sexuality)

THE POSITIVES

– Being a fan of the books, I can thankfully say that Garland follows enough of the outline from that source material while deviating dramatically with the central themes and development for where his characters take us. It was like following the rules without knowing fully where it would go; the most satisfying kind of adaptation.

– Eye-entrancing visuals. There’s plenty to mention here, including the death scenes that are viscerally artistic in the most cinematic of qualities. Aside from this, the film’s backdrops for The Shimmer radiate the same kind of prism magenta that fills the air like a cancer. More on that sentiment in a second.

– The performances are well done without being overly dramatic. Midway through the film, I kept saying to myself how underplayed these characters are from this exceptionally talented cast, but then their pain and personal miseries snuck up on me with each passing reveal, speaking levels to the kind of empathy that Portman, Thompson, and my personal favorite, Gina Rodriguez garner for each other.

– Garland continues his parade front-and-center towards being possibly the very best science fiction director going today. With ‘Annihilation’, he constructs a science fiction slow-burn thriller film for the strongest of die-hards who welcome the chance to immerse themselves in worlds and rules so foreign from anything on this planet. Any great science fiction film makes you believe that anything can happen, and there has rarely been a stronger case for this than this movie.

– As far as the themes ingested into this story, I took away plenty that I grabbed ahold of, and yet plenty that would still require future re-watches to make this evidence concrete. In my opinion, the film is very much about self-destruction on a global and personal scale, and how the comparison in biology between the two help shape the shadows of who we become when compared to the person we once were. It’s interesting how similarly the people and environment react when faced with an event that will inevitably change both of their futures.

– There’s so much range in the unorthodox sound mixing displayed here by designer Niv Adiri. Acting as something much greater than just visually distinguishing us from the outside, Adiri audibly catches your attention by mastering a kind of counterfeit serenity to what makes up the sounds around us. It almost takes a minute to hear the deviated differences from our own air, but the cause for concern will produce in spades for anyone so firmly committed to soaking it all in.

– A very eclectic musical score from producers Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury. With enough free range between the worlds of folk and techno that audibly adorn the film, the duo of musicians master a slow change in genre sounds to replicate the change in fear that is taking out in this mental chess game between human and alien.

THE NEGATIVES

– The film greatly suffers from that cliche of immense creatures that apparently don’t make sounds as they approach. While not as humorous as something like the ‘Jurassic Park’ films, it is ridiculous here considering their movements have virtually no sound in The Shimmer to compete against thanks to the lack of human influence.

– While I always appreciate a film that offers a chance for audiences to debate and interpret what they see, I think Garland as a writer remains far too cryptic in his battle for sending audiences home with that final emphasis during the third act that leaves too much open. Far too often, the answer of “I don’t know” fills the dialogue, and it made me annoyed for just how little we definitively answered in 110 minutes.

– Once again, another harmful introduction. The first scene in this film continues my least favorite tradition of giving away spoilers before we’ve even stepped foot into the story. Sure, there’s much more to these answers that we’ve been given, but the well-being of the characters in particular hinders any kind of suspense later on that some of these rare fight sequences could’ve used badly.

7/10

Game Night

Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein

Starring – Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler

The Plot – Bateman and McAdams star as Max and Annie, whose weekly couples game night gets kicked up a notch when Max’s charismatic brother, Brooks (Chandler), arranges a murder mystery party, complete with fake thugs and faux federal agents. So when Brooks gets kidnapped, it’s all part of the game – right? But as the six uber-competitive gamers set out to solve the case and win, they begin to discover that neither this game – nor Brooks – are what they seem to be. Over the course of one chaotic night, the friends find themselves increasingly in over their heads as each twist leads to another unexpected turn. With no rules, no points, and no idea who all the players are, this could turn out to be the most fun they’ve ever had… or game over.

Rated R for adult language, sexual references and some violence

THE POSITIVES

– Blending two polar opposite genres together is something that often fails, but ‘Game Night’ conjures up this kind of hybrid playing field where the worlds of horror and comedy merge together soundly. Much of the reason for this is because the humor in this script never takes away, nor sours the mood of the very surreal consequences that these friends are dealing with.

– If a film is called ‘Game Night’ and it isn’t at least fun, you would have an instant fail, but thankfully that doesn’t happen. This film is tightly paced at 95 minutes, richly humorous without anything of the raunchy nature, and packs enough twists in narrative to always keep you guessing.

– Cliff Martinez, how do you do it? Not only does my favorite music composer score this film, but he once again tickles our audible sense with a collection of music that is every bit as transfixing as it is vital to carving out the ominous urgency in his influence of synth-pop game changers.

– There’s much argument for who steals the show here. McAdams and Bateman are of course a delight, harboring a kinetic kind of energy in chemistry that makes their connection evident. But then there’s excellent supporting work from Jesse Plemmons, Lamorne Morris, and probably my personal favorite: Billy Magnussen as the idiot friend whose stupidity is his greatest asset in charm.

– In addition to the well-rounded cast, their characters are each given plenty of scenes to chew up, making each of their voyages on this night of terror equally important to moving one step closer towards the big reveal. I personally will always support a film that caters more to the team aspect than just one or two great leads, and ‘Game Night’ is certainly of that caliber.

– Surprisingly enticing cinematography by Barry Peterson. With the exception of ’22 Jump Street’, Barry hasn’t gotten a chance to really shine in a winner, so it’s a pleasure to see how far his experience has come in gripping a visually enhancing companion piece to the hip script unfolding before us. The chase sequences both in and around the car are shot competently in keeping with the pulse of intensity, and a two minute chase sequence in the house that is manipulated to look like one continuous shot is one that I appreciated for the kind of choreography that you can bend in a setting so immense.

– This is definitely the most I have laughed over the last year of cinema, and that really surprised me because after not laughing at all during the trailer, it saves its best material for the paying customers.

– It goes against the grain in not falling into the trap of a third act conflict between these friends that almost every comedy today must do. Instead, by keeping them constantly on the same page, it enriches their friendship in standing together through arguably the worst or best night of all of their lives.

THE NEGATIVES

– There’s a scene about midway through where Bateman’s character is searching a police database laptop for the identity of a man they are searching for. There’s two things funny about this; 1. There’s a search bar labeled “Alias name”, and 2. He types in “The Bulgarian” and only one person comes up. I guess only one person in the entire world goes by a name as cryptic as “The Bulgarian”.

– The final two shots of the movie are easily the weakness of the entire film. The first involves continuing the story with a kind of sequel bait kind of way that doesn’t make sense with how things concluded, and certainly doesn’t fit in any kind of possible continuing conflict. The second scene is a credit sequence that shows how everything was accomplished by a certain character. Every film mystery needs an answer, yes, but in solving the mystery here and trying to answer so many questions, you only see the glaring plot holes that highlight just how truly impossible this whole thing was to script together by any one person.

8/10

The Cloverfield Paradox

Directed by Julius Onah

Starring – David Oyelowo, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Daniel Bruhl

The Plot – Orbiting a planet on the brink of war, a group of scientists from many countries test a device to solve an energy crisis, but instead end up face-to-face with a dark alternate reality.

Rated PG-13 for mild profanity, violence and gore, as well as frightening imagery.

THE POSITIVES

– This is a very talented collaborative cast who are put through the ringer of some very basic character development. Where the sun shines is in the hearty humanity of Mbatha-Raw, as well as Oyelowo’s endless intelligence. In them, the film offers two compelling leads to play against typecast of minorities in this particular genre.

– Legitimate frights that feed to the very modern day ‘Black Mirror’ influenced audiences who crave nightmare worlds being brought to life.

– A dual narrative between orbit and land that seeks the importance of both. As to where most science fiction in space films leave the latter behind, this script understands the value in both to the progression of the revealing points.

– Bear McCreary’s enthralling musical tones. While only a stud previously on television scores like ‘The Walking Dead’ and ‘Battlestar Galactica’, McCreary dedicates his single best feature film score to date, pushing the urgency long after the uneven twists have peaked creatively.

– For a Netflix film, the movement of the camera angles and pursuing shots offer a subtle, yet commanding focus on where to keep your attention at all times.

THE NEGATIVES

– It doesn’t take a genius to see how thin the Cloverfield folklore is squeezed here. Once again, this feels like a script for an entirely different film that was re-written last minute to cater to a popular franchise. I never thought I’d say this, but this sequel needs more influence of its predecessors.

– The continuing problem that I have with this series is that I’m left with even more questions with each passing chapter. This is OK temporarily to get the next one over, but I can’t escape this inevitable feeling that the questions that arose from the original film more than ten years ago will be left forgotten.

– While not the worst I’ve ever seen, the computer generation in effects work can be boldly compromising to the live properties around it, giving scenes an unwelcome cartoonish layer that totally took me out of the terror. The eye ball scene in particular looked so unappealing that its movements never feel authentic enough to take seriously.

– There never feels like enough capitalizing on the intoxicating ideas that the first act introduces. The final minutes, which have previously been the peak of the previous two films, peters away enough momentum, and will have you checking your watch for the first time all film.

– Smart people making stupid decisions part……….umm. Certainly nothing new to space settings, but the choices made by scientists here continue to insill laughter in me when I really shouldn’t be.

5/10

Winchester

Directed by Michael and Peter Spierig

Starring – Helen Mirren, Jason Clarke, Sarah Snook

The Plot – Inspired by true events. On an isolated stretch of land 50 miles outside of San Francisco sits the most haunted house in the world. Built by Sarah Winchester (Mirren) heiress to the Winchester fortune, it is a house that knows no end. Constructed in an incessant twenty-four hour a day, seven day a week mania for decades, it stands seven stories tall and contains hundreds of rooms. To the outsider it looks like a monstrous monument to a disturbed woman’s madness. But Sarah is not building for herself, for her niece (Snook) or for the brilliant Doctor Eric Price (Clarke) whom she has summoned to the house. She is building a prison, an asylum for hundreds of vengeful ghosts, and the most terrifying among them have a score to settle with the Winchesters.

Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, drug content, some sexual material and thematic elements

THE POSITIVES

– Both Mirren and Clarke are both far too good for this film, living through such emotionally resonant performances that aren’t highlighted enough in this faulty script. Mirren particularly makes the most of her frightful starring role with a fragile walk between two sides of mental well being that leave her shaking.

– The interior set designs echo that of the real life Winchester house wonderfully. Between this and the faithful wardrobe selections, we as an audience are easily submerged in the 1905 setting that the story takes place in. I wish more was done psychologically with the tricks of this maze house though.

– There are some enticing themes throughout the film that try to up the ante of a thinking man’s horror movie. Man versus medicine, the importance of our pasts, and (Especially my favorite) our greatest creations supplanting themselves as our greatest curse, are all major selling points for where the material takes us.

– I was never bored with this film. 90 minutes in and out offers such breezy pacing that it rarely has moments of downtime to lag or wither with the progression of the screenplay.

THE NEGATIVES

– On the opposite side of the positive spectrum for runtime, the film’s entirely convoluted third act and unnecessary plot twists feel like they try to do too much in too little of time allowed. Very little in the way of shock or awe have much time to linger in the air because there’s always something additional included just behind it, and ‘Winchester’ is no exception to this curse that feels like its time was cut in half.

– As usual, terrible jump scares. Not only do these ones not feel even slightly justified in the sound mixing department, but they are also paced unevenly. We will go twenty minutes without a jump scare, and then have three in the same scene, making it a jarring display of cliche frights that get old quickly.

– Speaking of cliches, this film feels like a sitcom’s perspective on scary movies. There’s the creepy butler, the supporting characters who feel dazed by their spooky environment, and of course possessed children. Stop me if you’ve heard this one already.

– During the critical third act set-up when the spirits are at their most powerful, where the hell did the 24/7 construction crew around the house go?

– There are some eye sores when it comes to establishing shots of the house during the first few initial scenes. I never expected an entire practical set replica of the immense house to be made, but if you’re going to submit a C.G illustration for the film, can you at least render it so the color tints aren’t so polarizing? Pay close attention to those scenes and you might think you’re watching a cartoon.

– Endings with people versus paranormal often never end in rave reviews, but this one might be amongst the worse. I might not remember a lot about this film in three months, but I’ll always remember how a practical object that has no spiritual powers or special magic killed something that was already dead.

4/10

Insidious: The Last Key

Directed by Adam Robitel

Starring – Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson

THE PLOT – In the fourth installment of the Insidious franchise, parapsychologist Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) must delve even deeper into the infernal world known as “the Further” when supernatural forces target her own family, sending her and her team reeling from a haunting that takes place so close to home.

Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content, violence and terror, and brief strong adult language

THE POSITIVES

– Lin Shaye’s reserved, yet emotionally wrenching performance that proves age is only a number.  Visual scars are there, but it’s in Shaye’s haunting of her past where we embrace her at her edgiest. It’s incredible to see how an originally supporting character has become the focal point for this entire series, and because of such, we are treated to a film that centers around her character’s origins.

– The idea that the most powerful of ghosts are the ones from our pasts that continue to haunt until we choose to confront them once and for all.

– Continued excellence in lighting that articulately divides our world from the further. There’s nothing extravagant or costly about its effects, yet the graying state of this supernatural world omits a clear cut vibe of decay in the atmosphere.

– Jump scares are few and far between, and even better than that, the scares are patient. There were many times during the film where I felt that I had it predicted as to when someone or something would jump out, only to be duped into hanging on a bit longer before that itch had to be scratched.

– The seamless insertion of this film between chapters 1,2, and 3 of the series. Some sequels often feel unnecessary or even forced with their inclusion, but ‘The Last Key’ doesn’t ever feel shy on what happened before or after this story, without using it as a gimmick to feed into fans of those previous installments.

THE NEGATIVES

– This is a series that accomodates to comedy quite well, but this film certainly isn’t one of those, as Whannell and Sampson’s comic relief duo feel every bit as desperate as they do speedbumps to the progression of this story. Each time a scene focuses on them, it either runs for too long in not cutting to the point, or highlights just how truly insignificant their characters are in this fourth chapter.

– Speaking of Whannell, this is arguably his weakest script to date. I could get over the fact that this film doesn’t continue to elevate the rules of the further like the previous movies, but for a writer to write himself as the guy who saves the group and gets the girl, reeks of shameless self-promotion that hinders the power of the pen.

– Too many characters and not enough exposition for any of them. The film’s introduction focuses on our central three characters, then introduces us to three more in the form of three locals who they meet at a diner, then abandons half of them before the pivotal third act. Bruce Davison’s character in particular feels like a wasted opportunity between him and Shaye to really feed into their secret connection.

– Once again, the ear-shattering jolts that each jump scare exert play like an audible poison for your delicate drums. Thankfully there aren’t many of them in the film, but their level of intensity feels artificial when compared to the noise that would be made by those particular instances. For my money, a violin never shrieks whenever I accidentally run into someone who I didn’t see coming.

– Because this is the second chapter chronologically in the series, the air of predictability can’t help but rear its ugly head. Even worse, Whannell does zero as a screenwriter in remotely subduing this handicap for even a minute, forgetting to instill even a slight bit of urgency or dread in visuals that all but paint the scenario for him.

5/10