Slender Man

Directed by Sylvian White

Starring – Joey King, Javier Botet, Julia Goldani Telles

The Plot – In a small town in Massachusetts, four high school girls perform a ritual in an attempt to debunk the lore of SLENDER MAN. When one of the girls goes mysteriously missing, they begin to suspect that she is, in fact, His latest victim.

Rated PG-13 for disturbing images, sequences of terror, thematic elements and adult language including some crude sexual references

POSITIVES

– Creepy visuals that are very well edited and pasted together. For this reason alone, I wish this film was a 30 minute short to capitalize more on the lore aspect of Slender Man, instead of being a jump scare fest that feels drawn out even twenty minutes into the movie. When the focus is on this viral video to capture the essence of the character, it’s so much more unnerving than something we can predict the formula to.

– If one thing stands out above the rest in this film, it’s definitely the atmosphere of Slender Man’s woods and surrounding landscapes, that properly set the mood. Almost immediately, we’re treated to cheap production qualities that include blurry out-of-focus lenses, and dimmed lighting to properly set the mood, and it’s something that I would normally call out for a negative, but in films like this you need the presentation to look so far from anything else in its respective genre. This measure is valuable in a visual metaphorical sense as well, because it constantly feels like this virus or plague continuously follows around these ladies in their everyday routines, and they just can’t shake it.

NEGATIVES

– Shameless Sony as usual. For those who have read my reviews about Sony produced films, you know that I have no problem calling them out on the obvious promoting that they do for their products in films, and ‘Slender Man’ is more of the same. Nothing keeps you more in that terrifying frame of mind from horror than your concentration being broken when you notice the obvious Sony logo on a Vaio laptop or cell phone that the characters have. Maybe I wouldn’t mind as much if the name brand was edited out of the frame, but it’s so obviously intentional the way a particular frame zooms in on the outer layer of a screen.

– Terrible acting all around. My problem with the main four girl protagonists in this film is that they know they’re in a horror movie, and that constant over-reaching to make up for a lack of overall personality shows in spades. Long before Slender Man ever comes into the story, these ladies talk and act like they are the victims of some terrible tragedy that has plagued their family, worse of which being Botet, who couldn’t summon one ounce of dramatic depth to her often numbingly-dull facial reactions.

– No scares equals boredom. If you are searching for cinematic Nyquil, look no further. Because of its lack of capitalizing on an already established atmosphere, as well as a desire to play towards the cliches of thoughtless jump scares, the film loses its fresh factor quick, feeling a condemning of redundancy that keeps it from ever evolving. The film is hoping that this imagery that is completely out of context will satisfy the easy-to-please horror fans who don’t need meaning or even remote psychology to what they’re seeing.

– Something is missing. Considering this is a film that has sat on the shelf for almost a year now, it definitely feels like some judgemental cuts were made that hinders its exposition. Aspects of subplots come out of nowhere in the film, like the offering to Slender Man, as well as what comes from a love interest that completely goes nowhere, leaving me frequently scratching my head where this opposite direction even stems from. I felt this way a lot in ‘The Bye Bye Man’, although not quite to that damning of a level. ‘Slender Man’ just feels like a director’s cut that suffers from amnesia, for the way its shapeless pieces never fit the rest of the puzzle.

– There is a satisfying twist at the beginning of the third act that involves a character betrayal, but it’s quickly ruined for the lack of intelligence and logic that went into it. I can’t give away everything, but a character is outed because she turned the cell phone on herself when she’s talking to another person, and this makes no sense for a couple of reasons. For one, why even do this? If you’re looking to not get caught, the only way would be to keep the camera on the other person. For two, how is she even turning the camera on herself this cleanly without it stumbling or feeling shaky? For three, why have I already put more thought into this than the director did?

– After coming out of the film, I feel like I know even less about Slender Man than I did going in. The lack of overall conviction and energy lended to this urban legend is something that only makes me shake my head, and leaves me appalled for how they could’ve made this terrifying figure their own. No backstory in legend? CHECK, No consistency in rules for how to suppress him? CHECK, Nothing that makes you root against him, especially with stupid kids who are dumb enough to mock his legend? CHECK

– The sound mixing in this film is every bit as deafening as it is ineffective. The idea here is to blare as much loud noise and buzzing as possible, whenever Slender Man appears, taking audiences completely out of the moment every time they have to clutch their ears in agony. I guess if they can’t conjure up any meaningful scares, the only way to have people running out of the theater is to make the auditorium sound like the worst Sweedish death metal band you’ve ever heard.

– Attrocious C.G effects that stick out like a sore thumb more because everything else in the production feels so grounded. This is sloppy levels of post-production even for an afterthought horror movie that is nine years past its shelf life, but it does beat the many times we are constricted by the PG-13 rating that does us zero favors. For the first half of the movie, we are treated to a barrage of cutaways that offer horror hounds nothing in the way of satisfying gore or violence, and in the second half it’s C.G effects that wipe away anything and everything from the imagination and practicality of the picture.

2/10

Unfriended: Dark Web

Directed by Stephen Susco

Starring – Colin Woodell, Betty Gabriel, Chelsea Alden

The Plot – Tells the story about a teen who comes into possession of a new laptop and finds that it may have been stolen. He discovers the previous owner may be watching every move he makes and will do anything to get it back.

Rated R for some disturbing violence, adult language and sexual references

POSITIVES

– Even if it’s unintentional, this film has no shortage of laughs for people who get their kicks off of terrible horror movies. It’s all thanks to a combination of poor amateur acting that is void of any human emotion, and pee brain stupidity in decision making that will have you slapping your head in embarassment.

– There is at least some production value for this sequel, as opposed to the original movie that ultimately forgot it was a feature film. I understand that authenticity is what we’re going for in a movie about adults communicating VIA Skype, but I would rather the production grant me the kind of audio enhancements and clarity of on-screen texting that this sequel granted me.

NEGATIVES

– This film’s antagonist makes the demon from the original movie seem logical by comparison. There are so many instances that I could point to, but some of my favorites include being able to wipe away texts that have already been sent, being able to hack an I.V machine, and having this pixelated cloud follow them whenever they move in and out of frame. At this point, I wait for the third film to feature flying unicorns and pixie dust that help grow razorblade butterflies. The first movie had a vilain who you could at least empathize with, for the way she was bullied to suicide, but the villain in this film lacks any kind of drive to make them remotely as compelling.

– The editing in this movie is so bad, it feels like two movies being pasted together. During the Skype video calls, characters are muted on and off throughout. But if you’re paying close attention, you can see the continuity in their movements to not match where they were in frame a second prior. It’s like the producers didn’t care enough to try and replicate a long-running phone call, instead using these harsh cuts in between takes, and never easing them between transitions.

– Most of the first hour of this movie flies by like the wind, and while that would normally be a positive, it does little favors in establishing just how far we’ve come in this film. Nobody dies in the film until there’s 25 minutes left, and even worse than that, the death scenes are done in such a way that lacks clarity and impact for our satisfaction. Watching characters you hate get killed off is a national past time, and ‘Unfriended: Dark Web’ has taken even that little bit of fun from our plates and replaced it with Simpsons style gruel.

– How dumb are these characters? Well, the movie should’ve ended at around the 15 minute mark, when the main character was supposed to give this stolen laptop back. Why didn’t he? It’s never explained. One second he’s on his way out to meet this mysterious figure and give it back to him, and the next he’s back at the computer screen like nothing ever happened. The price of resolution is seriously that easy.

– Speaking of characters, there really aren’t any. Sure, there’s a cast, but actual characters? Not really. It’s like the screenwriter told them the stereotype of the characters that they are supposed to be playing, and let them improvise from there. Many rub together because of how little exposition is derived from them, and none of them are remotely interesting in the minimalist of ways. At least in the first film, there was that tension in hidden secrets that each member of the group kept from each other, but none of that here to give us something to look forward to.

– Wi-fi horror cliches. Even if the film’s frames come in the form of on-screen computer surfing, that doesn’t mean the producers wouldn’t work in tired jump scares to feed the frenzy of dumb teenagers who don’t understand what makes a good scare. Audio enhancements in terms of pounding sounds when the entity texts them, as well as frames dropping per second, just so a person can pop up next to someone on camera, are just some of the examples that this film sticks to an overdone format, instead of creating anything of originality for itself.

– Bigger message missing. As to where the original movie spoke volumes to our dependency upon social networking, ‘Dark Web’ has nothing in the way of underlying social issues to punch back a poignant approach to its cinema and drive such a meaning home for audiences alike. Instead, this feels from bell-to-bell like just another horror movie, and one whose only connection to the previous film is that of a laptop and a group of friends. That’s it.

– Frustration in repetition. The main guy in this film is dating a woman who is deaf. Along the way, he creates a program that allows her to read his sign language. Midway through the film, this program glitches up, so she has no communication from him. None that is except the Facebook messenger that he has been using all night. He stops typing her in this way for absolutely no reason what so ever, instead I guess so the film can draw out those long scenes of tension when he is trying to alert her to what’s coming. If you’re in person with her, that’s one thing, but if you’re online, she can read texts just like anyone else, so why even waste your time with this program that takes even longer to communicate?

2/10

The First Purge

Directed by Gerard McMurray

Starring – Y’lan Noel, Lex Scott Davis, Marisa Tomei

The Plot – Behind every tradition lies a revolution. Welcome to the movement that began as a simple experiment: The First Purge. To push the crime rate below one percent for the rest of the year, the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) test a sociological theory that vents aggression for one night in one isolated community. But when the violence of oppressors meets the rage of the marginalized, the contagion will explode from the trial-city borders and spread across the nation.

Rated R for strong disturbing violence throughout, pervasive language, some sexuality and drug use

POSITIVES

– For the first hour of this film, I honestly didn’t care about a single one of these characters. But then something interesting happens for their dynamic during the third act. Instead of the drug pushers that we have come to know up to that point, we instead start to see them for being these merchants of sorts for the streets they vow to protect. Because of this, for the first time in the film, it feels like everyone is working together, bringing to life the Us versus Them mentality that the Purge series of films have thrived on.

– Speaking of third acts, the apartment complex finale in this film is arguably my favorite choreographed action sequence midway through the 2018 movie year. Shot competently with enough claustrophobia for angles, as well as sharp, precise bodily movements for the actors involved, the final fifteen minutes of the film will send people home with the kind of adrenaline that they have been itching to see. The film elevates itself at the right moments, and because of such sends audiences home during the biggest edge-of-the-seat moments of the film.

– In regards to the event itself, it’s interesting to rewind and see the inception of such an idea, and how something so extreme gets introduced into society. As a screenwriter, what I appreciate most from James DeMonaco is his logic in cause-and-effects, and not feeling the need to get caught up in answering every single question. Instead, the script allows the audience to fill in the blanks, comparing and contrasting the similarities and differences in our own real world society that always feels one step away from such actions.

– The nightmare imagery of this film is among the most disturbing that I have seen for the series thus far. Aside from the creepy and innovative masks that we’ve come to expect, what really gave me chills were the close-ups of facial reactions that relate that introduction to mayhem the first time they get a taste for blood. It really conjures up that feeling of ambiguity with those we come into contact with daily, bringing to light the issues involved with trust that makes each of these characters feel so isolated.

– There’s much raw and untapped direction in the film’s cinematography that makes it feel like something straight out of 70’s B-movie cinema. The film opens up with these close-up shots while interviewing citizens for the Purge, inter-cutting it with these candid looks at the Staten Island neighborhoods surrounding us, to omit off that yellow gloss of street light color that other films have to pay extra in effects work to obtain. Simply put, this film does what Superfly didn’t.

NEGATIVES

– Once again, there is no dimensions of depth to the cartoon government antagonists that adorn these movies. Perhaps my disdain for this angle wouldn’t be as strong if it wasn’t redundant in every movie, and just once attempted to present relativity to their sides of the story. When you need a villain, a government agent in a suit is always a sure thing, but it doesn’t mean that we should any and every time.

– This film has some of the worst blood splatter effects work that I have seen in quite sometime. There are times when you have to look close to spot it, but the unorthodox reds that spit from wounds like an open spigot, do so with such a lack of believability amongst their overall presentation that have you fighting back laughter. During the occasions when it’s close to the screen, it does the cliche splatter effect when it hits us in the face. I’ve always had a problem with this logic, because what exactly is it hitting if we’re supposedly watching real events played off in real time where there are no cameras?

– As I mentioned earlier, the character development doesn’t kick in until late in the third act, but the acting work itself offers this element very little assistance. Noel isn’t bad as a protagonist, but he’s often relegated to maintaining the drug lord persona when the film so desperately wants him to have these traits of heart. Beyond him, everyone else often feels like they’re amped up to eleven, guided with the kind of direction that constantly reminded me that I was watching characters and not actual people. If the film wasn’t trying to take itself so seriously, and was more of a spoof, it would be fine, but the animated deliveries from some truly cringe-worthy lines of dialogue is too much to overcome.

– I feel like the first act of the film is easily the weakness for the movie, and there’s plenty of places to point at because of why. First, the backstory of the world at that point is rushed by in a one minute montage that gives us the cliff notes to questions that double after this information. Second, there’s never enough influence of government during these scenes, leaving much of the debate of parallel worlds feeling one sided. Finally, for the supposed first purge ever, there’s very little explanation of the rules considering these people are doing it for the first time. Should we assume they know because of their appointments with government officials? Wouldn’t it have been easier to explain it all on the TV briefing when we are minutes away?

– Time period? There’s many elements to this film that made me scratch my head for when this film is supposed to be taking place. For instance, in the original Purge movie from 2013, the film so bluntly states that it takes place in 2014. How can that be possible when in this film set sometime before then, we see a Blumhouse Halloween poster from a movie that is coming out in the fall of 2018? It’s obviously an Easter egg for their future schedule, but its inclusion is an immediate soiling of any time immersion that you have in the film. If this isn’t enough, the film’s use of technological advances in computer generated contact lenses and drones that fly over and film the action, are nowhere to be found in later Purge installments. Why would they introduce this in the first Purge and never again?

5/10

Ghost Stories

Directed by Jeremy Dyson and Andrew Nyman

Starring – Martin Freeman, Andy Nyman, Paul Whitehouse

The Plot – Three spine-tingling tales of terror to haunt your dreams. A debunker of all thing paranormal, Professor Phillip Goodman (Nyman) has devoted his life to exposing phony psychics and fraudulent supernatural shenanigans on his own television show. His skepticism is put to the test, however, when he receives a file of three chilling, inexplicable cases: a night watchman (Whitehouse) haunted by disturbing visions as he patrols an abandoned asylum; an edgy young man (Alex Lawther) involved in a hellish car accident deep in the woods; and a wealthy former banker (Freeman) visited by the poltergeist spirit of his unborn child. Even scarier: each of these macabre stories seems to have sinister connection to Professor Goodman’s own life. WIll they make a believer of him yet?

Currently not rated

POSITIVES

– This was a nostalgic trip for me, to the days of anthology horror films like Trick R Treat or Creepshow, or even television bedtime stories like Tales From the Crypt. Within Dyson and Nyman’s creepy world, anything beyond supernatural not only feels possible, but also expected.

– The duo of directors have many worthy mentions here, but it’s in their impeccable direction with the three victims where they find their biggest impact. Each of the three men are affected differently from their interactions, with Whitehouse feeling confused, Lawther feeling paranoid, and Freeman feeling haunted. Because of this, we get three different protagonist at respectively different times during this film, and each of the actors polish off emotionally stirring gifts. The directors are also careful to leave enough room to make you question if these unstable characters are actually telling the truth with their testimonials.

– Refusing to settle for repetition amongst shot composition, Ghost Stories harbors a wide range of lens effects that provide much needed versatility. The overall presentation feels like we’re watching a documentary in 1.33 box cut ratio, while the film’s grainy texture within the story unfolding before our eyes pays homage to the Hammer films of the 70’s that provide the perfect feel for this anthology.

– In terms of variety, I felt like each of the three stories were satisfying for completely different reasons, and kept me mentally invested throughout the 93 minute run time. Each are given ample time for audiences to immerse themselves in their respective atmospheres, keeping the flow of the narrative continuously moving without one compromising the fluidity of the other two.

– Confidence amongst the blending of tones. Of course this is a horror movie first and foremost, but the screenwriters are not afraid to include awkward humor and unorthodox line reads in granting audiences that brief moment of release after the build-up of tension.

– Deep hitting message. Beyond the hauntings on a supernatural level, I believe the film is trying to hint that those things that seem to stick with us the longest are the events from our past that we simply cannot change, and don’t necessarily involve an entity or spirit that stalks us and is status quo for movies like this. Because of such, the film hits on such a grounded level with human response that I simply wasn’t expecting.

– There is a twist ending that is anything but original, but I can honestly say that I didn’t see coming. What works about it, is how we’re given all of these out-of-context puzzle pieces throughout the film, and we don’t really see the bigger picture until the movie truly wants us to. In addition to this, I feel like Ghost Stories has great replay value because once you know the name of the game, you can start the film all over again and perhaps catch some more of those subtle clues that originally felt like nothing more than unsettling atmospheric strings.

NEGATIVES

– One of my complaints with the individual stories involves their inept perception on when to leave audiences with the lasting impression. Timing is a bit of an issue with where they decide to end each of these three subplots, leaving much to be desired in terms of lasting presence within me, long after I left the theater.

– Far too much dependency of jump scares that get old about thirty minutes in. Jump scares can be used accordingly if they are spread out and used vitally and honestly enough, but Ghost Stories can’t ever escape this unnecessary concept, leaving it to feel like they don’t have a lot of faith in the nightmare dreamscapes that they have created.

– For my money, I could’ve used more exposition devoted to Nyman’s character involving his obvious troubled past with his father. What is evident from the credit introduction is that the two had a rocky relationship. We know this because a barrage of family movies play during this sequence, but the problem is that we never really return to this angle, leaving much to be desired from the psychological side that the film eventually leans so heavily on.

7/10

Hereditary

Directed by Ari Aster

Starring – Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff

The Plot – When Ellen, the matriarch of the Graham family, passes away, her daughter’s (Collette) family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry. The more they discover, the more they find themselves trying to outrun the sinister fate they seem to have inherited. Making his feature debut, writer-director Ari Aster unleashes a nightmare vision of a domestic breakdown that exhibits the craft and precision of a nascent auteur, transforming a familial tragedy into something ominous and deeply disquieting, and pushing the horror movie into chilling new terrain with its shattering portrait of heritage gone to hell.

Rated R for horror violence, disturbing images, language, drug use and brief graphic nudity

POSITIVES

– First things first, if you’re expecting a typical modern day horror film, be warned against it. Hereditary instead puts tension above cheap jump scares that have become all the typical, ranking a refreshingly gloom-and-doom backdrop to compliment the setting stage that is as thick as fog.

– When watching the film, you sometimes see supernatural things happening in the air despite the fact that this film is anything about entities or ghosts. The reason for this is because you are being forced to watch Hereditary from a mentally disturbed person’s point-of-view. Keep that in mind when you watch the film, because much of what you’re seeing is being seen from a particular character’s frame and not so much the audience at home who are looking at what’s happening with blinding goggles of their own.

– In addition to the concepts of wrapping your mind around the things you’re seeing, the sound mixing design is impeccable to say the least. There were many times during the movie where I myself questioned whether or not the things I was hearing were legitimately there, and Linzy Elliot’s manipulation of casual conversation dialogue certainly cast extra emphasis on the unnerving atmosphere that Lester as a director has perfected in his latest.

– Toni Collette overwhelms for two hours of dominant screenplay. Collette has always been an actress who provides an outstanding amount of range with her visual transformations for the role, and this is certainly no exception. Through the many stages of grief and what feels like never-ending stress, Collette takes us on a bumpy coaster of emotional distress that never relents even for a second.

– The shadow work and natural lighting as well, touched an artistic nerve with the art fiend from within. Besides the storyboard miniature art pieces that Collette’s character adorns throughout the film, there is also great care taken with the pursuing of the tricks that your eyes play on you in the dark. Many times during the film, a person or a vital object to the plot can be seen in the corner of the film, bringing a marriage of exceptional framing and ominous lighting that eludes to the audience long before it does the characters within its own movie.

– Much of the family confrontations feel honest in an appreciative kind of way, because of the authenticity of their sheer confrontations when playing against the increase in volume. Most films stumble on this concept by reaching for the dagger blow far too early in the sequence, but Lester as a screenwriter puts enough confidence in his reactive dialogue that reaches for the crowning knockout at the right particular moment.

– Exceptional camera work all around that feeds into A24’s continued presence on horror. Some of my personal favorite touches involved the panning movements that follow a character when they look in a certain direction, the long-winded group meeting sequences that slowly bring Collette front-and-center with our attention, and of course the endless spinning from upside down to downside up when it feels like the crescendo of tension just can’t maximize any further.

NEGATIVES

– While I had zero problems with the pacing of the film, despite the fact that it could afford to lose fifteen minutes or so, a pacing issue I did have revolved with Lester’s script. Midway through the film, a cult subplot is introduced and tends to take up more time than I was hoping when colliding with the family disease plot that was promised in advertising. The link between them is eventually tied up, but it’s within the final twenty minutes that this overload of information is unleashed at us, instead of being paced across the more-than-generous 122 minutes that the film was given.

– Nothing personal to actor Alex Wolff, and I know the role called for him to be childish of sorts in his relationships with his parents, but he stole charm from sequences and completely unglued my immersion in the film every time his character was asked to cry. There is no shortage of this horribly nasal whining throughout the movie, and surely Aster understood how these instances would leave people with unintentional laughter.

– Despite the unnerving presence that is second to none with Lester’s work here, I never really found the movie anywhere near as terrifying as I did educational. I say educational because of the mentality behind someone with mental sickness. But the scares in the film were rarely ever anything above a momentary wince at the sometimes nerve-shattering visuals that I was being presented. I can understand that an out-of-context theme like a film’s trailer will move people more because of what’s being incorporated with those visuals, but on there own I was able to watch Hereditary without ever feeling the paranoia of this family falling apart.

7/10

Upgrade

Directed by Leigh Whannell

Starring – Logan Marshall-Green, Richard Anastassios, Rosco Campbell

The Plot – After his wife is killed during a brutal mugging that also leaves him paralyzed, Grey Trace (Marshall-Green) is approached by a billionaire inventor with an experimental cure that will “upgrade” his body. The cure; an Artificial Intelligence implant called STEM that gives Grey physical abilities beyond anything experienced and the ability to relentlessly claim vengeance against those who murdered his wife and left him for dead.

Rated R for strong violence, grisly imagery, and adult language

POSITIVES

– Falling in love with the overall presentation is easy to do. This film never specifies what year this is, but establishes with it a believable presence not only in its humble technology, but also in the vantage points of city skyline shots that relates this world being not too far from our own. Because of this, ‘Upgrade’ combines the best of both in fantasy and reality that hammer home the imagination time and time again.

– This is Whannell’s first directing effort since 2015’s less-than-stellar sequel ‘Insidious: Chapter 3’, and it’s clear that Leigh has come a long way in finding a signature visual presence that he can mold. The camera work here breathes the kind of creativity necessary to put you in the presence of the protagonist without ridiculing us in a POV circumstance, jerking its way back and forth through the twists and turns of Grey’s interactions, and the attention to detail in story challenges our attention on more than one occasion, to make sure we’re constantly paying attention.

– Jed Palmer’s masterful musical score that establishes a nightmare inside of a daydream. Considering the variety that Palmer establishes with heart-pounding exuberance, I pondered quite often a multitude of composers for the project, but Jed’s emphasis on tone and environmental shifts prove that if you want to do something right, you have to do it on your own. This might be my favorite score so far, in 2018.

– Of the many influences that Whannell pulls from for inspiration, ‘Iron Man’, ‘Blade Runner’, ‘The Terminator’, and especially ‘Robocop’ feel the most prevalent. But homage, not imitation, is the key here. In crafting a film the tributes those classics of yesterday, Leigh puts together a modern day science narrative capable of walking in its own shoes, while conjuring up the poignancy of man’s dependability in technology.

– There’s great restrain from the writer of the original ‘Saw’ movie in where he inserts his violent touch. Because this is a Sci-Fi film first and a horror movie second, the gore is spread out carefully, making its mark when the film needs that impact the most. On top of this, the effects work in makeup and detail to these bloody battles are nothing short of jaw-dropping. Truly gritty stuff for the gorehound in all of us.

– Something that fascinated me about this film is that the single best flow in chemistry was between Grey and STEM, his artificial intelligence working from within. Besides the fact that this depicts just how easy man’s obsession with technology can flourish, it’s also a shining example of Grey’s fading interaction with human beings who are trying to help him. Super smart.

– On the field of performances, Marshall-Green (Visually a poor man’s Tom Hardy) gives us two for the price of one. Aside from his dramatic pull which unravels with subtlety the longer the film goes on, Logan also immerses himself in the sheer physicality that the role demands. All of his movements feel precise with awkward pull, considering he is being controlled by something entirely opposite of what he is, and there’s no shortage of bending that these intense fight sequences require of his body. Harrison Gilbertson’s corporation head Eron is also a shining presence, feeling so foreign because of his time and dedication spent with so much advanced technology.

– Further meaning within the lighting scheme. Even though it’s fairly obvious what these sequences of half blue-half red face coloring are conjuring up, it’s in their illumination of the surrounding set pieces that serves greater value within the beauty hidden in such a grungey and reactive situation that replicates our own real world.

NEGATIVES

– Despite the fact that the screenplay hits more than misses, there are some truly atrocious lines of dialogue that completely take me out of certain scenes. One such line has Grey taking out a gang leader by putting his foot on top of the man’s beaten body and saying “Didn’t anyone tell you? I’m a ninja”. UGHHHHH!!!! My problem isn’t so much inserting humor in tension-filled situations, but rather just how forced that said humor feels when compared to the rest of Grey’s personality and actions.

– Tug-of-War ending. There are two bombshell deliveries associated with the ending. The first one is obvious because of how little the movements of the main cast are blessed with. The second pleased me initially because it was a swerve from what I previously mentioned, but soon soiled when you start to think how little it makes sense. It’s hard to say this without spoiling it, but there’s no real reason why Grey was even necessary in this particular plan. Besides this, it makes even less sense when you consider how many times this true antagonist put themselves at risk just so the plan would come to fruition.

8/10

Revenge

Directed by Coralie Fargeat

Starring – Matilda Lutz, Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe

The Plot – Jen (Lutz) is enjoying a romantic getaway with her wealthy boyfriend, Richard (Janssens) which is suddenly disrupted when his sleazy friends arrive for an unannounced hunting trip. Tension mounts in the house until the situation abruptly, and viciously, intensifies, culminating in a shocking act that leaves Jen left for dead. Unfortunately for her assailants, Jen survives and reemerges with a relentless, wrathful intent: revenge on those who left her for dead.

Rated R for strong bloody gruesome violence, a rape, sexuality, graphic nudity, drug use and adult language

POSITIVES
– From a presentational standpoint, ‘Revenge’ is the single best film of 2018. Sleek, transfixing sexy style in camera and color coordination that speaks vibes to 70’s exploitation horror with a French style of cinematography. Great close-ups on the Lutz’s body for how males in the film see her, and great close-ups on the males for how disgusting and predatory their long stares equate

– Measured, meticulous performance by the talented Lutz. Her transformation is one that is slowly calculated, and never feels superhuman once the turning point happens. She still very much feels pain, and that fact alone keeps this film from ever being predictable. Likewise, the male antagonists share a stark contrast in personality from beginning to end that reminds audiences that behind every warm smile is a hunter not afraid to get his hands dirty. It almost forces you to go back and watch the film again to see how elaborate the act of a pervert truly is.

– Fargeat is as ferocious as it gets as a director. There’s a fine mixture of feminist onslaught, combined with bloody brutality that not only satisfies audiences, but also has something to say about modern communication between the sexes. In addition, she never sacrifices style for substance, instead proving that a game of aggressive vengeance can feed into both.

– My early favorite for best musical score of the year by Robin Coudert. These tones capture a techno/new wave synth that command the strings of tension for each inevitable conflict. Even more impressive, Robin’s numbers are never redundant or derivative of the same ten seconds of audio on repeat. They very much expand in the same way the violent sequences do.

– There’s almost a satirical aspect to the screenplay that brings together every stereotype for white, rich males, but the air of familiarity keeps the impact of illusion firmly at bay. Sometimes the most difficult things to express are the loudest truths, and this film gives you more than a few perspectives at female dating that so-called ‘Chick-flicks’ just can’t capitalize on.

– The title is short, sweet and straight to the point. I don’t often give points for a title, but ‘Revenge’ hits the nose with everything the film encapsulates.

– Carnage candy for days. Even for a horror enthusiast like myself, there were two scenes in this film that made me wince in agony. Fargeat is happy to oblige in giving us the most disgusting and volatile angles that she can muster, choosing to never look away or put on the brake pedal from karma’s greatest game. Beyond this, each form of revenge in the film is a form of penetration, and that’s something that I don’t think was an accident when you consider the touchy subject matter of the first act.

– What is so astonishing about Fargeat as a first time director is not only her ability in giving genre enthusiasts what they want, but also the twists with genre cliches that she offers another take for. In this film it is the man who bares his body. In this film it is the men who make the stupid decisions. In this film the rape sequence doesn’t need as much spoon-feeding as in other films like ‘I Spit on Your Grave’ to be effective. The way it is shot and focused upon proves that the implication is more than enough to get her audience so invested in the moment.

– Much of the sound mixing here offers a stark contrast than what we’re used to, in that it heightens those moments of quiet in which characters are known to hide or plot to offer us a perspective into blood-rising or adrenaline boiling over. This made for some of the more exciting scenes than even that of the attacks because a volcano won’t blow if it’s not given the pressure to rise to the top, and the payoffs each time are that much more stimulating because of the poking and prodding to the audience.

NEGATIVES

– Some of the imagery edited into frames are a tad bit too practical for my taste. While they all make sense from a creative standpoint, I couldn’t escape this taste of obviousness a time too many. I feel like the film works best when its social commentary feels earned and not forced, and sometimes these brief moments of inclusion soiled the impact of letting Lutz take the reigns for herself.

9/10

Breaking In

Directed by James McTeigue

Starring – Gabrielle Union, Billy Burke, Richard Cabral

The Plot – Gabrielle Union stars as a woman who will stop at nothing to rescue her two children being held hostage in a house designed with impenetrable security. No trap, no trick and especially no man inside can match a mother with a mission when she is determined on Breaking In

Rated PG-13 for violence, menace, bloody images, sexual references, and brief strong adult language

POSITIVES

– Perhaps my single favorite element of this film was the red-light infused set pieces that amplify the tension in the areas where the screenplay doesn’t. There’s certainly an 80’s neon vibe being accentuated here, and even though it does feel practical as far as aesthetics go, it still sets the tone properly in the simplistic sense.

– While the film is short on exposition, the element of one-upmanship still prospers between Union and Burke’s characters. More so during the second half, the film consistently keeps upping the ante and passing off control of the situation to prove that there is no easy solution to this conflict.

– At 83 minutes, this is as easy of a theatrical sit as you’re going to get. The pacing is smooth, leaving very few down moments for audiences to check their watches.

– This is certainly a test of two wills, one determined to protect her children and one determined to attain the biggest score of his criminal career, and it’s in that contrast where we understand the similarities between each respective position. The stakes are simply too rich for either side to back down, and that mentality sets the stage for the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object.

– Major kudos to casting director Nancy Nayor for easing the lines of believability with this identical youthful cast. There are very few instances when a Mother/Daughter casting has ever been this in-sync with appearance, as Union and daughter Jasmine (Played by Ajiona Alexus) look like they could’ve been separated at birth.

– The setting of this house is not only ideal in the amount of space that the many unfolding scenarios are granted, but also in establishing the isolated atmosphere needed in the quiet playing tricks on our sound. Much of the rules from within are set early on and followed through with completely, combining a technological spin to enhance the twists and turns.

 

NEGATIVES

– Beyond this film’s edge being tainted by its PG-13 rating, it feels like this film was shaped to form that rating from something much more adult-like. Besides violent scenes being cropped out of frame, there’s also a few terrible A.D.R deposits that clearly muffle out vulgarities in catering to a more inclusive audience rating.

– None of the confrontation sequences feel honest in depiction. Quick edits and tight angles offer very few chances to dissect what is taking place on screen, and these motions commute that the chemistry and choreography may have been lacking between two dance partners of brutality.

– There wasn’t one single performance that I could really hang my hat on, despite the fact that no one truly does a terrible job in their acting. Most of the problem revolves around this screenplay that doesn’t offer this talented cast much meat to sink their teeth into with their respective characters. Even the four antagonists in the film feel very generic when compared to other late 90’s B-movie survive-the-nights.

– I appreciated that the screenplay attempted to give us something more with the backstory history between Union and her father, but it never forms into anything of depth for our central antagonist’s conquering of adversity. Disappointingly, this entire subplot isn’t even touched upon after the few initial instances that do nothing but say this woman probably didn’t have the best relationship with her Father. It’s a missed opportunity in reaching the levels of a film like 2000’s ‘Panic Room’, that has a near identical plot.

EXTRAS

– There is an odd final edit of the film, just before the credits. We get a long angle of the scenery, followed by a fade to black, and then nothing for a good twenty seconds before credits start rolling. Someone wasn’t paying attention to the sequencing involved with keeping the momentum inside of the conclusion.

6/10

Bad Samaritan

Directed by Dean Devlin

Starring – David Tennant, Kerry Condon, Robert Sheehan

The Plot – A valet (Sheehan) develops a clever scam to burglarize the houses of rich customers. Things go smoothly until he robs the wrong customer (Tennant), and discovers ?a woman being held captive in his home. Afraid of going to prison, he leaves the woman there and makes a call to the police, who find nothing when they investigate. Now, the valet must endure the wrath of the kidnapper who seeks revenge on him, all while desperately trying to find and rescue the captive woman he left behind.

Rated R for violence, adult language throughout, some drug use and brief nudity

POSITIVES

– This is a film vehicle designed specifically to show off Tennant’s unshakeable talents. I say that because he was the most glaring positive that I took away from this movie. As the antagonist for the film, Tennant offers another rare glimpse of his growing personality that this time depicts a meticulous killer whose cunning intellect and shark-style eyes are his greatest strengths. He’s menacing when confronted by an enemy, and calculated in calm when confronted by authorities, crafting the kind of killer that drives audiences crazy because of how put together he is.

– Devlin brings the style. If you take away nothing else from the same man who brought us last year’s ‘Geostorm’, understand that he can grant a very serene kind of design to his thrillers. ‘Bad Samaritan’ often feels like it is in a nightmare dreamscape, capped off with glamorous lighting and sturdy camera work to give us a film that is enticing to look at.

– While I have problems overall with the narration for the movie, I will say that the mental fortitude test being played between the two male leads was something that constantly raised the stakes to the ever-changing scenery of the game, and truly evolved this into a serial thriller from a

– I loved the decision to cast a majority of this film in the Oregon countryside. Considering this takes place during the winter time, a frost-biting chill takes over the auditorium, and the forest’s infinite trees tell a story that a lot of the times the film can’t even fully grasp.

NEGATIVES

– There are no shortage of plot contrivances here. It would be easy to use the excuse of turning my brain off, but when I know how certain investigations stem, as well as how truly stupid these duo of thieves truly are, I’d have to be braindead to ignore the never-ending list of implausibility that plagues the believability.

– Brash editing that is never consistently paced with the progression of the film. It constantly feels like multiple people are editing this film together, and that’s a problem for pacing of particular scenes that deserve more exposition time, and some scenes that overstay their welcome whole.

– This feels every bit of the 105 minute runtime that is left at our feet. A major reason for this is that the film goes almost an entire hour between thrills to lose itself in an investigation that is only there to answer the questions that writer Brandon Boyce can’t creatively work into the one-on-one cat-and-mouse game being played between Tennant and Sheehan.

– There’s this awkward backstory that opens the film and occasionally peeks into focus during sporadic scenes throughout, and I felt overall that the juice just didn’t warrant the squeeze with this one. There’s no surprising reveal or elemental twist that ups the ante, and these few out of context moments felt like they were paying tribute to something harshly disjointed like last year’s ‘The Snowman’, although nowhere near as faulty.

– I have great difficulty feeling for characters who enjoy robbing people just because they’re rich snobs, and my overall feeling of rooting for Tennant’s serial killer never changed throughout. ‘Don’t Breathe’ was excellent with something like this, evolving the trio of thieves with a backstory that articulated their urgency to get out of town. For ‘Bad Samaritan’, that empathetic approach never materializes, and because of such we’re left with a game of bad versus worse that doesn’t remotely consider the judges at bay; the audience.

– Awful A.D.R effects that have me scratching my head. This is an R-rated movie with several scenes of adult language dialogue being exerted, so why the few instances of audible narration that override the lips of an actor mouthing a specific vulgarity for cover-up? If the effect itself isn’t a glaring problem, the volume of the inserted audio most certainly is, alienating itself from the consistency of a conversation between two characters that sounds like one is occasionally having their testicles ripped apart.

4/10

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