Hell Fest

Directed by Gregory Plotkin

Starring – Bex Taylor-Klaus, Reign Edwards, Tony Todd

The Plot – A masked serial killer turns a horror themed amusement park into his own personal playground, terrorizing a group of friends while the rest of the patrons believe that it is all part of the show.

Rated R for horror violence, and adult language including some sexual references

POSITIVES

– Captivating set designs. In capturing the imagination and detail associated with the haunted house attraction, Michael Perry dazzles us with limitless space opportunity and expressive decoration props to perfectly articulate the hostile surroundings. On top of this, the lighting features everything from a strobing effect to distract, to a variety of coloring to give each scene artistic merit. It’s a reminder that B-grade horror doesn’t always have to settle for limited accentuation within its world building.

– Purposeful jump scares? Anyone who knows me, knows I despise jump scares in horror films, but the ones in this film work because (after all) that is the gimmick associated with the setting. What I love is that the psychology behind the jump scares are more for the characters inside of the movie, and less as a tease for us watching at home. Because of such, the scares never feel timely or predictable to us because they are catering to just the world depicted inside of the screen, and not worrying about constantly breaking the fourth wall. It’s something I commend this film for greatly.

– Hard-R. Many mainstream films don’t receive the coveted R-rating anymore, mainly because they are seeking a wider age range in audience to fill their seats, but ‘Hell Fest’ whets our appetites repeatedly with an overabundance of gore that stems from some exceptionally creative kills. I challenged this film repeatedly to shy away from depicting where each devastating blow was headed, and never once did it succumb to the pressure of the standards of a flawed ratings system. There’s also great teasing and struggle leading up to them that increases the tension and urgency tenfold, and never allows the moment to evaporate with one quick blow. It chews up the scenery with repeated confidence, and this element gave this horror hound lots of satisfaction repeatedly.

– Consistency in pacing. ‘Hell Fest’ certainly isn’t a difficult watch by any stretch of the imagination. It’s an 84 minute movie that constantly keeps breezing through a barrage of ever-changing landscapes and pulse-racing atmosphere to keep the attention firmly planted on the screen. Never during the film was I ever bored or distant from what was transpiring, nor did I feel like the allowed time did a disservice to the story itself. It’s a great way to burn an hour-and-a-half off of your day.

– Bear McCreery’s almost operatic score. McCreery is someone who is quickly becoming one of my favorite composers in film, and his work in this film is more proof for the pudding. Bear’s amplified compositions ignore subtle nuance and instead instill a ranging vibrancy for the variety in environments. Yes, this is all happening under the roof of one location, but the many themes inside the park are given enough respect from Bear to keep their music marginally different, and without them ‘Hell Fest’ wouldn’t earn even a fraction of the elevated tension that it frequently earns.

NEGATIVES

– Convenient plot devices. One aspect that disappointed me and took away from my growing enjoyment of the film was in the many conveniences that Plotkin forces us to endure, which even for a horror film are a bit of a stretch. This is as popular of a park as you can imagine, yet there’s only our ensemble cast who we ever see interacting in these attractions. Yes, we are given exposition in the form of V.I.P passes, but never on any park on this planet would this angle work for a single day. There’s also an angle with the killer’s shoes that makes it conveniently easy throughout to pick him out whenever he is trying to hide or blend in. As well, the killer isn’t exactly as wise as the film paints him out to be. Several times he does himself a disservice by allowing a character an easy escape, or just plain out walks away from them after he strikes.

– Lack of characters/bad acting. The work from this cast is offensive even for a campy, B-grade horror film. Their over-the-top personalities and selfish instincts repeatedly rubbed me the wrong way, and made it easier for me to embrace the film’s antagonist to kill them off one-by-one. Much of this can be blamed on the total ignorance of backstory or exposition from the film, but the fresh-faced cast often make it unpleasant to spend even one moment with them. These are people who I myself would never spend one evening with in my personal life, so being forced to endure them without distraction is a test I often failed.

– As for the killer himself, there’s nothing remotely satisfying about his big reveal that makes the juice worth the squeeze. His arsenal in weaponry is quite bland, his costume is something that could be put together at Costco, and any wave of clarity or logic for his hatred of haunted houses is never further elaborated on. Without spoiling anything, there is a scene near the end of the movie that I think implies to paint that this guy is a regular human being like you or me, but that still doesn’t even attempt to piece together the motivation for such a sporadic hobby, and just kind of sends us home on an emptying wave of air that slowly omits itself from the momentum of this film.

– One and done. Cameos from legendary figures in horror films are certainly nothing new, but the way Tony Todd, A.K.A The Candyman, is shuffled on and off screen during this film is downright insulting. Todd is given relatively high billing for the film, and is reduced to nothing more than a one-off scene that leaves no lasting impact. When you have a name like Todd’s, you go all out, and for my money I could’ve used more background for his role as the host of this terrifying attraction.

– The film’s premise, while nothing original by the genre’s standards, really goes disappointingly unexplored. One could argue that this leaves room for future installments, but much of the creativity associated with dissecting what is real and what isn’t in the park is never further elaborated on, removing many opportunities for fake-out scares and mysticism for the setting that I felt this movie desperately needed. For my money, establishing a one-man killer early on only limits the potential of paranoia within its walls, and leaves a general underwhelming feeling going forward that kept the scares very rudimentary.

5/10

Lizzie

Directed by Craig William Macneill

Starring – Kristen Stewart, Chloe Sevigny, Kim Dickens

The Plot – In 1892, after the Borden family welcomes a new Irish maid called Bridget Sullivan (Stewart), she and Lizzie (Sevigny) become friends. The friendship between these women becomes something more and that is not only falling in love, at the same time they’re are both victims of physical and sexual abuse from Mr. Borden. But tension in the Borden household, leading to a violent breaking point.

Rated R for violence and grisly images, nudity, a scene of sexuality and some adult language

POSITIVES

– A different take. While there are certainly no shortages of Lizzie Borden movies to quench the audiences thirst for answers on the mysterious night in question, ‘Lizzie’ takes an alternate approach in direction and tone that I greatly appreciated. This film is a star-crossed lovers story of sorts, between Lizzie and Bridget, that overrides some of the horror tendencies that you might be preparing yourself for, going in. I found this direction to not only be a fresh take on a century old story, but also one that pays off immensely for the artistic opportunities that the film capitalizes on.

– Macneill has such a subtle tenderness about the way he depicts this blossoming relationship, shooting the romance with more respect than a story like this would normally feel capable of. For one, the moves of affection feel carefully timed, springing to vision an evidence of fear that is evident in both leading ladies, but also enough glow from intimate camera angles that garner a much-needed essence to Lizzie as a character, and not just a hatchet-wielding maniac. Because of this, Craig puts emphasis in the focus of this story revolving around love, and it’s in that investment whether this film will grab you or not.

– Whirlwind performances on every spectrum. This film certainly feels like a group effort, in that every member of the immensely gifted cast bring their best to their respective characters. Sevigny captivates as the title character, with a plentiful combination of longing and menace that helps balance Lizzie’s disposition. It helps that Chloe is an actress who says so much in a single facial reaction, allowing us to soak up more of the suffocating atmosphere that swallows the character whole repeatedly. Stewart maintains the audience’s focus, with a turn as Bridget that has her feeling like the lone conscience of the audience inside of this toxic household, and Jamey Sheridan once again wonders with playing such a detestable lead that reminds us why he’s one of the best in the business at that particular role.

– Perhaps the film’s greatest strength is its script, which is hinged in this dialogue that makes you want to constantly pay attention to the character interactions, so as to gauge the many relationships. Like Bridget, we too are new to the engagements inside of this house, but once inside we firmly get a grasp for the troubled family’s environment that have riddled them full of trying secrets and desperate situations, and in this regard ‘Lizzie’ feels like a B-movie that Hitchcock might have helmed if his diminishing health didn’t cut his time in the public eye dramatically short.

– For my money, the nighttime sequences were the most eye-catching, for the way the lack of natural light invites us along to the things that go bump in the night. There’s a serene essence to the darkness that envelopes each scene whole, bringing forth the necessary scares that don’t require jumps or the paranormal to sell its taut, tense environment. The film never goes out of its way to feel like a scary movie gimmick, treating its visual capacity as nothing more than a stage for the madness that follows, and that’s something in patience that I commend this film greatly for.

– Composer Jeff Russo’s subtle ambiance in music that echoed the internal furnace of its title character. What Russo does that shouldn’t be understated is keeping his tones minimal in volume, never allowing his emphasis to exceed that of the situation that is playing out before our eyes. Beyond this, he audibly deciphers Lizzie’s feelings throughout much of what happens to her, allowing us the audience this necessary glance inside not only to comprehend, but also to anticipate what is coming next in her cryptic movements.

– Much of the costume work and designs also hit their desired marks, radiating the fashions of 1892 seamlessly. What’s even more appreciative is that these trends never go out of their way to sell the gimmick in the most extravagant of ways, choosing instead to mirror more of the three-piece Bohemian era suits and gowns that feel slightly outdated even for this particular year of setting. This sounds like a negative, but it actually provides layers for the character’s personalities, in that money will never be the whole picture to their well-being, and that subtle hint is something that I greatly marveled at.

NEGATIVES

– Even for a slow-burn, this film does test your patience repeatedly. There’s this very unnerving imbalance between the first and second halves of the film that divide its entertainment value ferociously, and I felt that with more concern paid to the plodding first half, the film’s final moments wouldn’t feel as much like a shred of lettuce for a starving hunger. The murder itself is satisfying, but ultimately not worth the thrill-less trail to get there.

– Trimmed down. This film originally was written as a four episode HBO series that was supposed to air a couple of years ago, and now that it’s a brief 101 minute feature film you can notice the constrictions to the story that rendered it a cliff notes version. Lizzie’s sister is introduced and barely included again throughout the story, Lizzie’s seizures are only touched upon on the opening ten minutes and then never again, and the backstory of Lizzie’s mother isn’t given enough respect to even be mentioned once in a passing conversation. This and many other tiers give the film an often impatient touch that unfortunately did nothing for its pacing overall, and for my money I think this story works better when it is allowed more time to cater to those side stories that help fill in the blanks slightly more.

– Differences in the real life story. I consider myself knowledgeable enough on the Lizzie Borden front, and because of such it was easy to spot the liberties that this film took with the cherished material. For one, the answers of the murder mystery itself has only been hinted at and never confirmed, so this movie’s ability to chalk it all up with nothing left to chance is a bit misleading and irresponsible. Another example is the film portraying Lizzie as this caring human being who took time to learn her help’s name, when in reality Lizzie was just as guilty as her parents with refusing to say their maid’s real names. This is a big deal to me when you’re speaking in terms of honesty for the material, and because of such, ‘Lizzie’ never feels like the whole story, just the parts that are convenient for its narrative.

7/10

Assassination Nation

Directed by Sam Levinson

Starring – Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse

The Plot – High school senior Lily (Young) and her group of friends live in a haze of texts, posts, selfies and chats just like the rest of the world. So, when an anonymous hacker starts posting details from the private lives of everyone in their small town, the result is absolute madness leaving Lily and her friends questioning whether they’ll live through the night.

Rated R for disturbing bloody violence, strong sexual material including menace, pervasive language, and for drug and alcohol use, all involving teens

POSITIVES

– Stylish introduction sequence that sets the precedent. The film opens with this stylish sequence that reminded me of exploitation movies of the 70’s, complete with audible narration and visual likenesses to tell you what’s behind its creative content. In this regard, it pretty much runs through every reason why this film is rated R, giving you a taste of the material before the storytelling has truly begun. This not only showed me that this film had a sense of humor, ala Quentin Tarrantino vibes, but also that it values style every bit as much as substance, welcoming us into a world where law and order has been reduced to civilian measures.

– Authentic dialogue. As a screenwriter, Levinson channels rich honesty in the way he mimics the speech patterns and conversations of today’s youth, bringing forth a level of realism that proves that the man has done his homework. But it isn’t just in the way that this group of free-spirited women communicate personally with each other, it’s also in the articulation and abbreviation of texting that really hammers this positive home. The amount of times that these characters reach for their phones is a constant reminder of how attached at the hips they are to social media, luring them with the cheese that will eventually trap them whole.

– As for the film’s camera work, there’s a documentary vibe that elicits itself from the experimentation in angles and movements that sets itself apart from the rest of the pack. Levinson cashes in quick edits for manipulated long takes, and this decision pays off immensely with some of my favorite scenes that keeps the grip on tension firmly. One such scene involves a house break-in by a masked group of guys, and we the audience are taken through each room of the house from the outside, pasting together the stream of madness that is spreading like a cancer inside. It is definitely one of my favorite sequences of the year, and magnificent for how it’s cut together to feel like it’s playing out in real time.

– Fresh-faced cast. While the film does have some big name long-time actors like Jennifer Morrison, Joel McHale, and even Pennywise himself, Bill Skarsgard, the decision to hire actresses who are majorly inexperienced is one that pays off greatly for immersing yourself in them as characters. What’s equally more endearing is that each of them steal the show in their own ways, carving out four star-studded breakthrough performances that will undoubtedly bring them to the spectrum of bigger pictures. More than anyone, it’s Young’s nightmarish transformation of Lily that keeps your attention, experiencing a growing reaction to the town that puts her at the forefront of the growing panic.

– Going into this film, I felt that this was going to solely rest as a study of harrowing feminism across a post-Trump elected environment, and while it thrives as that, it doesn’t just rest on those laurels. This is also very much a warning to the kind of stock and security that we put into technology, opening our eyes to how truly vulnerable every one of us are when we think this four inch device shields what’s boiling underneath. We are treated to the fragility of hormone-drive males and how respond to female nudity, and how often women are condemned for doing what they want with their own bodies. All of this echoes these small seeds of truth that we can pull from our own society, allowing the fears that are homegrown within the film to grow with the light of audience eyes firmly focused upon them.

– Reflective storytelling. While I already mentioned the transformation of Lily and what it does to the significance of her character, it also shouldn’t be understated what this does to the movie itself that so faithfully follows her. About halfway through the film, this turns into the scariest Purge horror movie that you’ve ever seen, bringing with it more seeds of honesty than that series could ever attain with satire. The unnerving movements and actions of the townspeople are very effective, and the movie’s thirst for blood is fully realized in the way the angles play with your imagination.

– Without question, my single favorite aspect of the film was the mesmerizing lighting scheme that radiated throughout much of the first act. These unorthodox coloring measures are every bit euphoric as they are absorbing, often embracing the mood of the room and characters respectively with its neon tints. As the film progresses, we are given subtle reminders of this scheme, but never as obvious or as influential as it was during those pivotal first twenty minutes, and I believe this is because there’s something to be said about shaking this almost angelic and dreary perception that the townsfolk have on these girls, in seeing them how THEY want them to be.

NEGATIVES

– Not a major problem, but calling the town Salem was a bit over the top for me. If you know anything about the Salem Witch Trials, you know what I’m referring to, and this not only gives off an unsubtle hint at what’s to inevitably come within our story and main protagonists, but also takes away from the audience relating itself even further to the material. For my money, I wish they would’ve not even mentioned the town name. Mentally, this would be food-for-thought in that it could happen anywhere, and doesn’t limit its message of urgency to one specific place.

– Second act spills. Without a doubt, the second act is the weakness of the film for me, often feeling like its narration is trailing off on character shaping and residential panic to properly bring along its progression. Because of the latter, it greatly feels like the response from the town jumps two steps with little or no warning, exceeding believability a bit with such drastic jumps, and I would prefer Levinson focus slightly more on what’s going on outside of these temporarily protected walls that our group of ladies secure themselves in.

– Principal subplot? One such instance of the sloppy grip that Levinson occasionally stumbles at with his materialistic agenda, is the subplot involving a principal’s secret being revealed. This goes virtually nowhere after the news breaks, and what’s even worse is the lack of involvement from this actor/character as the film goes on, reminds us just how much fat the film could’ve trimmed for itself, in ridding itself of these distracting subplots that take us absolutely nowhere. Another such example is the FBI supposedly tracking Lily’s online movements, but then never actually appearing in the film. Surely something this big would have government workers all over the place, but all we ever get is a goofy sheriff twice removed from a Dukes of Hazzard movie.

7/10

Mandy

Directed by Panos Cosmatos

Starring – Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache

The Plot – Taking place in 1983, Red (Cage) is a lumberjack who lives in a secluded cabin in the woods. His artist girlfriend Mandy (Riseborough) spends her days reading fantasy paperbacks. Then one day, she catches the eye of a crazed cult leader, who conjures a group of motorcycle-riding demons to kidnap her. Red, armed with a chainsaw and other weapons, stops at nothing to get her back, leaving a bloody, brutal pile of bodies in his wake.

Rated R for scenes of terror, violence, and nudity

POSITIVES

– An invitation into the Panosphere. For only his second film, Panos Cosmatos continues to raise the bar of expectations, bringing to ‘Mandy’ a serene sense of hallucination that is the closest I’ve ever been to feeling on drugs. Visually, this film is a rock and roll fever dream of epic visuals and an over-the-top color pallet that constantly amazes. Shot with a Panavision AL series with an anamorphic lens, Benjamin Loeb’s mesmerizing cinematography is unlike anything that I have seen in such a long time, bringing beauty and euphoria to such nightmarish imagery.

– Marc Engels manipulative presence behind such sharp sound mixing. One sign of great mixing is when a film is able to fool me into hearing something that may very well not in fact be there, and it’s a constant in this film for my eyes to continue wandering, as I heard a barrage of animals and chanting that never appeared once in the film’s vantage point. Even better, it never intrudes on Johan’s sacred territory of scoring this midnight terror.

– Speaking of Johan, the gifted composer’s work in ‘Mandy’ is unfortunately his swan song cap on a legendary career, and he brings his A-game to outlining this other-worldly dimension that feels present in this film. Besides his love for the dark and ominous, it’s Johan’s range in electronic instruments and synth strings that gives this film’s horror and humanity the effective layers needed. Johansson has always been one of my absolute favorite composers, and from this critic and fan I say thank you for the memories. I’m glad you went out with arguably your most evasive and daring work to date.

– On a level of horror, many might be offended by ‘Mandy’ because it doesn’t have jump scares or conventional tropes, but this film does for atmosphere what others can only dream of. Much of this film deals with the devotion to the occult, so in depicting the helplessness and brainwashing, it truly is terrifying how one man’s guidance can be so dangerous based on how he chooses to unleash it. I found the thought process of this group to not be necessarily scary, but more unnerving and disturbing, for how they continue to believe they are doing the right thing.

– Cage unleashed. While Nicolas has never been one of my personal favorite actors, I can say that he is the perfect man for this project, if even just for the pure insanity that he brings to every character he takes on. As Red, Cage’s indulgence for overacting is the status quo, bringing a combination of grief and vengeance to his demeanor that feels animalistic when he reaches his road of revenge. His words are minimal, instead allowing his actions to do the talking. Cage’s crimson mask is worn like a trophy for his savage retaliation, and for the first time in a while, he feels inspired to give his all to a role that deserves him.

– Pays homage to the classic horror films before it that obviously influence this student-of-the-game director. I’m sure there are more than the ones I found, but my first viewing brought obvious dedications to films like ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2’, ‘Phantasm 2’, and of course ‘Evil Dead 2’. The one common factor here is that they are all sequels, but interesting enough, this is Cosmatos’s second directing effort. It takes two indeed.

– Unintentional humor that speaks volumes for the designated time period. Considering this film takes place in 1983, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the infamous disco versus rock and roll war are prominent in an environment even miles from society, and Panos heart lies with the latter. Our two protagonists don metal t-shirts that bear the obvious pentagram influence, but it’s in the cult’s musical choice of The Carpenters that nearly brought tears to my eyes. In so many words, Panos is relaying the idea that only people under the influence of some higher power can listen to such melodramatic music, and these few instances served as a welcome breath between terror shrieks that were the majority.

– Artistic expression. I know, big shocker right? But far beyond even the variety of colorful vibes associated with the film’s vibrant color scheme, the deposits of animated sequences were also a welcome breath of fresh air. These trippy free-flowing layers represented the dream sequences of those who the focus was on for that particular scene, and echoed accordingly the drug-enhanced vibe that is everywhere throughout the film. Even beyond this, I loved the neon title screens that introduced each character to us the audience. In accordance to this, the film’s title screen doesn’t pop up until halfway through the movie, signaling the start of the movie that was advertised as promised.

– Simplicity in story. What I appreciate about this film most of all is it didn’t require itself to feel cryptic or mythological with where it was headed, despite the first act that sets the stage for some abrasive folklore. At the end of the movie, the decision to hone this as a pretty conventional revenge flick is something that amazes the most, because it’s garners such a gut-punch of an impact from the imagery you partook in. This gives the film such an immense return that doesn’t require poignancy in material to spread the word of its mayhem. The film’s after midnight portal to another world more than takes care of that.

NEGATIVES

– Far too padded out in dialogue and sequencing. This film has no right to be over the 100 minute mark, and it’s unfortunately in its uneven first act where it wears too much of its weight. Dialogue is redundant, editing is testy in its delayed response, and the progression of plot feels most stunted during this period. This aspect will no doubt be the most difficult sell to audiences in terms of pacing, and I can understand it, because this film was one more edit away from being perfect.

9/10

The Nun

Directed by Corin Hardy

Starring – Demian Bichir, Taissa Farmiga, Jonas Bloquet

The Plot – When a young nun (Bonnie Aarons) at a cloistered abbey in Romania takes her own life, a priest (Bichir) with a haunted past and a novitiate (Farmiga) on the threshold of her final vows are sent by the Vatican to investigate. Together they uncover the order’s unholy secret. Risking not only their lives but their faith and their very souls, they confront a malevolent force in the form of the same demonic nun that first terrorized audiences in ‘The Conjuring 2,’ as the abbey becomes a horrific battleground between the living and the damned.

Rated R for terror, violence, and disturbing/bloody images

POSITIVES

– Eerily effective musical score from Abel Korzeniowski. If it isn’t enough that the musical composer’s name is Abel in a film surrounding religion, the wise decisions that he takes in crafting that authentic convent feel moves the atmosphere and tone miles in terms of the inevitable doom they channel. Abel combines these richly dark and ominous tones with the inclusion of an all-male choir, to make it sound like echoing hymns throughout the hallowed halls, and its power is greater than most of the supposed scares in the film.

– Detailed production in set pieces that spare zero expense. What transcends the film from being just another watered down sequel is the attention to eye-popping props and on-location (Romania) shooting that sprinkle its vital investment into this story. Beyond this being just a scary place, it’s one that works for the dimming of natural light whose shadow work messes with your mind on several occasions, as well as the time that went into perfecting uses for even the minimalist of scene time. The graveyard full of crosses feels like it stretches miles, speaking volumes not only to the rich tradition of this convent, but also Valek’s menacing powers that have ended many lives.

– Art imitating life? It’s interesting that both Farmiga sisters, Vera and Taissa, have both appeared in this series of films, albeit in respectively different films. For the younger Farmiga, she is every bit as rich in haunting facial reactions as her big sis, but it’s more in her character’s inexperience with true evil that crafts her performance as something entirely different. As Sister Irene, Taissa rarely needs to scream to keep a grip on the attention of the film, instead being the glaring line of conscience between our world and Catholicism that is tested every foot along the way.

– Uneasiness with simply imagery. When this film isn’t trying to be full of unnecessary jump scares, the unsettling depictions of faceless nuns slowly walking in A rhythmic trance gave me constant reminder of what this film could’ve been if the studio just trusted the atmosphere in tension that has been built across five movies. It properly sets the mood for the film you were promised, but unfortunately lives up with much else, because it would rather aim for the same tropes that is all the craze in modern horror.

– Justification among its counterparts. The ending of the film, while a mess creatively for this lone chapter, does fit in perfectly with ‘The Conjuring’ universe, and does instill strong replay value for the films before it. One scene in particular takes us back to a scene in the first Conjuring movie, neatly tying the two sides together without it feeling like a great suspension of disbelief.

NEGATIVES

– Why is this rated R? Push aside the Academy’s grading that I typed above, and you have a lack of emphasis overall with the coveted R-rating that other horror films so desperately require. Because of the often times blurry surroundings, there’s little distinguishable blood, and there’s nothing too disturbing in violence that would otherwise make me think this isn’t a PG-13 film. This feels like a mistake more on the Academy’s part, but the film itself does very little of risk to warrant this designation.

– Terribly bad A.D.R. It’s almost become typical of me to spot instances here and there in a film where lines of dialogue don’t match that of the proper lip movements that come from their actors, but in ‘The Nun’ that game gets taken to a whole other level. I’m not sure if the sound mixer was asleep at the wheel, but there were two scenes where a character is talking aloud without actually speaking in vision. The film thinks if it hides this character in the background it won’t be noticeable, but that couldn’t be further from the truth, and these instances aren’t strong enough to be considered sloppy, they are downright amateur.

– Continued dependency on jump scares. This is beginning to get to the point where it’s every bit as formulaic as it is anti-climatic. While there are bigger offenders of the cliche, ‘The Nun’ goes to the well eight times too many with ineffective jump scares that can easily be telegraphed from a mile away. It’s typically when a scene’s sound goes from seven to zero in a split second, but there’s something additional even more conflicting here. The camera work and shot composition repeat on more than one occasion for these jump scare scenes, and that redundancy speaks volumes of the laziness that comes across in too many jump scares that don’t warrant the sound that comes from them.

– Inconsistencies of the rules. There are too many examples to cite here, so I will just say my favorite. Valek herself fears crosses in her vision, often times disappearing when she comes into contact with one. In this regards, she can be easily compared to the rules of a vampire. So why then are there not only several instances of crosses in plain view that do nothing, as well as how she can touch and even harm these blessed holy characters without something of harm coming to her. You had one rule for your antagonist, and you even messed that up.

– Without question, the most offensive aspect of the film to me is how it unabashedly rips off scenes and storyboards from other movies without shame. Throughout the film, there are unavoidable instances with films like ‘The Exorcist’ or ‘Silent Hill’, but the biggest offender to me is that of ‘Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight’. The producers of this film must have a lot of faith that no one saw that movie, and they’re probably right, but to completely lift the entire ending from that movie is shameful to say the least, and proves that ‘The Nun’ never comfortably follows its own path.

5/10

Blood Fest

Directed by Owen Egerton

Starring – Robbie Kay, Seychelle Gabriel, Zachary Levi

The Plot – Fans flock to a festival celebrating the most iconic horror movies, only to discover that the charismatic showman behind the event has a diabolical agenda. As festival attendees start dying off, three teenagers, more schooled in horror-film cliches than practical knowledge about neutralizing psycho killers , must band together and battle through various madmen and monstrosities to survive.

Currently not rated

POSITIVES

– Creative kills. Sadly, the effects work is mostly computer generated, but that doesn’t spoil the creativity involved with a first act setting of the stage that is certainly the five most satisfying minutes that this film has to offer. Chainsaws, road tools, and pools of pig’s blood splash and gash across the screen, giving you a fiesta of carnage that the rest of the film has trouble ever living up to.

– Subtle homages to horror icons. While most of the rules and material of ‘Blood Fest’ felt more insulting than not for my taste, the Easter Eggs pointing to some of the elusive legends of the genre felt satisfying for their familiarity. It’s not so much ripping off popular properties as it is depicting their magnitude on the horror pop culture stratosphere. I won’t spoil much, but Hoddertown as a setting within the park gave me plenty of motivation as to where I want to live next.

– I love the idea of this plot. This feeling of life imitating art is one that thrives with my general interest, even if the movie managed to round up zero legitimate scares along the way. On the surface, the event Blood Fest is this great excuse for gore and body counts of the highest ratio to come together, bringing the torture on a grander scale than were used to in a conventional horror film, with the exception of maybe zombie films. P.S – There are zombies in this movie.

– While none of the acting is worthy of over-the-top praise, the work from this ensemble of mostly inexperienced cast members do a solid enough job as a likeable entity. Particularly the work of Gabriel as the final girl of sorts for this film, served as my single favorite performance for the movie, as someone not afraid of getting dirty when a scene requires it. She tends to give her whole body to a scene involving violence, and her petite stature is one that comes in handy for the many twists and turns that the story, as well as her body, takes.

– Much of the comedy, while juvenile and redundant at times, hits its target for a majority of the time, bringing a few hearty laughs that definitely made the sit a lot easier. My favorite scene of the movie takes place in the opening five minutes, when the trio of leads are talking at the video store. The banter between them is timely in their sarcastic deliveries, and overall it’s this scene that sets the precedent for the personalities, as well as the brand of humor for the entirety of the movie going forward.

NEGATIVES

– While this is a far greater improvement on production designs from Rooster Teeth’s other feature films, the set pieces in particular feel lifeless and artificial. When the film isn’t limiting the most of its horrific looking green-screen effects that obscure and blur anything surrounding human properties, the physical properties feel like they were cut out of a gimmick haunted house, lacking any kind of depth or creativity for their inclusion.

– Bare minimum character exposition. These are people who are limited to one word descriptions like “Blonde” or “Virgin”, and the film’s lack of focus to their proper development leaves them equally with nothing to live up to with these minimal tags. Even for a B-grade horror movie, ‘Blood Fest’ caters more to the familiar tropes of the genre, instead of building on the audience’s investment in a particular character, and the result are weightless deaths that add nothing of urgency or effectiveness to the frights of the film.

– Plagued by predictability. ‘Blood Fest’ feels worn down by the lifespan of its gimmick as a movie that is ahead of the rules it promotes, beating into the ground constant reminders that riddle it full of telegraphed moves before they even happen. A couple has sex, so of course they’re dead, a blonde is naked in the shower, so of course she’s next, and this constant ring of reminder annoyed me because of how saddled it becomes with being another follower of the pack.

– ‘Blood Fest’ is everything wrong with the pop culture appeal that it satirizes so often. The film’s antagonist speaks of the horror genre losing its effect because studios have taken what’s forbidden and made it routine, and this movie does the exact same. It’s insulting to condense horror into a few simple rules, but even more than that it’s damning to the integrity of the film when the tone-deaf range, as well as lack of anything original or compelling for the genre rears its head. This gives Rooster Teeth a double F for eFFort.

– The twist, while anything but predictable, is as far-fetched an idea as anything that this film scares up for us. What’s even more ridiculous is that the film didn’t require it, as the movie’s true antagonist and surprisingly creative plot made for more than enough explanation on the idea of this festival. I guess it’s appropriate that a character involved in the ending spouts the line “I did warn you that Blood Fest was going to suck”. Well played movie, and this twist only further emphasizes how right on the money you truly were.

5/10

The Little Stranger

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson

Starring – Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Josh Dylan

The Plot – Tells the story of Dr. Faraday (Gleeson), the son of a housemaid, who has built a life of quiet respectability as a country doctor. During the long hot summer of 1948, he is called to a patient at Hundreds Hall, where his mother once worked. The Hall has been home to the Ayres family for more than two centuries. But it is now in decline and its inhabitants – mother, son and daughter – are haunted by something more ominous than a dying way of life. When he takes on his new patient, Faraday has no idea how closely, and how disturbingly, the family’s story is about to become entwined with his own.

Rated R for some disturbing bloody images

POSITIVES

– This is a ghost story as advertised, but what will make some people feel manipulated is the kind of ghost story it truly is. Far from the world of flying white apparitions and possessions, ‘The Little Stranger’ instead speaks to the kind of haunting that is psychological, most notably in a location where the stacking of bad things happening haunts the family who still live there, and changes the complexion considerably. I dig this angle because its “Ghosts” feel much more understandable from an audience standpoint, and its material transcends the screen for any family watching it to comprehend.

– What Abrahamson excels at far greater than anything else, is the ability to conjure up a mental fog in the atmosphere that is anything but evident by shape or color. There is such a congested tone in the air of this once prosperous mansion that has decayed and aged alongside the very patrons inside of it, and the time spent inside poisons their mentalities almost like a poisonous gas that rests inside of its sacred walls. As a director, he has such a range in gauging the pulse from within his characters, and that is why he feels like the right man for the job in this respective project.

– Absolutely zero jump scares and cheap thrills. To some, they will shy away from this kind of detail, but for me it is much appreciated, as films often overlook what truly makes a film scary, or in this case haunting. ‘The Little Stranger’ very much rests its weight on this growing claustrophobia inside such a castle of a place. It’s in the inability to escape each other that has this family riveted on the edge, and why we as an audience take great fright in their progressive engagements, instead of what goes bump in the night. I compare this film a lot to this summer’s ‘Hereditary’, in that they are both unconventional horror films that refuse to feel influenced by modern day tropes that water down the effect of the story.

– As for performances, Gleeson again takes center stage as this doctor with his own secret past to the house and family. Because of the great passion that he takes in explaining his every memories on the property, we as an audience understand firmly why this is the last string tied to his past that he grips onto ever so tightly. His interaction with Ruth Wilson, who gives a stirring performance as the daughter of this household, consistently feels very tense and even unnatural for the way each feel like they’re hiding something revealing in each other, and it made for this blossoming of chemistry between them that spins in the most unorthodox of methods.

– Exceptional cinematography from Ole Bratt Birkeland (What a name). What is beneficial from Birkeland’s visuals are the necessity in mirroring the mentality for what is playing out. His close-ups feel naturally illustrated, beginning each frame with blur that slowly turns to focus for the character that moves into it. As for color, there’s a dimming aura that enchants the mansion, giving it that mirrored feeling like it previously rained everyday before shooting.

– Authentic timepiece designs in wardrobe and furniture stylings. This is a story that takes place in the 1948 Europe, so the use of elegant dining attire and long flowing gowns colorfully balance the texture for the time. But for my money, it’s in the colorless drab of the worn down wallpaper and 18th century furniture within the house that sets it apart from anything recently. The outdated surroundings speak volumes in this family’s incapability to change or move on, and it’s always great when you can draw that kind of conclusion from subtle observations.

– Surprisingly effective make-up. This was the last film that I expected to dazzle me with its effects work, most notably in the burning and scarred skin of Will Poulter’s character. The camera never turns away or moves quickly when it is in focus, bringing to life the time and effort that went into making something look so horribly disfiguring for this man who must see it and live with it every single day of his life. It’s truly crippling.

NEGATIVES

– This film is only 102 minutes long, and it drags like a horse’s feet after it refuses to journey any further. ‘The Little Stranger’ is a slow burn stinger of a drama, but that was never the problem for me. It’s more so in the way that scenes are often derivative, hammering home what we already knew a few scenes prior, and making it difficult to stay energetically glued to the unfolding mayhem before it. This will inevitably draw away a lot of its audience, and highlight this as a film that is not for every conventional horror fan.

– Lack of clarity with the ending. I’m pretty sure I know what happened in the film’s closing minutes, but my minimal confidence leaves me with the feelings that this movie required better telegraphing for audiences who require that one evident clue in drawing it all together. Because of this, the film just kind of ends on a question instead of a statement, and the disjointed pieces of this mystery still required the glue of clarity in piecing them back together.

– Touches on the class system of England without ever actually riveting us with a compelling observation. Every time there’s a scene involving the cultural divide between families, it feels like nothing more than a time filler. In particular, it’s the flashback scenes to when Faraday was a child that really have me scratching my head, because there’s never emphasis for their inclusion other than to show why he was so infatuated with the property. I could’ve used a lot more exposition for this backstory, ideally in the Ayers family’s point of view, in how they see themselves against those who adored their lavish lifestyle.

7/10

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