The Snowman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/10

The Babysitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7/10

Happy Death Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6/10

Super Dark Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7/10

Gerald’s Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9/10

Flatliners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3/10

Cult of Chucky

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

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

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

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

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

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

7/10

Leatherface

The saw is family, and the origin of that family is given a feature length film depiction in ‘Leatherface’. Set prior to the events in the 1974 classic ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’, the film takes place in the endless out-backs of Texas during the early days of the infamous Sawyer family. The youngest child, Jed, is sentenced to a mental hospital after a suspicious incident leaves the vengeful sheriff’s (Stephen Dorff) daughter dead. Ten years later, while still institutionalized, the Sawyer teen kidnaps a young nurse and escapes with three other inmates. Pursued by authorities including the deranged sheriff out to avenge his daughter’s death, Sawyer goes on a violent road trip from hell, molding him into the monster now known as Leatherface, a psychopathic chainsaw-wielding killer who dons the faces of his tortured victims for keeping. ‘Leatherface’ is co-directed by Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, and is rated R for strong bloody violence, disturbing images, adult language and some sexuality/nudity.

There’s certainly no shortage of Leatherface material for cinephiles to debate for the next several decades, so why not one more? ‘Leatherface’ feels like the peaceful proposal between the worlds of the original four films, the two Michael Bay remakes, and that AWFUL 2014 3D film, and for the majority of it, I can say that this film packed enough of a punch to make me believe that there is still plenty of fuel in the Texas Chainsaw fire as long as the right creative force is backing it. Here, we have the duo who helmed ‘Inside’, one of the most deranged and violent films of its respective year, and their presence is definitely felt in this R-rated gore fest that restores some (for lack of a better word) guts to the franchise. Sure, there’s no necessity in telling the origin of the man behind the mask, and the best mysteries should be left as just that, but the film takes some surprisingly original stances in crafting a completely new Texas Chainsaw Massacre film, something that hasn’t seemed possible in the last twenty years. Is it great? No, but with incredibly low standards, this straight to Video on Demand offering has plenty to satisfy the cravings of its carnivores.

This plot is crafted as a bit of a whodunnit? mystery as to the identity of Jed, and which of these escaped kids from the mental asylum he really is. They’ve all been given new names to avoid their tragic pasts, so what I really dug about this intention is that we approach the most dangerous among them in the same way that his mother does in the film when she tries to see him ten years after he was taken from her. So in a sense, we too are put in the shoes of the head of this sadistic family, and what I appreciate about that aspect is that it immediately pulls you in to pay attention to the grizzly details, something that I have no qualms about saying that worked. Another surprising direction is that this is the first film in the franchise that follows along with our antagonist for the entirety of the film, an aspect that many of these big horror franchises have been fearful of to give away the mystique. In this aspect, we should learn more about him than we actually do in the film, but sadly one way that this film drops the ball is in learning how much we actually do learn once the mystery of his identity is solved. I won’t give away much, but it’s clear that he does have perhaps the least amount of exposition when locked up, but I was still surprisingly wrong with my choice of who it was, so maybe the plot twists alone will be enough to overcome the minimals.

As far as artistic touch is concerned for visual spectrum, this one caters more to the Michael Bay kind of filter. There’s a yellowish tint to give off the impression of throwback cinema, and to me this did more favors in the day rather than the sequences at night that are often too dark to register fully what is going on. This is especially the case with the final confrontation because it ends the film on kind of an 83 minute low, happening too briefly and poorly lit to ever leave us with that big consequence feeling. One aspect of the presentation stands out like a sore thumb even against the miniscule problems that I just mentioned, and that is the horrendous editing choices. For the majority, it stays safe and conventional, but every once in a while a scene will do a double take quick cut that will show the same person to a cut that feels like a noteable amount of time has passed. This became annoying because I started to look for it and seek it out in these scenes, and like a bootleg copy of a DVD that was recorded with a blocker on the box, the film skipped to this poor judgement almost to a timely capacity.

I mentioned earlier that this film is rated R, and what other way could you possibly construct a Leatherface story? If you’re a gore hound like me, you will be very well satisfied with the film’s unapologetic presentation to blood-splattering thrills that constantly seem to elevate and one-up the impact of their volume. The sound pushes these details even further, filling in the blanks in imagination for what you don’t see accordingly. This film gives a gun that crisp feeling so smooth that you can almost hear the oil being burned within it, and for a minimal budget of less than five million dollars, I am greatly impressed with what this film did with its limitations. Each aspect of shock topped the previous, but eventually it did become too much. There’s a sex scene in this film that gets to be a little much, and I could’ve done without the context-less angle of this particular scene that added nothing to the terror, and was just disgusting for the sake of it.

As expected, there’s not a lot to be commended performance-wise for this splatter-fest, but the work of Dorff as this revenge-driven sheriff is a thrill to watch even if you don’t agree with his stance morally. He has a bit of a Sherriff Wydell feel from ‘The Devil’s Rejects’ to him, so this certainly doesn’t feel like new or revolutionary directions, but Stephen is always someone who embraces a character fully to the point where it feels like he has been that person in real life for years. What’s so enticing about his performance is that you can almost see the blurred lines of justice and sloth coming together to form this shell of a man who is still reeling from this devastating loss that plagued him ten years ago. Other than Dorff, there’s not a lot to be pointed out here. I did enjoy Lili Taylor as the virtual commander of this legendary family, but the lack of focus and depth that these directors have for her kind of falls flat when the movie heads her way. Her screen time is quite limited, and that’s a shame because the best parts of the movie for me are when she’s colliding with the rival sheriff, but this film would rather follow the escaped patients mayhem, then the cops reaction. Rinse, wash, repeat.

THE VERDICT – For all of its limited budget and originality constraints, ‘Leatherface’ simply should not work, but the origin story played by way of a 90’s mystery killer component certainly gives way to 83 minutes of blood-soaked surprises that pushes forth with the best Chainsaw film in thirty years. Some production quality aspects should be left in the closet of experimentation, and the repetition overall in the second act is definitely the weakness creatively, but the injection of French style gore with a thirst for splatterpunk, breathes life back into this franchise eight films deep and proves that this saw still has a lot of gas left in it.

6/10

Mother!

“This film is fucking nuts” – Bob Meffert

Critically acclaimed director Darren Arronofsky returns to helm and pen this ‘Mother’ of A mystery starring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem. The film revolves arouns A couple’s (Lawrence and Bardem) once blossoming relationship being tested when A series of uninvited guests arrive at their newly purchased home, disrupting their tranquil existence. After their motives become clear, the woman of the couple soon learns the heavy price that comes with tranquility, and that her once loving husband might not exactly be the same man who she took vows to. ‘Mother’ also stars Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris, and is rated R for strong disturbing violent content, some sexuality, nudity and adult language.

You have to give Darren Arronofsky some credit. With A career spanning over twenty years at the helm of some visual and material masterpieces, the man still finds ways to entice and shock his audience in the most lurid of taboo fashions. In comes ‘Mother’, A film that while I did enjoy, certainly isn’t one that I am able to recommend for what it takes to fully comprehend. Like all Arronofsky films, there’s something greater at play here than just A man and A woman living in this peaceful setting, while strangers overtake and crumble that reality. It’s A thinkers film, and once that lightbulb of knowledge kicks on in the heads of the audience, you can start to appreciate this film for the points that it is trying to convey on this particularly humbling subject matter. What I find so daring about his method of visual storytelling is that he isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty in expressing the true lunacy of A particular topic or event, presenting the audience with the capability to see it through newly discovered eyes. He’s still one of those master storytellers who is articulately capable of presenting meaning without words, A form of expression that sadly is losing credibility with each passing year of experimental film. Because such, whether you like or dislike ‘Mother!’, one thing is for certain; you will be talking about it for days to come.

The decision to craft this story with little narration or exposition is definitely A big risk, but the shoulders of cryptic ambiguity in clear cut solutions is one that actually kept me more invested the longer the film went on. It’s clear that Arronofsky is dabbing in expression here that appoints the kind of artistic integrity to ‘Mother!’ that you would for an abstract painting. For however you see his film, there simply is no wrong answer. To hammer this fact home, Arronofsky never gives any of his characters names, an aspect that doesn’t configure them in one way or the other when deciphering Darren’s true intentions. I can confidently say that I do think I understand what he was going for here, but for fear of spoilers I will not fully get into it until I’m asked. Because of A heavy handed third act with the intentional material, It’s difficult not to pick up on those key aspects that slowly unfolds the arms of mystery and really makes your eyes pop with expression from the mayhem that engulfs it all. I do wish the mystery stayed thick with this one throughout because sometimes the obvious does feel slightly catering to those crowds who are afraid to think. This film is best when it doesn’t feel forced, but the final thirty minutes of this film are simply too bat-shit to not see for yourself.

The attitude too is relied upon heavily in capturing the essence of awkwardness that has swallowed these dual protagonists whole. Without any kind of musical accompaniment to distract or take away from soaking in every audacity-filled event that this woman experiences, the film forces you to be there without missing A beat. The performances are one thing, but the dialogue is rich on the prodding and poking of ones hospitality without feeling artificial or catering to A particular idea in script. You feel everything that Lawrence’s character is going through because she is front-and-center the logic in homemaking that goes with this movie, and feels like our side of things in the spectrum of manners while guests in someone else’s home. The rich consistency in tone for this screenplay really does A lot in puppeteering the precedent for what’s to come with that riveting third act reveal that I mentioned earlier, and that tension of embarrassment will sometimes creep up on you like insects that (Like Lawrence) have overstayed their welcome.

Most of the aesthetic touches in production for the film are used effectively too in pushing that tension even further in each scene. The house set piece is very detailed and weathered in its appearance, and it is truly remarkable the kind of beating that it takes in this film at the hands of Arronofsky, whom shapes the very pulse of such with its own beating heart. The camera angles omit that casual Arronofsky vibe that we have come to know, complete with stimulating camera vibrations when A character is upset, as well as tight-knit close shots of each character’s face that put you in the heart of the moment. The camera follows where our characters wander, weaving in front of and behind whenever they leave the room. This as well is A familiar touch to Arronofsky classics like ‘Requiem For A Dream’ and ‘The Wrestler’, providing A kind of identity stamp of reminder to the man who moves the strings. My only complaint with this method in camera angles is that it can sometimes present itself as erratic when combined with stair movements or physical sequences whose close quarters can feel too close for comfort in depiction. To say there were A few scenes in the film where I had to squint to understand, is A slight understatement, and I hope Darren can instill some wide angles appropriately for future projects.

There is also some noteworthy praise in these weighty performances that each vary from one another in terms of direction. Lawrence’s fragile vulnerability casts her as A true protagonist in the early stages, but then evolves into A true force of nature kind of release. Jennifer is truly one of the best performers going today, and her slow transformation as A dreamer whose life has been overtaken by A series of strangers, really springs logic into her already meaty psychological spin. Bardem appeals in naïve self-promotion that really hammers home the idea how isolated his female counterpart has become. The two of them bounce off of one another on more than one occasion, and it absolutely radiated faithfully as A couple being torn apart by powerful forces. Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer also have something substantial to offer as A married duo who bring out the worst in each other. Pfeiffer is an oversexed control freak, and Harris is A never-do-good type who pushes his luck on far too many occasions. For the most part, this is Lawrence’s show, but the contributions of this complete list of durable performances adds the kind of big name appeal to the bill that we have come to expect from Arronofsky.

THE VERDICT – If you see this film, go into it as blind as you can. ‘Mother!’ has A thrilling underbelly of riveting material that is only surpassed in depth by its thought-provoking depictions that are always pushing the envelope of artistic expression. Led by the most versatile performance of her career in Lawrence, Arronofsky propels himself once again ahead of the horror game without needing too much of the blood and gore that we’ve become accustomed to, and trading them in for A series of squirms that overstuffs the already packed claustrophobia. Pretentious yet powerful.

8/10

IT

The pages of one of Stephen King’s most heralded terror page-turners comes to life on the silver screen, more than 27 years after its small screen miniseries terrified us of clowns. ‘IT’ is A generational affair of frightening events and disappearances that happen at the heart of the small town of Derry in the state of Maine. In the summer of 1989, children again start to disappear around the town, some found dead, and some not found at all. At the heart of it all is A group of seven children who seem to be the focal point of this mysterious entity. The group is dubbed “The Losers Club”, but together they are the unstoppable force and Derry’s only hope against the terror that is come to be known as “Pennywise the Clown”, a shape-shifting demonic entity known to return every 27 years to Derry to feast on the fears of its children. Will this club be the brick wall that silences Pennywise forever? Or will the paranormal force prove to be too much? ‘IT’ is directed by Andy Muschetti, and is rated R for  violence/horror, bloody images, and for adult language.

This film couldn’t have come at A better time. Not only has it been 27 years since the original mini series debuted on TV, an obvious play on Pennywise’s feeding schedule, but it’s also A horror remake that nearly does everything right, proving that innovation can still be accomplished even when it’s borrowing something that has already been done. The right kind of remake in film is one that spins A new kind of story to A familiar tale, taking what little things in outline that worked for its material and shuffling them in A way that caters to A completely new property. That is what gives ‘IT’ A kind of resurgence to the youth audiences today that weren’t born when the original took flight; it understands that A film that is fresh in the minds of its audience has to offer something different, yet at least equally as compelling as its predecessor, A feat that this film nails in spades. It’s faithful to its literary source material without ever feeling like it truly needs to lean or cater too much to that aspect, breathing life into A completely new monster that will chill bloodthirsty audiences of every generation.

The decision to craft this film as an R-rated one is something that certainly comes with great reward not only to the tone of the movie, but also in the capabilities in imagination that it can have with toeing the line of tasteful horror scares. This is certainly A film that isn’t afraid of getting its hands dirty, as right away I noticed an entirely different feeling of honesty and vulnerability from within that I never felt for A second in the 1990 original. The brutality and gore of some pretty wretched scenes not only towards adults but also towards the mostly kid-dominated cast is visceral in depiction, pushing forth the revealing aspects of some scenes from that previous movie that required more of the imagination to get yourself through it. This one certainly doesn’t pull any punches or look away, and from the infamous opening sequence of Georgie’s disappearance, you are immediately impacted for the rollercoaster that follows throughout. The jump scares are still there, but they are used accordingly in the way that they make sense, limiting the obvious cliche of predictable choreography for when it is going to happen. Sometimes the film can overcrowd or even formulate A few too many of these scenes to where the audience desperately needs A breath of pacing in between, but I give the screenwriters so much credit in staying focused on the horror aspect where other films feel pressured to include too much genre-effecting comedy.

What is so refreshing about the script is that this is A film that takes place surrounding A group of kids, yet never hinders or limits the angles that this direction can form. This time, the setting is 1989, and that timeframe generates not only some reflective aspects in the fashion trends and music selections for the time, but also engages in those coming-of-age teenage developments that were ever so present during the hairspray decade. There’s the obvious awkwardness of Beverly, the one girl of the group who is looked at like an valuable trophy to the ensemble of boys who are going through puberty, as well as the embarrassing choices in musical groups that donned our cassette mixtapes, and it all feels authentic for what it meant to grow up in this age. Pushing this even further is some delightful dialogue exchanges between The Losers Club that doesn’t feel forced or even subdued to play to their respective character outlines. I do feel like the film could’ve embraced more character exposition early on in the first act, as Mike, Stan, and Richie are virtually unknown outside of the times when they surround the other fortunate enough characters whose focus includes terrible home lives. At 130 minutes, the film could afford more opportunities at this, but thankfully the performances of this talented group of youngsters elevated their limitations by an endless array of charisma that keeps it gelling without severe consequences to the audience investment of these characters. More on them later.

My favorite aspect of the film was without A doubt the production, in which some aspects should even be pushed as far as Oscar-worthy. To that degree, I am referring to the set pieces. Bringing to life A Stephen King legendary story is no small feat, especially when novels as opposed to film deal so much with imagination, but this movie transformed these memorable backdrops into something unnerving and synthetic to what is described. 21 Neibolt Street was only barely seen in the 1990 original, so thankfully it is given ample screen time here to soak in its very condemned and dangerous atmospheres. In addition to this, the very town of Derry itself is mapped out in A way that makes us accurately conjure up the locations of each business and landmark. The producers of this film feel like they knew how important the setting was to the story. Derry is Pennywise’s playground, and we get to understand the history behind this dangerously sedated landscape that has given this clown such A home-field advantage against helpless adversaries. It often feels like an undeniable poison is omitted from this place, and thankfully the budgets never feel limited in doing the right thing and breathing in that Derry air (Scratches head).

As for the casting, I can say that every role here is tuned superbly for the wide range of characters that make up our leads. To anyone who thought Bill Skarsgard couldn’t channel Pennywise because of Tim Curry’s epic delivery in the original, shame on you. Skarsgard is easily the most commanding presence of the film, but he does so in A way that doesn’t require him to soak up A majority of the run time in these sequences, instead choosing to leave his mark sporadically with echoing laughter. It shows that Skarsgard is having the time of his life in this role. This doesn’t just feel like A man in makeup. As Pennywise, Skarsgard’s movements feel heavy and even paranormal in the way he stretches and bends like A carnival attraction. I am glad the film kept him menacing instead of comedic because Pennywise feels like the pacing of the film in tone, and without that fear, all else would easily be lost. As for The Losers Club, these kids were magnetic together on screen. Jaeden Lieberher has always been A young man who I have followed for years, and I couldn’t think of A more heartfelt youth to emote the sadness of this kid who lost his Brother to something he couldn’t control. As Bill, Lieberher commands him with confidence and bravery that the rest of the group look to when they’re uncertain of the next move. He’s A leader in every sense of the definition. Sophia Lillis was also enticing as Beverly Marsh. As the lone female of the group, A lot falls on her shoulders to speak for her respective gender, and thankfully the film doesn’t limit her to just another damsel in distress. This Beverly is tough, angry, and even assertive when she needs to be, and her presence feels like more help to the other boys rather than vice versa. My favorite character has always been Richie Tozier, and that trend continues with Finn Wolfhard’s perfect comedic timing. When you look back on how many scenes this kid stole in this film, you start to see the makings of greatness in the air. Tozier’s sarcasm constantly reminds you that these are kids no matter how many adult things they are taking on. That kind of youthful exuberance should never be understated, and Wolfhard’s quick-wit seems to never fall flat, producing an iron man of comedy that makes him irresistibly charming.

THE VERDICT – Attention and care bring forth the kind of gripping results rarely seen in A 21st century horror remake, but Andy Muschetti proves that he has the “IT FACTOR” in breathing fun back into the library of cherished Stephen King hits. This isn’t just about A menacing clown feasting on these vulnerable children, but instead A twisted coming-of-age plot that tickles as much as it terrifies for the unity between them. If were playing the comparison game, wrong is to right what ‘The Dark Tower’ is to ‘IT’ on the Summer Stephen King selections.

8/10

Friend Request

College is hard enough, but the biggest difficulty of a young girl’s life is when she accepts A mysterious ‘Friend Request’ that turns her scholastic days into nightmare nights. In only his first American big screen presentation, writer and director Simon Verhoeven’s plight against social media revolves around Laura (Alycia Debnam-Carey), a popular college girl who is very active on social media websites, sharing almost everything in her daily life with her more than 800 friends on Facebook. However, after accepting a friend request from an unknown girl named Marina, Laura soon becomes obsessed with Marina’s profile, and soon her friends begin to die violently one by one because of Laura’s prodding. Who is behind this devastation, and at what end will they take it? ‘Friend Request’ is rated R for horror violence, disturbing imagery, and adult language.

What is there really to say about a C-level horror movie that has been on the shelf for three years, and then finally released to the public with little to no accompanying trailers or promos? It’s everything I expected and more. ‘Friend Request’ had A chance to produce something decent, not great, but decent in its twisting of the revenge plot for A modern day social media exploit. Most recently we have seen this in 2015’s ‘Unfriended’, which was A much better film than this despite its own limited capabilities, but ‘Friend Request’ feels like the movie that we were supposed to get from that earlier film, and is now doomed for a mainstay in the straight to DVD shelves for the rest of eternity. From every aspect of the film’s production, it feels very underwhelming and uninspiring even for mainstream horror. I see plenty of these kind of movies every year, and it’s rare that I can’t find at least something to promote positively from within them, but ‘Friend Request’ is that exception to the rule, ushering in A shameful 91 minute commercial for Facebook in web design, without having the monetary value to mention the name.

The idea in execution is to narrate that our main protagonist is quickly having her friends wiped away in real life while coincidentally having her friends on Facebook unfriend her because of the viciousness that this ghost has been posting on her page under her screen name. Her family and friends grow aggravated that she would post these murders of her closest friends, therefore alienating her from everyone and making her like Marina. Without getting into personal feelings for how stupid and pointless this is, I can say that what doesn’t work in particular with this plot for me are IP addresses and how easy it is to locate where A computer with A campus encrypted code really is, and the overall absence of logic that makes you wonder why any of these braindead morons would think Laura would ever post something so incriminating to her own name is baffling. It makes absolutely no sense, but that’s the world that we’re living in with ‘Friend Request’ and all of its stretched imagination even for a horror film. On top of it all, even calling it a horror film is A stretch at times because this film does covet the abnormal R-rating for today’s standards, but doesn’t do anything remotely tingling or eye-catching to earn this mark. For my money, I’m guessing the language comes more into play than the violence because the death scenes aren’t even shown to us. We get the build-up, and then a cut right before we see how they’re done in. There is blood, but I wouldn’t say it’s anything that you haven’t seen if you’ve ever seen A horror movie in your life. This all makes the presentation of an hour and A half feel like twice that, and I literally couldn’t wait to finish my viewing.

This is also some of the very worst post production in A film that I have seen in my six years as A film critic. The editing is offensive on almost every level of measurement, cutting scenes far too soon from useful exposition, as well as offering some truly head-scratching moments that were left in the finished product. I can’t tell you how many times this film angered me to the point that I wish it would just pace itself in any of its scenes and just tell A story or exchange fruitfully. Most especially in the first act, each scene just rushes through like it’s trying to set A record for most scenes in a ten minute stretch. There’s very few establishing shots at the beginning of every scene, and it often feels like we’ve stumbled into A conversation between these friends where we’ve missed the first few lines. As for what is left in that shouldn’t, I stumbled on unintentional laughter on more than one occasion involving an unnecessary close-up on A character that was completely unflattering. There’s one scene between A friend of Laura’s who clearly has A crush on her, and when he sees her the camera closes up on his reaction, and it looks like he’s seconds from licking his lips LL Cool J style. Was there no possibility at A retake? Or was everything one-and-done because hell, no one cares about horror today except for jump scares, and yes there is plenty of that. The heightened sound enhancement to attain A few shrieks from the audience grew tired about thirty minutes in, when they have decided to waste it on things that didn’t warrant anywhere close to the dark alley beat down that my ears took. Seriously don’t watch this movie with the sound up, it’s testing on the ears and the speakers.

And then there’s the C.G effects, the bulk of which’s speed in fluidity and volume in texture make their respective sequences feel as hollow as the movie’s positive impact. I don’t expect award winning effects from ‘Friend Request’, so don’t get me wrong, but it would be nice for the lighting of said effects to even be on the same filter as their respective surroundings. When you see flying moths, those of which doesn’t even remotely resemble moths, you can’t help but wonder why the art department would even attempt this effect. This is clearly A film that is handicapped at every turn by its miniscule budget, so I would’ve rather the producers kept everything as cheap as possible, and just set the mood by promoting an equally haunting weight in aura to its scenes. C.G effects of this kind will do nothing but standout as an obvious counterfeit negative to the film’s visual levels, so just keep them on the cutting room floor.

But A horror film will be salvageable if it can manage to move you by gripping psychological performances that supplant A keen sense of the suffocating terror that envelopes them. It’s just unfortunate that this rule doesn’t come close to registering here, because the entirety of the amateur group of cast and crew are about as committed to this laughably bad dialogue as A child’s waning attention span. This again contributes to the one take mentality that plagues this film. As Laura, Debnam-Carey lacks the kind of ear-shattering scream or believability in vulnerability that makes her A credible protagonist. Because the film gives us the bare minimum of Facebook screenshots for her exposition, her character couldn’t come across as any more vanilla, and you actually hope that this film will break the void and kill off its main character early because of it. My least favorite character however, was Kobe played by Connor Paolo. Kobe is kind of the computer wiz of the group, so Laura depends on him A lot for help. The problem is that Paolo’s dry and lumbering delivery quickly makes him the subject of many future Youtube mock videos. An entirety of the film is between he and Laura, so you can imagine how thrilling 90 minutes of bland and dry combine for A bone chilling good time. As unappealing of A cast as I have experienced in 2017.

THE VERDICT – ‘Friend Request’ again muddles in the same kind of absurdity and redundancy that have lowered the curve of modern day horror. The acting in these vitally underwritten characters is laughably bad, the story rushes by far too quickly because of some truly jarring editing, and the visual specter of C.G effects to boot gives this an equally frightening presentation for all of the wrong reasons. Even the campy have standards, and this request should be blocked at any and every opportunity. I blame you Mark Zuckerberg.

1/10

Wind River

The man responsible for last year’s ‘Hell or High Water’ returns to the silver screen to pen and direct the much anticipated follow up ‘Wind River’. In it, US Fish and Wildlife Service agent Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) discovers a body in the rugged wilderness of the Wind River Indian Reservation. The FBI, anxious to solve the case quickly, sends in rookie agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), but she is unprepared for the difficulties created by the oppressive weather and isolation of the Wyoming winter. When she employs Cory as a tracker, the two venture deep into a world ravaged by violence and the elements that will turn their cold, quiet town into an exposing bloodbath that will keep the locals on their toes. ‘Wind River’ is rated R for strong violence, a scene depicting rape, disturbing imagery, and adult language.

Westerns are very much alive deep in the heart of writer/director Taylor Sheridan, and it’s within those elements where ‘Wind River’ gains much of its environmental element in affecting this story. Taking place deep in the mountains of the Wyoming wilderness, this film hinges on the concept of predator and prey, and those kind of necessary evils that we need to keep other evils from getting in. This is very much a detective mystery drama underneath it all, but done so with the kind of twists that Christopher Nolan engaged in 1999’s ‘Insomnia’, in that it explores those often forgotten areas in the American landscape that abides by its own rules. Here, the cold, mountains, and even dangerous creatures living amongst these people play pivotal roles in the way everything is pursued and accomplished. Jeremy Renner’s character echoes towards the end of the film that “this isn’t a place where people live, it’s a place where they survive”, and that concept will tell you everything that you need to know about this chilling setting that often crossed into my comfortable theater surroundings and made me feel the very effects that these actors were feeling.

From the effectively gorgeous cinematography by Ben Richardson, in all of its long shots of the establishing isolated landscapes, to the small contributing factors like Olsen’s character sniffling every few lines of dialogue from her influence of a Southern hometown, it all blends in accordingly, and we feel like these factors present an additional obstacle in solving this already difficult task of matching a face to a heinous crime. There’s also much to be said about the re-occuring snow storms that come and go like the wind, swallowing away the evidence from the brutality that envelopes these once sacred lands. With the storm, comes this lone case of murder fresh out of nowhere, so in a sense the establishing narrative is reflecting that of the bone-chilling elements that are keeping people in doors, comforting for their own safeties alike from the double entendre that keeps them on their toes. This refreshing side of setting proved that there’s still many sides to the world that can still be effective in setting the mood precisely for the kind of themes that a script is trying to capture, and sometimes that very environment can feel like the central antagonist in the race against the clock.

As for narration, what I greatly enjoyed about this film is that we are coming into these families and situations with little to no knowledge about their pasts, but Sheridan’s patience and faith in his audience to fill in the blanks for themselves pays off dearly in subtly pulling the blanket of reveal back even further. Some stories will beat an audience over the head with exposition, but Sheridan’s point of artistic integrity hints that we may already know the answers to what is happening, it is just up to us (like the authorities in the film) to put these pieces together in seeing what shapes the character who we see before us. From a tonal perspective, the film feels like it picks up remarkably where HBO’s ‘True Detective’ left off, presenting a possible season three that feeds into the very adult world of people and places behind closed doors. The mystery of the film does offer some truly compelling twists and turns, but never does so in a way that abandons its plotting or pacing in making the answers feel like anything out of this world. That human element is what truly reigns supreme here, catering to the emotional pull of grievance and what it takes from every one of when we lose someone who cannot be replaced. I was very much on the edge of my seat throughout the entirety of this film, and the ending left me beyond satisfied when the predator finally does catch up to the prey and the hounds of justice sink in for a satisfyingly therapeutic conclusion that couldn’t have gone any better.

What slight problems that I did have with the screenplay were nitpicks at best, but cater more to the usual cliches that you sometimes see in these Westerns. For one, there is a big shootout during the third act of the film, and despite the overload of bullets firing off into the air from these pistols, not one person in the film re-loads their chambers even once. This has always been something that I look for first in these ammunition riddled films, and unfortunately this movie is no different for falling by the wayside of believability. Also during this shootout, we get it played back to us in real time everything that happened with this woman’s murder. The problem is that from a narrative standpoint it is only explaining to us as an audience what happened. The authorities in the movie still haven’t pieced it all together. Yet after the gunfire goes off, the mystery antagonist is being questioned, and Renner’s character comments a line of dialogue that clues in that he knows everything that happened, despite them never figuring it out or being a part of the reveal rundown that caters exclusively to just the audience.

What does cover those light nitpicks is the performances from a trilogy of actors who really shared the respective load in communicating these human first kind of people. Jeremy Renner’s character is my lone favorite character of 2017. As Cory, we meet a man who is emotionally weathered by all that he has lost in his past, but the future ahead of possibly earning a way to right his wrongs is what keeps him moving through the cold. Cory doesn’t feel so much like a vigilante as he does a protector to the community that he loves, so there’s very much a lot of empathy to his resilience that makes him the force that everyone calls. Elizabeth Olsen’s character embraces a transformation from start to finish that proves to you that appearances aren’t everything. During her first few scenes, this tight-knit town kind of writes her off as just another FBI snob, but as the film progresses you start to embrace the very heart of this character who most certainly can take a hit and keep on coming. The chemistry between Olsen and Renner is certainly evident from ‘The Avengers’ movies, but it’s so much more than that here. Because of movie expectations, we are led to believe that these two will eventually hook up, but I’m glad that the film chose to ignore this instinct, instead painting them as two characters from different sides of the geological track who can help one another in complicated world of detective work. Besides these two, I also greatly enjoyed my reminder of the great actor that is Graham Greene. If you’ve seen films like ‘The Green Mile’ or ‘Maverick’, he will be familiar to you, but every so often this guy pops up to act out a character who knocks on the door of stealing the movie. This fact caters to Sheridan’s style of putting an elderly veteran in each movie to have him keep the youth on their toes. Here, Graham is a grizzly sheriff who doesn’t take kindly to outsiders stepping on his territory. At first you kind think he’s just a rude know-it-all, but he quickly morphs into the pulse of the movie that narrates the almost foreign environments that we’re embracing here. This trio couldn’t be better plucked, and they vibrate enjoyably rich off of one another.

THE VERDICT – ‘Wind River’ does tackle some rising water in the gruesome and sometimes suffocating tension that Sheridan provides in this character-driven whodunnit?. Renner and Olsen follow suit, assembling two enjoyable leads whose fire burning deep for the sacrifices of justice keep us warm from the deathly cold that envelopes us completely with this isolated setting. This one will stick with you, even if only for the revealing intentional cause during the film’s closing moments that remind us of those forgotten far too often. Whether you’re in the mood for an effective crime thriller or a western with a dramatic pulse, let the wind sweep you away with this one.

9/10