Life

A crew of six highly intelligent scientists seek the answer to the question of the existence of another lifeform. In ‘Life’, we get the story of the six-member crew of the International Space Station that is on the cutting edge of one of the most important discoveries in human history: the first evidence of extraterrestrial life on Mars. As the crew begins to conduct research, their methods end up having unintended consequences for them and the citizens of Earth, and the life form proves more intelligent than anyone ever expected. ‘Life’ stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, and Ryan Reynolds, it is directed by Daniel Espinosa, and is rated R for adult language throughout, some sci-fi violence and sequences of terror.

If you’ve seen one isolation in space horror movie, you’ve seen them all. Thankfully, ‘Life’ pushes past a conventional script by offering us artistic merit in the form of gorgeous cinematography, as well as a sound scheme that can at least present some peaking merits in an otherwise typical screenplay. This is a film that was originally slated to debut in May of this year, but got moved up two months to play against a March backdrop that is slightly less intimidating than that of the Summer blockbusters that invade around Memorial Day. It turns out that it pays off brilliantly, as Espinosa’s science fiction space shriek does more than enough to hold its own against previous similar offerings like ‘Alien’, ‘Event Horizon’, and leagues above the mindless ‘Apollo 14’. It’s solid proof that if you cast the big name actors, people will most definitely come, and this is a movie that is every bit as terrifying as it is cerebral. An ambitious float through the terrors of uncertainty that does more than enough to top Espinosa’s previous effort, 2014’s ‘Safe House’, also starring Ryan Reynolds.

What I love about the storytelling of this film is that it puts the characters first, and allows the story itself to follow those characters, meriting more positive returns when you care about their ordeals with this mysterious organism. Solid exposition time is depicted for all of them, and it’s in those introductions when the tragedy of this story and these people really sink into you. Space itself is an immense and unpredictable atmosphere to make a living in, and that lack of knowledge plays hand-in-hand to the kind of misfires that we make in decision making. It’s clear that this screenplay pays homage to those kind of films that adhere to the idea that man will be our society’s greatest downfall, and how sometimes it’s best to leave well enough alone. I mentioned earlier that the film does play to conventionalism despite a first act death that was a little surprising for the name value expensed. Nothing in this film ever really surprised me, and that could be at the fault of seeing and experiencing all of these films, with all of their similar structures and conclusions. The film keeps its characters at the intellectual mercy of this creature, so the convenience of butterfly effects that render them helpless is a brief suspension of disbelief for minds supposedly as gifted as this crew. Even the conclusion is something that I accurately called once the setup become obvious. Even still, I can never say that the movie bored me. Perhaps a compliment to the performances of a charismatic cast that bring their A-game when acting against a CGI antagonist.

The design and computer generation of this property felt very in-sync with that of multi-cell organisms, and that attention to detail rarely makes this alien anything super extraordinary or cartoonish in terms of its capabilities. One thing is certain, this thing is very intelligent, mimicking and authenticating the responses and actions of the living properties around it. Perhaps my favorite aspect to its design is the growing of its physical stature. I love how this creature will often appear and disappear before our very eyes, and that shock and awe when it returns twice the size of when it left, made for an emphasis on urgency that never stops pumping. If I had one negative for it, I would say it was in the developing face of this thing in the third act, which reverted it to campy alien designs in other big budget space operas. Keeping this thing faceless and non-registering is what made its unpredictable movements so vicious and conniving in plodding, so the additions do occasionally render that originality uninspiring.

The visual backdrops of Earth and the surrounding nebulas captured the immensity in isolation with these characters forced to make their own under-prepared decisions for the fate of what hangs in the balance. With the camera styles in particular, I loved the revolving camera angles that followed our cast through the very tribulations of gravity. It’s no secret that I am not often a fan of flipping the camera upside down, but here it makes sense to put us in the middle of the chase. The tracking shots through many numerous tunnels were outstanding, playing to that vintage trick of associating the camera with that of the antagonist that is chasing the crew. Espinosa plays to the hand of claustrophobia so effortlessly, but then takes it one step further when it feels like such intimate surroundings continue on-and-on with a ship this intimidating.

The musical score by Jon Ekstrand also is weighed on heavily in capturing the very dread and doom that covers each scene like dense fog. So much of what Ekstrand does is dabbling in ear-piercing notes to capture the vulnerability of these characters navigating through a ship, where this creature can pop up at any time. This composition took me back to the days of 80’s horror scores, when music played a pivotal point in teaming with that of the monster that lurks behind every corner. An addition that can take any average or predictable sequence and make it that much more captivating by orchestrating terror in its most audible of forms.

Finally, there’s the cast that brings a collaboration of A-list performers to the overlooked stage of horror for an exceptional union. Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada. A cast this well known for big budget blockbusters was a thrill to watch to see them juggle the very tones of horror, and there are simply no complaints from any of them. Gyllenhaal’s character in particular is probably my favorite because there’s a lot about him that embraces the secluded environments of space and what benefit that holds for him. This is rare for a character to feel this way in movies, but it’s depiction offers a fresh and untold angle to this particular perspective. Sanada also commands vast intelligence and humanity in his grip, juggling the complexities of a newborn baby with that of the frightening discoveries that are constantly changing with him being galaxies away. Sanada’s character feels like the one with the most to lose, so our embrace of his well-being is one that never fades over the course of several different shifts in leverage.

At 95 minutes long, ‘Life’ doesn’t necessarily need to take its time getting to the thrills and chills of a story that exercises the themes of seclusion and claustrophobic tension. With an exceptionally likeable cast, as well as sound achievements in the filming and music departments, Espinosa’s space serial is a tantalizing thriller that orbits through a galaxy of conventionalism trying its best to weigh this story down. Fortunately, the unnerving social commentary on the mission at hand offers a self-reflective view on the kinds of missions that we deem as important.

7/10

The Devil’s Candy

‘The Loved Ones’ director Sean Byrne returns to write and direct this demented horror treat revolving around a sinister haunting. ‘The Devil’s Candy’ centers around Jesse (Ethan Embry), an artist seeking a fresh start, and his family that think they’ve moved into the house of their dreams, full of extensive space and tranquil detail. The family are told that an older couple passed away in the house, but we soon learn there’s much more to something that is simply too good to be true. Jesse soon discovers not all is structurally sound however, when he comes face-to-face with true evil. What follows is a brutal and bloody fight for survival for the family who see change and recluse to the once attentive father. ‘The Devil’s Candy’ is rated R for brutal violence and adult language. The film is currently making its way around the country’s independent cinemas after being shelved for the better part of two years.

Considering this film has been in development hell for over two years, ‘The Devil’s Candy’ succeeds with an obviously cheap budget where films of more lucrative offerings can’t comprehend. It is a brief, albeit satirical look at the concepts of Metal and its referral to being “The Devil’s music” in relation to the occult and other forces of nature that our unseen in our own world. Sean Byrne is a filmmaker who I have closely followed since the success of ‘The Loved Ones’, a movie that I heralded as being one of the best kept secrets of 2015. This film doesn’t quite reach the heights of that movie creatively, but it’s certainly not for lack of trying, as this film is full of energy and intense camera work that constantly pushed it a little further. The kind of B-grade horror flicks that you pick up on at festivals and can’t wait to tell your friends about. Most recently, the movie’s star Ethan Embry shopped this movie around the Horrorhound Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio, so I’ve been dying to see what his hard work merited, and as it turns out, Byrne has picked up the mantle of 70’s horror buff where Rob Zombie has dropped it on more than one occasion.

Films about possession before this one have often taken a look at the subject and its effects from an exterior angle, rarely pushing further to give us something of vision for what the possessed is seeing and taking in, and in that regards, this film is a rare treat. One of my favorite aspects of this movie was artistically crafting the storytelling capabilities of audio and visual to gift wrap the audience a truly terrifying intake that could happen to any family seeking to better themselves. The story opens up typical enough, with this husband, wife, and daughter moving into a new house, ala ‘The Amittyville Horror’. However, the similarities stop there, as ‘The Devil’s Candy’ teaches its audience that less is more in the narration department. This is very much a movie that would rather show then tell, a concept that has positives and negatives to it. On the latter, this is a film that desperately could’ve used another twenty minutes to pay slightly more attention in particular to the wife’s character. She basically disappears midway through, and we’re kind of left with Father, Daughter, and only two-thirds of a reactionary stance for the bizarre events that surround them. On the positive, the film never slugs along, quickly breezing through 78 minutes of solid, sound pacing that constantly kept the story moving. I wasn’t completely satisfied with where the film ended, as it feels like a forgotten layer of the story tacked on at the last minute for the hell of it, but the movie did leave a lasting impression with me that kept me constantly guessing as it played against all of the famous horror troupes that dull down these life-threatening scenarios.

As I mentioned before, the technical aspects are a breath of claustrophobic fresh air, detailing the very internal struggles going on with Jesse as he keeps this terrifying secret from the two people he loves the most in this world. There’s some cutting-edge experimental effects work here, not only from CGI fire that actually looks passable for once, but also in the way Byrne navigates through the flames in presenting art in motion. I also loved how the sound from the rest of the room would slowly evaporate as the possession verses took place. It made it easy to comprehend all of these possessions in movies when it feels like the character is a thousand leagues under the sea. These are not the only example of his greatness however, as he also uses lighting and set devices to cause uncertainty with which decade this story takes place in. With Metallica t-shirts that the Father and Daughter don throughout the movie, it’s obvious that this film takes place at least in the post-80’s, but the usage of neon lights and pasty colored wallpaper take this story right out of the 70’s, especially when you consider how impactful the occult was during such a time.

The metal dominated soundtrack is also something that has always gone hand-in-hand in a sanctimonious marriage with horror, and its presence here is nothing short of fitting with the very satanic material. Heavy-hitting rock gods like Slayer, Machine Head, and Goya are just a few of the sampling artists that lend their credits to this film. You never realize it until a song captures the perfect essence, but music plays such an important detail to movies, especially that of horror, whose sound is constantly eclectic for the kind of worlds that it is depicting. This genre of music is always associated with cult movements from misunderstood generations past, so the inside joke of throwing its importance into the faces of those same crowds, casts an irony that definitely wasn’t missed by this critic in particular. In a sense, the music itself thrives when the most is on the line, and what better offering than rock to set the stage?

There are a few supporting one-line characters thrown in from time-to-time, but this is mostly a four character story between the split sides of possession. Pruit Taylor Vance is back to always exude his creepy quiet. I do wish the running time wasn’t so brief because this character deserved a bit more of exposition to make him someone of reputable value to the story. At least his performance never misses the mark, as he could play a character like this in his sleep by now. Ethan Embry is virtually unrecognizable as the male lead, donning a scruffy beard and dirty wig to cultivate the rocker within him. You really feel for his character considering he is at the will of something much greater than him. For his performance, Embry masters a devilish side of himself that we have yet to see from the 90’s stud, and I very much enjoyed his investment in the film. But beyond who I previously mentioned, this is quite the coming out party for 16-year-old Kiara Glasco. This stirring starlet shrieks her way through scene after scene of blood-curdling screams and vein-popping frights that would put her as the front runner of scream queen for her up-and-coming generation. Kiara has a personality that always feels like she’s one step ahead of her adult counterparts, adding an appreciative maturity for someone who would otherwise be a throwaway character in mainstream horror. She was unquestionably my favorite character in the movie, and I hope that she will save some of that goosebump-inducing adrenaline for more horror offerings in the coming future.

‘The Devil’s Candy’ is one of those sweet tastes that hooks itself onto fans of the 70’s B-movie glitz. With a run time that hurts and helps its cause, Sean Byrne touches on just enough mystery to constantly keep the audience guessing, making his latest the perfect opportunity to cut the lights out and indulge on everything from Metallica, V-neck guitars, and the occult. A stirring riveter that casts its claws into genre enthusiasts everywhere just begging for the perfect soundtrack to hell.

6/10

The Girl With all the Gifts

One girl is the cure for the zombie epidemic, in ‘The Girl With All The Gifts’. The near future humanity has been all but destroyed by a mutated fungal disease that eradicates free will and turns its victims into flesh-eating “hungries”. Only a small group of children seem immune to its effects. At an army base in rural England, this group of unique children are being studied, subjected to cruel experiments by biologist Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close). Despite having been infected with the zombie pathogen that has decimated the world, these children retain normal thoughts and emotions. The children attend school lessons daily, guarded by the ever watchful Sergeant Parks (Paddy Considine). But one little girl, Melanie (Sennia Nanua), stands out from the rest. Melanie is special. She excels in the classroom, is inquisitive, imaginative and loves her favorite teacher Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton). When the base falls, Melanie escapes along with Miss Justineau, Sergeant Parks and Dr. Caldwell. Against the backdrop of a blighted Britain, Melanie must discover what she is and ultimately decide both her own future and that of the human race. ‘The Girl With All the Gifts’ is directed by Colm McCarthy, and is rated R for disturbing violence/bloody imagery, as well as adult language.

In 2017, it’s obvious that the zombie genre has run amock. At this point, fresh ideas to stimulate and energize this subgenre are few and far between, but occasionally an injection of pure adrenaline is injected, and we remember what was once great about these kind of movies. Out of the smoke comes ‘The Girl With all the Gifts’, a European horror offering lifted from the pages of the book by the same name. Perhaps literature still inhabits all of the fresh and unused in ways that film is truly lacking on these days, because this movie was dreary, yet inspiring. It’s a reminder that the best and truly most frightening angles in horror are the ones that we find great fear in within our own psyches, and this post-apocalyptic wasteland where youth reigns supreme is a call-back to the days of ‘Children of the Corn’, as well as ‘Pet Cemetery’. While paying homage in essence to some of those classic pictures, ‘Gifts’ is a movie that carves its own reputation by changing the perception in and around European horror.

First of all is the appreciation of a story that doesn’t overcomplicate itself by giving a typical narration intro describing how we got to this bleak disposition. There’s a lot of mystery and cryptic bypassing that surrounds the first act of this McCarthy’s film, and I dig that because his method of storytelling never requires the audience to be spoon-fed that important story arcs. This is a director who has more than enough faith in his viewers, so he lets them paint the pieces, and this is by no means a difficult picture to paint. The film is to be applauded by slow-peeling the layer of exposition. We know by the title that the younger cast maintain this constant level of importance to the overall story, but through the eyes of this teenage girl, we learn step-by-step why she is so important. I commend any film that invests in the capability of child actors, especially ones that are good at captivating audiences, but this film does all of that without needing the tired, cliche scripts that plague the young adult point of view. The film continuously built to a crescendo of pulse-setting scintilation, concluding with a finale that constantly reminds us that hope waived goodbye to this set of characters long ago. A message that the audience has to endure over-and-over through some ever-changing landscapes and backdrops.

If there is some weakness to this story, it’s more so in that defining of the rules from these infected children, who seem to turn it on whenever the plot deems it convenient. There were many examples during the movie of these kids snapping when they can smell the scent of their adult prey nearby, but then there are other points when these adults run and sweat, further engulfing themselves in fatigue that accelerates said smell, and there’s not even a flirt with such suspense. Other than this, the only other problem that I had with the movie was some slight obvious foreshadowing in the opening twenty minutes that one can read through the lines on to see where the film is headed. If you manage to watch this film in one continuous setting, these subplots that stick out like a sore thumb will constantly ring in the back of your mind near the end of the movie, and it suddenly becomes obvious how the dots connect. Small issues in the otherwise grander picture that is this frightening takeover that uniquely relays how adults are the new minority.

Leaps and bounds above the rest though, my favorite aspect to the film is a bittersweet fragile composition by Cristol Tapia De Veer. If one thing is certain, it’s that Cristol has definitely done his studying on the genre of zombie classics like ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ and the George Romero offering of zombie introductions. On those movies, ‘Gifts’ too uses the same few notes to repetition, slowly varying them with each passing second. This allows audiences to fully soak in and embrace the dread that envelopes our cast of characters in a dense fog. In addition to this, the overall sound mixing and editing justify a couple of jump scares in the script that constantly keep the viewer guessing. I’m a difficult person to rattle when it comes to timely jump scares, but ‘Gifts’ hit me hard during a second act reveal that came opposite from the side that you weren’t expecting. It overall makes for a grade-A experience if you watch this in a theater or a stacked surround sound experience.

The acting too brings to light a combination of reputable actors with relative unknowns that blended positively in a well-balanced cast. Gemma Arterton is someone who I’ve always felt needed the right script to shine appropriately, and as Justineau we get the lone character who understands and holds onto the importance of that dying age of positivity for the concept of a child being a child. Arterton and Melanie’s friendship weighs heavily in importance for the direction of the movie, and thankfully it inherits loads of heart to keep the protagonist angles working overtime against the remainder of adults who have their own selfish agendas. Such a character is Glenn Close’s Dr. Caldwell character. There’s so much menace and plotting going on underneath the surface of Close’s outstanding work here, and that attention to detail had me often times searching for the grand scheme beneath her stone cold exterior. Close and Atterton lead the way for adult leads, but it’s in the introduction of Sennia Nanua in her first feature film. As Melanie, Nanua triumphs soundly, balancing equal parts human and monster that never feels riddled in gimmicks or underplayed in emotional response. For a 14-year-old, she is leaps and bounds above her age with how she plays the movie, and silently she commits theft on the stealing of this screenplay, a ‘girl with all of the gifts’, if you will.

By finding an original take on the zombie epidemic, as well as blazing through a circumference of well-timed scares and dreary backdrops, ‘The Girl With all the Gifts’ re-ignites an antidote of adrenaline deep within the heart of this aging subgenre. Poignant, atmospheric, and brutally hungry, this adaptation from Colm McCarthy will leave you reeling long after the ending that delivers on a solid payoff. This one takes a bite and keeps on chewing.

8/10

The Belko Experiment

One terrifying project named ‘The Belko Experiment’ has employees of a prestigious company witnessing a new kind of hell for the work day. In a twisted social experiment, 80 Americans of mixed race, gender, and official rank are locked in their high-rise corporate office in Bogotá, Colombia and ordered by an unknown voice coming from the company’s intercom system to participate in a deadly game of kill or be killed. Over the course of an allotted time limit, the workers must put the law in their own hands by murdering the very same colleagues that they refer to as friends. The last person standing will undoubtedly possess the strongest iron of wills, leaving a trail of bodies and consequences for what lies ahead. ‘The Belko Experiment’ is directed by Greg McLean, and is rated R for strong bloody vioelnce throughout, language including sexual references, and some drug use.

A couple of times a year, I will read reviews for a movie that is getting mostly panned by critics across the globe, then I see that particular film and feel like it must have been made just for me. That seems to be the case with ‘The Belko Experiment’, as I had lots of fun with this B-movie horror treat. The team up of James Gunn and Greg McLean is simply too rare to pass up, so when I heard that two of the more popular directors going today were making a terror shriek, it certainly intrigued me well beyond the point of curiosity. Sprinkle in a cast of familiar faces, mostly from supporting roles over their respective careers, and you have 83 minutes of a plot that certainly treads the line of originality for anything else going today. In the day and age of plots like ‘The Purge’ and ‘Saw’, the concept of ‘The Belko Experiment’ feels like it trumps them all, depicting the elevation of terror with a gimmick that feels like we’re constantly watching mice in a maze for our own sadistic enjoyment. It’s films like these that make you thankful that you are watching at home and not in it, because McLean takes great pride in elevating the very vulnerability of the work station. A charm that never goes unnoticed with the variety of characters that make up this film.

The movie opens up for the first fifteen minutes or so giving the audience what little exposition on its characters that it mostly had for the entirety of the picture. Sadly, we don’t learn a lot about our characters, just the daily annoyances that make their layer of patience bend ever so slightly further. With this being a horror movie, of course all of these scenarios will play out to give us the audience a reminder of where certain characters divide the line of alliances. It’s true that there is very little exposition in narrative as the film goes on, but it’s not something that takes a big enough bite out of the creative stance here. Because this is an EXPERIMENT, the study of human interaction is what really takes the floor here, and the progression in logical stances quickly gets more and more humbling through the steps of panic. With the first introduction by those in charge, our characters are told that they have two hours to kill twenty people or those in charge will kill thirty of them. This is of course met with slight confusion, albeit in a joking manner, and that uncertainty is certainly something that any of us would be met with. Then, when they prove their intentions in visual results, you slowly start to see the weaker mentalities coming forward, forming bonds with the stronger players, and setting forth the motions in surviving this day of hell. The study of just how far people will take things was the single most compelling aspect to this movie, and there was never a moment when their reactions didn’t feel anything but authentic.

I also greatly enjoyed the visuals in set pieces, as well as vicious deliveries that this seemingly endless supply of blood garnered. On the latter, there’s so much to appreciate about a director who doesn’t feel the need to hide or shield the audience from the ferocity of eighty people fighting for their lives. The carnage candy is delightful for a horror buff like me, and even though the shots are done with dramatic quick cuts, there’s still enough emphasis on close-ups to fully comprehend the impact in damage. The brutality gets more barbaric as the film progresses, and I took this devastating progression in the same continuous flow that I did the slipping sanity of many of our loose cannons. On the former, this set design feels necessary to achieve its message in simplicity. That message is that Belko Industries could double as any office workplace where people spend a majority of their lives together far too closely. The casual white shirt and tie becoming more-and-more decorated with the remains of co-workers as the film goes on, serves as a symbolism of sorts to the corruption that has overtaken this typical work day.

The music soundtrack provides an orchestral accompaniment of sorts to the madness that is developing around us. Seeing as to how this movie is set south of the border, the Mexican translations of many top 40 classic hits feels appropriate. Songs like ‘California Dreamin’ and ‘I Will Survive’ strike an ironic, if not somberly tragic musical note, and it relates to us that the film isn’t afraid to have a sense of humor in an otherwise abysmal environment. An unknown operatic musical number plays during the final confrontations, and it couldn’t feel more unnerving when played to these visuals nightmares in this fight for survival. It proves that music most certainly still holds an important place in 21st century horror films, and Mclean never disappoints in compromising visuals that artistically paint him as a visionary for this particular genre.

All of my problems with this movie, coincidentally enough, revolved around the pacing, which feels too fast to fully immerse into this plot and characters. I feel that a film like this could’ve really used that 100 minute run time to simmer some of the slow burns in vulnerability or unpredictability that takes over this building with each passing minute. What’s disappointing is that we don’t learn a lot about our mysterious antagonists, and it almost feels like our characters aren’t even asking about them, an important question that could’ve used some thoughtful pondering. There’s an element that is introduced around the half hour mark that keeps the workers in line with the demands of the voice, and I felt like it was a significant leap of faith logically for what the audience will choose to believe with these characters. I certainly understand its intention, but it just feels like an aspect that is there to be convenient to the plot. Other than these things, the third act also feels slightly rushed with everything that needs to be wrapped up in the final twenty minutes. It’s during this time when the desperation not only in the characters, but also in the script sets in, and that hour of lightly treading becomes a fast-paced marathon of executions and goodbyes that don’t fully get the deserving gasp.

Work is murder quite literally in this cherished team-up between Gunn and Mclean, and ‘The Belko Experiment’ is harmless, maniacal fun too delightful to be missed. Despite some impatient speeds in pacing, the film is much better than the unjustifiable negatives by critics that have been slung its way. Overall, it’s a viciously bleak character study on human morality and rationale, when played against the most dangerous of ‘What If?’ scenarios that we discuss in private with our friends. A smooth day at the office with very little manual labor involved.

6/10

Kong: Skull Island

The king of the jungle makes a roaring comeback, in ‘Kong: Skull Island’. Set In 1973, a secretive organization known as Monarch finds an island that is shrouded in mystery and identified as the origin for new and dangerous species wreaking havoc on the locals. The resulting expedition to the island reveals that a giant monstrous ape named Kong is at the center of a battle for dominion over the island, against the apex predators, nicknamed the “Skull Crawlers”, responsible for wiping out his kind. As the expedition crew makes plans to fight for survival against Kong and the other monsters on the island, some of them begin to see that Kong is worth saving, in the ensuing brawl for the island’s worth. ‘Kong: Skull Island’ stars Samuel L Jackson, John Goodman, Tom Hiddleston, and Brie Larson. It is directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief strong language.

‘Kong: Skull Island’ is an accurate and intricate depiction of a creature feature set during the Vietnam era, and that setting does nothing but compliment the beautiful presentation in glossy cinematography that goes much further than cosmetic purposes. I found myself very impressed not only with the yellowish color tint, highlighting the screen full of endless sun and smoke, but also that of the superior editing of 70’s stock footage that is placed so sporadically throughout the intro scenes of this picture. The designs in costume and sets mold very faithful homages to the eras of Nixon and Johnson, and no price is spared to immerse the audience visually in this creative time period. Kong himself previously had a movie made during the 70’s, but ‘Skull Island’ feels like it outduels that previous effort, relaying the very socially binding concepts in war and patriotism that were called into question for the first times in U.S history. It’s a movie that has so much going on for it in socialistic commentary that only adds depth and layering to the concepts of setting this film in that age, and all of those issues do not go ignored in the initial plot and introductions of these human characters meeting their 100 foot tall counterpart.

The idea was evident from the opening act of this movie; presentation in ironic comparisons between this invasion with that of the Vietnam war. Upon the introduction of Samuel L Jackson’s character, we are told about Vietnam being a war in which the U.S lost, for its overabundance of lost lives, as well as the permanent stain that it left on the moral fabric of American-foreign relations. The group of soldiers in this film likewise must invade a mysterious island in which they know nothing about, tackle an enemy with all of the advantages of knowing its home, and make their way through an endless landscape of trees full of separate enemies that want them dead. Despite all of this being an obvious comparison, I found myself intrigued to see what Vogt-Roberts could do with this immense budget and ambitious production. The concept in design does wonders not only to the kinds of weapon responses that we unleash upon Kong and the creatures alike, but also in the mental instability of thousands of soldiers coming home to very little of a heroic return. It makes you understand the painfully tough decisions that each of them make, most of which go against protocol for the typical exploration mission.

As for story, the film kicks us off with a boost of adrenaline, supplying a 70’s soundtrack that perfectly captures this place in time. I commend this film for not making the audience wait the usual hour for giving us our initial intakes with its title character, the impact of which sets the stage for anything but your typical survival movie. The second act unfortunately doesn’t continue this pacing, as much of this period feels like it’s held in the air for the riveting conclusion that we’ve all been waiting for. It’s nothing jarring in terms of synthetic pacing or consequential to the material before it, but it just plays things far too safely, including a noticeable gap of about a half hour without Kong, in which we come to learn about some of the other creatures who inhabit the island. The final act resolved mostly everything that I was anticipating, building to a test of wills between man versus monster that will have you re-thinking everything that you’ve come to know to this point. Certainly, this isn’t anything original for a Kong flick, but I commend this film for not being afraid to tell the story that many Americans won’t be too encouraged to hear. When you invade and bomb somebody’s home, there are consequences that come with that feat, and ‘Skull Island’ reflects on a time when our own special forces were at a crossroads after the last of the tolling world wars.

The action sequences and creature designs also live up to par, emoting solid computer generated work to accomplish the mental game of its animated characters. This is by far my favorite Kong design of all time and a lot of that is because more attention to detail is given on his eyes and facial movements that speak to the heart of the animal. For most of the history of Kong, he is portrayed by a man under a rubber suit, and even though I am a sucker for practical stunt work, there is no comparison in monster movies to the kind of cutting-edge work that studios are manufacturing today. The designs of the bone creatures were also very enjoyable. The snap reactions to the way they stalk their prey communicate everything that you need to know about their character, and it’s in their cunning nature where they more-than measure up to the immense Kong, setting up a showdown that will remind you what you came to see. The action sequences impressed me not only as a powder-keg of ammunition riddled quick-cuts, but also in how grizzly and visceral the unapologetic violence kept topping itself. To me, ‘Kong: Skull Island’ feels like the first actual horror movie in the Kong franchise, and most of that can be attributed to its bone-crunching, crimson-colored carnage that pushes the envelope as far as it should rightfully go for PG-13.

The biggest weakness in the film to me was character exposition. Most people won’t watch a Kong movie for its ambitious characters, but an A-list cast this great were simply too big to be disappointing, and with the exception of three characters, they are mostly wasted in one-note designs that don’t do a single one of them a favor. I’ve read that most critics have a problem with the exposition for these characters, but I think the problem lies in the overabundance of characters that continue through the majority of this film. An opening crash scene that is shown in the trailers doesn’t do a lot to increase the body count, so this massive group of civilians bide their time before their number is called. Most notably, Brie Larson and Tom Hiddleston are sadly wasted as flimsy one-note characters that stick too closely to their outlines. Larson is the photographer, so she must snap a picture in every cut to her, and Hiddleston is essentially James Bond with a gun or sword, so he must continue to be accurately perfect throughout the film. Thankfully, the trio of Jackson, Goodman, and John C Reilly present hearty and competent characters to give us something to chew on. I was amazed with how important Reilly was to the script as the movie went on, essentially centering around the past of his character that establishes him as something more than just the grizzled veteran. Goodman’s character narration enjoys a solid first act that unfortunately is for nothing, as he disappears late in the second. Up until then, he was probably my favorite character, but he is lost in the sea of faces once their feet land on the island. Jackson is devilishly detestable as an army captain with malicious intent. Early on, we learn why he has such an interest in this mission, but due to Jackson’s gritty performance, you start to see the mask of sanity slowly slip away, giving way to the weapon of mass destruction that earned his character a chest full of honorary medals.

‘Kong: Skull Island’ is certainly an improvement on 2014’s ‘Godzilla’, and does more than enough to even the scales for the massive 2020 showdown between the two. The film’s ambitiously gorgeous presentation, as well as thrilling action sequences does more than enough to push it through some of the weaker aspects, like a dry second act, and an overabundance of patient characters with very little to do. Vogt-Roberts masterful dab in visual tapestry paints an intoxicating canvas for Kong to roar his loudest. The king is finally back on his throne.

7/10

Get Out

An uncomfortable meeting between two different racial classes, urges the minority in the house to Get Out. College student Rose (Allison Williams) is in love with Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), and at the point in their relationship when they should meet each other’s parents. Chris is apprehensive, as Rose, who is white, has apparently not told her parents Missy and Dean (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford) that Chris is black. Once there, Chris is unable to relax and is uncomfortable around Rose’s parents, which causes him to refuse an offer of hypnosis from Missy. Over the course of an uncomfortably awkward weekend, Chris learns that the upscale suburban area has a sinister history of young black men disappearing. Get Out is written and directed by Jordan Peele, and is rated R for violence, bloody images, and language including sexual references.

Considering Peele is pulling double duty for his directing debut, there’s much to be dissected and mostly praised about the kind of feat that Get Out presents us, during a month that is usually anything but gratifying. If one thing is clear, it’s that Jordan is definitely a student of the horror game, mimicking the most notorious of horror movie cliches in the most satisfying and beneficial manor. Nothing that he displays ever feels overused or exhausting, instead he grants us a visual 99 minute word find of these familiar troupes that push an original script like this even further. What a movie like Get Out does so astoundingly is that it takes a real life natural fear in the minds of minorities and brings it to life to display those very fears to the white audience who might otherwise see this as a comedy. From Peele’s standpoint, he’s offering material that is equal parts thought-provoking for the very race relations that so many interracial couples deal with, but also terrifying in reveals when slapped with a kind of Twilight Zone feel to the way the events of this weekend away play out. This is something that Peele hits a home run with, and I for one would love to see more attempts at horror by a man who clearly understands suspense in all of its articulate uses.

From a directing standpoint, there’s plenty to praise about the way he shoots the most important of exchanges here, leaving a scene running a bit longer to soak in the true awkwardness of these two groups of people who couldn’t be any different in social standing. It is important for the audience to read and define every kind of facial feature being played out in front of them, and it’s in those underlying emotions that tells us everything that we need and know about the multitude of characters throughout this picture. One scene in particular that really impressed me was the opening scene that relays that Get Out is anything but typical. Leaving the camera running on the same scene without any cuts for what feels like close to five minutes, Peele captivates the audiences, silencing any doubters who thought that this film was going to be your typical in twisted humor. I also greatly enjoyed the cinematography of the hypnotism scenes that display wonderfully a sinking mentally and physically for our main protagonist. The visuals for Peele to showcase this as a kind of twilight of stars radiating around Chris falling deeper and deeper is not only transfixing for how beautifully rendering the backdrop is, but also very traumatic for we feel the familiarity of our leading man fading further and further with each breath. Peele tackles it all beautifully, giving horror a highlight of artistic direction that has been sadly missing from the scene over the past decade.

However, it was the writing of Jordan that I felt was the strong point of his work, tackling the most important in how white people view minorities. I was very thankful that Peele doesn’t settle for desperation here, instead choosing to let the awkwardness rattle and even clench his audience into balls of anxiety as each scene revealing more and more about the true intentions of this family. There’s plenty to commend for dialogue that slowly builds that elevated tension with underlying subtext in power move vocal exchanges, most notably between Chris and Rose’s brother Jeremy (Played by Caleb Landry Jones) in a test of physical strength. Chris’s will is definitely being tested here, and it’s clear that this is foreshadowing for the next twenty-four hours of hell that they plan to put this poor guy through. Another strong suit that I commend Peele for is how little he needs or uses the typical overabundance of violence and gore to push his horror film further. It’s clear early on that the social commentary is the true chilling tool being used in this movie, but I found myself perplexed by how little we have actually seen 80 minutes into the movie, and yet how it didn’t sacrifice how truly terrifying this situational horror played out. Peele’s dry stance on gore tells us that what is most frightening is always what is true, and the seclusion among a family of racists is something that is easily understandable in a 2017 world where these problems very much exist.

I did have two problems with the film, but nothing truly dramatic to take away more than a point on my final grade. The first, deals with Chris’s attempted escape towards the end of the movie. I won’t give away much, but there’s an action in movement that happens with him that is truly impossible based on the disposition of his character only seconds prior, and it felt like a bit of a convenient bone thrown to the audience for patiently waiting. My second problem will definitely place me in the minority of this opinion, but I’m going to say it; Chris’s best friend Rod (Played by LilRel Howery) is totally unnecessary to this movie. Not only does Rod come off as a desperate shoe-horned in comedic subplot, but he also doesn’t serve as any kind of importance to the power-packed finale that does just fine. On the former, his comedy is fine, but I felt like it took away and hindered the suspense that was being slowly triggered bit-by-bit from a true student of the game. Many people will definitely disagree with me, as I have heard he was already many people’s favorite aspect to the movie, but let me ask you a question. Can you honestly disagree with me that the movie would be fine if his character was completely wiped from it? There in lies how truly frail his character really is, and just how his material overall feels like more of a speedbump to where the film needs to go creatively.

Whether you like or dislike scary movies, one thing is for certain; all races of life should GET OUT and see Peele’s initial slice of horror homage that pushes him amongst the ranks of 2017’s most versatile triple threats. Get Out is a smoothly-paced, artistically-crafted, and even thought-provoking attack on the social stigmas that many of us are afraid to dig into in our current day and age. It’s daring in its approaches to racial subtext, as well as refreshingly upscale for anything that Blumhouse Entertainment usually wraps its claws into.

8/10

A Cure For Wellness

Through the depths of unchained terror and psychological horror, one man seeks to hold onto his sanity through A Cure For Wellness. An ambitious young executive (Dane Dehahn) is sent to retrieve his company’s CEO from an idyllic but mysterious “wellness center” at a remote location in the Swiss Alps. He soon suspects that the spa’s miraculous treatments are not what they seem. When he begins to unravel its terrifying secrets, his sanity is tested, as he finds himself diagnosed with the same curious illness that keeps all the guests here longing for the cure. The film is directed by long time visionary mastermind Gore Verbinski, and is rated R for disturbing violent content and images, sexual content including an assault, graphic nudity, and adult language.

The very definition of insanity is to repeat the same action and expect different results. If this rings true, then A Cure For Wellness stumbles over its ambitious direction with an derivative script by Justin Haythe that never does it any favors in lasting impressions. In regards to a television style of storytelling, A Cure For Wellness works beautifully, offering a wide range of psychological thrills to mesh with its truly breathtaking complexity in the mind of one of the most ideal visionary directors going today in Verbinski. But when you consider that this long term investment of 142 minutes is a feature film, you slowly start to feel the momentum and excitement slip from its grasps, resulting in one of the truly most destructive third acts that I have ever seen. If I am being brief, there’s a reasonably solid offering of a movie somewhere within the deep clutches of this convoluted and often times disjointed mess. I myself enjoyed the first 90 minutes of the film, with the approaches in screenplay reaching more for simplistic, while presenting grade-A cinematography that is alluring and complementary to the former. Unfortunately, it all goes out the window fast with a cluttered script that easily could’ve used another re-write.

For all of its hints towards the brain and how it works, the film sadly depends more on plot twists that are every bit as unnecessary as they are taxing to the very investment of the audience’s psyche. One interesting aspect of these mysteries that I didn’t understand was why they were treated as such with an audience who could’ve easily pieced the answers together on two hours of sleep. The script treats its characters like morons, most notably in a subplot on the dependency of water to the patients of the facility that was obvious from the first mention of it. After that, it and every other setup is repeatedly hammered over the head, giving way to the first of many cuts that should’ve been made to this hearty helping. If the film wanted mystery, It should’ve focused on the mental health of Dehahn’s character as he navigates his way through the halls of the box of madness. The focus on if this man really is crazy would’ve intrigued me a whole lot more than knowing the answer to that question in the first act of the movie. Because these mysteries are so obvious and apparent, we as an audience just wait patiently for them to catch-up, halting the progress of a script every ten minutes or so to introduce a new aspect of cluttered storytelling that overwhelms in the worst of ways.

The ending goes completely batshit, force-feeding a supernatural aspect not only to logical thinking, but also to the compromising attitude of this picture that it had set up for itself two hours earlier. No one should ever laugh in a negative sort of way to a picture this disturbing, but the finale of this movie not only overreaches because it had a perfectly tucked in ending at the two hour mark, but also takes the cartoonish aspect in wrapping everything up. What were they thinking? It feels like something that was tacked on after an original screening for the movie disappointed test audiences. If this is what they think will satisfy that same crowd, then it’s clear that this idea in plot never had a satisfying exit to boot, and the film instead leaves its audience in a comfortably numb kind of feeling.

For Verbinski, at least the time investment does pay off in spades to some horrifically entrancing visuals that terrified well when placed against the greenish tint of exceptional cinematography. This color in shading certainly gives off the impression that there’s constantly an unseen sickness in the air, and that diagnosis plays well to the blind mice patients who are constantly in search of “the cure”. It’s great to see a horror movie that is given a professional presentation of sorts to creative camera angles, as well as shot framing that is unorthodox to this particular style of genre. Some of Gore’s artistic directions involve a camera on the side of the cars to keep the audience riding alongside its movements, a stuffed horse’s head whose eyes reflect the establishing shot being seen before our very own eyes, and the water level still shot that always leaves room for something more to be lurking just beneath the surface. All of these and many more proved that Verbinski was the right man for the job, and his more than prestigious reputation is made even more commendable in a sanity-slipping euphoria in a thick cloud of toxic haze.

The sound mixing by sound effects editor David Chrastka also plays hand-in-hand with the musical score by Benjamin Wallfisch that teamed up for my single favorite aspect of the movie. Every scene of suspense continues to build a band of accompanied sounds that hammers a chorus of repetition to the viewer, driving them a little mad in relating to the characters in tow. When you hear such crisp detection of aspects like Dehahn’s crutches or the jiggling of a toilet handle that serves as a metaphor for Dehahn’s slipping psyche, you really come to admire just how much detail and precision was used to flatter audiences with audio capabilities in the same manner that Verbinski steals the show with luxurious visuals. The duo of Wallfisch and Chrastka constantly kept my ears glued to the ensuing madness, even if my eyes had left the building with how many times the script let me down.

As for performances, there’s very little to rave about, and most of that is of no fault to the cast. The backstories in character expositions are so flawed that I still have a couple of questions regarding Dehahn’s history as a child that were shoe-horned in to this lengthy offering. Two and a half hours isn’t enough to tell every subplot in detail? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Dehahn has always been someone who I’ve been a fan of, but once again he is choosing a role that does him no favors on showing his dramatic leverage. As far as characters go, his is not only detestable for his Business head arrogance to go and do whatever he wants whenever he wants, but also naive in how many times he continues to fall for the same trick, rendering his character caught each and every time. Dane does as much as you can ask with this little of likeability, but there’s nothing memorable of heart-wrenching to the prisoner-like conditions that he is held to. Jason Isaacs is solid, but the damaging finale leaves his character in perhaps the biggest jumbled mess of the movie. A reveal during this time cost us any chance in charm that we would get to see with typical good guy Isaacs making a long-winded antagonist speech. When he’s kept simple, Isaacs works, but my moral stigma favoring his character more than Dehahn’s only further hammered home how outside of the box this film’s thinking process was.

A Cure For Wellness slugs through three grueling acts of convoluted material that weighs down heavily on the grand scale of award-worthy sights and sounds that the movie treats us to. As the film goes on, you find yourself slipping through the depths of sanity, resulting in a test of patience for the mind that is orchestrated by a clock that is constantly playing tricks on you. I would only recommend this movie if you stop watching at the 90 minute mark, otherwise it’s another disappointing offering in a genre that is still searching for the cure.

5/10

Rings

The visions of the most infamously dangerous videotape returns thirteen years after the events of the initial chapters, in Rings. Directed by F Javier Gutierrez, the film tells the story of Julia (Matilda Lutz), a young woman who becomes worried about her boyfriend, Holt (Alex Roe) when he explores the dark urban legend of a mysterious videotape said to kill the watcher seven days after viewing. She sacrifices herself to save her boyfriend and in doing so makes a horrifying discovery: there is a “video within the video” that no one has ever seen before, sure to bring terrifying imagery to those who embrace it. Rings is rated PG-13 for violence/terror, thematic elements, some sexuality and brief drug material.

To anyone like me who didn’t get much entertainment from the original two Rings movies, the third installment will do absolutely zero to change your perception. The thing with some sequels is sometimes they can be so different in production from one film to the next that you often wonder if you are even watching the same series. There are no doubts what so ever that this is from the same series because every one of them have put a spell of endless sleep over me. Even typing this out now, I think about how beautiful my bed looks. I could swear it’s even winking at me. Rings is the latest horror movie to find itself on the delayed schedule, after a disappointing Summer 2016 season for horror movies shelved this one until February. After viewing it, I can safely say that this is the worst kind of sequel because of how unnecessary it really is. The extending branches of Samara get some story exposition that conveniently we never discovered or even skimmed over from the first two offerings, and you can almost see the cloud of desperation extending around the edges of every scene, because this movie has little to offer in terms of frights or even memorable imagery. A callback to straight-to-DVD films that try to grasp on just a little longer to those days when it was once king.

The presentation once again weighs heavily on the eyes, as this greyish overcast fogs its way through the clarity of every scene and shot. If this benefits in one way only, it is in at least accomplishing the proper tone for Samara and the decay of the environment around her. Setting has never been a problem for this trilogy of films, but brace yourself accordingly because it is the lone positive that I pulled back from the film. The editing feels dicey again, cutting death scenes far too quickly to honor the PG-13 code of horror. I find it difficult to write on paper what even happens during the few death scenes that this movie does garner. How do they die? Beats me, the audience doesn’t see anything, and only hears a slight shriek to convey that our poorly written character has crossed over to the otherworld. One can only wonder how engaging these movies could be if for one second they catered less to teenagers and presented a sequel strictly for the fans who grew up with this series. I say grow up because in the over thirteen years since our last installment, it’s clear that this story and design hasn’t matured a day. There’s still the worst in C.G effects that certainly don’t bring to mind the technological advances of 2016 to mind.

Jump scares return accordingly to properly pay homage to the current formulaic methods of chilling the audience, but there’s something slightly different to its delivery this time. The film’s sound editing almost becomes a parody of itself as scenes with high volume are startlingly reduced from one second to the next with predictable silence that all but highlights something is coming from the darkness. As usual, none of the cuts and increase of volume for these cheap scares are justifiable, most notably in that of an umbrella that seems to make screeching sounds as it opens. Either that thing needs oil or this movie has zero faith in its audience to call it on its bullshit. I’m shooting for the latter. Beyond this and the trimmed down violence, the movie goes so long without a death scene during the second and third acts that the movie instead becomes a testing history lesson on Samara’s dark past, an angle that probably shouldn’t be necessary by the third film in a series, but then again these movies as a whole do move at a snails pace for storytelling.

One angle that I wish this movie would’ve explored more fruitfully was that in the technological improvements since our last movie. With the current age of Youtube and social media alike, Rings had the capability to change this series as a whole for the better, instilling a real fear for the audience at home who love click-bait media. Instead of exploring any of this promising area however, the movie (like its predecessors for VHS technology during the DVD era) is stuck once again in the past, this time engaging in Quicktime software like it’s the newest thing that all of the cool kids are raving about. I’m not saying that Quicktime isn’t still around and used accordingly for Apple hard drives, but I am saying that this reference feels greatly outdated in an age where HD video is at our fingertips with the click of a mouse. After 97 minutes of missed opportunities, the film finally does engage in this venture only to sequel bait us into another movie. This promise for a better movie next time gives me a Dawn of Justice kind of feel, as not enough time and creativity was put into this movie, and instead the producers focused on a future that might not come to fruition after the crowds that have already given this a 7% on Rotten Tomatoes rip it apart.

People can say what they want about the first two Rings movies, but this one will remind you that if they had anything it was in the dependable range of Naomi Watts channeling a woman whose vulnerability horrified audiences when we put ourselves in her shoes. She is GREATLY missed here. So what are we left with? Some of arguably the dumbest and underwritten characters that make up an ensemble cast. What’s funny during the first act is this movie even announces aloud to the audience how easy it would be to end this Samara curse, with temporary self-sacrifice playing a vital importance to survival. So where and why doesn’t that work? Because plot, that’s why. One such girl knows her time is up and sees Samara coming for her through a television set, only to sit there frozen instead of running away and making some attempt at survival. As for the lead protagonists in Lutz and Roe, they leave a little more to be desired in emotional delivery. Lutz has zero logic for why she is the chosen one to Samara’s plan, and has one face whether he’s happy or sad throughout the entirety of the film. Roe feels like he would be one of the first victims in any stronger horror movie, omitting a blank stare sure to kill any audience or cinematic momentum. Thankfully Vincent D’Onofrio does show up to as a historian of sorts to Samara’s curse. Where his character’s arc goes is quite an interesting one because it more-than rips off a popular Summer favorite film from 2016. Perhaps yet another reason why this movie was shelved?

All the craze from horror movies lately have marketing campaigns with such genius as “Don’t say it, don’t think it”. If Rings adds anything to this troupe, it’s in the idea that the audience should follow these characters and do anything to keep from watching this tape. It’s an uneventful, uninspired, insomnia cure of a series that has gone on for three films too long. This is one sequel that does little with its capabilities to adapt to something fresh, instead settling for rehashed mythology from its infamous antagonist to present some confusing plot holes from earlier lessons. VERDICT- Easily the worst of the trilogy

3/10

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

The final remains of the T-Virus return us to the scene of the origin, in Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. Picking up three weeks after the events in Resident Evil: Retribution, humanity is on its last legs after Alice (Milla Jovovich) was betrayed by Wesker (Shawn Roberts) in Washington D.C. As the only survivor of what was meant to be humanity’s final stand against the undead hordes, Alice must return to where the nightmare began; Raccoon City, where the Umbrella Corporation is gathering its forces for a final strike against the only remaining survivors of the apocalypse. In a race against time Alice will join forces with old friends, and an unlikely ally, in an action packed battle with undead hordes and new mutant monsters. Between losing her superhuman abilities and Umbrella’s impending attack, this will be Alice’s most difficult adventure as she fights to save humanity, which is on the brink of oblivion. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is written and directed by Paul W.S Anderson, and is rated R for sequences of violence, as well as some adult language.

For someone who has written and directed all seven efforts of the Resident Evil franchise, Paul W.S Anderson seems to have selective memory about the film’s rules and history that feels trampled on after the latest effort known as The Final Chapter. Going into this movie, I wasn’t expecting a lot of bang for my buck. My expectations were cast pretty low; strong action sequences and a furthering of the story that capped of fifteen years with Alice and her friends. Ultimately, both of my expectations were sadly missed, as this is in my opinion the very worst of the franchise by a wide margin, and a lot of that is because of Anderson’s careless methods to provide fans with the goodbye that they deserve. The film has a plot twist near the end of the movie that is not only predictable because of how little they do to hide the identity of this mysterious Umbrella worker, but also how little it makes sense with histories established in the first two films. These aren’t forgivable plot contrivances, these are MAJOR flaws that would only take Anderson watching these movies to refresh what he has established about certain characters. Picture a Jason movie where they flashback to something that happened in the second movie, only to show Jason wearing the wrong color and dying by a different way. It’s truly mind-shattering how far this series has fallen, and just how little this whole thing has to do with any of the respective video games that they borrow plot from.

If there is one positive, it’s that this movie at least feels like a video game. Not so much a movie, but a video game because of how it has very minimal plot and lots of weapon re-ups, as well as conflict scenes in a new backdrop with each passing minute. On the first of those issues, The Final Chapter feels like more of a continuance for something like Retribution or Afterlife, instead of its own movie. With the previous efforts, each movie revolved around its own growth for each of its characters, while establishing a setting that felt fresh for each chapter. This is very much a time and place that we have endured before in much better circumstances with the original Resident Evil. That movie, while not perfect by any standards, at least keys you into what makes these throwaway popcorn flicks exciting in their own element. The introduction here of this anti-virus comes out of nowhere. At no point in six other films did we ever key in to any kind of solution for the problems that have engulfed this world, and the introduction now feels very lazy in creating a suitable solution that fans will believe. This is a movie at 101 minutes that constantly keeps moving, never choosing to slow down to tell the story of what happened in Washington during Retribution, or establishing its fresh faces to the audience. At this point, there’s not enough patience or commitment to cast these people as anything but bodies in the way of Alice reaching her final destination, therefore your investment feels minimal and even tiresome at the repetition in setup, attack, and kill. Wash, rinse, repeat.

The visual presentation was perhaps the biggest flaw that the film entails because the camera styles don’t remain faithful to the style of shooting that we have come to love from this series. If there is one positive that I can say for this series, as well as The Final Chapter itself, is that it conjures up some artistically beautiful choreographed fight scenes that always reach their mark in channeling the video game profiles of each attack scene. This was the single greatest strength of this movie that unfortunately gets weighed down pretty quickly by some of the arguably worst action sequence depictions that I have ever seen. I recommend highly that you watch this movie at home in a lighted environment because your eyes will be kicking your ass by film’s end. The fight scenes are lit poorly, shot far too closely, and (Most importantly) involve an overburden of quick-cuts to ever keep you from registering what is transpiring on screen. Not since last year’s Jason Bourne have I truly felt such pity and despair for how a film chooses to style its bread and butter. I compare the visuals to watching a bootleg copy of a movie on your computer, where you have to squint to register the poor quality of a camera illegally filming a movie. Truly horrifying on the eyes and less on your actual fright for the creativity in creatures and zombie designs alike that the movie could’ve used more emphasis on visually.

As for returning cast, I was sadly disappointed at just how little involvement there actually was for the time invested characters of past films who were left off of the slate. Chris Redfield, Asa Kong, and Jill Valentine are three characters whose presence are greatly missed in a sea of fresh faces that never have time to establish character arcs or traits to make them any different from the people to the right or left of them. The only familiar faces are that of Alice, Claire Redfield, Albert Wesker and Dr Isaacs. The focus is mainly on that of Alice and Isaacs, leaving Wesker off of the page for a final showdown or satisfying climax to the polarizing figure that we have come to love and hate equally. This is a major disappointment because there’s much chemistry that is left off of the pages of the script between Alice and Isaacs that just doesn’t measure up to some of her previous enjoyable entanglements with that of Valentine or Wesker. When you look at the bigger picture of all seven films, it feels like these movies were constantly building to something bigger and better that just never materialized. The ending of this film felt far too easy and neatly tucked away for a fifteen year investment, settling for a goodbye to its antagonists in the most cringe-worthy and logic-infuriating methods to storytelling that missed their mark tragically. Wesker’s ending in particularly was the final gasp of hope that left my body for a once prosperous saga of video game adaptation.

The Last Chapter for Resident Evil is a welcome one because it displays just how off-the-mark the series has twist and turned from being a simply admirable zombie epic through the streets of Raccoon City. If you’ve held on for this long, I can imagine that the passionate fans of this story will like this movie all the same, but Anderson’s latest lacks any real bite to grab the attention of new audience, and The Last Chapter will go unread for plenty of fans who found the antidote to Paul’s stretching of liberties years ago.

3/10

Split

M Night Shyamalan’s newest silver screen offering presents 23 different sides of the human psyche, in Split. After a wholesome teen birthday party, three girls are kidnapped in broad daylight: friends Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula), and difficult outsider Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy). Their captor Kevin (James McAvoy) locks the trio in a windowless room, then proceeds to frighten and baffle them. One minute he’s wearing eyeglasses and obsessive about cleanliness, the next he’s presenting as female, and later he acts like a nine-year-old boy. It is revealed that Kevin exhibits 23 alternate personalities, and in order to escape, his captives must convince one of the personalities within him to set them free, before the arrival of the 24th and final personality, the “beast”. Split is written and directed by Shyamalan, and is rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and behavior, violence and some language.

Split marks the return to form for one of Hollywood’s most polarizing directing minds, and it does so without sacrificing its artistic integrity nor disgracing the very fabric of this intriguing disease that plagues the mind and body of this character. Shyamalan’s tone feels right at home here, with the very essence of this suspenseful rarely ever giving way to hearty and mood-ruining laughs that some of his later efforts were known for. To anyone who read my review for The Visit in 2015, you’ll know that I enjoyed the movie, but plenty was ruined for the cringe-worthy acting, as well as completely wrong tone for the movie’s personality. Thankfully, Split prides itself on being first and foremost a thriller, but rarely ever a horror offering. Instead, its brutality and gore is in what your imagination takes from it. This could be a risky or disappointing idea for Shyamalan on his audience, but it works beautifully because the movie asks as much out of our mentalities as it does from its central character. We have to fill in the gaps in the very same methods that Kevin does, and the bridge of clarity is built one brick at a time above the troubled waters that higher budgeted Shyamalan movies have failed miserably.

What I found so refreshing about this direction in terms of story and presentation is the aspect of some fresh perspectives when discussing this particular disease, as well as people with traits that are deemed anything other than “Normal”. Usually the kind of people suffering from these rare occurances are thought of as underneath a typical human-being, in terms of mental capacity and physical strength. But what Shyamalan does is put us the public one step below those given this distinctive ability. The movie mentions several times how our brains might not be strong enough to understand them, and this offers much more than just an original direction in character structure, it also relates at just how disadvantaged our protagonists will be in fighting off his multiple personalities. A movie with a setup in terms of gimmick like this one could fail on so many merits, mostly in the performances feeling unbelievable or the very tone of the movie failing to capture the urgency of these women whose lives change so abruptly when they are out enjoying themselves in their natural habitat. Both of these areas do succeed, but the former deserves a lot more credit when you step back to think about what it took to accomplish something so rare.

James McAvoy has always been an actor with undeniable range in depth and capability, but as Kevin he displays a literal Broadway offering of a one man show that eclipses anything that he has ever done by a mile. Being that this is the same actor portraying these different personalities, McAvoy must commit everything he has in personality and physical stature to fully distinguish each of the many people living inside of this man’s head. This is certainly no easy feat, but I found myself astonished at just how effortlessly James transformations always exceeded the line of believability. The accents are key here because no two of them are ever the same, vibrantly echoing many geographical locations like New York, London, or Southern America to name a few. It’s a treat to hear this, but the visual spectacle by an actor going where no other has gone before is what takes it to a new level. You believe the morphing and distortion in body traits that is being described on-screen because McAvoy always does it in front of our very eyes. To see this, makes for some truly remarkable dedication to the characters, and it’s clear that James doesn’t pick favorites in the value of each one, because each turn is made even more memorable with his undeterred charisma radiating its way through our skin in the form of goosebumps. Anya Taylor Joy is also commendable once more with her haunting facials and mesmerizing eyes that always accurately depict the true trauma and uncertainty that these teenage girls are enduring. Joy herself has a backstory that I will get to later on, and it proves that McAvoy isn’t the only likable character in the film, and the distinction between them grows blurry as the movie moves on.

The movie is basically narrating two stories for us simultaneously. In the foreground, there’s of course the unfolding events of everything going on with this kidnapping. The subplot however is something that I felt was much more tragic in terms of psychological harm. When the movie begins, we learn that there’s something different to Joy’s character, and that these three women are anything but the ideal trio of high school females that grew up as friends. Through one layer at a time of peeled exposition, we learn that there’s a reason why Casey seems more calm than the other two. I felt that this side story was a valuable addition, but there were times when its progression felt jarring and even halting to the lack of time and attention to our first story. Some scenes even fade to black completely before interchanging back and forth. It rarely feels smooth, and could’ve used a little more emphasis on the fluidity of editing. Like any great Shyamalan movie, there is a twist, two actually. Both of which feel necessary without ever truly compromising the story’s integrity similarly to The Village or Lady In the Water. The first twist confirmed perhaps what I already knew about a character, but the second twist turned my world upside down in a possible S.C.U. That’s Shyamalan Cinematic Universe.

The movie does have some ADR problems in voice editing/mixing, but the biggest problem is in the finale when a few appropriate measures either prolong or promote the annoying convenience of illogical stances. The ending itself is something that will undoubtedly divide audiences right down the middle. I enjoyed it personally, but feel like it lacks the kind of satisfaction in an ending that justified accordingly the nearly two hour run time. The third act has some promise however, with history repeating itself in a certain decision that gives Casey another chance at re-writing it, and the jarring similarities in setup certainly served by this critic as poetic justice for an opportunity that sometimes all of us wait for, but rarely ever get.

Split is 23 accounts of McAvoy’s brilliance that never bend under the pressure of a script that depends on him faithfully. Shyamalan is at his best when he’s commanding low budget thrills with a claustrophobic and respectable stance on the very things that make everyone different. With some tighter storytelling and some slight catering to the audience during the final battle, this one nearly missed being extraordinary. As it stands, Split finds its identity through the eyes of a maniac that relates that the different are the powerful.

7/10

The Bye Bye Man

Sin against others and The Bye Bye Man will come to get you. People commit unthinkable acts every day. Time and again, we grapple to understand what drives a person to do such terrible things. But what if all of the questions we’re asking are wrong? What if the cause of all evil is not a matter of what…but who? From the producer of Oculus and The Strangers comes The Bye Bye Man, a chilling horror-thriller that exposes the evil behind the most unspeakable acts committed by man. When three college friends stumble upon the horrific origins of the Bye Bye Man, they discover that there is only one way to avoid his curse: don’t think it, don’t say it. But once the Bye Bye Man gets inside your head, he takes control. Is there a way to survive his possession? The Bye Bye Man is directed by Stacy Title, and is rated PG-13 for terror, horror violence, bloody images, sexual content, thematic elements, partial nudity, some language and teen drinking.

If you seek a horror movie that is as equally entertaining as it is informative on providing all of the answers in closing up each and every plot hole created in its screenplay, then The Bye Bye Man is the movie that you should stay the furthest away from. After being on the shelf for close to a year, this film has been the subject of much negativity online, from its over-the-top trailers to its embarrassing, awful title that couldn’t be anymore practical if it was called “The Man Who Kills People”. Being a critic, I am subjected to so many awful horror movies and January movies, so when they combine their powers, they make for something truly special. The problem certainly isn’t going to be me thinking or saying The Bye Bye Man, the problem is going to be trying to forget that this movie ever subjected its audience to something rudimentary in terms of filmmaking that it truly astonishes me how this ever got a big screen release. The Bye Bye Man is an anomaly of sorts in the way it seems to complicate a genre that is certainly nothing challenging in terms of creating enjoyable entertainment in popcorn thrills. The film isn’t remotely scary, even in the simplest idea of jump scares, it has a very contrived and confusing screenplay, and it feels ten years too late for the 8 Films You Could Die For muck that plagued our screens many moons ago.

First of all there’s the antagonist himself; The Bye Bye Man. With a character as cryptic and mysterious as this one, surely there’s some kind of backstory that really brings the story all together and makes his pain relatable, right? WRONG. Considering he is in the movie completely at around 4-5 minutes, I am not embellishing in the slightest when I say we learn absolutely nothing about him. Imagine in A Nightmare on Elm Street we learn nothing in eight movies about Freddy Krueger. On top of that, the very concept and execution in idea for us to not say his name or think about him is not only a rip-off of the movie that I just mentioned, but also one of Candyman, Boogeyman and any other horror movie that homage their genre much better than this one. So on top of knowing nothing about him after 91 minutes, is his presence worth something? I honestly couldn’t tell you. Considering he only stays on screen for more than five seconds at the very end of the movie, it feels like introducing a new character to a movie that is supposed to be centered around him. Origins? Well apparently this force that we don’t know where or how it started plagued the mind of a man in the 70’s and he killed everyone around him who he told about The Bye Bye Man, so to end the spreading of it. This doesn’t seem like a difficult solution, but people throughout this movie repeatedly keep bringing him up. To say that this is the dumbest collection of characters that I have endured in quite some time, is underplaying it even from a horror standpoint. These kids deserve everything they are getting.

Then there’s the very presentation of this flub. The only positive point that I am giving this movie is at least the locations of Eastern Ohio certainly more than give off that eerie feeling of something chilly and demented in the air. The house that most of this movie centers around is hauntingly majestic, omitting a kind of tragedy in the air that plagues the air of our cast. Beyond that, this presentation feels very hollow and empty for a finished product. I always negate a movie for too many jump scares, but I actually feel like this one doesn’t have enough for the teenagers rushing out to see it. There were three attempts in the movie at jump scares, all of which missed their mark, and none of which merited any concept of their inclusion in the script. For 91 dull minutes, the film feels like it focused on making a movie but forgot the scares that justified its genre designation. We go long spans without our boogeyman or an attempt at creeping out the audience that a dread of underwhelming cant help but make its way into your tasting of all it’s worth. The ending is confusing based on the rules it set up, and it feels predictable based on the idea that the only way to stop this monster is to simply forget about him. A concept that is so difficult to understand for our cast that they repeatedly poke the beast with a stick that will eventually bite back.

Speaking of that cast, with the exception of Carrie Anne Moss, this is an entirely fresh cast and crew of new faces, some of which making their initial impressions on their audience. This isn’t a surprise in the slightest because their deliveries and emotional release is lacking in so many scenes throughout. It’s not entirely their faults. These kids had little to work with in terms of character direction or depth in dialogue to boot, so it always feels like the wrong person is in control of theirs and the movie’s respective fates. There’s an actress in this movie whose real name is Cressida Bonas, and I certainly mean no personal harm to her career, but maybe acting classes could help her in emoting whatever range she is trying to accomplish. Her underwhelming release and shaky dialogue reads ruined more than one scene for me, and in an environment full of terrible actors and actresses, she undoubtedly takes the cake. Everybody always feels bored throughout this movie, and I can certainly understand that. When no answers are given, it feels like the cast is constantly moving in circles through repetitive setups and finishes, so how many times can you honestly expect them to remain patient before the whole thing tastes stale? And stale it definitely feels about twenty minutes in.

The dreaded PG-13 tag for horror also strikes again, as there’s very little blood or gore anywhere in this movie. What’s made even more apparent is how much this movie left off of the table to achieve that cheap rating. There are gun-shot wounds to the head and torso in the movie, and yet not one drop of blood splashes the walls or floor of the respective areas. I’m not saying that PG-13 horror can’t be a success. There are more than a few examples of those ratings that constantly raise the bar so well that it’s hard to believe they were ever PG-13 in the first place. The problem here is logic always wins out, and the feeling of an empty void is obvious early on in the movie, when computer generation takes away any chance at quenching the thirst. This is clearly a victim of a hack-and-slash in the editing department visually, but it didn’t have to suffer for the sins of a company that wanted something less. There’s just no effort or logistics for what they produce, and because of that you’ll never feel even slightly invested in any way for this picture.

The Bye Bye Man is dreaded January cinema that like its central character should never be mentioned or thought about ever again for the safety of moviegoers alike. It’s a dry hour-and-a-half of empty brutality and thrills that never come close to even scaring the softies in the audience. Held together by uninspiring performances or any kind of narrative for its villain, the movie feels like the very definition of the term “Not trying”, and the evidence feel assured from a title that is anything but creative. Bye bye indeed, and good riddance.

2/10

Silence

The dangerous side of religion leads two priests on a journey across the world. Martin Scorsese’s newest feature film tells the story of two Portuguese Christian missionaries Rodrigues and Garupe (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) will face the ultimate test of faith when they travel to Japan in search of their missing mentor Ferreira (Liam Neeson), at a time when Christianity was outlawed and their presence forbidden. Soon, the duo find themselves facing violence and persecution against a hostile crowd with their own religious stances. Scorsese not only directs this movie, but also co-writes with Jay Cocks. Silence is rated R for some disturbing violent content and brief adult language.

Silence is perhaps the perfect film for the perfect time in our own society. While modern times can’t even hold up to 1% of the horrors that lie in this picture, our own Christians and religious followers alike are at persecuting times for their beliefs in praying to silence, and it’s in that perspective for what makes Scorsese a genius at telling this story. This isn’t a religious movie that feels manipulative or judgemental to one side or the other of the coin, instead it just paints a twisted portrait of a time when religious will was a dangerous, and sometimes degrading benefactor to some cultures and civilizations. What makes this movie so uncomfortable and at often times haunting is that loss of faith and beliefs for the traumatic road that someone goes through to undo everything that they have known to that point, and the people who believe in them. This is very much a story that cements the theory that once everything else has been weeded out, money, living, hunger, clothing, there’s only faith that remains as the beacon of light to those seeking comfort in change. Their roads are already one of arduous struggle, but Silence proves that it’s everything that you do hear that makes the biggest change in one choice over the other.

For a title as brilliant as this one, there’s three meanings behind the word Silence in itself that corresponds to the story. The first is obvious; Christians are praying to a god who responds in silence. This is a measure of the plot that tests the iron wills of our protagonists on plenty of occasions along the way, and begs the question of how long can one stay strong and firm in their position without an oral answer to show for it. The second is contrasting to the first, and it’s that our characters religious stances are being silenced from infecting those of the Japanese population and culture. Scorsese uses the better part of three hours to hammer home the message of religious teachings and the symbolism literally and figuratively of these two priests being locked away like some dirty secret. In the beginning, it’s by the kind-hearted citizens who seek their teachings, but by the end of the movie, it’s by the authority figures that want them to suffer for the epidemic that they have introduced to their people. The effortless displays of the darkness surrounding the priests in more than one surrounding is certainly always there, most notably with Jesus imagery somewhere in the framing of each beautifully mastered shot that Scorsese crafts. The final signal to the title comes in the theory that the loudest impact comes from the sounds that are magnified around us, and for that we must dig deeper.

Perhaps Scorsese’s most merited artistic touch in this movie is the work between he and sound mixer Greg Crawford. The film has basically no musical submission for its entirety, and this would usually be a huge risk for any movie that depends on the auditory senses to tell the story in more ways than just dialogue. Why it works here is because we as an audience listen and endure each and every single cry of help from the sufferers, and nothing is ever in the distance or muted by its proximity. Because there’s never any music to get in the way or take away from what we’re hearing, Scorsese educates us on devoting 100% percent of this sense to hearing more, and the contrast in creativity made for my XD sitting to be one that peaked on nearly every auditory level that my body could handle. From the opening shot of the movie, we don’t see, and instead only hear the chirping of crickets somewhere around us, giving off an education lesson from Martin that bases the importance of hearing before you can see, or I was once blind but now I can see, as it says in the good book.

What’s truly remarkable about Scorsese is that even at 74 years old he is still evolving as a revolutionary filmmaker, and transcending himself as much more than an American stylist. For the movie, Martin practically washes every lesson from fifty-plus years in the business to craft an original dose of visual pizazz that never fails to pay homage to Japanese style of cinematography. There’s plenty of quick-cuts and edits behind every corner, but the most intriguing aspect of his camera style to me, was borrowing a page from Kung Fu movies to present the quick-pan in all of its gimmick glory. This may sound like I’m poking fun at this decision in artistic integrity, but it’s quite the opposite. I feel like to make a film that takes place in Japan, you better make damn sure that you live up to the traditions and stylings for what goes into their artistic senses, and it proves that Martin isn’t just suspending disbelief for the cast and crew of this particular film, but that too of the audience at home who have now fully engulfed themselves in this epic narrative that looks and feels like something from another time and place of visual delight.

Andrew Garfield is mesmerizing, dazzling us with his most emotionally gripping and haunting performance of the young actor’s career. I have seen Garfield in some solid films before, but until Silence, I never felt like I got a performance to equal those feats. As Rodriguez, Garfield dedicates his body and soul to a performance that showcased him losing forty pounds for the role, giving way to a physical performance that never fails to relate the true suffering of this character. What Rodriguez goes through in this movie isn’t inspiring in the least. It’s a ruthless gut-punch that never relents, and Garfield finally transforms in front of us to the leading man that he was destined to be. His performance is Oscar worthy. Liam Neeson is also great in the movie, despite only appearing for twenty total minutes in the film. As Ferrara, Neeson feels like the equal to what Rodriguez is now going through with this unwelcoming greeting, and through Neeson’s storied eyes, we can conjure that this man has been humbled and defeated in ways that we will only know by seeing what Garfield goes through. What’s interesting about this comparison is that by following Rodriguez throughout the movie, we in turn grasp the kind of tragic feats that Ferrara entailed by the unnerving finale of this movie.

I did have two problems with the movie, and one shouldn’t be a shocker to any fan of Scorsese. If the man does have one weakness, it’s in these near three hour movies that sometimes overstay their welcome in sound pacing. I’m not saying that I was ever bored by Silence, but there is about twenty minutes in here (Particularly in an ending that carries on A little too far) that can easily be shaved off to make this cut something of a masterpiece. Scorsese films like The Wolf of Wall Street or Gangs of New York earned that three hour sampling by producing stories that constantly kept moving without reminding the audience of the rest periods in their scripts. In Silence, these moments happen far too often, and will offer more than one bathroom break to anyone thinking they will miss anything through repetition in structure late in the second act. I also didn’t care much for Rodriguez narrating most of the movie. Once you’ve seen the movie, you’ll understand why this doesn’t make sense from a logic standpoint, but what bothered me more than that is when a movie will do this to review everything in a scene that just happened, and that is what we have here. The film doesn’t have faith in its audience to understand everything that they’ve just seen, and that’s a shame because there was rarely a moment when Silence didn’t have me on the edge of my seat and immersed in what was transpiring.

Sometimes the loudest pitch does come in the form of Silence, and Scorsese’s newest masterpiece is a technical work of wonder even when the obese run time does sometimes slow his momentum. Even said, Martin continues to be the pinnacle of American filmmaking, even when he offers a respectable and impassioned look into foreign cultures. Silence is a reminder about the importances and cautions of faith, and how sometimes our own beliefs can be questioned in an adversity far greater than opposition; ourselves.

8/10