Upgrade

Directed by Leigh Whannell

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

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

8/10

Revenge

Directed by Coralie Fargeat

Starring – Matilda Lutz, Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

9/10

Breaking In

Directed by James McTeigue

Starring – Gabrielle Union, Billy Burke, Richard Cabral

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

EXTRAS

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

6/10

Bad Samaritan

Directed by Dean Devlin

Starring – David Tennant, Kerry Condon, Robert Sheehan

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/10

Traffik

Directed by Deon Taylor

Starring – Paula Patton, Omar Epps, Roselyn Sanchez

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2/10

Truth or Dare

Directed by Jeff Wadlow

Starring – Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Violett Beane

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

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

THE POSITIVES

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

THE NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1/10

A Quiet Place

Directed By John Krasinski

Starring – John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Noah Jupe

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

Rated PG-13 for terror and some bloody imagery

THE POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE NEGATIVES

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

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

8/10

Unsane

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Starring – Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah

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

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

THE POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

6/10

The Strangers: Prey at Night

Directed by Johannes Roberts

Starring – Christina Hendricks, Bailee Madison, Martin Henderson

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

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

THE POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

THE NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

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

5/10

Thoroughbreds

Directed by Cory Finley

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

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

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

THE POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE NEGATIVES

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

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

8/10

Death Wish

Directed by Eli Roth

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

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

Rated R for strong bloody violence, and adult language throughout

THE POSITIVES

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

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

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

THE NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3/10

Annihilation

Directed by Alex Garland

Starring – Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Oscar Isaac

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

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

THE POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE NEGATIVES

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

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

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

7/10