Crawl

Directed by Alexandre Aja

Starring – Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper, Ross Anderson

The Plot – A young woman (Scodelario), while attempting to save her father (Pepper) during a Category 5 hurricane, finds herself trapped in a flooding house and must fight for her life against meat hungry alligators.

Rated R for bloody creature violence, and brief adult language

POSITIVES

– Thrill ride. This is easily one of the more intriguing sits that you will endure in 2019, and while most of that has to do with a consistency in thrills and stimulating sight gags, the smooth and rapid pacing developed from an 83 minute run time more than feeds into this circumstance. Whatever you say about this film, boredom certainly won’t be one of the nominated verbs, as this film’s constant fluidity leaves very little slow spots of exposition in between these moments of surreal horror that harvest a hybrid of entertainment between the screenplay’s hip personality that conjures from these very tense and horrific moments of horror curriculum. A film that doesn’t lag is difficult to come by, but “Crawl’s” biggest strength is in a story that flows as fast as the deposited water that leaves our characters stranded.

– Grave urgency. Speaking of that condemning rain, the gradual rising of this element not only feeds into the claustrophobia of this diminishing setting, but also outlines a visual reminder of the limited time-frame that these people face, perhaps illustrating a bigger adversary than even that of the alligators that surround them. Considering the screenplay does a great job in remaining focused on the characters and their predators, the blink-and-you-miss-it rising of this virtual hourglass of sorts increases before our very eyes, adding a completely different element of danger that isn’t as easily escapable as something that can be hurt or killed. This for me was the biggest and most rewarding antagonist of the film in terms of weight to the adjacent story, and brings forth a level of creativity of escape for the protagonists that was previously unforeseen.

– Story above storm. The problem with disaster films are often the necessity to substitute valuable characters for riveting storm sequences, and while “Crawl” does have an inescapable presence to its methods of mother nature, it’s the character building and backstories that I appreciated more than anything. As especially is the case with this father and daughter dynamic, the screenplay initially hints at a level of distance between them that evolves terrifically into a fully fleshed out narrative, giving us the audience extreme indulgence in the form of characters who we can grasp and understand the intentions behind their dangerous decisions. While I did have problems with Scodelario’s character and her overall performance, which I will get to later, the established backstory that is slowly revealed between them in candid flashback sequences more than solidifies an interest in their well-being that makes films like these all the more rewarding for my investment into them.

– Consistent theme. Further feeding into the film’s depth, the script has an obvious intention of feeding into ones past, and the negatives that come with constantly reveling in it. I won’t spoil anything important here, but this whole conflict starts because of the father’s road trip to his family’s former residence, which represents the happier times between them, when all was copacetic. Beyond this, every character, big and small, is dealing with the regrets of the past. Some in the form of immense mental blocks that leave their success in sports hindered because of the mental luggage that pins itself to them, as well as the way other supporting characters bring up their former significant others in moments that don’t necessarily require it. This burden that our characters face constantly feeds into every one of their motivations, bringing forth a couple of epiphanies along the way that are earned because of the dire pressure of their current conflict.

– Special effects. This element surprised me more than any, as the believability and weight established between storm influence and computer generated reptiles wasn’t as equally present in the illustrations within the trailer. Clearly another production rendering took place here, as the seamless dimensions and designs on display more times than not impressed me, and was made more apparent because of articulate measures along the way that prospered their consistency. For one, the cinematography by Maxime Alexandre, as well as the movie’s overall lighting scheme points to a weathered, grainy visual capacity that crafts opportunity within its darker frames, making it all the more difficult to zero in on an obvious weakness within the generation. Most of the storm is human-created elements, but the sky itself is computer generated, and left intimidating by its thickness in clouds and darkness in color, that never needed a skull to channel its intensity (See “The Hurricane Heist”).

– Aja’s devilish direction. You cast a man like Alexandre Aja to helm your film if you want a barrage of blood with a non-relenting atmosphere that persists like a rapid heartbeat, and while this film doesn’t reach the levels of blood or gore on something like previous Aja offering “The Hills Have Eyes”, it does manage a level of intensity that barely ever has time to breathe within the environment that he created. In addition to this Aja’s claustrophobic lens offers a combination water level, underwater, and alligator trailing sequences that conjure up the variety in shot compositions that shoots the action from many unnerving levels. But fear not horror hounds, as there is a solid offering of snapped limbs, bloody bites, and jump scare thrills that frequently remind us of the deacon of direction, who elevates a film like this if only for the hell that he puts his characters through.

– Clever joke. Beyond Aja’s stylish execution, his ability to instill a sense of dark humor is also a trait that he wears with pride, and his insertion into the film’s intro is one that made me laugh and roll my eyes equally, with unabashed glee. Upon our initial introduction with Scoloderio’s character, we learn that not only is she a college athlete swimmer, but she goes to the University of Florida, a school known for its prestigious mascot that plays quite an intended irony on the film’s future. The mascot is of course the gator, and this obvious level of foreshadowing is certainly the perfect litmus test for any audience curious to gauge the kind of atmosphere and attitude that they will soon be neck-deep in.

NEGATIVES

– Inconsistent sound mixing. Not only does the shallow sound mixing attain a level of manipulation within its audience, it also drops the ball frequently on the engaging nature of a storm that otherwise should swallow us whole. One example of my problem stems from the alligator’s abilities to move in and out of frame with such a lack of weight that makes them feel like a feather when they sneak up on these humans. Likewise, the spotty splashes of rain come and go in a way that makes it feel like the storm has subdued, despite the fact that the water from within this house continues to rise in elevation. If the sound mixing is shoddy, the disaster film that contains it won’t feel as imposing on the heat of the storm, and while visually we are shown no shortage of urgently impactful imagery, the lack of balance in the audio capacity proves that its production isn’t equally up to the task, leaving too much weight of presence on the field of imagination for us the audience to vividly fill in.

– Unlikeable protagonist. While the storytelling outline for this family was rewarding in keeping me invested to their well-being, my disdain for Scoloderio’s performance and overall direction was something that constantly kept me annoyed in her demeanor. For one, this woman’s closed personality all stems from divorce. That’s right, something most of us go through, and we’re supposed to justify her rude behavior because of it. She’s condescending towards her family, un-invested with her friends, and arrogant in moments where it feels like a lesson should easily be learned. In addition to this, Kaya’s dialogue does her no favors in articulating the proper emotional tug to give us goosebumps from her situation. As an actress, she’s alright, but all of her character’s that she has played in movies rub together, leaving no semblance of depth or distinguishing to showcase her skill.

– Leaps in logic. So much here to unload, but everything from laws of physics to human lung capacity is tested here, giving me several moments of unintended laughter that didn’t line-up so well to the film’s mostly serious tone. Humans can apparently outswim alligators, alligators can disappear and re-appear without hearing them, Scoloderio’s character can apparently hold her breath under water for over two minutes in real time, and so much more. There are also measures that could easily be taken to end this threat within ten minutes, but because of the sake of the already brief 83 minute run time, the necessity to pan out the sequence of events and overlook easily taken measures that any idiot could fathom, giving us frustrating scenes in logic that could easily be omitted if the screenwriters did the necessary studying in preventing what people like myself already know.

My Grade: 7/10 or C+

Midsommar

Directed By Ari Aster

Starring – Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper

The Plot – A young American couple (Pugh and Reynor), fly to a rural town in Sweden for a once-in-a-lifetime midsummer festival after experiencing a death in the family. Not long after the couple’s arrival, their trip unfolds into a hallucinatory nightmare when the visitors are invited to drink some sort of concoction that seemingly screws with their perception of time, and are targeted by the sinister leaders of a pagan cult.

Rated R for nudity, violence and gore, scenes involving drug use, and some adult language

POSITIVES

– Shot composition variety. Like Aster’s previous film, “Hereditary”, this one is a visual masterpiece full of unnerving and unorthodox angles that sizzle with experimentation. While there’s so much to break down here visually, the sequences involving mirrors to display a character out of frame, but still in the context of the conversation are only the tip of the iceberg for this man’s supreme intellect behind the lens. In addition, we are treated to many overhead shots that cover things from above, room transitions that follow a character into another area of the stage, long take sequences that trade off character focus every few seconds, and an adoring admiration for the boldly vibrant set pieces that hold such weight with any particular scene that they persist through an elevated ambush of mood-setting lighting. If you take nothing else from Ari’s films, understand that he’s a director whose visual captivation always reaches the heights of ambition set by his screenplays, and because of such we are treated to a presentation that mentally and visually stimulates us with each frame.

– Authentication in sound mixing. The sound production team is on top of their game here, echoing the vibes of realism and authenticity in dialogue audibility that allows it to flow with believability. One thing that drives me nuts in movies is when other products of the environment are obstructed out of what we’re hearing front and center, but in “Midsommar” we get multiple conversations existing at the same time, with the ones closest to our camera being dominant in volume level. If it weren’t for this, the scene would sound like a convoluted mess, but the articulation to detail gives the scene this transcending quality against film that makes its world feel very established and lived-in, establishing that life persists around what we’re seeing at all times. This will no doubt give great replay value to the film, if even only to intrude deeper into what I couldn’t fully dedicate myself to in my viewing, for fear of missing something in the foreground.

– My personal interpretation. Aster as a writer is as abstract as a Van Gogh painting, but I feel that “Midsommar” attains a greater accessibility level with its audience because its themes are slightly more grounded in obviousness than that of “Hereditary”. For my money, I picked up on a lot of the dangers once again of manipulation associated with a cult lifestyle, but even more than that the film triggered my senses for the vulnerability associated with grief and longing that makes that particular person wide open for meandering, especially someone with mental illness (See Hereditary). This is made even more apparent by the drug stranglehold that this Pagan group holds over their newfound visitors, leaving it possible for them to experience anything when mind-altering consumption begins to take over. It’s clear that Aster has a desire to exploit the grip that the manipulative have over the weak-minded, and it leads to a ride through material that not only makes you emphasize with the victims, but also proves that the greatest movie villains sometimes come in human form.

– Does it scare? What’s so intoxicating about the material’s frights isn’t so much that it attains a level of chills so consistent that it makes them feel like the films from our childhood that terrorized us, but that the material itself is limited in color for what it exposes. There are very few scenes of actual gore throughout the film, saving those moments of red for the time when they impact most with a splash of artistic integrity, but the real story is on the group’s poisonous atmosphere that visually hints that everything is alright, even when we feel something more sinister taking shape from beneath us. The drug paranoia scenes conjured up feelings of helplessness that do so much more than simply scare me, they mentally wound me with regards to how easy to believe that all of this transpiring really is. Even more appealing, Aster saves his greatest climax for the film’s final shot, and it drilled such a combination of fear and sadness within me that prevailed at its most anxiety-riddled, blowing everything off in a way that will preserve nightmare fuel for anyone who puts themselves in the shoes of the protagonist like I often do.

– Admirable performances. This is where the film could’ve easily fallen apart, as its cast of mostly dramatic unknowns really took presence of the stage given before them, and captivated me in such a way that seemed silly of my doubt for them in the first place. Jack Reynor, especially during the drugged sequences really moved me to impressive levels of depth for how his helplessness is communicated in just a few simple looks. His reactions to the drugs felt every bit as earned as they did revealing of someone who goes through the many stages of drug combating, and it brought forth easily his single greatest performance to date. Will Poulter was also a ball of fun as the film’s steady comedic humor. Poulter is a Stiffler of sorts, in that all he wants to do is get high, get laid, and spend a week of vacation far from his college campus, and Will’s constant presence endeared me through a series of laughs and blunt dialogue depositions that made him one of the more tolerable douchebags in modern day cinema. Even with all of this however, it’s definitely Florence Pugh’s show, as she steals the command once more in a transformation that is only rivaled by her turn in 2016’s “Lady Macbeth”. Pugh endures the single worst event of her life in the film’s opening ten minutes, and from there is a roller-coaster of fiery emotional registry and dangerous curiosity that makes it easy to see why one causes the other. But especially during the third act, it’s Pugh’s facial resonation that says as much in a look as a lesser talent requires in a two hour film, and while “Lady Macbeth” made her a buzzworthy name, it’s her work here as Dani that makes her an ever-lasting presence of the silver screen.

– Stunning cinematography. Aster has found himself a dependable friend in cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski, as just like his work in “Hereditary”, Pawel takes us through a drug-riddled lucid nightmare that dazzles on a completely different spectrum. As to where “Hereditary” worked wonders in its domination of darkness, and the tricks played on us in the shadows, “Midsommar” impresses in its sunny, hazy circumference that takes the horror in visual directions where it’s rarely ever gone. In sparsely being able to escape daytime in this film, Pawel associates the airy sparkling majority with a sense of unnerving table dressing that all but communicates to us that something is wrong for how different this is not only for sunlight rules, but also for the horror genre in general. In such, Pawel adds layers to entrancing visuals, that really force you to admire the sadistic in ways that are otherwise treated as shock humor in weaker horror cinema.

– Complete production design. Everything works here. From the white choreographed fashions of this Pagan community, to the use of flowers everywhere to cleverly mock life in death situations, to the buildings that depict scripture of its believers, everything here is given proper time and detail to nourish credibility for a religion that has taken place long before we as an audience stumbled upon it. Likewise the film’s make-up and prosthetics are as timely as the film’s paced-out blood dispersion, stealing our attention during scenes where its extreme and gratifying nature allow it to stand out when used in moments where we truly weren’t expecting it. I had a slight problem with some dummy models lacking familiarity during certain scenes, but I can forgive it when everything else here is alluring in seamlessly playing into the color scheme established with the gorgeous cinematography that I previously mentioned.

– Ambitious run time. Some people will have a problem with the 140 minute run time that “Midsommar” exudes, but there is literally nothing that I would remove or condense in this film to serve a more fluently paced final product. This is definitely a slow-burn film, and if that bothers you, you’d be best to stay away from it. For me, the film’s ample requirement of rules and world-building from within this community really allowed me to interpret what I was seeing without loaded exposition dumps that would feel unnatural for the progression of human interaction. Visually, the film takes us through the scriptures in a way that puts audiences paying attention one step ahead at all times, rewarding them in a convenience that our character’s unfortunately didn’t receive for their ignorance towards it. There has also been complaints about the film’s first twenty minutes, and what it means to the rest of the film, and to those people I ask if they were watching the same film that I did. Without those scenes, we never understand what makes Dani so vulnerable. Why her ball of nerves feel like they are going to crash at any particular moment. How can you say these scenes hold no weight with the rest of the film? Overall, the pacing was sluggish periodically, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t fully invested at all times. The sight, sound, characters, and development of a group of kids so far from their homely abodes outlines a cloud of ambiguity that would require you to be without a pulse if you weren’t at least curious by how far this group was going to take it.

– Rhythmic beats. When searching the credits for who musically scored this film, I came across the name The Haxan Cloak, and my curiosity got the better of me. Upon digging deeper, I found out that not only is this the team behind two of my favorite shows in “Stranger Things” and “Castle Rock”, but also the very same people who nearly saved 2017’s “Triple 9”. In general, the music here is constant and intrusive, sometimes being worked into the scene in a way where the characters themselves take over with their rhythmic hymns that add a whole different level of creepy to an already riveting sequence. The Haxan Cloak assorts a collection of organ and fiddle numbers that garner a level of fear for all of the reasons that don’t feel as obvious when you listen to them, and evolve into a current of magnetic macabre that audibly conveys the conscience not of our protagonists, but rather of the Pagan cult that make up an overwhelming majority of the characters we see on-screen.

NEGATIVES

– Unnecessary horror tropes. This is nit-picking, but if I pointed to something that bothered me in the film it would easily be the formulaic expulsion midway through the film, that felt slightly jam-packed to exist without escaping slasher vibes that it totally didn’t require. In my opinion, I could’ve used more pacing in subtle disappearances. This would allow the film to better sell the ambiguity and mystery of uncertainty surrounding the victim, establishing a greater weight for the bodies that start to stack up with very little nuance to their removal. In addition to this, there are scenes that were unintentionally funny that I wish Aster would’ve instilled a retake for. There’s one scene in particular that was truly compromising to the emotional impact of that reveal, and I feel it would’ve been better spent on a man who enjoyed 99% of the movie to not be laughing during the scene that is so obviously meant to be treated in terror.

My Grade: 9/10 or A

Annabelle Comes Home

Directed By Gary Dauberman

Starring – Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Mckenna Grace

The Plot – Determined to keep Annabelle from wreaking more havoc, demonologists Ed (Wilson) and Lorraine (Farmiga) Warren bring the possessed doll to the locked artifacts room in their home, placing her “safely” behind sacred glass and enlisting a priest’s holy blessing. But an unholy night of horror awaits as Annabelle awakens the evil spirits in the room, who all set their sights on a new target–the Warrens’ ten-year-old daughter, Judy (Grace), and her friends.

Rated R for horror violence and terror

POSITIVES

– Enjoyable cast. This is remarkable considering the lack of valuable exposition and laughably bad dialogue did them no favors in getting their characters over for audiences who have seen many important characters throughout the two series that are converging together. Despite a lack of meaningful screen time, Farmiga and Wilson are once again a delight to witness on-screen. The chemistry that exudes between them, as well as the grasp in confidence that each of them has over terrifying circumstances outlines the perfect protagonists for a horror film, whose greatest strength is the bond that only grows stronger with each terrifying case. The valued new addition is Mckenna Grace, who seems perfectly fit to be cast as the Warren’s daughter, thanks to her intelligence in paranoia, as well as her overall introverted demeanor that buries her in isolation at school. Grace is the constant lead on-screen, and provides frightened delivery that is decades ahead of her age, giving the film urgency where the inexperienced directing constantly lets it down.

– Seamless production design. Perhaps my favorite aspect of the Ed and Lorraine Warren films is their targeted setting of the 1970’s, which gives the production many chances at establishing something unique to the backdrops and imagery. In this film, the combination of throwback wardrobe, muscle car sedan’s, and attention to detail on the shelves is something that constantly impressed me, and established a level of accuracy for the film crew that gave us substance in the form of constant reminder. There’s a supermarket scene in the film that features an abundance of sugars, cereals, and candy to name a few, and the proper labels being used for the time fill an entire aisle of goods, further continuing the level of visual mastery that “The Conjuring 2” set the bar for. Beyond this, the soundtrack is full of decorated 70’s favorites, like “Dancing In the Moonlight” by King Harvest, and “Baby Blue” by Badfinger, to name a couple, cementing an inescapable presence of decade enhancement solidified by the lucid production value that continuously rings true.

– Cameo by comedy. There is finally some humor introduced to such a terribly bland franchise, and the results are mostly positive. The film’s script takes us through awkward teenage interaction in the form of two youths who have feelings for each other, and the way it is incorporated into this sadistic world that is happening around them brought to mind feelings of 90’s horror films, where the character’s love for each other almost feels unflinching despite everything transpiring around them. There’s a scene that pays homage to John Cusack’s performance in “Say Anything”, and the way that the young man who performs it plays it off speaks heavy reminders to the weak knees and embarrassment associated with puppy love. The humor incorporates itself without ever taking the tone hostage, and along the way I was treated to a few solid laughs that got me through some otherwise dry scenes of character interaction that often feel like they drown on for a few minutes too long.

NEGATIVES

– Counterfeit dialogue. People who watch horror movies usually associate this aspect with bad acting, but the work by the collective cast here is exceptionally positive. What hurts is these lines that are ever so evidently written by old men, and meant to authenticate that rich teenage dynamic that instead comes across as trying a bit too hard. The groaning that came with listening to these exchanges left me cringing in my seat, and created that feeling of unity between eight people in an auditorium, when you’re all feeling the same way at a particular time. One repeated line that was beaten into the ground more times than Disney remakes was a character’s nickname, who every single character shed light on in their own different way, and it got to a jaded point of overkill that practically made me scream “I GET IT!!” by the sixth or seventh time it’s mentioned.

– Pointless R-rating. This one is a mystery to me, because there is so little violence, peril, or even adult language in the film, therefore no reason why this film couldn’t have been marketed as PG-13 to open its scope up to a larger audience. The material certainly isn’t elevated because of this deeming, and I can’t point to a single scene or scare during the film that cemented this movie worthy of receiving the cherished R-rating to horror audiences. Perhaps the MPAA is getting soft as the decades fly by, but “Annabelle Comes Home” is one of the strangest uses of R-ratings that I’ve ever seen, and offers nothing of substance or reminder to plead its case. There are other 2019 horror films that did more risque visually, and they were given PG-13, so what gives?

– Manipulative advertising. If you haven’t figured it out by now, Ed and Lorraine Warren are in this film all of about ten total minutes, and considering the trailers marketed them as prominent figures in the film, it’s a shameless manipulation to say the least. Every horror franchise has one of these; a chapter in the franchise where the established stars are only used as a cameo, but are further elaborated on constantly throughout the film, reminding us of a better film that is biding its time somewhere off in the distance. This film reeks of a paycheck film for Farmiga and Wilson, who the film doesn’t even cut back-and-forth to while so much mayhem is taking place inside of this house with their daughter. It gives the usual loving couple a feeling of uncaring nature to their lack of incorporation in the film, making me constantly question why parents wouldn’t call and check in on their daughter at least once during the course of a sleepover, right after you took in this devilish doll.

– Where’s Annabelle? Speaking of manipulative advertising, we get it again in a doll character who, like her two human protagonists, couldn’t be bothered to show up to do anything except sit on a chair for the majority of the film. While this is certainly nothing different for the Annabelle antagonist, what forms because of it feels like a shameless plug for future franchise installments that puts “Justice League” to shame. We get scares and attacks in the form of other cursed materials in the Warren’s basement, taking valued time of film exposition to give each of these killers a backstory on their way to sequel solitary. If we do in fact get a bride sequel, or a sequel involving this strange fucking warewolf thing that feels like a holdover from the Dark Monsters Universe, then we will know the true intentions behind “Annbelle Comes Home”, a homecoming so lacking focus that it never feels like the most interesting antagonist in her own movie.

– Wrong road taken. In the fork in the road creatively between The Conjuring and Annabelle, this film rides with the latter for its scares department, harnessing a combination of cheap jump scares and hokey production involving no shortage of fog, that lets a franchise on the rebound down. Not only are the jump scares completely predictable and formulaic, but the Macguffins used to temporarily throw-off audiences aren’t even clever in the slightest. “Annabelle Comes Home” feels like a movie that I’ve already watched four previous times, except here the timely scares have reached Netflix level qualities of telegraphed depiction, frequently straining the pacing of the scene, as well as the attention of the audience before it lands on its scheduled destination. As a result, it’s the least scariest installment of a franchise that included a film where we didn’t actually see Annabelle move or do anything throughout the film.

– Boring. This film is barely 100 minutes, and constantly feels like it’s around 20 minutes too long, thanks to unnecessary footage left in that only prolongs scenes involving zero tension. For the first act of the film, there is one intended scare, then over thirty minutes of repetitious exchanges between characters. When the day turns to night, and we actually expect these scares, the film takes forever getting to the heart of the moment, testing our patience with false alarms and Macguffins that took a five hour road trip getting to the gas station of enthusiasm to excite its audience. Surely some of these scenes could’ve been trimmed for time, but the fact that the script doesn’t have an additional subplot like Ed and Lorraine to bounce off of and check in on from time-to-time, leaves it stranded in this one bland, lifeless setting for the duration of the film, creating an arduous task of getting to the finish line of no actual reaped rewards.

– Speaking of which, the overall lack of weight and consequences to the film is highlighted during its closing moments, in a scene where you could practically hear your cash being flushed down the toilet. SPOILERS………..You’ve been warned. Here we go. All of the film’s survivors (Essentially every character in the movie) meet at this birthday party, where it’s hinted at that they never tell Ed or Lorraine about what transpired on that one terrifying night. When a horror film ends with a secret, it means nothing of consequence or permanence emitted from it, meaning that this film could easily be wiped away from the continuity of the franchise, and not a single goddamn thing would be lost because of it.

My Grade: 3/10 or D-

Child’s Play

Directed By Lars Klevberg

Starring – Aubrey Plaza, Mark Hamill, Brian Tyree Henry

The Plot – A mother (Plaza) gives her son (Gabriel Bateman) a toy doll for his birthday, unaware of its more sinister nature.

Rated R for bloody horror violence, and adult language throughout

POSITIVES

– 80’s aesthetic. When I first saw trailers for this film, I thought the overall cinematography looked very cheap and uninspiring in finding its artistic integrity, but what I overlooked was its cheap design serving a purpose for a bigger, nuanced idea of 80’s neon that remains consistent throughout the film. This glow of conscience that the film has brings us back to the start when “Child’s Play” was born, but it does so without it being actually set during this influential decade, and instead borrowing the best parts stylistically from it. This gives us many dreamy images during the film in which many different colors collide among each other, bringing us a canvas of colorful expression to influence and enhance the devilish ideals just lurking in the shadows. In addition to this, the child gang in the film feels very much like a delightful trope of 80’s cinema, a-la “The Goonies” or the newfound nostalgia of “Stranger Things”, in that we get a group of profound youthful characters who dominate the foreground of the film’s attention, and feel like the best shot at stopping the madness behind a sadistic doll.

– Blood binge. One of the more surprising aspects of the film was the use of splatter against a series of brutally devastating kills that satisfies even the biggest horror hounds of the genre. This is certainly nothing surprising for a horror film, but is for something like “Child’s Play” that, while known for its gimmick of creative kills, wasn’t always the most satisfying in terms of what it actually showed. This film simply doesn’t have that problem, as a fine combination of practical effects involving prosthetics and computer generation marries a hybrid of young and old enhancement that kept me firmly engaged on the crushing blows that transpired on screen. Also unlike its 1989 original, the film allows the bodies to stack up slightly higher, making Chucky’s reign of terror feel more impactful because of his growing reputation as the film progresses.

– Perfect tone. Klevberg gets it. He understands the ridiculousness of the Chucky character combined with what’s asked of him, therefore it allows him to competently balance this dynamic of terror and tease that makes this one of the more delightfully engaging in the history of horror slasher remakes. Never during the course of the 85 minutes did I feel like this film was taking itself too seriously, nor did it ever feel compromising towards two opposing directions that sometimes fleshes itself out in a movie trying to accomplish far too much. This ones intentions remain firmly grounded in the tonal department, and because of such brought a barrage of laughter and chills that perfectly articulates the kind of effect that only certain horror antagonists bring forth. Chucky is a roaring good time, therefore a film depicting him at his infancy should be as well, and Klevberg never loses the attention of his audience because he never loses focus of what kind of movie this rightfully should be.

– Speaking of remake. On the topic of all time slasher horror remakes, this one is the very best, not only because it manages the consistency of the very best entries of the franchise, but also because it takes a familiar plot and really diverts itself away to make what feels almost like an entirely new film in the series. Aside from this at its roots being the story about a boy who receives a birthday gift from his mom, and that gift turns sinister, the film masters more human impulses for its characters, syke-outs in scares from scenes that felt similar to original entries, more capabilities in tools for what Chucky can do, and many more characters than the original movie that at times felt constrained because of its tight-knit nature of a production. Remakes to me should only be done if they add something unique and original to the material, and this one does it in spades, conjuring up a remake that has enough respect for the original without trying to replicate it.

– Social commentary. The last thing I expected from a Chucky movie was a profoundly poignant observation about society, but this film gave it to me in a series of scenes that not only establish some level of empathy for the character, but also supplant food for thought in where psycho killers originate. Chucky is victim to a series of angry exchanges and violent cinema (Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, YESSSSS!!!) that falls at his doorstep because of his close ties to Andy, and while soaking all of this up we get a tease for the rage that developes from being a product of the environment around him, giving us complex layers of exposition that Charles Lee Ray never found in seven Chucky movies. It proves that horror films are still capable of delivering an attention-grabbing scene, all the while never backing down from the point that it makes against its own material. It’s clever writing that metaphorically casts Chucky in the role of our kids, and allows us to step back for a second and soak in how strange we look as a species that craves all things violent.

– Technology incorporation. “Blair Witch” take notes. This is a film that introduces modern day technological advancements to its killer and makes full use of the gimmick in a creatively menacing manner. Because of such, Chucky’s eye for his future victims feels wider than ever before (Especially thanks to a Jack Black look-a-like that serves as his biggest ali), and the thought process that went into illustrating some unique kills supplanted a level of purpose for the incorporation. Everything feels like a series of believable bad ideas that we as outsiders can see the negatives of long before our characters do, yet remaining faithful to real life, in that not every modern day idea is a well thought out one. Likewise, the commercials that constantly fill the screen, and even open up the film to give us our first dose of valued exposition, give the android design this kind of lived-in believability with its marketing that really seduces us the audience immediately with its tantalizing of the newest gadget that we must buy regardless of price.

– Delightful cast. Plaza and Henry are especially brilliant, outlining two sides of Andy’s adult intake that balance love and paranoia respectively. Henry is someone I’ve been watching for a while now, and his on-point delivery of sarcasm among a glowing child-like twinkle in his eyes made for constant scene-stealing, that brought forth my single favorite character in the film. Plaza sadly doesn’t get enough time to further flesh out her character, but her mom character establishes the human aspect that I mentioned earlier better than the prophet Catherine Hicks ever even attempted to. Plaza’s dry delivery and distant facial registry still persists in this film, but it’s her abilities under fire from Chucky that bring forth a scrubbing of typecast roles for her that will hopefully spring her in different movie directions going forward. Mark Hamill is good enough as Chucky, but his familiar vocal tones to Brad Douriff never allow him to make the role his own, nor does the lack of memorable one-liners from the iconic figure do him any additional favors in this department. The attention falls solely on the shoulders of 13-year-old Gabriel Bateman, who was a whirlwind of emotional dynamics for the film. Bateman’s line delivery and emotional evolution feel very much earned and soaked in believability, and his character’s personality feels especially refreshing from the original Andy if only for how the doll must win him over before he falls under his spell. I don’t often commend child actors, but Bateman is leagues ahead of the competition for the immense task he is asked to juggle with being the focused protagonist for roughly 85% of this movie, and I certainly can’t wait to see where his career takes him from here.

NEGATIVES

– Chucky design. I hated the visual and character building for this character, mainly because it takes something so perfect and boggles it up with a series of plot contrivances that feel more obvious the longer the film runs. On the latter, the serial killer Charles Lee Ray is traded in for an android that is the creation of an angered employee, and it just doesn’t feel as personal or effectively tragic as a curse for the man locked into this laughable body. As for the appearance, the computer generation is a bit too influential here, garnering an overall design that is creepy from the get-go, and doesn’t feel believable as a product that families would actually purchase. The original Chucky design looks friendly on the surface, and only becomes evil as the film unravels. I also didn’t care for the blue-to-red color transitions that the doll constantly conveyed to obviously channel its evil side. This is essentially exposition for idiots. It’s a bit too obvious and on-the-nose for something that should require the toy being brought to life.

– Episodic pacing. It’s a bit aggravating to me when a film will edit and paste scenes together that feel like no time has passed, but that’s totally the case with this one. A mess on the post-production department, “Child’s Play” often looks and feels like an episode of “Black Mirror” for how long spans of time will pass with very little leverage on our attention, and instead of feeling like one cohesive unit that balances many subplots simultaneously, stumbles with repeat setting scenes back-to-back in a way that constantly jarred me and brought me out of focus in questioning repeatedly how much time has passed. With more attention given to Henry’s character, especially in the refreshing dynamic with his Mother, the Andy/Mom side of things could be given proper time to age to better establish not only the bond between them, but also Andy’s dependability on Chucky when no one else has time for him. The friends subplot is also especially unearned with how little time is devoted to it, and it screams for around 20 additional minutes to better supplant the supporting characters.

– Poor special effects. The budget for this film, despite using C.G influence, somehow feels cheaper than its 30 year prior original, and I point particularly to the movement of the doll in this regard. Close camera angles and choppy editing are to be expected in a film with a doll antagonist, but that’s maybe the best thing that this production does for Chucky, because his wide angle scenes where he’s running feel very weightless and even counterfeit to the believability that allows this to flow naturally in our vision and imagination. The original “Child’s Play” used child actors in the costume to make its movements feel seamless, and I think that stroke of brilliance and authenticity in choosing computer generation over live action really limits its potential in what they are able to accomplish in real time.

My Grade: 7/10 or B

The Perfection

Directed By Richard Shepard

Starring – Allison Williams, Logan Browning, Steven Weber

The Plot – When troubled musical prodigy Charlotte (Williams) seeks out Elizabeth (Browning), the new star pupil of her former school, the encounter sends both musicians down a sinister path with shocking consequences.

Rated R for scenes of brutal violence, adult language, and sexual situations involving nudity.

POSITIVES

– Uniqueness in characters and storytelling. This is a film that is obvious in how everything surrounding it plays to the plot twists, which shake up the direction and character arcs every twenty minutes or so, to keep it from being overly predictable. While no one person in this movie is entirely admirable for who they eventually become, the screenplay feels human in the perspective that the people involved are anything but cookie-cutter, and reflect the idea that society isn’t filled with a barrage of good or evil, but rather a majority of grey somewhere in between. This better helped overcome some of the flaws in minimal character exposition that plagued the film, but also gave way to exposing an interior psychological pulse outside, and constantly reminds us of the damage associated with abuse, in these characters becoming a mere shell of who they once were because of such.

– Gore for days. If you’re like me and appreciate a raining bloodbath of a movie throughout, “The Perfection” will stimulate you ruthlessly for how over-the-top it manages to escalate. This is a Netflix first film, so there are no barriers to the kinds of things the brutality can achieve, and it leads to a series of gashes and gross-out gags that are easily some of the most memorable of the last decade of horror cinema, if only for how the ferocity strikes at the surface of your skin for what we the audience can feel. What’s commendable here is that the editing remains restrained during these pivotal scenes, so as not diminish the attention needed to sell their appalling circumstance, and it reminded me of a bygone era of filmmaking where practicality blood over computer generated splashed with artistic merit, that wasn’t afraid to show its true colors to convey a message of high stakes splash. It’s a bit exploitative, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have fun for the extreme nature of its depiction.

– Mengege a trois of performances. The three faces that I mentioned above really dominate the spectrum here, and get so lost in the sinister details of their character’s that they constantly adapt to. For my money, Williams is the star pupil, as her combination of subtle unnerving demeanor and hole-burning stare made me feel a determination in her character, who will stop at nothing to attain what she seeks. Likewise, Browning really opened my eyes physically for how she contorts and dedicates her body to mastering this level of vulnerability that made you emphasize with her character, and brought believability to the kinds of things she was enduring. But man oh man, Steven Weber, where have you been? I remember this guy killing it in many films during the 90’s, but his role here as a seedy musical teacher might be his very best to date. Weber’s calculated, brash deposits make him the most important character of the film, and prove that the concepts of obsession don’t just resonate with the unhealthy determination of students, but also in the teacher who paints the environment that the poison emits from.

– Speaking of obsession, the film feels like a hybrid combination of 2014’s “Whiplash” and 2006’s “Black Swan”, for how it centers on this unhealthy objective to be the best in a particular field. Where “The Perfection” sets itself apart from the competition however, is in the underlying social issue burning deep in the modern day ‘Me Too’ world, that fights back with no shortage of expressive exchanges or unabashed vengeance that really made this feel like a fantastical retort in the way it’s presented. In this respect, the female side of moviegoers will definitely get more out of this than the opposition, and there’s nothing wrong with that, because the way I see it, “The Perfection” is one of those socially reflective films that demands change from the world that inspires it, and it gives the film a positive message of bravery deep beneath a series of gut-wrenching blows and buckets of blood that really triggers an uplifting level of positivity for reflective filmmaking.

– The setting. I love that this film takes place overseas, because it gives the character’s a level of isolation and vulnerability for being in a land where they feel so void of friends or family to turn to when the shit hits eventually hits the fan. There’s this ominous cloud that fills the room not only with Asia as a whole, but also in this musical academy that accommodates the legion of upper class suits, and these initial shots that introduce us and engage upon the atmosphere are certainly the articulate tool used to measure that everything seen in these classy visuals and elegant lighting scheme are the expected to what’s really unexpected lurking beneath the surface level of soft smiles hiding sinister surroundings. What we’ve come to expect in horror film settings has become a cliche in itself, but the stages that this play takes place on gives an eye-opening approach to what has rarely ever been considered terrifying, and in turn gives food for thought on the ideal of the dirty deeds that take place in a house with a white picket fence.

– Evolving direction. This is the aspect of the film that I felt was so much more unpredictable than the plot twists themselves, as the first act of the movie feels very in-tuned as a seduction thriller, and one that feels provocative with enough tantalizing sexual mystique that lures you in to the lucid body language involved in the two protagonists. The second act eventually evolves into a bodily horror narrative, that will visually test your stomach in ways the provide emphasis for the dramatic tonal shift delivered in this film, but one that you can bet certainly won’t be the last. We settle down in the final act of the movie with an all out slasher tempo that confronts the growing conflict of this movie head-on, all the while preserving the bond of the first two acts that mold into a Frankenstein-fused finale that is every bit as consequential as it is poetic for the ringing social metaphorical power of the impactful final shot.

NEGATIVES

– Plot conveniences. One of the overwhelming aspects of this film to me was the lack of subtlety and overall convenience in storytelling details that so much of the twists rely on. In this respect, nothing in the film feels authentic or believable in terms of the way people interact, or in the way that certain elements are discovered to the knowledge of character’s. One such example happens within the first five minutes of the movie, when Williams’ character is on the phone looking for Browning, and POP!!! a billboard appears at that exact moment that shows she is a major hit in town. More examples could be given, but it would spoil what leads up to the first major twist in the movie. What I will say is that it pushes the boundaries of what could be measured and planned by any logical human being, and only stretches what we as answer seekers can firmly understand in tying loose ends together.

– Boisterous musical score. To say that the musical tones and audible soundtrack for the movie was distracting and invasive is an understatement. Not only is its ear-piercing volume a jarring distraction each time it’s included, but it constantly oversteps its boundaries on letting the dramatic elements of the moment play out without delivering some overly-obvious measure of audience interpretation that the composer feels we couldn’t have garnered without them. This isn’t even the worst audio measure of the film, as a last second rap track included feels so far out of place within the confines and audible tastes in the film that I couldn’t escape cringing for how over-the-top and spoon-fed it feels in the context of the scene it exists in. It was at this point in the film where I gave up all hope of musical nuance that usually immerses itself into a scene, but instead here is one step away from being presented louder than the attention of the actors themselves. Truly dreadful.

– Problems with twists. I was able to properly fetch out two of the film’s three plot twists for reasons I will explain later, but aside from this, I felt that the film gave the audience no capability in figuring things out for themselves because of the manipulative level of storytelling that limited our chances in the first place. Each time something new is revealed to the audience, the scene will halt progress, then jarringly rewind in a way that tells me someone has been watching “Funny Games” a time or two recently, depositing something that wasn’t even in the scene to begin with. My problem with this is two-fold. The first, is that the initial narrative isn’t taking place from any one particular character’s point-of-view, so we should see everything that transpires in real time because we the audience play the environment in this scene. The second is that the twists get sillier with each one that develops, further soiling the sharpness of the film’s beautifully documented brutality, that reaches levels of cartoonish exposition by the end of the film.

– Photography. This is where I picked up on the first twist, thanks in part to a particular frame that focused far too long on an otherwise unimportant object. Ignoring this obvious measure of visual storytelling, the film’s shot selection also suffers from an overly-inflated influence of Hitchcock inspired shots that lack a level of consistency for their involvement in this film. Distracting first act shots that involve a camera placement on an unorthodox object or even actor that doesn’t fit with the sum of its parts. On the latter of that statement, a last act struggle for power is shown from Williams point-of-view in a manner similar to MTV’s throwback show “Fear”, and unfortunately it misses out on the details of the fight, as well as the dramatic tension that never materializes because we have to fill in the blanks of what transpired away from our curious eyes.

My Grade: 6/10 or C-

Ma

Directed By Tate Taylor

Starring – Octavia Spencer, Diana Silvers, Juliette Lewis

The Plot – In this new psychological horror-thriller from Tate Taylor and Blumhouse, a lonely woman (Spencer) befriends a group of teenagers and decides to let them party at her house. Just when the kids think their luck couldn’t get any better, things start happening that make them question the intention of their host.

Rated R for violent/disturbing material, adult language throughout, sexual content, and for teen drug and alcohol use

 

POSITIVES

– High Octavia. While the rest of the performances mostly by the teenage cast don’t live up to anything outside of the conventional box of adolescent youth, the work by the film’s central antagonist is treading new ground for the decades of experience that the Academy Award winner has gained. Spencer’s Ma channels just enough loneliness to make you feel for her character, yet equally enough maniacal mange to remember why some people are better left alone in the first place. Octavia’s commitment to giving this character the proper amount of energy and growing disappearance of nuance sanity proves she is having the time of her life with the role, and that raw precision to insanity makes her especially engaging for the audience, especially being one of the only female black psychopaths on-screen in movie history. Side note- Screw Mark Wahlberg, I want to listen to Octavia talk to animals for the rest of my life. Seriously the funniest shit I’ve ever heard.

– Tuned-in tone. One thing that Blumhouse usually manages to attain more times than not is this perfect compromise of tone and seriousness for the movie that gives their films a hip edge with younger moviegoing audiences. Continuing this tradition is “Ma”, a film not afraid to show its personality with timely awkward laughs, or a barrage of thrills that articulately depicts the evolution of the script. This is very much a film that I had a lot of fun with, but one that also surprised me for how much emphasis is given to the coveted R-rating that often times feels like a reason to get extreme for the sake of shock violence. This one instead takes its time, and does so while solidifying an indulging atmosphere that allows you to forget about the cares of the world for 90 minutes of calculated revenge that constantly pokes and prods at the audience that it knows so well.

– Double tiered storytelling. Aside from the real time narrative that much of the movie’s attention is dedicated to, there is an addition subplot that occasionally appears detailing Ma’s mysterious past, giving us insight for why she is the way she is. As to where this cliche of explaining too much about the mystery usually soils the mystique of the character for me, this angle provides blocks of knowledge not only for why there’s something truly unsettling beneath her exterior of super hip elder, but also why much of her manneurisms and reactions envelope the teenager inside of her that has never evolved or moved past the demons of her past. What’s important is that it doesn’t effect the attention of its audience, nor does it make this timeline transition too often to take away from the current day progression. It’s a seamless delve into the mind of a mad woman, who for better or worse, provides possible justification for what she has become, and it gives the film two compelling stories for the price of one.

– Kicking tunes. What’s so refreshingly engaging about this soundtrack and accompanying musical score, is that the collection of top 40 classic hits from the 70’s and 80’s that Blumhouse surprisingly shelled out a big amount for transcends the screen, and puts us the audience front-and-center at the heart of a party full of drunken debauchery and endless good times. Some of the featured tunes include “Kung Fu Fighting” by Carl Douglas, “The Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats, and my personal favorite for Ma’s one-of-a-kind robotic dance choreography that she gives during it, “Funkytown” by Lipps, Inc. As for the musical score by composer Gregory Tripi, it’s a lucid anxiety-riddled ravage of synth sounds that adds a trancing outline to the scenes of tension that sharpen with increasing volume until they are ready to cut like a knife. Music was the last thing I was expecting to compliment in a movie this focused on revenge narratives, but the inclusion of a toe-tapping tapestry of terror only increased my delight of this picture, and put me in the moment of living out these awkward moments with these young characters.

– Taylor’s presence behind the lens. This is the same guy who directed visual feasts of coloring like “The Help” and “Winter’s Bone”, but it’s really what Tate does in framing work that gives way to an artistic integrity of range, that pokes and prods the audience with efficiency. The way this guy is able to tease with mirror images on a wall, or shadows in the background of a scene that show someone’s coming, or even the way he uses flash-edited close-ups of his leading lady to garner that heavy feeling in the pit of your stomach, amplifies the tension because of calculated shot photography, and gives a stylized beat of precision for the movements of the camera that are often swift and full of pulse. For a Blumhouse produced movie, this is exceptional to say the least, and Taylor’s personality of visual storytelling masters a command over the film that would be overlooked for importance in lesser hands.

– Third act switch. What’s particularly surprising about this film is that it goes nearly 70 minutes without showing a single drop of blood, reserving itself for the moment when its impact will be heard the loudest, and boy does this ever materialize during the final twenty-five minutes of the film. To say this film matures into material that solidifies its R-rating is putting it lightly. The combination of brutal violence, shocking nudity, and devilish details mirror that of Ma’s diminishing grip over that growing voice inside of her head that she can’t escape any longer, and it made for some impressive scenes of character resolution that made me laugh and shriek in terror at the same time. Are these artistically respectable death scenes? Absolutely not, but the placement of their gore is something that infuses it that much more with attention, and will have audiences wondering frequently if they really just saw what they think they did.

– Poetic final shot. Many people will have problems with the ending of this film, for feeling anti-climatic, but to me the imagery of the fading moments from this film felt every bit as conclusively satisfying as they did honorable by Taylor to not tease an unnecessary sequel. Short, sweet, and right to the point with some poignancy to tie everything together. The work goes more into the artistic side of it rather than the reactive one, and it’s especially rare in modern day where you get a movie where the end is literally that; the end.

NEGATIVES

– Shows cards too often. This is especially heavy on the mystery and plot twist of the movie, that the revealing trailers have already done a great job of revealing prematurely. In the film itself, the movie makes a couple major mistakes on its way to selling what Ma herself is hiding, and it’s something that I was able to figure out within the opening ten minutes of this movie (No kidding) for the way a character reveal in the background makes them look like an obvious character within this movie. In addition to this, the script does nothing to dress this aspect up as something totally different than what it actually is, and it left much of the film’s second half for me a delayed relay, where the movie was catching up to me in terms of exposition that was often stilted. The meandering on random objects that easily don’t tie into the scene was also a glaring red flag for me, giving off a not so secretive vibe that something bigger was coming with this focus that came completely out of left field.

– On-the-nose dialogue. Easily the weakest aspect of the film for me, as the lines read by the younger cast completely reek of older influence trying to be hip, and instead just come off as completely unnatural line reads that feel force-fed. These created a series of unintentional laughs and groans from me that certainly didn’t lack volume in the auditorium, and did no favors to some first time starring roles that completely lacked believability or immersion into their respective roles. I could give examples, but I want this element of the film out of my head as soon as possible, for how truly gratifying it was on my precious ears.

– Rushed pacing. It’s no surprise that this film is a light, fluffy sit in terms of its minimal time commitment, but the jarring contradiction of actions from character’s between scenes rendered the continuity virtually pointless, and made for some actions of character that felt completely illogical for what they’d already been through at that point. One such example points to a negative cell phone video made by a teen within our group of protagonists, who sent it to everyone (Ma included), telling them to stay away from Ma’s, yet magically appears at that very spot in the very next scene of the movie. It’s possible that there are additional scenes missing that tie moments like this together, but I can only grade the paper that is left on my desk, and a lot of these transition scenes are disjointed to say the least.

My Grade: 7/10 of B-

The Dead Don’t Die

Directed By Jim Jarmusch

Starring – Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Danny Glover

The Plot – The peaceful town of Centerville finds itself battling a zombie horde as the dead start rising from their graves.

Rated R for zombie violence/gore, and for adult language

POSITIVES

– Entrancing musical score. Jarmusch pulls double duty here, as he and partner Chris Logan (Together known as Squrl) infuse an unnerving presence of moody blues rock to perfectly accentuate the trouble that is persistently brewing beneath this small town, all appropriately narrated by the king of blues rock himself, Tom Waits. Especially obvious is the ominously thick influence of organ music that gives the film the occasional serious tone that it requires so terribly to sell its scares, bringing forth a collection of groovy tunes from a soundtrack that I will inevitably buy with much eagerness to audibly treat myself again. On top of this, the film’s title track, “The Dead Don’t Die” from Sturgill Simpson, has so much more than a topical presence in the film. It’s very much the tie that binds these many off-beat personalities together for one night of chaotic bloody thrills. Jarmusch himself has musical ties all the way back to his days in high school, so it’s nice to see that he believes he doesn’t have to give up one passion for the sake of another, and as it stands, it’s easily the greatest aspect of any in his zom-com.

– Make-up/prosthetics. Not only are the effects work in the film durable for such a cheap production budget overall, but they also spare no details in the gory fashion of some truly cringing death sequences by the hungry undead. What I love about these instances is that they stand as the constant reminder of consequences existing in a world so heavily influenced by dark humor. What’s equally effective is that the graphic depictions never overstay or over-influence the 100 minute screenplay, instead being used sporadically to enhance their appearances at just the right time in impact. In this respect, Jarmusch values their purpose, but chooses to not takeaway from the artistic merit of the film, so as not to turn this into an unnecessary exploitation film that most zombie movies run towards.

– Respect for the genre. A right of passage in zombie movies is to respectfully homage or audibly mention the greats that came before it, educating youthful audiences in a way that seems necessary with the overabundance of undead properties that even in 2019 are still all the craze. Sequences with zombies invasions are given the George Romero style of cinematography, in that they take ample time to capture the very shock factor of the dead walking the Earth again, for the sheer importance of how this changes everything in the setting. Likewise, the film’s various mentions of Romero, his films like “Dawn of the Dead”, or the glaringly obvious homage to “Return of the Living Dead”, with these zombies muttering one word comments like “Coffee” or “Chardonnay” to whet their thirsts. It proves that Jarmusch has done his homework, and has great respect for the genre classics that blazed a trail so wide that we now have no shortage of zombie television shows on mainstream TV.

– An Ohio boy. For those who don’t know, Jarmusch was once a native of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, and like many other famous world pop culture icons like The Black Keys, Chrissy Hynde, or Lebron James, Jim cherishes his roots and takes pride in fusing them in to every film he heads, and “The Dead Don’t Die” is certainly no different. For one, the film takes place in Centerville, a real life suburb of Dayton, garnering around 24,000 people within its beautiful city limits. Beyond this, the articulate rendering of small town talk and demeanor’s are captured in a way that only people from the area will truly connect and take connection to, preserving an inside joke that I constantly felt like I was the only one in on. Finally, the mention and fun-poking at the expense of the city of Pittsburgh is something that surely burns on for a native Ohioan who has spent decades being on the humiliating side of comparison to said big city. In many ways, “The Dead Don’t Die” is a reminder of Jim’s ability to never forget who he is or where he came from, and the way he incorporates such a pride into his latest big screen presentation gave me a bountiful amount of pride and conscience for my home that too many simply don’t value.

– Riveting social commentary. Any good zombie film requires something extra simmering just beneath the barrage of blood and brains that reach the surface level, and Jarmusch’s latest proves that he has a lot to talk about in the current Trump landscape. While not feeling overly preachy or disjointed in its boiling issues, the unshakeable combination of immigration, consequential fracking, stock in fake news, and of course an unmistakeable red hat that reads “Make America White Again” does more than enough to register where Jim stands on the debates of the modern day that clearly hit home for this visionary. The sheer creativity associated with how Jim works in these themes to something as polarly opposite as a zombie epidemic is beautifully stitched, and does wonders in depicting a world, that while visually may look so far from those watching, does in fact hit a soft spot for how synonymous their conflicts collide with ours.

NEGATIVES

– Very few laughs. Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the movie, as Jarmusch’s usually dark twisted depravity is something I’ve taken strong merit with in his films like “Paterson” or “Only Lovers Left Alive”, is the overwhelming lack of accuracy or consistency in laughs that drain so much of the fun from the picture. The gags here are every bit as telegraphed as they are lazy, and especially with a phenomenal cast that includes the iconic Bill Murray, it’s shocking that so much of the humor involved is one-note, never evolving from the precedent set during the first act that frankly wasn’t convincing to begin with. Did I laugh a few times? Sure, but the film’s biggest obstacle is that so much of the screenplay lacks quotability with audiences who will inevitably give it more than one spin in their DVD player, and coming back with fewer scenes of reward for their funny bones each time. Considering the film is marketed as a comedy first, it’s discouraging that Jarmusch hangs much of his hat on the presence of big name actors to sell lines of dialogue that sound like they originate from a Noah Baumbach movie.

– Sequencing repetition. This film could easily be an even 90 minutes, and lose nothing from the edit of redundancy that overwhelms the set-ups in each scene. For instance, when a character is killed, the three cops will each experience seeing the dead boy. That’s fine enough for a realistic perspective, but what’s troubling is nothing about their reactions is different enough to cement reasoning for why we have to relive the same scene for as many as three different times back-to-back. This isn’t a one and done kind of thing either. I counted three different scenes during the film where this happens, and it’s increasingly more frustrating by that final time because it’s a mistake that translates tragically for the pacing of his film, giving audiences a steep uphill climb in the first half of the movie, if they want to reap the rewards of the zombie euphoria of the second half that they’ve waited patiently for.

– Jarmusch’s directing. As an Akron boy, this more than anything troubles me, because Jim has proven that he’s an incredible actor time and time again, but with this film he doesn’t understand the value of urgency in a post-apocalyptic script. Part of this is the bored environments that Jim himself intentionally creates in his films that are dry of thrills or cinematic revelations to keep the audience hooked. If you don’t get lost in the thickness of the dialogue and diverse conversations in the film, this will be a rough sit. One such troubling direction is the frequent breaking of meta for the audience that is supposed to come off as smart, but just kind of demeans everything set-up before it. Throughout the film, cast members mention reading a script, or Sturgill Simpson’s previously mentioned track being the theme song for the film, or Driver’s character saying an obviously foreshadowing line of dialogue that takes away any and every level of surprise during the pivotal third act. What was he thinking?

– Rules convenience. One clumsy level of storytelling comes from how quickly the humans adapt to their undead counterparts, that defines logic for the way things are interpreted in this particular setting. Character’s who lack the kind of intelligence to accurately interpret the meaning of human emotional response can apparently tell us everything there is to know about a first time invasion that they have no time to prepare for. I guess we can easily file this under the meta format that I mentioned earlier, but it just further adds to everything wrong with that level of disbelief in a genre like this. In order to save time for valuable exposition, we compartmentalize everything in a way that feels like vital scenes are missing from the overwhelming amount of knowledge that Driver’s character in particular conveys throughout the film.

– The performances. What a shame. Bill Murray, Danny Glover, Adam Driver, Chloe Sevigny, Selena Gomez, Steve Buscemi, Iggy Pop, and Carol Kane, and not one of them are commanded with any kind of emotional depth or physical weight to the story they accompany. With the exception of Tilda Swinton as this badass sword-wielding morgue working heroine, the rest of the appearances of this exceptional ensemble fumble away any kind of measure to have an impact on the story, and none more tragic than Murray. This is a man who oozes charisma in his sleep, yet the lack of inspiration from Jarmusch’s control over him constantly gives his lack of energy in the film a paycheck-first kind of deal, and wastes away a real opportunity to take Bill in a new genre-defining direction that only further elaborates that there’s nothing this man can’t do. If I summarized the work of this cast in one word, it would be “Boring”, as far too much of their performances rely on your already pre-determined interest in them.

My Grade: 5/10 or D+

Brightburn

Directed By David Yarovesky

Starring – Elizabeth Banks, Jackson A. Dunn, David Denman

The Plot – What if a child from another world crash-landed on Earth, but instead of becoming a hero to mankind, he proved to be something far more sinister?

Rated R for horror violence/bloody images, and adult language.

POSITIVES

– Beauty in the darkness. As an expressive visionary, Cinematographer Michael Dallatorre has always been someone who visually brings forth an entrancing pulse to the settings and filming locations that make up his lurid shot compositions, but “Brightburn” is easily his best work to date. Channeling an ambiguous decay in coloring textures, which brings forth an inexplainable fog that constantly plagues our character’s, the film does what D.C couldn’t, in that it seeks out motive for the grittier, grimey presentation that is easily reflective of its central antagonist. Movies being dark for the hell of it are often taking advantage of a visual gimmick for nothing other than a brooding take on an ages old story, but Dallatorre grasps this poison in the air that many can feel, yet no one can admit, and it establishes a vibe for this film from the get-go that visually conveys that this superhero flick goes darker than any other one you’ve ever seen.

– Ties to Superman. This film has been credited as being James Gunn’s dark twist on the Superman origin relic that everyone young or old has come to know by this point, and while the similarities in alien powers and adoptive parents certainly goes a long way to cement this feeling, it’s the divided roads with the powers that each superhero has that makes this film stand-out as a ‘What if?’ tale of sorts, that brings Superman to The Twilight Zone. The kid in this film being too young to fully grasp the consequences of his powers is something that gives the movie great vulnerability and urgency for all of its character’s, and because of such we’re juxtaposed from a world seeking hope in Metropolis, to a world quickly losing it in Brightburn. It answers some long debated questions revolving around Superman taking the road less traveled, and stands as a worse case scenario when the world’s greatest strength is also its biggest destruction.

– Isolation in setting. This, just like the comparison to Superman, is inevitable, as the stretched countryside of this small town not only puts the character’s far away from the eye of the public when the devastation begins, which helps keep the lid on the details getting out, but also helps elevate the tension and anxiety of the constant silence that surrounds the curiosity of these people from what goes bump in the night. In addition to this, the nane of the town itself, “Brightburn”, is the answer to the question, as its banner is featured in a few blink-and-miss-it moments in the background, that play a subtle resolution to the film’s cryptic title. Finally, the school used in the film is actually the very same school used in “Stranger Things” seasons one and two, proving that other-worldly things is actually a common everyday occurrence for a place known for its curriculum terrors.

– Adolescent dynamic. One of the aspects of the script that I found so uniquely refreshing is in the way it contrasts and justifies what is going on in Brandon’s life to the spring of teenage puberty. In this regard, the film can be taken as a nuanced commentary piece towards adolescence, albeit in entirely satirically powerful directions given to our growing boy. When you consider that the terror begins on Brandon’s 13th birthday, the short nerves, testy decisions, and blossoming interest in females, all feel like familiar beats that every kid has to go through once he gets to that particular age, and with a quick re-write and a couple of scenes edited out, this film could’ve easily been just about the dreaded change associated with such a terrifying coming-of-age, but then we would miss out on so many of the cool things that I have yet to talk about.

– The birth of a new subgenre? Mixing the elements of superhero and horror is a very ballsy move, but thanks to the knowledge of the hands on deck of each respective genre, the film manages to seamlessly weld them into this Frankenstein project that lives and breathes with respect to the measures that make each familiar. Could these be considered cliches? Absolutely, but I feel like those familiar beats should be present, especially in a first time marriage between the two, if nothing other that to easily immerse audiences into how beautifully each of them vibe together. The jump scares, panning camera movements, and typecast parents dealing with a demented child, are all still there to represent horror, as are the origin story narrative, big budget effects, and of course iconic symbolism are to represent superhero stories, and each is represented in a way that gives a blissful 50/50 allowance for each to play into the story, without either of them encroaching on the effectiveness of their respective properties. During an age when superhero films are overcrowding the box office, “Brightburn” brings forth something fresh to breathe life back into it, and should be commended for the gutsy determination in stitching together two sides that up until now couldn’t be further from synonymous.

– One man stage. It’s not that I have a problem with Banks, Denham, or any of the other adult protagonists, but Dunn’s impression left on the film is one that commands much of the attention to him, leading to a breakthrough performance in his first starring role on the silver screen that echoes with each unsettling scene. As Brandon, Dunn’s stirring silence is something that seeps into our skin with triggered anxiety, establishing a level of sinkable weight on the perspective of this family that leaves them astonished in the transformation from this once sweet little boy, to the dangerously deviant defiant who stands before them. Most kid actors have trouble feeling believable in confrontations with adults, but because of the magnitude of powers instilled in him from a higher power, as well as the intelligence articulated from Dunn in understanding the depth of every situation, the work of Jackson flies higher than the heights reached by cape.

– Refined special effects. What is commendable here is that the inclusion of gravity defying feats are saved for sporadic moments of dazzle that maintain the wow factor in not overdoing it, as well as the sequences themselves having strong live action impact for the properties they collide with. This not only fleshes out the effects with weight for believability, but also renders the impossible possible with the scale of stunt feeling mostly reserved. There is one exception, however, and it deals with a lawnmower being thrown hundreds of yards to the bewilderment of the little boy. But the scene is shot and edited in a such a way that barely allows you time to focus on the mower itself, and long before logic sets in, the incredible launch of a 200 pound machine lights up the sky like a shooting star, solidifying a tempo for the film’s action sequences that remain sharp throughout the duration of the film.

– Perfect pacing. Although I have problems with the film’s run time, which I will get to in a minute, the pacing of the screenplay is so crisp in non-stop action and Brandon’s personal conflicts one after the other, that the film feels about half of the fluffy 85 minute run time that it boasts. It helps that the film wastes no time in bringing audiences into its world and character’s, introducing us right away to the couple and alien arrival that sows the seeds for each of their eventual confrontations, but what really triggered my interest was how little of downtime there is in between these scenes of extraordinary. This can normally hurt a film if it’s too much of the same thing, but what I appreciate is that each scene varies in pitting urgency, depending on that character’s kind of interaction with Brandon prior to this, and each evolution leads to dramatically different conclusions, bringing forth an air of creativity to the progression of scenes that constantly keeps familiar set-ups feeling fresh for the fun that this director and screenwriters incorporate into the fresh take of genre direction.

NEGATIVES

– Rushing the details. The backlash from that 85 minute run time is everywhere. From the limited exposition in the origin and backstory of our central character, to the longterm build of certain bully character’s not getting the revenge that they deserve, to the flat ending that just kind of lacked emphasis. In rushing through the script’s more personable moments, especially during the opening act, it will have an unavoidable consequence on your investment into the film and character as a legendary presence on-screen. For my money, the film could easily use another fifteen minutes to solidify the importance of some supporting cast, as well as offer more moments of personal reflection for the boy learning to grow with newfound powers.

– Skimping on the deaths. Aside from one death sequence, which is arguably the most lasting presence that an on-screen death has had on me in years, the majority of sequences minimalize the effects of the single biggest detail; the devastating final blow. For some of them, they happen so fast that we don’t register what actually happened. For others, the occasion happens so far in the distance that you don’t get to soak in the gory details of blood and prosthetics, which thanks to the exceptional death that I mentioned earlier, are actually superb when they get the rare focus that they rightfully deserve. While the elements of horror still resonate throughout the many obvious tropes throughout the film, the biggest one is rarely anywhere to be seen, standing as the one matter in a superhero horror film that requires articulation to reach perfection.

My Grade: 8/10 or B

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile

Directed By Joe Berlinger

Starring – Zac Efron, Lily Collins, Angela Sarafyan

The Plot – Elizabeth Kloepfer (Collins) refused for years to acknowledge that her boyfriend (Efron) was a serial killer. Her partner, Ted Bundy, became famous in the 1980s for committing several heinous crimes against women, despite her disbelief, who watched passively as the murders were unleashed from a very unique perspective.

Rated R for disturbing/violent content, some sexuality, nudity and adult language

POSITIVES

– A unique perspective. While not satisfying of a viewer’s bloodlust, Berlinger’s film is unique, in that it depicts Bundy from Elizabeth’s point-of-view. Because of this, we rarely see Bundy in the act of violence, instead he seduces us in the same way he did his former lover, with an abundance of charm and wit that make him every bit as psychologically dangerous as it does physically. We don’t see all of the things he is accused of, so we, like Elizabeth, are forced to make a decision only on what we see, and in that direction it makes it very easy to comprehend why accepting Bundy as a killer was such a difficult measure to her and to the many who deemed him innocent. Even more however, I commend the movie for not making him out to be a martyr to anyone learning about him for the first time. The horrendous evidence and Bundy placements are still detailed in a way that pins it all together towards him by film’s end, and depicts him as anything other than the innocent bystander that he was setting himself up to be.

– Right man for the job. So many people cried foul at Efron being cast as Bundy, but I feel his job here radiates the charm and appeal of a dangerous psychopath tenfold, alluding to how dangerous it would be for any of us, especially females, to come into contact with him. While not a transformative performance, Efron hints at a dark and malevolent side just below the surface, but it’s his wit inside of the courtroom that cements why he was one of the first serial killers to become a newsroom celebrity. Aside from Efron, Collins’ mental anguish is well defined and meticulously articulated, proving that there are some situations worse than even that of the many victims. Elizabeth is proof that Bundy’s dominance still persists even years after he’s been taken off of the streets, and it’s her mental clarity that is given ample time for us the audience to get behind and support, regardless of the charm exuberated by our charming protagonist-turned-antagonist.

– Reflective soundtrack for the time. This film takes place in the late 70’s through the late 80’s, so the proper essence in collective audible enhancement is essential. Some of my favorite tracks for the time are featured, like “Crimson and Clover” by Tommy James, “Do You Believe in Magic” by The Lovin Spoonful, and of course “We’ll Face This World Together” by The Tommy Smith Band, and they not only help with better placing the timeframe, but also in supplanting a subliminal message that echoes the situation of the couple front-and-center. For a Netflix only film, I am beyond surprised that the production was able to conjure up the budget necessary to include so many timeless favorites, and thanks to the imprint of modern cinema with all of its dark material, you will definitely view these songs in a different light from now on.

– Berlinger’s factual direction. Not only is everything depicted in the film based on factual evidence from the crime scenes and courtrooms alike, but Joe’s directed is commended for playing everything close to the chest. This allows his gimmick of depicting Bundy as this misunderstood soul of sorts to shine fruitfully through the duration of the film, leading to a final confrontation between the two main stars that brings everything full circle. This is how you do an introduction scene beautifully, because not only did I forget that the movie started this way with this examination scene, but it’s a scene that is so vitally important to the climax of the film, especially in how it positively contradicts everything that we’ve come to understand to that point. In addition to this, a credits sequence depicting the real life events showcase just how on-the-nose Berlinger was at mastering the looks of the sets and wardrobe of its real life counterpart, and the overall attention to detail in signifying that he was the right man for the job in handling this picture. Above all else, Berlinger should be applauded for crafting a different direction for the serial killer exploitation genre, and his film breathes newfound life into a haunting period in American history that really brought attention to courtroom proceedings for future telecasts.

– Perhaps my single favorite aspect of the film is the manipulation of lighting used to toy with the audience in all of its shadow play. Particularly in the establishing scenes between Ted and Elizabeth, there’s a darkness that clouds Ted with a sort of ambiguity that speaks volumes to what he is hiding from his significant other at the time, and painting him as this cryptic figure with a lot to hide. There’s also a daydream sequence involving Elizabeth’s first recollection of intimacy with Ted, and it happens with such minimal lighting that we can’t see his face or make out what emotion he is depicting at that particular moment, and it stood out as the one scene of unconventional between them that unnerved me in this film, if only for the uncertainty that lingers in the atmosphere during a scene when the couple should be at their most intimately strongest. It’s a fine use of technical articulation, and continuously hints that something darker and more sinister is beating beneath the table dressing of this master manipulator.

– Juggles many different tones within its atmosphere. It’s funny how well the moments of seriousness like the murders themselves play seamlessly with the audaciousness instilled upon scenes of escape by Ted. In a fictional screenplay, this would come across as hokey or even condemning to the opposite direction, but because these are factual events that played out in real time, we have to respect the art of the irony for its strange-but-true honesty. These scenes never soil the impact of the dramatic weight instilled upon the film’s many character confrontations, and even more beneficial, they hook the attention of the audience during sequences when you think this film is finally evolving into the darkness that we’ve come to expect with Bundy’s documented history.

NEGATIVES

– Stumbling pacing. Easily the film’s biggest weakness, as the first half of the movie is speeding its way through some of the more important building blocks between the relationship of Ted and Elizabeth, as well as virtually ignoring the passage of time. Ultimately, 108 minutes isn’t enough to tell a fully compelling Ted Bundy narrative, as much of the subplots associated with his cryptic parents, or his ability inside of the classroom are rarely elaborated on, giving a noticeable gap between tidbits of knowledge that will come into play during the pivotal third act. Speaking of which, the film’s finale doesn’t move nearly as quick or transcendent as the previous two, as much of the final forty minutes of the film is spent inside of a courtroom. This isn’t a problem for uneducated viewers, but for someone like myself who has studied this case endlessly, I could’ve used more emphasis on the events going on outside of the courtroom. For my money, this film could’ve used another twenty minutes to better solidify the believability of the relationship of the duo during the beginning of the film, as well as flesh out those additional details of subplot that the film rudely tiptoed over.

– Terrible title. I rarely complain about a film’s title, but in this case it is easy to forget, as well as far too lengthy to easily convey to other people. I understand that it has meaning within the context of the courtroom itself, as the judge (Played by John Malkovich) relates these words to Bundy, but they just don’t click for me as a proper title, and even as I type them repeatedly in this review, I still find myself having trouble remembering every word.

– Cheap production value. I can easily understand why the studio went the Netflix direction with this release, as nothing inside of it screams of big screen presentation to me. The cinematography is mundane, the dialogue is too on-the-nose to feel naturally convincing , especially during the initial meeting between Ted and Elizabeth, and the screenplay refusing to stray from the more universally established events structures this film similarly to that of a television movie of the week special. When I watched “Bird Box” a few months ago, there was nothing about the production that ever felt minimally capturing, but with Berlinger’s picture here, there’s instances of gaps where my immersion into the film was broken, reminding me constantly of the miniscule budget that is left to grasp at after Netflix pays a fortune for the right.

– In the shadow of a better film. Berlinger also directed the recently released “Ted Bundy Tapes” on Netflix as well, and this is great in regards to one man knowing the complete picture of this dangerous serial killer, but does this film in particular no favors when the comparison between them is brought to light. As to where the prior film nailed down the details of every single little tidbit of Bundy’s trip of terror, “Extremely Wicked” (Again, I’m not saying that stupid title) feels like the inferior piece for the stumbling execution that leaves too much information omitted from what transpires. It’s possible that this film would’ve gotten a higher grade from me if it didn’t come out within a couple of months of that previous better documentary, but with it still fresh in our minds, the current reviewed film feels like the cliff notes version waste of time when compared to the complete captivating story.

My Grade: 6/10 or C+

The Intruder

Directed By Deon Taylor

Starring – Meagan Good, Dennis Quaid, Michael Ealy

The Plot – When a young married couple (Ealy and Good) buys their dream house in the Napa Valley, they think they have found the perfect home to take their next steps as a family. But when the strangely attached seller (Quaid) continues to infiltrate their lives, they begin to suspect that he has hidden motivations beyond a quick sale.

Rated PG-13 for violence, terror, some sexuality, adult language and thematic elements

POSITIVES

– Quaid’s raw energy. A testament to Dennis Quaid’s experience as A grade-A actor for many decades is the grip that he has not only on his role as this landlord of lust, but also in the knowledge of what kind of film tonally will come out as. For my money, Quaid is the only person who feels like he is emoting the proper responses for this particular film, juggling a combination of creepy and hokey in the same vein of something from a villain in a superhero movie. Every other actor feels like they take their roles a bit too seriously, and because of that, it allows Dennis to shine once more in a role that is anything against typecast for the typically protagonist hero that we are used to seeing from him, and reminds us that the leading man still finds ways to evolve as an actor even at the age of 65.

– Shooting location. Roughly 80% of this movie takes place in and around this beautiful countryside mansion, which has no shortage of lavish interiors or immersive scenery to get lost in. What’s vital about the location is the isolation from the rest of the world, particularly the police, that constantly keeps the antagonist of the movie in control. The film’s photography takes every chance to explore the grounds fruitfully, giving us a vivid documentation of every room and hallway to better comprehend our understanding of the character movements and intentions in the heat of the fight. It’s no surprise that the film was shot entirely in British Columbia, Canada, as it’s becoming a tradition for studio’s seeking cheap production costs to shoot there, but it’s nice to see a movie explore some of its more expansive scenery to the integrity of the plot and film, and if nothing else, you will fall in love with the property in the same way that Good and Ealy’s character’s do.

– Prompt pacing. Despite the fact that so much of this movie was predictable, and brought forth very few surprises creatively, this is a very easy sit, thanks in part to the stakes constantly being elevated throughout the progression of the film. 97 minutes is a little challenging for a narrative this minimally profound, but there was never a time during it when I was bored or checking my watch to see how much time remained, serving as a testament to Taylor’s engaging atmosphere that reaches out for the things that go bump in the night.

NEGATIVES

– Blandly predictable. Aside from a terribly revealing trailer that gives away roughly 90% of the movie, the screenplay itself written by David Loughery capitalizes on the very same tropes and cliches of past serial stalker thrillers that have become a right of passage for new installments preserving the mantle. It offers very little in the way of suspense or audience anxiety for us to hang our investment on, and ultimately dooms the picture to these long periods of emptiness that only negatively tests Quaid’s raging influence on the film. What’s even more compromising is that the film doesn’t try to preserve any angle of mystery on the backstory of Charlie (Quaid), instead choosing to keep us the audience one step ahead of the protagonists at all times, as we wait for their bumbling stupidity to tiptoe to a catch-up point.

– Speaking of stupidity, Ealy and Good’s character’s defy human logic even in terms of unrelatable people we’ve come to know in movies. For Good, it’s the typical understanding female presence who is somehow able to overlook deeply concerning traits in Charlie because the film calls for it. It continues a trend in Taylor directed films where females are the subject of nothing deeper than male lust, and really makes me concerned for his views on an evolvingly-progressive world. Not to be outdone however, Ealy’s contradicting directions as time goes on made me wonder if the script was trying to convey this man as a bi-polar character for how he often compromises a previous scene. One second he’s a loving, healthily-infatuated husband who would do anything for his wife, and in the next he’s flirting with a female client. This would be impactful if it actually went somewhere, but the boiling subplot comes and goes with the kind of effectiveness of a dry fart, and reeks of desperation for a character who has so little to do between the growing dynamic of Quaid and Good.

– Oversexualization. This is becoming a growing trait in Deon Taylor’s filmography, a director who seems destined to takeover Michael Bay’s mantle for perverted camera work that focuses on the simpler things in cinema. Here he has the beautifully gifted Megan Good at his disposal, and in doing so wastes no time in documenting her body through two sex scenes, one shower scene, and many revealing outfits during non-sexualized events like Thanksgiving Day dinner. The problem is two-fold, the first is that it obviously only values Megan as this physical presence, instead of carving out an acting side of her that we have yet to see, and two, it conjures repetition in getting the same idea of Charlie’s stalking across, padding out the time to eventually reach 97 minutes. Sex factor should be used to serve a purpose in films, but when that purpose reaches overbearing levels of important plotting, its seedy intentions are further unveiled, and only further cements how audiences engage in sexy people being in trouble.

– Meandering musical score. An early favorite for worst musical enhancement of 2019, composer Geoff Zanelli overly inserts his obvious tones in the middle of every scene, made less seamless by the boisterous command of sound mixing that has it reaching orchestral levels of volume during tension-building sequences. The music itself is synthetic for the kind of tones necessary in a genre like this, but the problem is the way they manipulate audiences into feeling one way, instead of letting the actors master their craft without boost, and for my money it made for one of the more obviously distracting aspects of this movie. If it serves any point, other than to be used during a cheesy Halloween party between you and your friends, it’s the fine line of divide between acting and post production, and what not to do to step on the toes of one or the other.

– Obvious visual foreshadowing. This is one of those visual presentations where the movie has a few counterfeit shots in a sequence early on, that feel out of place when compared to the sum of their parts. The reason for this is a series of revealing foreshadow images that prepare you for where this story’s setting is headed, and once again leave nothing to the idea of imagination in maintaining some level of suspense for audiences seeking thrills. For instance, if a movie focuses on a particular closet for an inordinate amount of screen time, you can bet your last dollar that it will come back into play eventually, and serve as a pivotal moment during an unfolding conflict that will come full circle. If the storyboards are doing their job properly, and the direction is crisp, these elements within the house can work their way into the elevating drama without an unnecessary underlining to them, but unfortunately this movie, in so many ways, uses bells and whistles to signal what’s to come, and for anyone like myself who has seen this no shortage of times, it’s really a waiting game for when it will choose to pop up once again.

– Continuity errors. (Light spoiler) There are many examples of this throughout the film, but my favorite happens during the final conflict, when the two male leads of the film are armed with knives when they walk through the house, but once they come to blows those weapons are nowhere to be seen or used between them. It builds to a fist fight in which these weapons disappear, and only re-appear when the fight subdues, and one of them is forced to get out of the room that they are locked in. It introduces elements to the persistent drama, and then does nothing to enhance the results of such. While certainly not as funny as Quaid’s ever-changing hair growth throughout the film, does signify the kind of hands-on effort that goes virtually unnoticed during the duration of this movie, and garners unintentional laughter when the movie really doesn’t need it.

– Back and forth. There are some scenes in the film where the exposition heavy dialogue alludes to the fact that the only reason for its inclusion is to feed the audience bits of information. I say this because character’s move in and out of this film to never be seen again, and it’s a sloppy transition that doesn’t feel naturally believable in the slightest. To counteract this, there are then aspects of the exposition that are never further touched upon. For instance, Charlie’s backstory with his wife and family. Sure, we find out what happened, but we don’t know why, and it only emits more questions the more you think about it. An on-going subplot with Charlie’s daughter in partular, is hinted at, but never fully realized in a way that could shed more light on the mystery of this obviously mentally challenged antagonist. Too many things just simply don’t add up, and a more detailed screenwriter could better flesh out the holes in a story that everything besides Quaid practically falls right into.

My Grade: 3/10 or F+

The Curse of La Llorona

Directed By Michael Chaves

Starring – Linda Cardellini, Raymond Cruz, Patricia Velasquez

The Plot – Ignoring the eerie warning of a troubled mother suspected of child endangerment, a social worker (Cardellini) and her own small kids (Cruz, Velasquez) are soon drawn into a frightening supernatural realm. Their only hope to survive La Llorona’s deadly wrath may be a disillusioned priest and the mysticism he practices to keep evil at bay, on the fringes where fear and faith collide.

Rated R for violence and terror

POSITIVES

– Visual aesthetic. Chaves does a solid job of unnerving audiences with an atmosphere as thick as fog, as well as a particular time period that appeals to the western landscape setting. To my surprise the film is set during 1973, a time when possession and exorcism’s were all the rage with our world, and that level of uncertainty that much of the La Llorona folklore is based on more than translates to the ominous feeling that is constantly present in this house. Chaves uses a fine combination of lighting manipulation to make outlines play tricks on the audience’s eyes, as well as unorthodox character framing that elaborates what the audience should be focused on in staying one step ahead of the character’s.

– Use of jump scares. I almost hate crediting something that usually bothers me so dearly, but the technique associated with inserting jump scares here works for what it does to enhance the scares. Instead of paying off in the predictable moments, the most overdone use of jump scares today, Chaves misleads with sound mixing and timing to throw us off, prolonging the anxiety-riddled tension in ways that really keeps you on the edge of your seat at all times. Sure, there are still predictable jump scares that exist frequently in the movie, but the law of averages established by Chaves early on, helps to throw off the certainty of when the explosion of expression will rightfully land, and above all else it proves that he’s trying to send audiences home with a jumping good time.

– Performances. It’s great to see Cardellini getting more starring roles, and her work here as an adaptive one-parent leader of the household is something that comes across fruitfully in the compassion and protection that she instills in their constant well-being. Her character is a social worker, so it’s easy to draw the line of contrast in this woman taking her work home with her and vice versa, and it brings forth an admirable lead protagonist who we can invest in to maintain our interest. As for the children, they are solid for what the role demanded, but it’s really the facial reactions of the 4’4″ phenom Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen whose facial reactions help better distinguish the lunacy of what’s transpiring in this newly-formed possessed household. The show stealer for me however, is that of Raymond Cruz, whose third act introduction brings forth some much needed levity and humor and for the film that was otherwise ignored to that point. Cruz has always been a talented actor whose career I have followed closely, and it’s nice to see him play a protagonist for once, especially one whose character relies so heavily in the progression of the conflict. He brings a sense of caution to the dynamic of the film, and I simply couldn’t get enough of his character in the final battle.

– Major Easter egg. Without spoiling anything, I will say that a bombshell announcement at the end of the second act changed the world within this film, and brought ties to a familiar modern day horror franchise that I totally did not see coming. What’s important is the film doesn’t force too much in making this believable, nor does its inclusion take away anything from this film itself. It’s just a revelation that will offer a poignancy about the timeline of this franchise, all the while preparing us for future installments that should prove anything is indeed possible at this point.

NEGATIVES

– Stupid kids. The kids themselves serve as a convenient plot device in this film, in that the irresponsibility of their pee-brain decisions is the only reason why this film ever reaches 85 minutes. These kids get physically harmed by this mysterious ghost, and don’t tell their parent or anyone anything about it. This of course leads later on to a scene where guests feel that the Mother is responsible, and if these shitheads just spoke up, we could conclude this scene and get back to what truly matters. Beyond this, the choices that they make during the big confrontation with La Llorona made me practically yell at the screen for how desperate these screenwriters were to keep it going. Even for children, these are actions that bring forth a brain-dead quality to their demeanor’s, and if I were their mother, I would consider them as good as gone for the things they do that don’t help anyone in fighting off this presence.

– Pointless rating. This is perhaps the single biggest misstep by the M.P.A.A in quite sometime, as there’s no genuine reason why this film needs or attains the coveted R-rating, that is often used to enhance the mature subject matter. Here, there’s no blood, absolutely no adult language, and nothing that even comes close to the PG-13 renderings of “Insidious” or “The Conjuring” franchises in terms of risky material. It’s also inevitably going to hinder the profits made by the film, as only audiences of a certain age will be able to see it, and all for what exactly? Scenes of children being whisked back and forth throughout the house? This is pointless even for a group as conflicted as the M.P.A.A, and if “The Curse of La Llorona” is rated R, then Stephen King’s “It” should be a rated X.

– Antagonist outline. As a horror icon, La Llorona leaves a bit more to be desired when compared to her predecessor’s. It’s great to see another female horror villain, especially one with Mexican heritage, but as a threat she’s about as harmful as Babs Bunny. The only thing that this movie proves is that she’s good at moving character’s around the place. Her body count is weak, her character design lacks any kind of originality, especially now that this movie exists in a popular franchise, and her backstory doesn’t make you feel any kind of empathy or misunderstanding about the character for us to justify her existence. In fact, there’s such an overall lack of exposition donated to the character, that it often feels like she’s a supporting character in a movie with her own name in the title, and it feels like a missed opportunity for creating nightmare fuel for an entirely new generation.

– Uneven pacing. Between the film’s two halves, it feels like two people are at the helm of the film, especially considering how polar opposite they are when stitched together to make the same cohesive property. The first half moves by at a cyclone’s pace, blowing by scenes of personal backstory, as well as experiences with La Llorona that are often slowly elevated with each passing night in movies like these. As for the second half, it feels like the screenwriter realized that so little is known about the rules or weaknesses of La Llorona, so we better slow everything down and establish a scene and character where we can kill two birds with one convenient stone, making the inevitability of our final confrontation feel every bit as strained as it does momentum-omitting.

– Lack of experimenting. For a movie that opened up with arguably one of the best horror sequences of the past decade, in a tracking sequence that follows this family around the house through one of their daily routines, the rest of the camera work lacks the kind of inspiration that could’ve allowed the cinematography for charms to gimmick with the character. I mentioned earlier that I did enjoy the character framing, but the scenes of physical conflict are often shot with too many visual effects like rampant lightning to make them distinguishable. Likewise, the handheld style is an endurance test for the eyes, that gives off a feeling of constant shaking and imbalance, which added yet even more difficulty to the dissection of each scene.

– Inconsistencies. La Llorona can apparently turn off flashlights and move heavy sets of furniture, but when it comes to breaking through a cheap $5 lock from a hardware store, she’s rendered weak. In addition to this, she is able to move character’s who are never touched or commanded by her, the power associated with transfixing kids to do things against their will, come and go like the wind, and her biggest power is used only when it’s convenient. In this regard, the film’s final moments involving the kids running away from her made zero sense when you consider she could flick her fingers like Thanos, and bring them to her in a split second. It only further adds to the inescapability of her as an antagonist that I mentioned earlier, and brings a level of logic that could fertilize the lawn if drawn out properly.

My Grade: 4/10 or D

Pet Sematary

Directed By Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer

Starring – Jason Clarke, John Lithgow, Amy Seimetz

The Plot – Louis Creed (Clarke), his wife Rachel (Seimetz), and their two children Gage (Hugo Lavoie) and Ellie (Jete Laurence) move to a rural home where they are welcomed and enlightened about the eerie ‘Pet Sematary’ located nearby. After the tragedy of their cat being killed by a truck, Louis resorts to burying it in the mysterious pet cemetery, which is definitely not as it seems, as it proves to the Creeds that sometimes, dead is better.

Rated R for horror violence, bloody images, and some adult language

POSITIVES

– Contrasts from the original. The point of any remake is to experiment with the property in ways that separates itself from the legend of the original, and thankfully there’s enough here to recommend in this regard. During the first half of the film, I shamefully will say that I was nearly falling asleep because of how safe to the chest this film presented itself, but the best was yet to come. Once the third act kicks in, the film takes some unexpected steps in finality that I truly didn’t see coming, and offers an ending, which for me, was exceptionally more satisfying than that of its predecessor, all the while paying tribute of sorts to the deranged nature of the novel. Likewise, the film also rewards fans of the original movie with a couple psych-out scenes, that make you think you know where the action is headed, but in reality spins a different take with these deviating wink-and-nod’s to the faithful fan in all of us. My only problem with these is the terrible trailer reveals far too much with them, and anyone who sees it will already know what’s to come because of its burdening spoilers.

– Deeper meaning with the material. One thing that has always glued me to the Pet Sematary concept is this unshakeable feeling of mourning, and how difficult it can be, especially for a parent, in letting go, and that’s certainly the case once more, as Kolsch and Widmyer make the grief feel every bit as thick and suffocating of that of the fog that surrounds the Pet Sematary itself. It justifies the premise of such a preposterous idea by tapping into our psyche, and asking if we would risk it all to get one more chance with the person we love most, and it’s really in that question where so much of the material compartmentalizes itself with, minimalizing the line of rationality that we usually call a movie out for, in favor of understanding for someone going through something so tragic, so recent.

– Imaginative set designs. This is the aspect that makes me gleam with pride the most, as the cemetery and surrounding woods capture Stephen King’s descriptive vocabulary to a tee, with a combination of props and effects that sustain that aura of uncertainty all the way to the finish line. I mentioned earlier about the flow of never-ending fog, but it’s the way the fog interacts with the creativity associated with the grave structures that adds emphasis to such an ominous setting. There’s also great telegraphing of each layer of the woods itself, and I was never struggling to keep up or left subdued with the versatility of where the story took us and how deep we pursued.

– The kid steals the show. Jason Clarke continues to harvest the emotional registry of a celery stick, garnering a complete lack of emotions during a pivotal moment of loss that should cripple him. Lithgow is solid enough, but his performance is consistency on one level, that never elevates or adds to the pacing of the material. Seimetz contains both emotion and fragility, but a mother becomes a supporting character in a film that she co-leads. Where this statement turns into a positive is in the nearly flawless work of Jete Laurence, who has many leading roles ahead of her. Here, it’s her emotional as well as her physical performance that gives the film grit in circumstance, and allows the young phenom to have fun with the role that doesn’t require clever editing or manipulation like Gage in the original film. Laurence is a thrill to watch, and breathes life into the movie’s much better second half, giving us the single best child performance since Jacob Tremblay in 2016’s “Room”.

– Blood thirst satisfied. This is an unnerving film in regards to bone-crunching sound mixing and brutality accentuated by make-up detail, and both of those things go a long way in lasting impact for how they’re used sparingly. What I appreciate about the spread out nature of these is it not only makes you appreciate them more when you do see them, but their sudden inclusion forces its audience to wince in depiction because they pop-up out of nowhere in a scene that is otherwise tranquil. This also points to the gore making up a majority of jump scares for the movie, conjuring up a combination of consistency and impact that make them necessary for inclusion, and I don’t say that often. This is an R-rating that doesn’t go out of its way to remind you why it’s given the coveted honors, but the lasting permanence of some jaw-dropping blows sneak up on you in a way that occasionally earns it.

– Like Marvel after credit sequences, we’ve come to expect Easter eggs in a Stephen King movie that ties some of his properties together, and this film is no exception. Without spoiling anything, there’s a sign displaying a familiar town in King novels being close by, and adds only further speculation on a Stephen King shared universe that all of these stories are tied together by. As is the case especially by some recent King stories like “It”, “Gerald’s Game”, and “1922” getting the big screen treatment, it feels pretty cool to think that all of these crazy things are taking place within the same realm of this twilight zone that feels not too far from the familiarity of our own world.

NEGATIVES

– Clunky exposition. The film takes a bit too long to set up the Pet Sematary lore, as well as family back stories, that often make the progression of the current day narrative feel a bit stalled because of it. What’s even more revealing about the strain it causes is in Lithgow’s character knowing everything there is to know about the area, and yet still choosing to live there regardless, creating a hole in logic that we’re just forced to go along with. Finally, because this is a 96 minute movie, the detail discoveries feel far too quickly paced to race to where this story is inevitably headed, and not given the typical few days before weird things start going bump in the night for this family.

– Obvious green-screen effects. Two scenes in particular stand out like a sore thumb for me, and create the usual darkened background when compared to our character in focus that we’ve come to expect with cheap digital effects. This screams artificial during the scenes when supreme filmmaking is supposed to impress us, and it let me down for how little the directing influenced what is transpiring on film, leaving far too much to imagination during one of King’s most gruesome stories. If a scene looks fake, it takes my immersion completely out of it, and suddenly I’m only focusing on the strings and lack of fully rendered textures that especially stand out in a film this grounded in budget effects work, and it makes me wish that practicality was more of a distinguishing feature, even if it is at the expense of child actor risk. It’s so poorly directed that I felt nothing for arguably the film’s biggest emotional gut-punch.

– Limited directing capabilities. Lack of actor handling, ignorance in its lack of use with the set designs, poor character decisions for the sake of script progress, choppy narrative overall, and lines feeling completely out of place. On the latter, one such line involved a female medical student shrieking “I CAN SEE HIS BRAINS!!!” and we’re supposed to believe that a woman who trained her whole life for this career never thought that she would see gore in her life. These are all examples of these two guys feeling so inferior for the importance of the material, giving it in some aspects a made-for-TV remake feeling that I couldn’t escape because this film never reached the potential that it truly could’ve.

– Not enough deviation. Perhaps the biggest problem that plagues this film is it inevitably does nothing to free itself from the shadow of an only decent original movie. In my opinion, I could’ve used more dark humor, especially after the final shot of the movie confirms every feeling that I had in this respective direction. The tone, the story movements, and the pacing are all very similar to the 1989 original that was so conventionally made, it practically begged a remake to make everything right, and this just isn’t that film. It plays itself far too close to the belt to ever stand out in its own unique perspective, and just settles far too often for soulless horror tropes that make all of these movies interchangeable.

My Grade: 6/10 or C