All posts by The Critic

Review: The Turning

Director(s)Floria Sigismondi
Principal CastMackenzie Davis as Kate
Finn Wolfhard as Miles
Brookylnn Prince as Flora
Barbara Marten as Mrs.Grose
Release Date2020
Running Time 94 minutes

January horror is something special. The Grudge disappointed me. Underwater surprised me. I went into The Turning not knowing what to expect. I left the theater confused and shocked. I personally enjoyed the movie, but think the litany of flaws and issues makes it impossible to recommend outside of a few niche people that can find enjoyment in less than ideal movies.

The story follows Kate, a teacher who takes on a new position as a live-in tutor for a young girl, Flora. As she begins her position and becomes acquainted with her new student, thing start going bump in the night. Soon after, Flora’s brother, Miles drops on in and the absurdity ramps up even harder. In fact, the movie constantly builds up to its climactic reveal. There were multiple times where I thought I had a theory of what happened, but then something else would happen that would contradict what I thought. Then within the last TEN minutes of the movie, the rug is pulled out from the audience’s feet and after a few WTF scenes, the movie ends. The audience at my theater burst out into a sea of “Huhs”, “What just happened?”, and “Are you f*$king me?”. I may not remember the movie, but the ending is something that will stay with me. It’s hard to even categorize as good or bad because it just is.

A lot of the issues in the movie stem from a huge identity crisis. The movie want to teeter on the edge of psychological and supernatural. It wants the audience to not be sure. The issue is that instead of ambiguous directing that hints that there might be more at hand, every hint towards one genre or the other is heavy handed. They explicitly make the genre present as opposed to debatable which takes away a ton of the nuance. This problem becomes even more egregious in the third act, where certain characters start bringing up plot points that were barely touched on before. It feels like the movie didn’t want to commit to any path so it tried to be everything. The result is a mess that’s incomprehensible. It’s disappointing because the movie does a lot well.

For example, I think all the performances are on point. Mandell starts off bubbly and enthusiastic at the opportunity to teach and it comes off genuine (if a little too excited). She slowly becomes a wreck during the movie and feels just as confused as the audience (which definitely helps relate). Both Wolfhard and Prince are great as the kids. They bounce off each other well and I can totally believe their sibling relationship. I loved Wolfhard in this movie. He’s usually the nice/funny kid but here he’s a total creeper. Weird lines, ominous edge, aggressive tendencies – he displays it all with gusto.

The movie is also shot and scored well. The camera is steady and there are a lot of picturesque scenes. I expected more shaky cam and jump scares, but the movie is fairly good at scares. There are jump scares, but none of them are patently false. Scares also linger in the background with noise, so you’re always asking yourself if you saw something move. Nathan Barr’s score is also great.

If the elements were just put together in a more coherent plot, I think the movie could’ve been something special. I personally love weird, ambiguous movies that are open to interpretation. The movie either needed to commit to the heart of the mystery it wanted to tell and then make the hints related to the same OR it needed to be consistent in direction at showing certain phenomena (this makes more sense in the spoiler section).

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TLDRThe Turning is a movie that tries to be too many things and fails to be anything. It’s a suspenseful, harrowing journey that unfortunately doesn’t go anywhere. If you’re okay with awful/incoherent endings or like weird ambiguous movies there might be something here for you. I liked it and still think the movie leaves a lot to be desired. I do think waiting for a rental might be the move though.
Rating5.5/10
GradeF

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: The Blackcoat's Daughter

Director(s)Osgood Perkins
Principal CastEmma Roberts as Joan
Kiernan Shipka as Katherine
Lucy Boynton as Rose
Release Date2015
Running Time 93 minutes

This movie is not for people who like up front and immediate answers. It might frustrate some of you. For those of you like me, who love slow building and atmospheric horrors, look no further. The story follows the lives of three young women, connected by a series of events that you won’t be able to predict. One of the story threads follows Joan and Katherine, schoolgirls who both have found themselves left behind at their boarding school immediately after everyone else has left for Winter break. The former is a creepy freshmen with some serious quirks. The latter is a collected resourceful senior trying to deal with her own personal problems. The other thread follows Rose, a mysterious young women, looking for a ride to a destination city. Though both stories seem distinct, they both have that same ominous feeling that pervades and grows as the they intersect and interact with one another.

From the moment the movie starts, you know something is off. It’s a series of slightly strange scenes slowly followed by something just a bit more off. You can tell there’s something up but you can never tell exactly what that something is. This is compounded by the discombobulated story-lines which are cut and edited in a unique chronological order. It keeps you feeling disoriented but also makes the revelation of the mystery more satisfying. It’s not something you would normally expect, and the way the film subverts expectations is well deserved. Watching the movie a second time afterwards gives it a whole new eerie feeling and sense of appreciation for the way the story plays out. I know this all sounds ambiguous, but I don’t want to spoil the finer workings of each of the story-lines because the way that information is revealed is important to maintaining the shock value of the finer moments.

There are no cheap jump scares. Instead, there’s just an ominous sense of foreboding that culminates in the chaos that is the third act. The winter setting definitely helps create a sense of isolation. Everything is covered by a seemingly infinite snow. Information is never complete and understandings of situations become more nuanced. It’s masterful storytelling that focuses on showing rather than telling. The movie is all about the ways we try and find mind meaning in the face of a chaotic indeterminate universe. The way we try and find our place within it. What we’re willing to do to feel a sense of assuredness that we’re on the right path. These ideas all come together in fruitful ways, that can come off either nihilistic or existential depending on how you take it.

The performances from the three leads is something else. Roberts is great at being just creepy enough to cause concern but not so creepy that I get what she’s about. Shipka does a great job in being the quirky, awkward, and ominous Katherine. She strikes a balance between quirky and horrifying , which makes the way her arc develop that much more intriguing to watch. Boynton is great as Rose. She’s calm, confidant, grounded, and easier to understand than her counterparts. She’s a good anchor for the audience and keeps them level with the story. Each character is well defined, has a competent arc, and is interesting in their own right.

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TLDRIf you like slow paced, well built, psychological horrors that are eerie and evocative, you need to check this out. It starts off slow and might be confusing at first, but if you stick with it you’ll be rewarded with a truly one of a kind horror experience.
Rating9.5/10
Grade A+

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

Director(s)Eli Craig
Principal CastAlan Tudyk as Tucker
Tyler Labine as Dale
Katrina Bowden as Allison
Jesse Moss as Chad
Release Date2010
Running Time 89 minutes

You wouldn’t expect it from the title, but Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is a heartwarming, hilarious, bloody good time of a movie. It follows a group of college aged kids who go to a forest to camp out. They run into a pair of hillbillies, Tucker and Dale, who they immediately typecast as murderous degenerates. As the misunderstanding between the two groups rises, blood starts flowing, and utter chaos ensues.

The story is crisp and to the point. No joke ever feels like it overstays its welcome and the creativity in execution and sense of comedic timing is immaculate. There are dark comedic moments that’ll have you laughing and looking away from the screen, but there are also genuinely funny moments that you’d see in a more lighthearted comedy. Somehow, the movie manages to combine both of them seamlessly leading to a unique comedic feel. The movie is narratively sound as well. The ending has a lot of interesting twists that are both hilarious but give the movie more of a thematic bite. It’s immensely satisfying to watch everything play out. The movie knows exactly what it wants to be and how to get there.

Despite all the absurdity on the screen, the movie boils down a story about misunderstanding and projection. The way that it explores that via the characters and their actions and subsequent revelations is a constant reminder to not fall prey to faulty first impressions. This including perceptions of oneself. Often times, the person who stops us from achieving our potential , is our insecurities. The movie is just as much about the way we count ourselves out, as it is about how we turn others into caricatures based on certain attributes. It might not be the most nuanced message, but it’s conveyed with such a deft hand that you can’t help but appreciate it. Plus, it’s not like the message is bad or anything. The world could do with people judging others less.

None of this is to say the movie is perfect. Despite doing a great job with its leads and the leader of the college kid, Chad, the rest of the characters fall to the wayside. They exist for the sake of the plot and feel like joke extensions. The setup for some of the kills also pushes the limits of believable. Yes, it’s a comedy movie and is supposed to be over the top, but there’s a threshold to how dumb a character can be.

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TLDRTucker & Dale vs. Evil is comedy about the pitfalls of misunderstanding and making improper assumptions. The movie is hilarious and proceeds at a brisk pace with twists and turns that should keep you entertained from start to finish. Some of the characters and their decisions feel a bit over the top, but you’ll hardly notice it as you’re laughing at the absurdity of it all.
Rating9.1/10
Grade A

Review: The House That Jack Built

Director(s)Lars von Trier
Principal CastMatt Dillon as Jack
Bruno Ganz as Verge
Release Date2018
Running Time 155 minutes

This movie proves immensely hard to review. I think I’ve written,deleted, and re-written it multiple times but nothing seems to really encapsulate the difficulty that is The House That Jack Built. The movie follows Jack, a serial killer with OCD, who recounts a series of his murders juxtaposed against a discussion of art, architecture, violence, and beauty . It’s a one of the kind movie that isn’t something everyone should watch.

The movie is brutal. Not just brutal as in gore. Brutal as in some of the scenes in the movie are genuinely depraved, intentionally made to just shock you and offend your senses. There are awful scenes involving animals and children. Some people might think the movie is overindulgent in its violence. It can definitely feel misogynistic , as each victim feels more and more like a caricature of women. They’re nothing like real people. The thing is, that’s the point. The excessive focus on these victims is artistic preference , not a larger commentary on women. Or is it? What counts as art? The movies violence is in service of questioning the very idea of what counts as proper art. Is it just pieces that follow the lines and dictates of a sensible society? von Trier and Jack decisively answer no, as they cascade through this bloody adventure.

The movie is edited in a way that makes the subject matter more thematically poignant. Jack narrates each of his murders in the first person to an unseen person, Verge. The murders play, but are accompanied by commentary, tangents by Jack, and cut-aways to “genuine” pieces of art. The movie is interspersed in between them, almost a provocation that the movie is high art in a similar fashion. The violence is “musical”. It gives the movie a strange documentary feeling that keep it feeling sophisticated, while also provoking discussion on the position of the movie in relation to what we consider aesthetic.

Matt Dillon is absolutely stunning as the lead. He captures obsessive disorder combined with quirky serial killer in a way that feels like sitcom gone horribly wrong. If you’ve watched Monk by Andy Breckman, then just imagine Adrian Monk + a bucket of murder maniac + two cups of art enthusiast and you should have a close enough picture of Jack. Without his nonchalant, eccentric attitude and prioritization of issues, the movie wouldn’t work. His performance gives the movie a dark comedic feeling. He does awful things, but the way he processes and acts in regards to those actions is hilarious. There are moments where I was shocked at the violence, and then within a few minutes I was laughing again. It’s messed up.

The way that von Trier approaches violence is both horrifying and depressing. The movie constantly reiterates that violence is kind of constitutive of all human interaction. The universe is uncaring and no one out there will really help you. The way the movie hammers the point is unrelenting and I was left feeling fairly alone in a weird existential way after watching. This is not the movie you watch if you want to feel good about life.

However, the violence at some point becomes too distracting. I was never bored during the movie, but I did struggle to understand the point of each story in relation to the overarching narrative. There are some horrifying scenes, yes, but they felt like they did the same thing thematically. Like I said above, some of the scenes are excessive in their violence. That’s kind of the point of the movie, but I feel like it felt overindulgent. It’s funny because Verge, on a number of occasions, would voice the concern I had about the movie during the movie, almost as if I was having a dialogue with von Trier. It doesn’t make me think the movie is less indulgent, but it makes me appreciate it more.

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TLDRThe House That Jack Built is as provocative piece about art, its limits, and the ever present violence in the world that seemingly never goes away. It’s excessive to the point of over-indulgence, but in a way that makes von Trier’s point nice and clear. Nihilistic and styled to a T – watch this movie if you can handle some real depravity that’s intended to offend. There’s a lot to think about underneath.
Rating9.8/10
Grade A+

Review: mother!

Director(s)Darren Aronofsky
Principal CastJennifer Lawrence as mother
Javier Bardem as Him
Release Date2017
Running Time 121 minutes

NOTE: The review contains minor spoilers for the movie. They’re nothing that would spoil your entertainment of the movie (unlike trailers which will mislead you). Everything I spoil is fairly obvious and necessary for me to give a more coherent review.

I love both Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan, the latter of which I found so entertaining that I wrote my first (and currently only, I promise I’m writing more) piece of analysis on it. So when I saw Aronofsky was directing another horror movie with Jennifer Lawrence as the lead, I was all in. Unfortunately, after my first viewing I was kind of let down, especially after I read the director’s interviews about the movie. I just felt like the experience chalked up to a whole lot of nothing. A year later, I came upon the movie again and just ended up watching it on a whim – maybe it was the Hunger Games binge I was on, but that’s a story for another day. Anyways, I watched it again, this time fully aware of the allegory and the authors intent, but this time I liked it a lot more. It was strange how much I ended up enjoying certain sequences. I could swear it was like I was watching a different movie. Aronofsky ‘s allegory is a lot more interesting and provocative than I first thought, even if it feels a bit myopic, but it requires a certain frame of mind.

The story of mother! follows her (mother) and Him, the latter being a famous poet trying to finish his a new work and the former being the keeper of the house, decorating and furnishing it. As mother goes around the house she sees a strange heartbeat in the house. Soon afterwards, a guest comes over and slowly all hell breaks loose and mother finds herself dealing with unwanted visitors. The movie is allegorical- that’s not a secret. There’s the story of Adam and Eve, Abel and Cain, the old vs New testament, the birth of Christ, and everything in between. The imagery is obvious and incredibly visceral, leaving a deep impact on the viewer. Him is God and the mother is Earth, so the movie is also an allegory of the relationship of Earth to religion and people. If this summary seems too pretentious or full of itself, then skip the movie. You probably won’t like it. The psychological horror in the movie is subtle and slowly evolving until it crescendos in the third act. If you don’t like “slow burners” you might also want to skip this one. For those of you left, you’re in for something gorgeous.

I love weird movies like this. I think my initial irritation with the movie came from the mis-marketing of it ( I thought it was going to be some kind of normal home invasion story) and a misunderstanding of the cool interactions between the different themes in the movie. Yes, there’s the obvious one that Aronofsky tells us, but if you take that together with other smaller moments you get a neat looking picture. The connection between religion, sin, forgiveness, and the environment is provocative. My only real issue is that it all feels a bit too nihilistic. If there was a bit more characterization during certain parts, then I think the movie could’ve done something truly masterful, but as it is, it paints a pretty pessimistic picture of the world with no way out.

This movie is definitely a horror movie. I’ve seen a lot of people saying the opposite, which I think is kind of ridiculous. There are harrowing sequences that are both grotesque and intended to disgust and shock the audience. The pacing and editing in the latter half of the movie create a real tension. Yes, you know where the movie is going to go but it does a hell of a job at ramping up the absurdity of its allegory at every turn. The movie is mainly shot from the perspective of her – either behind her or looking at her face. The audience is along for the ride, so as mother gets more tense and harrowed, so do we. It’s confusing, chaotic, and disturbing, and in its own way beautiful. You really feel for her. Sound design is the main reason this works so well. It’s minimalist, so the normal barrier erected between the audience and the screen feels gone. The sounds of the house are what come out distinctly. Put together, the experience puts you directly with the character in horrible situations. If you let yourself experience the movie, instead of just watching it, you may enjoy it a lot more. I think that’s why I liked the movie a lot more the 2nd time.

The main problem with the movie is it only works at the level of allegory. I wish it was more a home invasion movie or even a psychological horror in the more traditional sense with the allegory working on less “literal” level. The best movies can tie in a fully formed plot and tap on the allegory/metaphors as another layer – so the movie can be viewed in a traditional sense, and also in whatever subtext the director/viewer extracts. This movie only works as the latter which is why it may not work for a lot of people.

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TLDRmother! is a thought provoking allegory about God, the environment, humanity and the way their respective relationships intersect. If you like purely allegorical movies then this should be straight in your ballpark. I wish it was less nihilistic, but I’m nonetheless impressed with the creativity on display.
Rating9.2/10
Grade A

Review: Raw

Director(s)Julia Ducournau
Principal CastGarance Marillier as Justine
Ella Rumpf as Alexia
Rabah Nait Oufella as Adrien
Release Date2016
Running Time 99 minutes

As a vegetarian, I may be a bit biased, but my first thought when seeing the trailer for this movie was – oh no, that really does sound like a horror movie. Raw is a coming-of-age story about Justine, a recently accepted veterinary student who’s a life long vegetarian. As part of a series of hazing ceremonies at her school, she’s pressured/coerced into eating rabbit meat and subsequently develops a taste for other people.

First of all – this movie can get really graphic. It’s about people eating people, what would you expect? Thankfully, it’s not exploitative. The violence has a purpose and is used only when necessary. That being said ,it can be visceral, and if you’re not interested in gore you might want to watch with a pal who can tell you when to open your eyes again. These scenes are shocking and help drive home both the horror and the larger themes at play.

The movie is a clever take on the coming-of-age story. The main gimmick- cannibalism- is used to accentuate the awkward, sometimes scarring, moments of human life. Awkward hookups, too much alcohol at parties, peer pressure to go along with the flow, losing trust in people, trying to find yourself- each of these moments is something we can relate to. The cannibalism just makes those moments physically manifest, so each bite is a reminder of the way we mark each other in each and every interaction. In particular, I love the way the movie deals with Justine and her older sister Alexia ,a senior student at the college. As a sibling myself, it’s strange to kind of transition from siblings that are forced to talk given the proximity of childhood to adults who have more agency in what or when they share. Watching the relationship between the two develop is something else and I didn’t expect it to develop in such a horrifying, but relatable way.

I wish the movie did more with the ethics of hierarchies . The nature of the plot, cult like hazing rituals, etc set up a pretty cool ground work for that discussion but the ideas for it are never fully explored. It feels like a missed opportunity that could’ve substantiated the themes of growth and development while adding another layer of nuance. This is more of a personal criticism though, so I can’t fault the movie for not doing it- but if you’re going into the movie to see a criticism of anthropocentric boundaries, this isn’t it.

The biggest issue I had with the movie is one kind of absurd plot point that makes the entire story feel off? Very early on, two key pieces of information are stressed to the audience. Taken together, along with the way the story plays out, it’s really hard to believe that all the events above would ever actually happen. I’m usually someone that can get over minor plot issues, but this one kind of puts a whole question mark on the inciting incident.

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TLDRRaw is a coming of age cannibal horror that has a lot of heart and meaning underneath its gory exterior. It’s use of meat eating is as horrifying as it is genius, and I can’t recommend it enough.
Rating9.2/10
Grade A

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Color Out of Space

Director(s)Richard Stanley
Principal CastNicholas Cage as Nathan Gardner
Madeleine Arthur as Lavinia Gardner
Joely Richardson as Theresa Gardner
Elliot Knight as Ward Phillips
Release Date2019
Running Time 115 minutes

If you like Lovecraft or enjoy the story this movie is based on, please do yourself a favor and watch it. The feeling, tone, and aesthetic are all distinctly Lovecraftian but feel renovated for a modern era. Stanley has done a great job directing a modern story that disorients its audience while keeping what made the original story distinctive and memorable.

The story follows the Gardeners, a family living out in the sticks, trying to forge a new life as farmers. Then one day, a meteorite crashes in their year, painting the sky in a neon pink/purple and causing the earth to quake. Soon after, the Gardner’s notice some strange happenings going with mutations in their vegetation and wildlife. The story starts off slow, but after a certain moment in the latter half of the movie, things go absolutely off the rails in the best possible way.

Light spoilers here, but the titular colored light works to zoink out the psyche and perception of those affected by it. The movie spends a decent amount of time building up characters and their orientations towards life, so the changes they go through because of the light are genuinely unnerving manifestations of their inner drives. Watching each actor/actress go from point A to point B is entertaining and believable (for the most part). Cage in particular has a standout performance as the Gardener father, Nathan. He’s asked to go to dark strange places and it can get uncomfortable. At times, certain performances seem comical but I can’t tell if that’s because of the nature of the horror or the performance proper. Needless to say, there were a lot of moments I laughed. I don’t know if black comedy is how I’d describe it – it’s more perverse than what I normally associate with that.

The special effect work done is amazing. The lighting effects really ride the line on comical and mesmerizing and the balance achieved kept me staring at the screen. However, what I’m really talking about is the creature effects. I was immediately reminded me of some of the terrifying creatures from The Thing, but slightly touched up to look more modern. There are some nightmare moments from the movie that haven’t left me since I watched it – stuff that’ll stick to your head for a good while, especially if you let the experience take you.

The nature of the movie leaves it open to a lot of interpretation. My personal take is that the movie is about humanity’s relation to nature. We seek control and compartmentalize it , as though it’s an entity that exists beneath us as opposed to being something that should be treated with some kind of reverence. Nature can at any point turn and is impartial to those it takes. Nothing can really protect you no matter how safe you think you are. I’ve read Staley’s interview and can definitely see where he was coming from (and think that he managed to naturally depict a lot of what he talked about) . A friend I was watching with had his own interpretation, so what I’m saying is this is a good thinking movie. There’s not precise or clean answers and it invites discussion.

While I appreciate the changes made to the original story, I wish Stanley would have gone a bit further. A few of the scares feel more horrifying because of how they’re tied in to the characters respective fear/personality but it doesn’t happen for all the characters. It feels like an odd choice that could’ve been ironed out. It’s especially strange given some later character choices that just scream bad idea. You know the one where the audience is screaming, “No, you idiot don’t do that.” Granted you could just chalk those up to “X is crazy because of the light” but the movie feels smarter than that.

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TLDRColor Out of Space should satisfy any fans of Lovecraftian/cosmic horror. It has splendid visuals, an absurd story, and some horrifying monstrosities that’ll haunt my nightmares for weeks to come. If you enjoyed Annihilation, give this a gander. It shares a lot of similarities but goes in a completely different direction – more horror, less sci-fi.
Rating9.3/10
GradeA