Category Archives: Horror

Review: Ready or Not

Director(s)Matt Bettinelli-Olpin
Tyler Gillet
Principal CastSamara Weaving as Grace Le Domas
Mark O’Brien as Alex Le Domas
Adam Brody as Daniel Le Domas
Release Date2019
Running Time 95 minutes

As someone who loved Samara Weaving’s performances in both The Babysitter and Mayhem, I knew I had to watch this movie. I didn’t even watch a trailer – I just went in expecting to see a fun Weaving movie. I got that and so much more. Ready or Not is funny, clever, and brutal all at the same time.

The story follows Grace as she’s made to play a game of hide-and-seek after marrying into the wealthy Le Domas family. Except in this game, getting caught means being killed. What follows is an intense cat and mouse situation where Grace and the Le Domas family constantly seek to out maneuver the other party. What keeps these moments fresh is the circumstance under which the game is played and the family operates. I won’t spoil it, but the movie keeps you guessing on what’s really going to happen the whole time. Up until it was over, I didn’t know what was actually going to happen.

Even after having only seen the movie once in theaters and once for this review, I can remember most of the characters and their personalities fairly well. This movie, unlike a lot of other ones with big casts, doesn’t feel like it wastes any of its characters. There are clear motivations for each member – which is even more impressive when you realize how large the Le Domas family actually is. Yes, some of the arcs or backgrounds aren’t amazing or profound, but the fact that they are there at all is impressive.

Weaving absolutely kills it in her portrayal of Grace. She’s funny, wide-eyed, resolute, bad-ass, desperate, and everything in between. Her energy shines through and makes it really easy to root for Grace. It gives you a reason to care about the story and I found myself invested in the outcome. I think Brody’s performance as Daniel (Grace’s brother-in-law) was also fairly well done. He showed complexity and nuance and has some of the best character moments in the movie.

The movie’s discourse on families is interesting and doesn’t feel ham-fisted. Grace wants to be in the family because she’s always been alone- so for her family is a safe place. Meanwhile, her husband Alex resents his family for the practices they engage in so he wants to run away – but he still feels the need to follow tradition- which highlights just how strong family can influence the ordering of our desires. The way the parents evaluate their children’s’ spouses speaks volumes in what qualities they consider valuable. The perversion of family values is where the movie shines and the way it frames that discussion in relation to wealth adds another layer to think about.

Now for the problems. There are some character decisions in the third act that feel a bit off. They’re not incomprehensible, but they feel like they could have been developed a bit more so they wouldn’t feel as sudden. There are also some procedural issues I had with what knowledge what characters had about the mystery at the core of the plot. It feels like certain people should know things that would radically change their actions, but they don’t. Finally, there are moments where the camera feels/is handheld which takes away from the grandiose aesthetic. I wish the shots were stable throughout/moved only during more action-y scenes. This issue felt even more prominent on my second viewing. None of these problems are enough to make the movie bad, but they do lessen the themes the movie builds towards.

Rating

TLDRReady or Not is a clever twist on the comedic slasher genre. The plot is well-paced and will keep you guessing about what’s going to happen up till the very end. There are some story issues that creep up in the third act, but they can’t detract from the absurdly fun journey/ending. If you enjoyed Knives Out, you may also like this. It’s weird – but this movie feels like a spiritual horror version of that one.
Rating9.0/10
GradeA

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

 

Review: Underwater

Director(s)William Eubank
Principal CastKristen Stewart as Norah Price
Vincent Cassel as Captain Lucien
T.J. Miller as Paul
Jessica Henwick as Emily
Release Date2020
Running Time 95 minutes

After the disappointment that was The Grudge, I wasn’t that excited to see another January horror movie. So I set my expectations to 0 and went into Underwater with an open mind.I’m really glad I did, because the movie is a hell of a lot of fun. Yes, it’s an Alien derivative that doesn’t push the monster survival genre in any unique ways, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a fun time.

The movie is paced phenomenally. It doesn’t bloat the run time with a bunch of useless information or tired sequences – instead, it starts off with immediate action. Norah, a mechanical engineer aboard a corporate underwater drill, has to act fast when a breach in her station threatens to flood and destroy everything. Her and a few survivors have to band together and find a way to get out of the situation, but unbeknownst to them there’s some beasts lurking in the sea waiting to strike. Once the action starts it rarely lets up and I was surprised at how interesting the movie was. I never felt bored once, which I think is a mark of success for a thriller/horror.

All the members of the crew are adequate. The pacing of the movie gives little time for character development and it definitely feels like some of them are underutilized. This doesn’t mean there’s no character work – watching the characters deal with the stress of the situation in different ways definitely keeps the movie feeling fresh. Emily’s constant over-analysis or need to explain versus Paul’s humor add some levity to an otherwise tense and claustrophobic experience.

Performances are decent all around. Stewart does a great job as Norah projecting vulnerability and a resolute bad-assery. She’s the only character with a real arc, and it’s satisfying to watch it play out. Everyone else is just kind of along for the ride, so they don’t really get opportunities to add a lot of their own flair to their characters.

The movie is shot way better than I thought it would be. It’s only shaky when it needs to be which keeps the chaotic moments feeling distinct. There’s a great use of darkness and the movie follows the cardinal rule of not showing the “shark” too early. The creatures are hidden until they need to come out so I always felt tensed when I saw something flicker on the screen. The color palette is also murky and has a submerged feeling to it. Some people might be irritated by that. I personally wish it was used less, but it never felt like an issue.

The only real issue the movie has is a lack of purpose? I put a question mark here because I think the ending hints at a more complex “story” which would resolve this issue, but I can’t know until a sequel comes out. This is written with that in mind. Even though the movie is shot and executed well, outside of some awesome moments in the third act, there’s nothing really here that’s unique. It’s not bad- but if you want to see something that completely re-invents the Alien style of movie, you won’t find it here. Instead, you’ll find a competent thriller that’s action packed from beginning to end.

Rating

TLDRUnderwater is a tense,claustrophobic, and exciting from start to finish. It may not reinvent the wheel, but it’s a well executed thriller with some incredible moments in the third act. If you like Alien derivates or underwater thrillers, you should check it out!
Rating7.5/10
GradeC+

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

 

Review: Annabelle: Creation

Director(s)David F. Sandberg
Principal CastTalitha Bateman as Janice
Lulu Wilson as Linda
Stephanie Sigman as Sister Charlotte
Anthony LaPaglia as Samuel Mullins
Release Date2017
Running Time 110 minutes

I originally wasn’t planning on seeing this movie until I noticed David F. Sandberg was directing. I enjoyed Lights Out , so I was hoping that he could cast some of his magic on the prequel-sequel to the less than satisfying Annabelle. It’s nothing stunning or innovative, but this sequel-prequel is a well-tuned horror movie that does just enough right to be interesting.

The movie opens up on the Mullins family, who after an unexpected tragedy, find themselves hosting a small group of orphans and their accompanying Sister. The group is comprised of 6 girls including Janice, a girl suffering from polio and her best friend Linda. The bond between the two girls serves as the emotional crux of the movie and give it something that a lot of the spin-off Conjuring movies don’t have- heart and a reason to care. When things start going south you feel something because you want the girls to be happy. The relationship is helped by great acting on the part of both child performers. There are some dark things they’re asked to do and those moments feel scary because of how well they’re executed. I can’t wait to see them in more.

Thankfully, the story mainly follows the two girls so for the most part there’s a level of emotional tension. Unfortunately, outside of the two girls there’s not a lot going on character wise. It’s not that the performance are bad or that there’s awful dialogue. It’s just that the other characters don’t have any development. The other orphans kind of get pushed to the wayside with 2 of them almost feeling like afterthoughts. Sister Charlotte feels like she could have something to do or some arc to set up in the grander Conjuring universe but then nothing ever happens. Whenever they’re involved in a scare sequence, it’s hard to feel anything no matter how well executed those moments are. For every great scare, there’s a predictable scare with no impact. You don’t notice it that much on the first watch, but the problem becomes way more apparent on future watches.

This movie also has the problem of disjointed scares. The demonic entities at play do scary stuff but it’s always uneven and begs the question of how any character survives. There’s no consistent power ceiling so whenever something supernatural happens it feels like a gimmick as opposed to some clever haunting or manifestation occurring.

Rating

TLDRAnnabelle: Creation feels a missed opportunity. The primary story is touching and the scares are well paced, but the overall feeling of the movie is generic. It’s a well shot and executed supernatural jump scare movie but never feels like something fully of its own.
Rating7.3/10
GradeC

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

 

Review: Annabelle Comes Home

Director(s)Gary Dauberman
Principal CastMckenna Grace as Judy Warren
Patrick Wilson as Ed Warren
Vera Farmiga as Lorraine Warren
Madison Iseman as Mary Ellen
Katie Sarife as Daniela Rios
Release Date2019
Running Time 106 minutes

I didn’t like Annabelle. I did like Annabelle: Creation. Both Wilson and Farmiga have been great in the other Conjuring movies they’ve been in, so when I saw the trailer for this movie I had real hope. The Warrens and Annabelle – maybe it could be as good as the movies in the main franchise. The movie even starts off with a bait, introducing Ed and Lorraine as they’re on their way back home with the Annabelle doll ready to be stored away. They get it in it’s iconic case and emphasize its power. Then they disappear from the movie and we get to the absurd mess that is the main story line.

The movie follows Judy, the Warrens daughter, and the mishaps that occur when her parents go off…to do something? Anyways, she’s left with her babysitter Mary for the day. Mary’s friend Daniela then comes over and opens and touches everything in the Warren’s demonic possession room. Then Annabelle gets loose and releases OTHER DEMONS to be menacing to the girls and the movie chronicles their miserably boring endeavors to fight them off. Another Annabelle movie where Annabelle doesn’t do anything of her own account. It’s like what’s the point of making these spin-off movies if you’re not going to actually expand on the character or make them more menacing in their own right.

Speaking of menacing- nothing in this movie is. All the “monster of the weeks” are poorly set up through lazy exposition and have no meaningful significance to any of the characters. They’re all just cheap attempts at recapturing the magic of creatures like the Nun or the Crooked Man but they don’t work. It’s sad because the movie is actually shot pretty well. There are some nice tracking shots that amplify the tension. If the scares took advantage of those the movie could have been so much more effective. There are plenty of great scenes early on where there are just scary apparitions in the background waiting- but the movie doesn’t know how to deal with them outside of fake-out jump scare. It gets repetitive which makes the 3rd act of the movie feel like the same scene happening in succession.

The whole movie just feels like a missed opportunity. So many cool ideas don’t get teased out properly.Exploring the life of a child ostracized because of her parents demonology background is interesting and I thought the movie would be a family drama centering around that issue. Instead, it’s ignored and never develops into anything meaningful. Exploring the Annabelle doll’s actual power? Nah, let’s let her summon other spirits instead. Have a good reason for someone to enter the room and do anything? Nah, we can just skirt around the issue and give her some vague sad backstory. It’s all just unsatisfying, especially when all the pieces to resolve these questions are present in the story. Heck you could even have the babysitter and her friend- just introduce them naturally and have the inciting incident be more believable. I don’t know – it just feels sloppy.

Rating

TLDRAnnabelle Comes Home feels like a series of missed opportunities wrapped up into a generic feeling horror movie. The Warrens are barely in the movie , so don’t hold your breath if your expecting this to feel like The Conjuring.
Rating4.8/10
GradeF

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

 

Review: You're Next

Director(s)Adam Wingard
Principal CastSharni Vinson as Erin
A.J. Bowen as Crispian Davison
Release Date 2013
Running Time94 minutes

I swear after I first saw this movie, I was certain a sequel would drop eventually, but unfortunately it seems like that’s not the case. It’s a shame because You’re Next has all the ingredients necessary for a classic slasher movie: stylish kills, great villain design, a dry perverse black humor, and a wonderfully bad ass main character in Erin. The premise- a rich family is targeted by unknown assailants and have to fight for their lives- is simple enough, but its execution shows a real understanding of the craft.

What immediately set this movie apart from others for me is how thought out the story feels. Character motivations are present even for the bad guys so everything has a human element to it. Erin is immediately likable and is a great protagonist to latch onto. Sharni is a bad ass and from the way she carries herself up to the way her character takes charge, it’s apparent that she’s not going to be a pushover. The killers each have different face masks corresponding to a different animals which represent their personality traits. It’s subtle character work that goes a long way in making the group of villains feel distinct aesthetically. The members of the rich family feel nice and distinct in the few moments they get to interact with each other. I wasn’t expecting so many characters to feel so unique.

The reason the characters feel so memorable is because of how odd they all are. The family might be rich, but that doesn’t mean they’re any more functional than a middle or lower class family. The earlier scenes where they play off each other are great, even if the delivery of some of the lines feels wonky. Someone’s always got something strange enough to say to add a “unique” sense of humor to scenes. I personally thought the movie was hilarious (intentionally). I appreciate dry in-your-face humor that’s predicated on the absurdity of what occurs. I think it’s a more acquired taste so if you don’t think it’s funny watching it, I wouldn’t be surprised. But I think watching it from the point of view of a comedy makes the viewing experience more memorable and might be something you consider trying out.

Despite nailing most of important stuff, the movie suffers from a lack of impact. What I mean is that we barely get a chance to gauge the characters relations among each other, so when people start dropping it doesn’t feel like anything.It’s a shame because the few moments they talk to each other had me laughing, but all of that is pushed to the wayside for immediate action.That might be good if you just want a constant source of action, but that’s not my cup of tea. The movie also struggles to balance its tone at times. It wants to be funny but then acts too seriously at other moments to let the humor breathe. It makes it hard to process, especially when the third act starts.

Rating

TLDRIf you like weird humor that’s dark and kind of perverse and also enjoy gory slashers, then You’re Next is made for you. There’s a sensible story, aesthetically interesting villains, and a great protagonist waiting to be discovered. Just be wary of strange tonal shifts and bare-bones characterization.
Rating8.2/10
Grade B

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Happy Death Day 2U

Director(s)Christopher Landon
Principal CastJessica Rothe as Tree
Israel Broussard as Carter
Phi Vu as Ryan
Release Date 2019
Running Time100 minutes

I was so happy when I saw that Happy Death Day was getting a sequel. I actually went to this movie on opening week and remember leaving the theater feeling immensely satisfied. After watching it again recently, I’ve come to understand why. It’s like every problem I had with the first movie has been resolved in this one. The movie makes the brave decision to ACTUALLY expand on the ideas (if only all sequels could do this) which help it carve out an interesting little niche.

The movie picks up immediately after the first one and it’s revealed that the cause of all the time loops is Ryan’s science invention. After a series of mishaps, Tree ends up sent to a parallel dimension and is forced to find a way to escape the baby faced killer again. The sci-fi addition to the franchise gives it some much needed personality and makes the gimmick something more interesting. The way the characters end up reacting to the new knowledge gives us a ton of fun creative scenes that really push the black comedy aspect.

Characters from the past movie get more to do in this one. Because it’s a new universe, everyone shows a different side of themselves which gives Tree a lot of room to navigate and form new opinions. It makes people from the first movie feel more layered and is a fun play on the butterfly effect. It also gives the movie a more poignant emotional core that really made me feel for Tree. Speaking of Tree, Jessica Rothe kills it again in her performance. She’s given more room to have fun in this one and she takes a lot of pleasure in it.

Unfortunately, the one area the movie didn’t really improve on is the horror element of everything. The killer and their motivation in the first movie was pretty whack so I was curious to see how it would play it out in this one, and while it’s believable to an extent, it also feels kind of out there.

The pacing of the movie also feels off- there’s one moment in the third act where it feels like the movie has a natural ending, but then it keeps on going. It’s not that the extension feels bad. In fact, what happens makes a lot of sense- but it feels like it’s missing the polish the rest of the movie had. Maybe a subplot should have been removed and some events should have happened in a different order. I don’t know. It’s just a weird anomaly. The end credit scene does give me hope that the third movie (Please come out) does some crazy stuff, so here’s to that.

Rating

TLDRHappy Death Day 2U takes everything that was good from the first movie and amps it up. There’s a more interesting story, better character building, and even more fun levels of absurdity. The movie is more science fiction that it is horror, so if you’re expecting focused slasher you may want to look elsewhere.
Rating8.4/10
Grade B

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Happy Death Day

Director(s)Christopher Landon
Principal CastJessica Rothe as Tree
Israel Broussard as Carter
Release Date 2017
Running Time96 minutes

Groundhog’s day meets teen-comedy meets slasher movie –Happy Death Day isn’t incredibly original, but what it lacks in creativity it makes up in unabashed fun. The story follows Tree, a troubled sorority girl who finds herself trapped in a sinister loop that restarts every time she’s killed by a baby masked killer. As she desperately tries to figure out who’s coming for her she’s forced to confront her fears – both physical and emotional.

If there’s one reason to watch this movie, it’s Jessica Rothe’s performance. She gives the story a real personality which keeps it feeling spunky and fresh as opposed to tired and outdated. She’s rude, unresponsive, and miserable with herself and everyone around her. Watching her slowly come to realize her situation and adapt is charming because of how expressive and energetic Rothe acts. She sells the story and is why I enjoy the movie so much despite how predictable its story beats feel.

The way the story unfolds is logical and makes sense. The identity of the killer is only revealed to attentive viewers at the hour mark because up till then the misdirection is done fairly well. I was particularly impressed with how layered the second “cycle” was in both story setup and character interaction. The movie knows when to switch it up so the story never feels like it overstays its welcome.

Unfortunately, nothing “interesting” really happens. The story doesn’t really add too much to the die-live again formula. There’s a unique addition that never gets developed a lot, but it plays it by the books which feels like a mixed opportunity. I wish the concept was incorporated with the horror element better. It feels like a psychological twist is missing that could have really elevated some scenes. Furthermore, outside of Tree, every character is kind of one note and uninteresting. They’re fine for the sake of the story – filling in easily identifiable character positions- but don’t do anything outside of that.

Rating

TLDRHappy Death Day is funny, filled with energy, and has some cute “awuhh” moments. It doesn’t fully utilize the potential of its premise, but it does enough to remain interesting from beginning to end.
Rating7.9/10
Grade C+

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!