Category Archives: supernatural

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 Conjuring

Director(s)James Wan
Principal CastVera Farmiga as Lorraine Warren
Patrick Wilson as Ed Warren
Lili Taylor as Carolyn Perron
Release Date2013
Running Time 112 minutes

I can still remembering watching this movie when it came out opening day. I thought Insidious was a pretty good movie, so I was excited to see what Wan would bring to another supernatural horror movie. Though it may not be as “real life” as it purports to be, The Conjuring is a well crafted, humanizing, popcorn horror movie that should please both average movie goers and critics alike.

The story is your typical haunted house movie chock full of things that go bump in the night, supernatural delusions, well-timed jump scares, a likable set of leads in the Warrens, and a heartwarming core to latch onto. The story starts with a creepy ghost case and then cuts into a classroom setting. This short introduction simultaneously sets the creepy tone for the movie and establishes that our leads are professionals. I love how much care Wan takes to establish the Warrens as legitimate professionals. They don’t rush to haunted conclusions, don’t seek to exploit individuals for gains, and show real tact when dealing with the supernatural. It makes them easy to root for and gives the audience a reason to care about their success.

Acting is great throughout the cast from the children to the Warren’s technical assistants. Lili Taylor does a great job as the matriarch of the haunted Marron family and conveys the terror of watching ones family being attack with a real clarity. Both Farmiga and Wilson are great as the Warrens. They come off as likable and serious. The former radiates empathy and a desire to help which feels surprisingly wholesome in the commercial horror landscape.

Most important, the movie is packed with effective scares. A good variety of shots combined with excellent pacing creates an effective ramping supernatural threat. The spirit feels menacing and the way the movie approaches the madness makes the sequence of the haunting coherent as opposed to feeling like a ghost just messing around for the hell of it. My only problem with the scares is the lack of thematic coherence.The movie is focused a lot on family, the importance of the bond between parents and their children, and how evil wants to desecrate that bond. However, until the third act the scares never feel related to that theme so they don’t hit as hard. It’s what keeps the early scares from feeling distinctive.

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TLDRThe Conjuring is a horror movie done right. The characters are effective and make you want to root for them. The scares are effective and are paced properly through the movie. The movie doesn’t revolutionize the genre but it’s certainly a welcome addition to it.
Rating9.0/10
GradeA

Review: Insidious

Director(s)James Wan
Principal CastPatrick Wilson as Josh Lambert
Rose Byrne as Renai Lambert
Lin Shaye as Elise Rainier
Ty Simpkins as Dalton Lambert
Release Date2010
Running Time 110 minutes

Looking back on it, Insidious is probably one of the most important horror movies of the past decade. I don’t remember huge horror blockbusters being as commonplace before this movie, but after its success companies took notice and now the screens are filled with them. It’s crazy to think that despite the time that’s passed since then, few horror movies have been as commercially successful or ubiquitous among horror lovers and the general movie going public.

The story follows the Lambert family as they move into a new house. Unfortunately for them, soon after the move , their son Dalton enters a comatose state with no discernible cause. In their desperation, the family calls Elise, a psychic, to to determine if something supernatural is at foot. I can say after having seen Poltergeist, that I simultaneously enjoy both movies more, the former for how influential its template is to modern horror (and this movie in particular) and the latter in how it cleverly modifies the formula to keep it interesting. The Lambert’s family attempt to save Dalton has recognizable moments from the genre at large, but has enough twists to warrant a watch.

The movie spends a lot of time exploring “The Further”, an astral realm that contains the souls of the dead. It’s a purgatory with a dark and eerie atmosphere. The concept and its subsequent exploration gives the Insiduous franchise a cool metaphysical experience that’s unique and distinct. Traditional exorcism scenes are replaced with more definable struggles. The ambiguous nature of the realm adds a dimension of mystery and unease when characters explore it. My only complaint is that there’s not enough action in these moments. Some kind of spiritual “anime”-esque fight would’ve been cool to see but I can appreciate the attempt at being different.

Shot composition and effective use of sound keeps the scares in the movie feeling earned. Yes, there are jump scares. No, they do not suck. Wan understands that a good jump scare requires a meaningful visual scare that a character (the audience) would actually find scary on top of some kind of noise. He places them sporadically so tension actually has time to build. Music only plays when needed so it feels like it has a purpose. It’s not the most memorable in end of itself, but it’s effective in helping set the tone.

I only have a few problems with the movie. Like Saw , action scenes can feel jumbled and rushed. It’s a weird aesthetic choice that immediately took me out of the moment. Thankfully, this movie only has to deal with this issue a few times. There’s also a TON of exposition. To the movie’s credit a lot of it is introduced naturally and it never feels boring. I also originally had a love/hate relationship with the ending. I thought it was entertaining and unexpected but it also felt undeserved in some sense. My opinion on this has changed more because of Insidious 2 which serves as a good conclusion to a lot of the ideas in this movie. Personally, if you watch this you should watch the second- treat them as two parts of a larger episode and I think you may enjoy both of them more.

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TLDRInsidious is a creative take on the supernatural family horror genre and has a ton of scares to boot. If you can deal with a few exposition dumps and like more metaphysical aspects in horror, check this one out.
Rating9.1/10
GradeA

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.

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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.

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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: The Grudge (2020)

Theatrical Release Poster

I’m a huge fan of Ju-On and it’s first English remake The Grudge (2004). Both movies were formative in fostering my love for horror and scaring me senseless. So when I saw the remake trailer, I felt a sense of nostalgia on top of the impending sense of doom. Remakes usually aren’t the greatest and the January release date only made that sense of dread more palpable. On top of that, the first remake was good enough , so it felt weird to want to try and add something new again. However, that sense of trepidation gave way to slight optimism when I realized that Nicolas Pesce was directing the movie. I loved The Eyes of My Mother and felt that maybe he could deliver a moving remake of a beloved movie. After having just seen the remake, I can confirm that it’s indeed a mixed bag of emotions. The plot feels messy and stretched too thin and the scares feel repetitive and predictable. In spite of this, I found myself thoroughly enjoying some moments. The film has it’s flaws – but it also has cool ideas that I wish it had run with more.

The movie has a main plot and then 3 additional subplots all taking place at different times between 2004-2006. The primary plot follows Detective Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough) as she finds herself entangled in the “grudge”- a curse that kills anyone that comes into its proximity. The main issue with the movie is that the main plot is pretty boring by itself until the final few moments and a few macabre scenes in the second act. Riseborough is relegated to being an exposition scene and literally just helps Pesce cut to the other more interesting subplots. Out of the three other ones, only two are given any bearing. It’s funny because seemingly the most important subplot (The Lander family) is only touched near the end of the film. The Spencer subplot featuring John Cho and Betty Gilpin is heartfelt and had me feeling something in spite of the messy plot. The Matheson subplot (Lin Shaye and Frannkie Faison) introduces some of most horrifying thinking and I genuinely wish the film had spent most of the time here. There are some creepy ideas that are kind of toyed around with but never expanded on. Honestly, I wish the movie was just more focused. Cut out the incessant exposition and over explaining and just let the character interactions and ideas out. The movie is at its best in precisely these moments.

Acting in the movie is fine- for the most part. It honestly feels like the actors did the best with the way the plot went about so I can’t fault any of them. In spite of sparse characterization, Lin Shaye stole the scenes she was in. I loved her in all the Insiduous movies and watching her play a different role highlights just how much of a range she has. She gives a lot in this performance and made everything involving her really fun. Cho and Gilpin add the only real emotional weight to the convoluted plot. They do a great job in making the unfolding horrors more tragic and less undeserved.

There’s nothing special in terms of camera vision, but that’s mainly because most scenes are just set-ups for obvious jump scares. It’s always characters walking, then finding something, then looking away ,cue realization of impending scare, look back, then scare . It’s okay the first time but it’s lackluster with how well the scares are executed in the other Grudge movies. The lack of creativity in set-ups wasn’t something I was expecting. Thankfully, the score is engaging. It kept me at least partially invested when it came on. Especially during the last two scenes- it makes them memorable.

Rating

TLDR: All in all – The Grudge (2020) isn’t awful – but it’s definitely a bag of missed opportunities. I appreciate the way it tried to add some new twists to the original Grudge but those attempts fall flat or aren’t pushed far enough – which is a shame because I really enjoyed some of them.

Final Rating: 5.8/10. If you liked Ju-On or The Grudge I think there’s something in here for you. Yes – it’s not amazing or groundbreaking, but it’s certainly not the worst horror movie I’ve seen. The theater I went to was mostly packed and was quite engaged for a lot of the moments I responded to, so I really think some of ya’ll might enjoy portions of this.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Sinister

Theatrical Release Poster

I’ll be honest – when I first saw the name and the movie poster, I almost felt like Sinister would be a confirmed bust. However, the moment the movie started I immediately felt foolish for having doubted Scott Derrickson’s film before having even seen it. Horror movies rarely leave me feeling genuinely scared. You know what I mean – that check under your bed, over your shoulder, pray a little bit more kind of fear. This movie is one of few that have ever managed to make me feel genuinely unnerved and is a great time for anyone looking to get feel frightened.

The plot follows Ellison ( Ethan Hawke) a writer who moves his family to a new location to investigate the tragic and bizarre murder of a family and the disappearance of their youngest daughter. The film does a lot well in terms of distinguishing itself from other haunted house stories and manages to feel grounded at the same time. There’s a real sense of mystery and supernatural unease which makes the horror of the film more unpredictable and sinister as the title would suggest.The focus on realism helps these moment feel more intense.

Characters are given serious time to pause, think, and converse about issues so every decision feels meaningful. This helps keep consequences feel earned. Performances are great all around. Ethan Hawke kills it in his role and comes off eager to the point of arrogance and caring all at the same time. He’s complex and his motivations make you hate and sympathize with him at the same time. The plot of the movie feels somewhat ridiculous if you spend enough time to think about, but because of all the decisions in aesthetic and acting to keep everything serious – I felt comfortable in ignoring my disbelief and just getting caught up in the sheer terror of it all.

The film focuses on the discovery of a series of horrifying film reels. Each scene recounting these reels had me hiding behind my covers. Despite watching the movie four times, one scene still manages to get me every time. The score that accompanies these short movies is haunting and highlights how out of place and unknown the source of the violence is.

The dark gritty palette and the great lighting keeps the mood ominous and unnerving throughout the piece. I never felt safe during a nighttime scene and remember relishing the daylight scenes because at least nothing awful would happen(?). Derrickson knows how to build up mystery and intrigue with macabre imagery so longer horror sequences are chilling. Sound editing is on point and the score only helps accentuate the fear. The juxtaposition with pure moments of silence keeps the film sound dynamic. Unfortunately, the film almost feels like it has too many of these sequences – with some of them feeling less consequential than they should have. I wish that a few of these moments were cut or shortened – a movie 20 minutes shorter would have been ideal. This problem only becomes really noticeable on repeat viewings so take that into consideration.

Furthermore, while the movie feels scary, I did feel a bit betrayed by certain creative decisions. Perfectly horrifying scenes are accompanied with random noises – cue the stereotypical jump scare. If you know me , you should know I really dislike them – but the set up towards the scares always felt so creative that I was never too upset. They definitely fulfilled their intended role in making me shriek.

Rating

TLDR: Sinister is a delightful horror movie that’s packed with a flurry of terrifying moments. Though there are some plot flaws and slight pacing issues, I can wholeheartedly say I was left scared after watching it.

Final Rating: 8.8/10. Good, scary, horror movie. Highly recommend if you’re looking for a good movie to scare some friends or just want an interesting supernatural movie that plays with genre expectations in a satisfying way.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!