Category Archives: A+

Review: 28 Days Later

Director(s)Danny Boyle
Principal CastCillian Murphy as Jim
Naomie Harris as Selena
Release Date2002
Running Time113 minutes

Zombies- check.
Misanthropy- check.
Examination of alienation – check.
Awesome music – double check.

Danny Boyle’s science-fiction zombie film, 28 Days Later, checks off all the necessities of a great movie, adds on a great deal of nuance and criticism, and wraps all of that in a beautifully shot and scored piece. The story follows Jim as he wakes up 28 days after a terrifying “rage” virus has spread and destroyed most of England. He eventually meets up with and forms a rag-tag team with other survivors as they struggle to find a way out of the living hell they find themselves in.

I knew I was in for a cinematic treat just based off of the parallels in the opening scene of the movie, and the opening scene on Jim. We start off looking at a monkey, tied up to a series of wires, being forced to take in violent awful media. When Jim wakes up, he’s also covered in wires on a hospital bed causing an immediate association between him and the primate. It beautifully foreshadows his journey as he’s forced to view and deal with gruesome and morbid scenes of violence. It also raises one of the films main thematic questions- what is humanity and how is it different than animality? Based on this opening scene it might be that humans and animals aren’t so different after all. The feeling never really goes away and the film constantly plays with it.

Every camera shot has a purpose in this movie and I was constantly kept off balance by their variation in use. The use of a gritty realistic recording makes the setting feel grounded and haunting. A darker color scheme is used for most of the film so when lighter ones are front and center, it feels intentional. It serves as a visual and thematic pallet cleanser, which for the most part, keeps the movie fresh and invites deeper answers to the questions being posited.

The frequent use of angled shots highlight the upturned nature of the world around them. Any semblance of the social order that they know of is gone. There are a lot of wide open shots that make the characters feel puny in comparison. They feel like ants- showcasing not only our groups’ alienation, but also questioning the general place of humanity in relation to the planet at large. The quick panicked shots when the zombies come in is also jarring and was frightening each time it was used. The zombies being as fast as they were only made the effects more pronounced.

Speaking of that, I love how fast the zombies were. They’re aggressive killing machines and present a real sense of urgency. The film ensures we know of that by having an incredibly tense and shocking zombie/reaction scene out of nowhere, highlighting the absurdity of it- a mistake at any point, even a small one could be deadly. Even a small speck of blood end our protagonists, so every zombie encounter becomes even worse- we’re constantly on the lookout for blood and cadavers because those present as much of a threat as the zombies themselves.

Because the zombies were so threatening I expected them to be the highlight of the film, driving the main source of tension. But the film spends a large chunk of time developing our group. They really do feel like a family, and some of the character moments in the second act are well realized. They help flesh out the characters without feeling out of place with what we’ve learned about everyone earlier.

John Murphy’s sound makes all of the above elements even better than they would be otherwise. He uses music to precisely accentuate the emotional undercurrent of the scene. The music is never just there for the sake of being there. For example, during one scene in the first act, a soft song plays in the background as the characters explore a certain area, but upon the discovery of a deceased couple, the music cuts out. Instead, the audience is left with silence- highlighting the somber and tragic nature of the scene, before the song comes back in- snapping us, and the character who discovered the scene back to real life. Furthermore, “In the House, In a Heartbeat”, is one of the the best horror/theme tracks I’ve ever heard and its use in the third act was chilling.

The ending of the movie feels rushed and thematically inconsistent, even if I personally thought it was a pleasant change of pace from what I expected. Certain character arcs feel like they come out of left field, but are still beautiful symbolically and thematically. The issue is that after setting up a series of expectations that would allow for the rushed characterization to feel symbolically meaningful, the film directly sidesteps what it just did in favor of something else. The end result, is a surprising ending that a lot of people might find unsatisfying. Personally, I liked it and I’ll get into that in the spoiler section, but I’m definitely going to look at the alternative endings to see if they change my view of the movie at all.

Report Card

TLDR28 Days Later, is a rich and tense zombie film that’ll have you asking questions about the depraved extents we go to survive. Thought it falters in the ending, it is tense and filled with a sense of isolation that lasts until the very last scene. Watch if you enjoy tense and well-paced action scenes, examinations/criticisms of anthropocentrism, or want to watch a beautifully shot and scored work of art.
Rating9.5/10
GradeA+

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Nosferatu

Theatrical Release Poster
Director(s)F. W. Murnau
Principal CastMax Schreck as Count Orlok
Gustav von Wangehnheim as Thomas Hutter
Greta Schroder as Ellen Hutter
Alexander Granach as Knock
Release Date1922
Language(s)Silent Film
Running Time94 minutes

F.W. Murnau’s vampire piece, Nosferatu, is the first silent film I’ve ever seen and left quite an impression on me. The film, an illegal adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, follows the same basic narrative with some changes in an attempt to avoid litigation. We follow Thomas Hutter( Gustav von Wangeheim), a real estate agent, who treks on to Transylvania, to complete a deal with the infamous, Count Orlok (Max Schreck). What follows is an artistic take on the human response to fear and our attempt to deal with those bumps in the night.

Visual design here is impeccable. The Count looks terrifying with his extended fingernails and shocking facial appearance. He radiates an intimidating sense of dread. His reactions and movements are animalistic- unnatural and evocative. When the camera focuses on Shreck’s face, it’s almost as if the Count is staring straight into the depths of our soul. His portrayal throughout the film is haunting and truly represents a terror unbound.

What makes Orlok so mesmerizing is his symbolic representation. Whenever he’s mentioned or shown , it’s in reference to rats and the plague. He is somehow more than just a vampire- he’s fear itself. The silent nature of the movie only amplifies this. Because the film has no dialogue, the characters are almost forced into a sense of helplessness- they can’t speak to the horror so instead the actors/actresses have to convey the feeling of dread through immaculate reactions. In particular, Greta Shroder’s portrayal of Ellen Hutter is heartfelt and disturbing. Seeing her reaction to the Count emphasizes the immensity of what he actually is.

Lighting is also used well, not only to indicate the passage of time, but to reinforce themes. Night is associated with Orlok- emphasizing our instinctive fear of the dark with the realm of the Nosferatu. Light is primarily associated with Ellen, highlighting her strange relation with the Count and serving as a beautiful example of foreshadowing.

The film should be viewed in mind of what was being attempted. No, it’s not scary in a traditional way. You won’t jump away in fright at Orlok and the acting might seem exaggerated, especially compared to films right now. Personally, some moments felt funnier to me. Having to read read highly stylized font also presented a unique set of challenges (pausing and squinting my eyes). But if you can get past those small hurdles and view the movie as a more abstract take on human emotion and our responses to fear and the unknown, you’ll walk away feeling haunted.

Report Card

TLDRNosferatu, is a mesmerizing and artistic take on fear and our response to the same. Great set design combined with just the right acting evokes a haunting presence.If you like German Expressionism, want to see an artistic and pure take on Dracula, or enjoy vampire movies check this one out. To anyone who enjoys film as an art form, this is definitely something you would appreciate.
Rating9.5/10
GradeA+

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: In the Mouth of Madness

Theatrical Release Poster

After finishing John Carpenter’s cult classic, In the Mouth of Madness, I was left genuinely speechless. Typing out this review is hard, because I can still feel the impact of what I’ve seen and the brilliance put on display. I genuinely don’t want to spoil anything so the review itself will be fairly sparse. I’ll have a more detailed piece about the movie when I get to watch it again and really get down into it.

The plot follows John Trent (Sam Neil) and Linda Styles, a who’s tasked with finding and retrieving Sutter Cane(Jürgen Prochnow ), a famous horror novelist and/or the manuscript to his latest novel. As they travel to his supposed location, their sense of reality becomes more warped and twisted, causing them and the audience to ask what’s genuinely going on.

Cinematography here really amplifies the paranoia and highlights the presence of dark and supernatural aspects. In particular, during a driving scene, the presence of pitch black helps set the scene. I felt unnerved, but more importantly my senses were heightened, paying even more attention to anything that cut the dark. The strange and uncomfortable nature of the visual design and special effects make the viewing experience not only nightmarish, but creates a cerebral experience. I was left constantly asking questions. To some that may be an issue- the film requires you give it time and take in what’s happening- the mystical and transgressive nature of it- without trying to rationalize it.

Sam Neil’s performance really helps sell the absurdity of the phenomena happening on the screen. He’s always calm and cool, exhibiting a sense of rationality and poise at at the disturbing events happening around him. This helps the audience stay guessing. The underlying skepticism makes us question the “true” reality of what’s going on which only helps the movie thematically hit us with it’s Lovecraftian vibes.

The last 15 minutes of the movie had me constantly going “My God”, “No way”, or some variation/combination of the same. I can count on one hand how many movies have made me feel that way.

Rating

TLDR: In the Mouth of Madness, is a thought provoking cerebral masterpiece, that will have you questioning your grasp on reality.

Final Rating: 10/10. 10’s are already rare. This is one of the few movies I’d rate higher if I could. I know I’ll go back and re-watch this movie- mainly because the third act necessitates it.

Watch this movie if you enjoy Lovecraft or you enjoy movies that force you to think- where the fear comes from the implication of what’s being suggested more than the (still scary) visual phenomena.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: The Silence of the Lambs

Theatrical Release Poster

“Believe me, you don’t want Hannibal Lecter inside of your head.” Though Dr. Chilton (Anthonly Heald) gave the warning to Clarice (Jodie Foster), it almost felt like a subtle warning to the viewer. The beauty of Jonathan Demme’s psychological-horror, The Silence of the Lambs, is that most of the scares in the movie come from the uncomfortable nature and presentation of the characters and their motivations. The film follows the FBI cadet, Clarice, as she attempts to get advice and help from Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), an incarcerated cannibal, to stop mass murderer, Buffalo Bill.

The movie plays on the viewers engagement and understanding of each of the characters and their respective motivations. During dialogue scenes, the camera usually fully focuses on whoever is talking with no distractions. This helps create the effect that the characters are talking to us and generates a deeper investment into the characters and the story.

Claire’s treatment also highlights the way our gazes constantly reinforce and generate certain expectations. Despite being intelligent and qualified, she is often treated as eye candy by almost every male she meets. This creates a voyeuristic juxtaposition which highlights and makes the horror more palpable. Because we relate to and understand the character more we feel her plight. But because we’re also outside viewers it becomes easier to watch the way society objectifies her. Simultaneously, a subject and an object- the identification made me feel unnerved by revealing my own biases while watching.

Scares here are less visceral and more subtle. Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins steal the show here and their lengthy dialogues are tense and informative. Even though they spend most of their time just talking to each other, the delivery and pacing, made the scenes feel far more “impactful” than traditional dialogue. Since the human psyche here is the battlefield, it makes sense that the action comes through best in the intellectual probing battle,as both characters try to feel each other out. Horror here mainly comes from thoughts and suggestions. There are some disturbing images through the movie, but they’re used sparingly to preserve impact and to highlight the psychological terror.

Rating

TLDR: The Silence of the Lambs is a terrifying romp through the human psyche. It forces us to confront our own biases and asks us uncomfortable questions about the way we act in this world.

Final Rating: 10/10. If you enjoy psychological movies or like shows like Mindhunter or Criminal Minds, then you’ll end up loving this. This might be one of the most unnerving movies I’ve ever watched and I know I’ll come back to it eventually.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: The Cabin in the Woods

Updated on 2/2/2020
Go to page 3 for my initial review/thoughts. Go to page 4 for my initial spoiler thoughts.

Theatrical release poster
Director(s)Drew Goddard
Principal CastKristen Connolly as Dana
Fran Kranz as Marty
Chris Hemsworth as Curt
Anna Hutchinson as Jules
Jesse Williams as Holden
Richard Jenkins as Gary
Bradley Whitford as Steve
Release Date2012
Running Time 95 minutes

Since I was re-watching my favorite horror movies for my best horror movies of the past decade list (to be released soon) , I decided to watch Cabin In the Woods one more time even though I saw it recently in my Halloween Marathon challenge. I’m genuinely happy I did because wow, did I come away with so much more than I initially saw. All the issues I had with the movie before were ideas that the movie directly criticizes and looking at the movie again with the knowledge of how it all ends proved a humbling experience. Goddard and Whedon have written one of the most ambitious and intelligent horror movies of all-time, let alone the last decade and I’ve never been so excited to have been wrong before.

I’ll keep the review spoiler free like before because this movie is best experienced knowing almost nothing going in. Even now, I think my previous review might have said too much, so I’d suggest only looking at it after watching the movie. It’ll make it even funnier. I have a lot of thoughts about the movie that I’ll write in the spoiler section here and in a piece I’ve been brewing up. Now that that’s out of the way, the movie follows a group of 5 friends: Dana, a shy nerdy girl. Typical final girl status; Marty, the fun stoner of the group who drops nuggets of wisdom; Curt, alpha but intelligent cool guy of the group; Holden, a book smart nice guy; Jules, the fun outgoing girl who’s in a relationship with Curt. Every character feels familiar at once because they’re similar to archetypes we’re all familiar with in horror, but are distinct enough to stand out. The attention to character details really shines through and makes reveals later in the movie more satisfying.

If you’re a fan of horror, you owe it to yourself to watch the movie just to see all the different homages. Now that I’ve watched more horror and expanded my palette (primarily due to this past October) I could recognize more of the mise en scene. There’s a lot of love present from the attention to detail to the way the plot unfolds. The movie deftly navigates multiple tropes, simultaneously using them, making fun of them, and being in something in addition to them. Every single actor/actress gives their all in their respective performance and the movie wouldn’t be the same without their dedication to the script. You can tell they’re having a lot of fun with the subtext at play and it makes every moment memorable. I was surprised at how much of the movie I remembered as I re-watched everything. It has a way of sticking with you because the entire experience is something wholly unique.

This is a meta- movie that requires a lot of self introspection. When I said in my opening paragraph that my re-watch was humbling, I meant that I realized that during my first viewing, I had been so caught up in perceived issues that I never considered the point of what was being said. I missed the forest for the trees. It’s not that I think my analysis of the themes before are wrong. It’s just that that my former analysis only operates one level removed from the movie and the movie goes a lot further than that. The beauty of The Cabin in the Woods is the more you think about what it says about you, the more you get out of it. It’s a movie that rewards familiarity with horror in general, but also the way that the horror market works. If you know your place in that market, you get a lot more from this movie than someone watching just for the sake of scares. The movie isn’t just meta. It’s meta-meta and it’s done for the sake of seriously critiquing the way horror is conceived of and consumed.

Thankfully, if you’re not into all of that “meta nonsense”, there’s a fun story that works purely at the level of function. Watching the tale of the group is still scary. It’s just scary in a horror comedy sense, more so than a typical slasher movie. There’s a lot of blood and gore. There are gruesome kills and serious moments. However, the nature of the movie might make those moments less scary than one would expect. Going into the movie with an open mind and no expectations and knowledge of it gives you the best chance of enjoying a fun and unique experience. I laughed myself to tears more than once and found myself genuinely admiring how diverse the layers of humor were.

Report Card

TLDRThe Cabin in the Woods is a movie that ages with experience and time. The more you think about your place in the horror industry and your own expectations, the more you appreciate the decisions Goddard and Whedon made. On the surface level there’s a lot of humorous scenes and gory fun to be had. If you’re looking for subtext or enjoy meta-content then this movie is for you. It’s unique in that it gives viewers exactly what they put into it. As a result it can work for a variety of audiences. If you enjoy horror at all, you owe it to yourself to check this out.
Rating10/10
GradeA+

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Theatrical Release Poster

When the narration started at the beginning of the movie I knew I was in for a rough ride. The expectation is set – you know what you’ll see will be heinous and grotesque- and then the camera goes from a series of camera flashes over a series of red disturbing images, before cutting away to a decomposing, grotesque cadaver sculpture. Through this immaculate progression, Tobe Hooper was able to set the pace and tone of the movie, while creating an initial shock to get the viewers ready for the slasher horror to come in his seminal independent movie, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

We follow a group a of young 20 something’s with no care in the world as they attempt to check on the graveyard of the titular character Sally’s (played by Marilyn Burns) grandfather. After they check and leave the station, they end up picking up a hitchhiker and everything starts to go downhill from there. The unsuspecting and happy-go-lucky group are forced to endure nightmarish events and visuals.

When everything goes to hell in a hand-basket, the camera really helps amplify the tension and induces a panicking feeling. The camera dips and turns, slants sideways, quickly zooms in, and constantly keeps the viewer on edge. It perfectly highlights the chaos and disorientation of later scenes, creating a morbid dread. The lighting is also incredibly interesting. A lot of the horror/scenes leading up to those moments have a lot of sunlight in them. The juxtaposition created with the grotesque and inhumane acts with a sunny background, really highlighted how nefarious and isolated the main environment is. It helps highlight the hopelessness, which along with some early foreshadowing, really makes some character fates tragic.

All of this is even more surprising, when you realize the movie, unlike its titles suggestion, isn’t especially gory. The violent scenes aren’t scary because there’s tons of blood and guts, or a lot of loud bumps. The movie is scary because it puts you in a paranoid and disturbed state of mind, and forces you to confront the way you’ve normalized and participated in “violent” actions.

The way the movie introduces it’s villain and their subsequent actions really drives the point home- humanity is capable of awful, violent things. From the way it parodies elements of family life, to its commentary on our relationship to food, the movie constantly makes it clear- humanity is its own worst enemy. What we see as depraved, is merely those undercurrents amplified. The movie honestly feels like it’s bringing to light the worst subconscious traits and tendencies we have as a species, and forcing us to really confront those things.

I felt scared and uncomfortable the whole time the film. From the opening scene to the very end, I never felt “safe.” That kind of feeling is rare and unsettling. It’s also really surprising because I saw Poltergeist earlier last week, and after realizing that Hooper directed both films, was in a positive shock. Some of the visual effects in that movie make a lot more sense now that I know it came from the same mind that made this nightmare. It also made me appreciate how well he, as a director, could capture different moments of horror.

Check out my spoiler thoughts where I go in more intensively on some themes and why the movie felt as unsettling as it did.

Rating

TLDR: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is an incredibly frightening and grotesque look at the undercurrent of our psyches.

Final Rating: 10/10. Chilling. Innovative. Revolutionary. If you want to feel scared, genuinely scared and off balance, watch this movie. People who like slashers or artistic takes on the dark undercurrents of humanity should also check it out.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Night of the Living Dead

Theatrical Release Poster

George Romero’s 1968 piece of art, Night of the Living Dead, tells a gripping tale of a group of survivors fighting against a horde of “living dead” zombies encroaching the house they’re hiding in. However, the real, more insidious enemy plaguing the group are their ideological divides. The film feels so much like a social commentary and, surprisingly, seems incredibly pertinent to the status quo.

The first scene into the bait-and-switch into the lead character was unexpected and genuinely surprising. We start off with a view of Barbra (played by Judith O’Dea) and her brother walking towards the cemetery to pay respects to their father. From there we go on an almost absurd journey, as Barbra tries to escape an undead chasing her. As she finds shelter, we get introduced to the real main character, Ben, played by Duane Jones. I’ve seen a lot of horror movies, and I can only count on one hand how many black leads I’ve ever seen. Especially thinking about the fact that this movie was released in 1968, Duane’s portrayal of a strong, steady, calm, and resourceful black man taking charge and holding off the undead is incredibly subversive.

Eventually as we’re introduced to the rest of the cast, we see the signs of ideological fracture among the group. Harry, played by Karl Hardman, serves as the chief foil to Ben and they both represent different outlooks on relation and responsibility. The clashes between them serve as a kind of commentary on the costs of survival and the extent of our obligation to our fellow people.

Romero is phenomenal at showing and not telling. Yes, there are exposition dumps woven throughout the movie, but the a lot of the information describes events that we, as the audience, have already seen. This helps create a really dynamic viewing experience which is only amplified by the use of slanted camera angles and amazing lighting choices. The shadows are really accentuated which ramps up the tension, but more importantly the constant use of fire and flames through the movies really pops and creates an impact. Special effect design is also great – the gore effects are visually disturbing and accentuate the depravity of the creatures enough to make them scary even now. However, despite using so many of the above to create a scary spectacle, never once, does the focus of the movie feel like it’s too “away” from the protagonists. The monsters are there – but they’re there to highlight issues and serve as catalysts – the focus is always clearly on the characters.

I would go into more but I don’t want to risk spoiling anything so I’ll end the spoiler free section here.

Rating

TLDR: Night of the Living Dead is a dark take on humanity’s response to an terrifying threat. Although it’s a zombie movie on the outside, on the inside it’s a fascinating journey through the darker canals of the human mind.

Final Rating: 9.5/10. If you’re someone who keeps up a lot with social issues and the news, watch this movie. It’s surprisingly though provoking now, five decades later. Anyone who likes psychological films or zombie films should also give this a go.


Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!