Tag Archives: Horror

Review: Doctor Sleep

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To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to this movie. I’ve never been someone who read any of Stephen King’s books growing up, so my only experience towards The Shining has been through Stanley Kubrick’s iconic movie. The way the movie ended was satisfying and emotionally resounding. As such, the idea of any sequel felt iffy, even if based on a book by the original author. On top of that, the initial trailers made me feel like the movie was just going to be a series of Shining references without real substance. Thankfully, Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of Doctor Sleep manages to stand on its own two feet and genuinely surprised me in its depth and presentation.

The story follows Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) as he attempts to get over his horrifying experience at the Overlook hotel. He’s a rugged adult now and the film takes time at the beginning to really flesh out what we know about him and his motivations. If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while now, you know that I’m okay with the dreaded “slow burn” movie. However others may find this first hour slow and uneventful. There’s no real inciting incident or immediate answers to the events that we witness. Instead, we’re forced to take time getting to know the primary cast and their motivations. This makes the more serious and tense moments in the second and third act that much more exciting. I felt scared because I cared about the characters and knew what they were thinking and going through. Character decisions do get more “interesting” in the third act, but they never brought me out of the moment during the watch so I didn’t think too much about them. Even now they don’t seem like major issues and don’t detract from the more important moments, but it may annoy some viewers.

Acting is great all around. Ewan McGregor really sells the trauma that motivates and influences Dan’s actions. He’s asked to be a man at wit’s end in one moment and then a confident leader in another. Likewise, Kyliegh Curan’s performance as Abra stone manages to cover a wide range of emotions. She’s confident and bad ass when she needs to be, but when she’s scared it’s understandable. As a child actor, I’m even more impressed and appreciated how well Curan and McGregor played off each other. Their relationship is really cute and helps give the story a lot of it’s emotional weight. However, any review of Doctor Sleep that didn’t mention Rebecca Ferguson’s performance as as the main antagonist, Rose the Hat, would be horribly remiss. She absolutely captures the camera whenever she shows up. She oozes charisma, intelligence, malice, but also a deep emotional attachment to her “family.” It makes her a nuanced villain. Yes, she’s evil – but she’s so fun and suave with it that you can’t help but appreciate the lengths of what she’s willing to do.

I appreciated Flanagan’s recast of the Shining characters. I watched the movie with a friend, who thought that the dis similarities between the new actors/actresses versus the original actors/actresses was distracting. I can understand why and this may be something that puts viewers off. However, I do think each of the recasts captures the “spirit” of the original character. I could believe each of the actors/actresses as their characters , even if they weren’t great at cloning their original actor/actress as that character. There is one scene in the third act where I thought the differences were a bit too strong, but it didn’t distract me too much. Honestly, considering the alternative – a ton of CGI – I’m glad the more practical option was used. If IT 2’s de-aging showed me anything, it’s that technology still has limits.

The movie is crisply shot like all of Flanagan’s previous works. Nothing really surprised me in terms of composition or sound. However, that is not to say that scenes do not look cool. The movie has a lot of action moments that absolutely looked stunning and felt like they were ripped out of an manga or comic book. If you’ve seen Naruto and ever wanted to see real genjutsu fights, this movie has them and they are gorgeous.

I did appreciate all the homages to the original film in both the shot composition and track design. The third act honestly felt like a huge gush of fan-service, which I personally enjoyed. It felt like a nod at fans of the original and I liked it for what it was. It didn’t feel like it took anything away from the plot of the movie at hand. I do think some of the references could’ve been taken away because the movie felt like it could have been a tad bit shorter, but I didn’t mind it.

Thematically the movie focuses on responsibility and the extent of what our obligations are to others. The question is made more interesting by the philosophical questions raised by the scope and use of the “shining” power. I was surprised by how much the movie was making me think about how I would react in similar situations. Although , I think that some of the threads are answered haphazardly, the way the movie ended had me smiling. Based on the discussions I’ve been having, I definitely want to read the source material for both films and go through the experience again. This adaptation deserves that.

Rating

TLDR: Doctor Sleep is a beautiful movie that manages to balance both horror and action. It features one of the best villains of 2019 and is a fun ride the moment psychic shenanigans start happening.

Final Rating: 9.4/10 . This is the best King adaptation of 2019 and there have been a lot. If you ever wondered what happened to Doc after the events of The Shining, you owe it to yourself to watch this movie.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Ringu

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To celebrate the end of Halloween and my 2019 Movie Marathon, I decided to close off with one of the most important horror movies to me, on a more personal and nostalgic level. When I saw that Arrow was releasing a Blu-ray restoration of this 1998 classic, I had to buy it and after watching it, I can say that it was worth each every penny. Everything looks crisp and serene and only made the impact of each and every scene more evocative.

Hideo Nakata’s direction and Hiroshi Takahashi’s screenplay serve to make their adaptation of Koji Suzuki’s original book, Ring, more mysterious and eerie. For those of you not familiar with the general plot, the movie follow a Reiko, a reporter researching a story about a cursed videotape that kills anyone who watches it within 7 days. As her investigation continues, she uncovers some disturbing facts, and has to race against time to figure out how to stop the curse.

This film is a great slow burn. The first scene drops the audience in the moment, immediately drawing them into the lore. The lighting in the scene sets the tone- an eerie one at that. As the scene progress, the tension grows, and even upon the end, the lack of resolution and presence of ambiguity kept me on edge. That’s something that’s true of most of the movie. It stays creepy. There’s something that doesn’t feel right as you watch it and on more than one occasion I turned around to look behind my shoulder.

The use of sound makes the journey to certain realizations more dramatic and unsettling. Large portions of the film are in silence, so it feels like anything can drop out. But then when there’s a fearful affect around, the music turns to match that. It never feels cheesy or over the top.

On top of this, the film never uses sound for jump scares. Every scare is “natural”. You see something unnerving on the screen and that’s that. You’re forced to process the phenomena and make sense of it. This helped keep the movie realistic, which is it’s strongest selling point. The characters act urgently because they only have so long to resolve the curse. It’s like a bomb scene in an action movie- but scarier because it’s unknown which neutralizes the normal certainty we have that the problem will actually get resolved. This in conjunction with how nuanced and fleshed out the character interactions are makes us actually care for what’s going on to everyone so their race becomes that much more tense.

One of my favorite parts about the movie is how subtle it is. A lot of dialogue scenes are shot with all relevant characters in frame. I’m used to the over the shoulder dialogue shot or the screen cutting between two characters and the film does do that, but it does so more sparingly. The focus is always on showing the characters interacting with each other. The way they position or respond to each other. A lot of the relationships between characters are never explicitly stated until past the half-way mark of the movie, but, because of excellent direction and writing, they feel rich and reveal a lot. As the film kept going on, I felt like I kept having an epiphany about how something else had just made sense- like a series of light-bulbs were going off – and it made the whole experience thematically more resonant to me.

I only have a few minor complaints about the movie. Because the movie doesn’t adapt the backstory of the book, there’s a ton of mystery and ambiguity regarding the reason for why things are happening. This is fine, and as evidenced by my reviews (ex: The Lighthouse) , I actually love that. However, in the case of this movie, the unresolved issues feel more important to resolve certain thematic points. There are hints at them throughout the film, but they don’t add up enough for my liking. There’s also a lot of exposition in the movie from Ryuji. I know there’s a lot that needs to be explained, but later scenes in the film proved that Nakata had creative ways to do the same, so I wish he did more of that.

Rating

TLDR: Ringu is provocative, beautiful, and eerie. Even after having seen the movie multiple times, I’m scared of my T.V. after a late night viewing.

Final Rating: 9.7/10. One of the best horror movies. If you like psychological films or like horror movies that use subtle well-crafted scares, this film is the best.

This review is also part of the Ring series- spoiler analysis will be posted in a longer article at a later point.


Review: Zombieland: Double Tap

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I’m going to be honest- when I first saw the trailer for this movie earlier on in the year, I thought it was an elaborate prank. A sequel to a movie over 10 years old? Sure, Zombieland was popular, but what would a sequel do for a story that seemed to have ended in a pleasing manner already? Thankfully, Ruben Fleischer’s directorial return in Zombieland: Double Tap, is a fun, over-the-top, and gory zom-com that doesn’t take itself too seriously and should be watched by any fan of the first movie.

The plot follows our main group and some bonus characters as they try and find Little Rock (Breslin) after she’s run off in a fit of adolescent rebellion. The story that follows is predictable for the most part and doesn’t take itself too seriously. To compensate for the lack of innovation, the movie just has fun with itself. The action scenes are bloody and entertaining. The film doubles down on the spectacle – new zombies, more deaths, and more blood. Most of the times this turns out well, and the absurdity is entertaining to watch even if it feels similar. Likewise, a lot of the comedy is based on references and parody specifically in relation to the first movie. Sometimes it comes off as forced or goes on for too long, but this is a rarer issue and didn’t derail my enjoyment too much.

For the most part the acting in this movie suits the tone and brought me back to the feeling I had in the first movie. Harrelson, Eisenberg, and Stone all come exude the characters we know and love. Harrelson still kicks ass but is a teddy bear on the inside. Eisenberg is still a nervous, awkward, rule follower trying to find stability. Stone is still smart-witted, sarcastic, and dealing with her emotions. Breslin feels less compelling as an angsty teen, but thankfully the bonus characters pick up the slack. Deutch’s portrayal of Madison stole the show for me. Almost every time her character was on screen I laughed or chuckled. Rosario Dawson also serves as a great counterbalance to Harrelson and is a fun, if somewhat gimmicky, character.

My issues from the movie stem from two places: the disjointed nature of progression, and the fact that the sequel is set 10 years later. Like I said earlier, the movie doesn’t have a lot of twists in it and feels like a rehash of story beats from the first movie. There are some changes to keep it interesting, but the progression from point to point feels forced. It almost feels like the group travels from one location to another to do a comedy bit or to have a zombie fight and then moves on. My second concern is my primary issue with the film. The ending of the original movie set in stone/pushed characters to certain developmental stages. Given that the main cast has lived with each other for 10 years, one would expect some more growth and change along these lines. Instead, the characters feel like they picked up a few months after the end of the last film. Some of their decisions, even if fun, feel lacking once put in context.

Rating

TLDR: Zombieland: Double Tap isn’t revolutionary, but what it doesn’t do in innovation, it makes up for in raunchy comedy and exciting action scenes. Some moments feel out of place from a larger narrative standpoint, but they can’t hold back the adventure at hand.

Final Rating: 7.5/10 . If you liked Zombieland, check this movie out. If you didn’t you won’t find anything here to change your mind. The movie also isn’t too scary, so if you want a fun comedy flick to watch this film more than fills the role.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: The Lighthouse

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Wow.

I’ve been excited for The Lighthouse since it’s release at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019. Robert Egger’s previous 2015 work, The Witch, is one of my favorite horror movies of the past decade so describing my state of mind as excited might actually be putting it a tad lightly. After watching the movie, I’m happy to say the movie not only delivered, but exceeded expectations. Bravo.

The plot follows Epharim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) , a young man who’s sent out to join and work under Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) as a wickie. From the start of the movie we can see friction between our two main leads. Pattinson is reserved and wants to keep to himself. Dafoe on the other hand is a authoritative, talkative, alcoholic who constantly seeks to get Pattinson to open up and join along. The rest of the plot is just the ensuing dialogue and the results of staying on an isolated island. Despite this, there was not a single moment I was bored or uninterested with what was going on. Every interaction, every visual, every little outburst kept my attention glued to the screen.

The movie constantly plays with your emotions . One moment might be ripe with violence and cause you to feel tense about what’s going to happen. Immediately, a humorous scene will follow creating a perverse laughter. There’s no way to predict what’s going to happen next which makes every moment feel like an experimental must watch. This is fueled by both the respective leads phenomenal acting. Pattinson goes through a wide range of emotion and watching his development from an aloft and quite wickie, to a man losing his sense of self and sanity is a treat. Dafoe is a perfect compliment to Pattinson and conveys a mythical authoritative figure while simultaneously taking pleasure in farting/fart jokes. Yes you read that right- the film even has fart jokes. I’ll take “Setups I’d never see in a horror movie” for 500, Alex. Once certain twists and reveals are set up, the film becomes even more nuanced and allows for different and nuanced takes from the audience. You could watch this with a group of friends and everyone could take something different from the plot.

Aesthetically the movie shoots everything out of the ballpark. Camera movement is fluid and never draws outward attention. Instead, it almost feels like it operates seamlessly in the background. Pan and tilt shots move geographically through the lighthouse, but based on twists in the movie might indicate something else entirely. The black and white nature of the movie makes the extreme shadows and radiance of the actual lighthouse that much more bright. It helps amplify the difference between them but also makes the film feel like it was filmed in the late 1890’s early 1900’s. Mark Korven’s score is also precise- it’s bombastic and loud when it needs to be, but it also plays a subtle calming role in other scenes. It only ever accentuates and never feels out of place.

Rating

TLDR: The Lighthouse is a beautiful, wholly original piece that’ll have you asking what’s real and what’s going on for a lot of it’s run time. It has fun with itself and it’s ambiguous and mystical nature lends it to multiple interpretations post viewing.

Final Rating: 10/10. This is the best movie I’ve seen so far in 2019. Eggers beautifully merges horror, comedy, and psychological introspection and delivers it in an aesthetically rich package. If you want to see one of the years best, or enjoy psychological movies that play with reality/religious mythos this movie is right up your alley.

There’s no spoiler section- I’ll be posting a more full analysis and a discussion of the movie with friends at later times.

Review: Hell House LLC

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I’m going to be honest- I’ve wanted to do a review for this movie the moment I watched it the first time 3 years ago, but I didn’t have this outlet yet. When I realized I had to do a bonus movie, I thought might as well re-watch and review this gem of a find. Stephen Cognetti’s found footage flick, Hell House LLC, is a well acted, tense, and genuinely eerie story.

The film is presented as a fake documentary and feels incredibly real. The news clip and YouTube videos both feel like the medium they’re attempting to emulate which creates an immersive “real life” feeling to everything that’s going on. The cuts between old footage and interviews foreshadows events but also creates this sense of tension because you know awful things are going to happen. The film takes advantage of this by delaying the points of discovery so when they do happen you’re still not quite ready for them.

Every member of the main cast feels real and well grounded. Their decisions make sense and their skepticism is justified given the way certain events play out. You can feel the tension between the group members and watching the schisms form and develop all while feeling natural. The group’s desperation feels almost palpable. In particular Gore Abrams performance as Paul creates a lot of moments of levity and makes the descent of the group into the awful situation more pronounced.

I enjoyed that the film presents a lot of subtle clues about certain character motivations and the nature of the supernatural elements of the movie. The looser “rules” and general associations with satanism are more than enough to create a creepy aesthetic I loved that there were no stupid jump scares. We see scary things from the corner of our eyes and that in end of itself is the scare. Thinking about what’s actually going on. I found myself constantly scanning the screen for changes from the previous scene to see if a new scare had presented itself.

Unfortunately, the end of the movie leaves some critical questions unanswered which stands out more than a normal movie because the sense of realism in editing and decision making had made a lot of sense before. Some of these decisions create cool scares, but I think they ruin some narrative integrity and make the movie feel less intelligent than it had been up till that point. Also the constant usage of the “glitch” effect got really annoying by the end of the movie and felt like unnecessary visual flair that distracted from what was actually going on.

Rating

TLDR: Hell House LLC is a deceptively fun found footage horror film, that stays believable and creepy for the majority of it’s run time. The scares feel natural and despite the bumpy ending, I was left satisfied at the end of the movie.

Final Rating: 8.2/10. If you like found footage movies or want to see a horror movie without an overuse of bad and false jump scares check this movie out.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Jaws

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The moment Jaws starts and we’re treated to John Williams dramatic and tension laced theme music, I knew I was in for a suspenseful ride. Steven Spielberg’s deceptively simple creature-feature, follows Chief Brody (Roy Scheider), Quint (Robert Shaw), and Matt (Richard Dreyfuss) as they go on a journey to capture a ravenous great white terrorizing Amity island.

Like I said earlier, the music in the movie is immaculate. Whenever the theme starts and we’re treated to the underwater camera shots of people dangling in the water, I felt a sense of dread. The music keeps the tension up and constantly kept me on edge. The best part however, was how varied the sound was during the entire film. The scary parts are filled with tension but there are adventurous and joyous sections that introduce some much needed levity in the movie. This helps keep each scary moment fresh and surprising.

Spielberg went through great lengths to build up each of the characters. Chief Brody is a man of the law who wants to do the right thing but is tied down by the bureaucratic rules of Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton). He’s beholden to the executive’s control and as such innocent people end up suffering. Matt is like the technocratic elite. He’s rich, fully reliant on brand new technology, and is sure of his own thoughts. Quint is a working class man- eccentric and stuck in his ways. The characters and their motivations are written in a complex and nuanced way and allow for multiple readings. As their interactions play out, we can see how their ideological views impact their solutions to the situation. However, the biggest impact of this well written character development, is that it makes the horrifying scenes more emotionally resonant, because I grew to actually enjoy the characters and wanted them to survive.

I was scared for most of the movie. The moment I saw the first gruesome shark kill and the remains of the body, I felt scared every time I saw a character enter the water. Nobody ever feels safe and anytime someone was in the water I immediately started shaking as the all too familiar theme started playing in the background. Because the shark isn’t shown that often it never feels fake. Even though this movie is over 4 decades old it feels realistic and believable. The blood and gore is gruesome and made my stomach churn as I saw it. It’s used sparingly and to great effect.

Rating

TLDR: Jaws is a great multi-genre horror film that tackles deep and complex issues through wonderfully written characters and well timed suspenseful scares. Though the movie was over 2 hours long I didn’t feel it’s length and was enthralled for the entirety of the run time.

Final Rating: 10/10. I’m scared of going into the ocean now which means the movie did more than a good job of terrifying me. If you like adventures, thrillers, or creature features then you need to watch this movie.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: The Others

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From the opening shot of The Others, I could tell that Alejandro Amenabar had a very specific aesthetic and motif he wanted to play around with. The religious exposition is directly followed by a blood curling scream from Nicole Kidman as Grace and the mood is set. The story follows Grace as she hires a new set of servants to help taker care of her house and her children who suffer from a deathly photo-sensitivity affliction. As the curtains start closing the tension starts rising as the supernatural mystery plays out.

The film nails it’s aesthetic in every single scene. The lighting creates an murky feeling. There’s always a sense that something unknown is lingering with Grace and the other residents. The scenery outside is constantly filled with fog. Everyone feels cut off and the residents feel isolated from the outside world. The trapped feeling highlights the paranoid feeling that comes from constant feeling that intruders are present and about. This helps the movie feel scary without ever relying on gimmicks that plague a lot of the horror movies coming out now. There’s no gore. There’s no false jump scares. There’s just tension that’s created from the eerie and unknown atmosphere.

Kidman’s acting is on point and she transitions perfectly from manic and paranoid to a religious disciplinarian. Never once do her actions feel out of place and her expressions of pain keep an emotional weight in the movie that help give it very much needed substance. The child actors are also decent in the movie. Their performances never feel too out of place and make more sense as we learn more about how they’ve been raised and lived their lives.

This leads to the main problem with the movie- some of the bigger twists are certainly surprising and are subtly built up in terms of clues, but others feel out of place and disjointed. The film is aesthetically beautiful which helps mask the hollowness of certain story points. At times it feels like the beauty of the film is done to distract us from those flaws and it works for the most part, but by the end of the movie I was left unsatisfied with the way certain key questions were left.

Rating

TLDR: The Others is an aesthetically pleasing, suspenseful, ghost mystery. While it’s provocative in it’s Gothic presentation, certain story beats feel hollow and rushed.

Final Rating: 8.4/10. If you enjoy moody horror pieces that focus more on suspense and feeling, this movie should be right up your alley.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!