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Review: Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

Director(s)Cathy Yan
Principal CastMargot Robbie as Harley Quinn
Ewan McGregor as Roman Sionis/Black Mask
Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Dinah/Black Canary
Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Helena/Huntress
Rosie Perez as Renee
Ella Jay Basco as Cassandra
Release Date2020
Language(s)English
Running Time109 minutes

They should’ve just called this movie Harley Quinn (and the slight inclusion of the Birds of Prey) because that’s what this movie felt like. Despite great production value, neat action sequences, and some fairly good performances from Robbie and McGregor, Birds of Prey feels like a sloppy amalgamation of story ideas and plots hamfisted into a movie that feels empty at its core. If you enjoy Robbie’s performance of Harley Quinn in the current DCEU, this movie should hit some of the right notes, but for anyone hoping for more you’re sure to be left feeling a bit disappointed.

The story picks up some time after Suicide Squad, with the Joker and Harley breaking up. The story is narrated by Harley (to interesting effect) and chronicles her tale of trying to survive in a world without her beau or the protection his sphere of influence granted her. The plot is fairly simple and there are no big twists or turns. There are some fun action sequences here and there and Robbie narrates the movie in an Deadpool – esque way, breaking the fourth wall whenever she feels the need. It gives the movie some much needed character and helps cover up a lot of the more obvious narrative flaws.

The movie is really pretty and the color palettes used are vibrant and pop off the screen. Harley has a scene early on that’s bursting with color. I had a blast watching it and feel like it would be a ton of fun to watch in IMAX or 4k. Action sequences are over the top and make full use of the comic nature of the universe. For example in one scene , Harley bounces a bat off a wall like a boomerang to hit an unsuspecting foe. Moments like these showcase the potential at play and I wish the movie had more of this.

Each of the other “Birds of Prey” are incorporated into the story with varying degrees of success. Because the movie takes place from Harley’s point of view, it’s hard to understand how and why certain sequences are even known to her but that’s besides the point. As Harley introduces each member of the titular squad, you can tell there’s something off. Their inclusions in the story feel weak at best and awkward at worst, as they magically just keep finding themselves all closer to the heart of Black Mask’s scheme. Huntress gets shafted the most and her inclusion into the larger narrative feels like an afterthought. Furthermore, no other character has a genuine change of arc besides Harley, so it makes caring about their eventual team up hard to do.

McGregor is great as the main villain and brings his full energy to the role. Black Mask is narcissistic and fueled with over confidence. Watching him react to fickle circumstances demonstrates how fractured and on the edge he is. Unfortunately, like most of the Birds of Prey, McGregor is rarely given a chance to shine, so his cruelty and manic personality only feel comical and not threatening. I wish we really got to see him fully embrace his dark side and be more present. If you’re going to have this level of talent might as well make use of it.

The main issue with the movie is it doesn’t know what it wants to be or do. The movie wants to be feminist and tries to channel in some faux female energy by having “bad ass” female characters, but the characters never work because their powers and personalities never feel justified or developed enough to persuade you to care about them. The movie shows us sexist microaggressions and a comically hyper masculine bad guy almost as if to show us that it’s woke and against the masculine world order, but it doesn’t ever justify that take or develop it.

The movie is rated R, but I rarely felt like the rating was justified. There’s not a lot of violence , and most of it feels overly comical when it does happen. There’s a serious tonal imbalance between the tension and comedy. The movie wants to make you nervous or scared that something will happen, but constantly makes wisecracks or goes to over the top too ever let that feeling set in. The way that the more serious moments are edited also makes them funny, and I laughed more than once at the way certain bits of dialogue played out. I wish the movie either pulled a full Deadpool and ramped up the comedic violence and played more things for jokes, or toned back the comedy and tried to inject a real sense of high stakes pressure.

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TLDRBirds of Prey feels like a re skin of your typical superhero team-up movie, this time featuring Harley Quinn with some small moments from the other members of the titular gang. The production value is nice and the action scenes are enough fun to watch, but the story, tone, and theme all feel underdeveloped and all over the place. I’d only reccomend watching if you’re a hardcore DC fan or love Margot Robbie’s interpretation of Harley Quinn. Hopefully, she gets a movie that really demonstrates what she can do with the character. One can dream.
Rating6.2/10
Grade D

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Unsane

Director(s)Steven Soderbergh
Principal CastClaire Foy as Sawyer Valentini
Joshua Leonard as David
Jay Pharoah as Nate
Amy Irving as Angelina Valentini
Juno Temple as Violet
Release Date 2018
Language(s)English
Running Time98 minutes

This is a movie that deserves to be talked about in the same vein as Get Out when it comes to well done social-commentary horror movies. While Peele’s debut dealt with race, Soderbergh’s story tackles the mental health industry, the #MeToo movement, incel culture, and the effects of a society that amps up paranoia while blaming you for feeling scared. Watching these themes intersect is what makes the movie so distinct and memorable.

The story follows Sawyer Valenti, a women trying to get her life back on track after a harrowing series of run-ins with a serial stalker. After she’s committed to a mental facility, she finds herself trying to find a way out and to deal with the possibility that her stalker is in the institution with her. Soderbergh does a great job at portraying the horrors of being a women in the world. Sawyer deals with snide remarks at the workplace, lack of respect during cordial interactions, constant gaslighting, and a severe lack of respect. She’s simultaneously taught to handle situations with a certain fear and sense of uneasiness and is disrespected for those qualities. It’s frustrating to watch her constantly undermined and thwarted by a system that seems to make it impossible for her to ever win.

What makes the story so much more interesting is the presence of well-rounded and interesting side characters. Angelina is Sawyer’s fierce mother and is on her daughter’s side, trying to help her out. Nate is a resourceful and interesting kind-of friend on the side. Watching him interact with and teach Sawyer the rules of the land is fun, and their burgeoning friendship is pulled off convincingly. The other patients at the facility are handled with respect. This isn’t a mental patients scary movie. In fact, the movie actively argues the opposite. It’s clear that Soderbergh thinks that the mental health industry is almost irredeemable and actively serves to trap everyday people in a system to suck them dry of their money. The patients reflect this. They’re all “off” but they’re not crazy. They’re social, have codes of conduct, and want to interact.

Every major performance is also great. Foy understands the motivations that drive her character and makes her sometimes questionable actions feel believable. The fear, the desperation, the indignation, the sheer lack of energy at having to deal with any more nonsense. You can feel her emotions through the way she moves her body across the screen. Pharoah is amazing in his side role and adds a lot of levity to the otherwise tense movie. He plays well off Foy and the scenes they have talking to each other are among my favorite as a result.

So if you haven’t heard already, this movie was shot exclusively on an iPhone 7 Plus. Soderbergh has talked a lot about how he’s astounded with the results of the movie. I went in to the movie because I heard it was only shot on a cell phone and I was curious at how it’d turn out. I think Soderbergh’s experiment proved mixed results. There are a lot of great shots and sequences, but they never feel as powerful as they should because the iPhone can’t capture the light at all. There’s very little contrast in dark scenes, so you almost start praying for more stuff to occur in the light, just so you know for sure what’s happening. The movie looks a lot more grimy and worn out. I personally liked it, because I thought it fight with the movie and psyche of the characters but if you want something that looks clean, look elsewhere. I didn’t think the movie looked bad per say. I just think that this movie deserved better because of how good the story and characters are.

Plot wise, I don’t share a lot of the same criticisms I’ve seen a lot of other reviews bring up. I think a lot of the sequences in the movie are justified or are done for very distinctive purposes. That being said, there’s only two plot elements that comes up in the third act that feel a bit too absurd. I thought the movie was going to be more nuanced/ambiguous with one of these ideas and it isn’t which made me pretty sad. It’s not that the movie is bad , but it feels like what could’ve been a genuine horror masterpiece is only pretty good instead. However, I can honestly say watching this inspired me. If something this great can be made with an iPhone camera, then there’s only room for improvement. Any of us can make a movie, and I applaud a bigger director for doing this. (Yes I know Tangerine exists. I watched it later and I highly recommend it for people who want to see the true places the medium can go).

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TLDRUnsane is a horror movie about the everyday scenarios women have to go through and does a great job at fairly demonstrating that struggle. The film’s nuanced takes on incel culture, #MeToo tenets, and the mental health industry make it one of the most interesting movies of recent times. Thought it stumbles in some places, I can’t help but appreciate the effort.

The movie being shot on an iPhone 7 may upset some people. The movie is grainy and lighting isn’t that great, but you won’t notice as much when you’re lost in the story.
Rating9.1/10
Grade A

I have a more in depth piece about this coming soon, so check back later for a spoiler discussion.

Review: It

Director(s)Andy Muschietti
Principal CastBill Skarsgard as It/Pennywise
Jaeden Lieberher as Bill
Sophia Lillis as Beverly
Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben
Finn Wolfhard as Richie
Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie
Wyatt Oleff as Stanley
Chosen Jacobs as Mike
Nicholas Hamilton as Henry
Release Date2017
Language(s)English
Running Time 135 minutes

A GOOD horror movie I could go see with my friends. That’s the sentiment I’d use to best describe my relation to It. After a few years without a solid mainstream hit like The Conjuring and Insidious , I was worried I’d never get to see a horror movie with my friends again. If you’ve read my reviews you know I have a taste for weird art-house movies. It’s a sentiment my friends usually don’t share, so most of my horror experiences are solo adventures. Whenever a horror movie is good and lends itself to being accepted by a wider audience, I take notice. It is exactly that kind of movie. This adaptation of King’s highly regarded novel blends genuine horror with an interesting one of a kind story to great effect. The movie simultaneously vivid for enough for fans who like more visual scares, but has enough subtext to keep the annoying self-proclaimed cinephile friend you have (like me) occupied.

The story follows the Losers club, a group of 7 kids living in Derry,Maine , who are forced to confront the shape-shifting entity, It. It, normally taking the form of Pennywise the clown, constantly morphs into the children’s worst fears, so as they find a way to deal with the supernatural presence they’re forced to confront their fears and doubts in the open. It’s a beautiful melding of coming-of-age and supernatural horror that takes relatable fears a lot of us have had and amplifies them to the nth degree. Having It’s manifestations be related to the characters at such an intimate level also keeps the subsequent scares memorable and more terrifying. Knowing there’s a malevolent entity that’s enjoying torturing you and your friends, waiting to eat you at the end of all of it would make any adult cry, let alone a middle school kid who’s just at the beginning of their introspective journey.

This is made all the better by how well (almost) each of the Losers is characterized and developed. Bill, the de-facto leader of the group is traumatized after losing his brother to It and feels a deep sense of personal guilty and responsibility to rectify the situation. Beverly, the ostracized and slut-shamed girl at school, finds a new home in the group as they give her a place to feel safe. Ben’s the nerd of the group and always has intel on what’s going on. Richie is the smart ass, constantly making light of the situation and providing the comic relief. Eddie, is a germaphobe with a serious case of smothering mother. Stanley is the scaredy cat of group and Mike is the home-schooled kid who also happens to be one of the only black people in Derry. Every performance is top notch and the characters genuinely feel like kids who are out and about trying to figure out what’s going on. They all feel like real kids with real problems going through a horrifying situation that they can’t control. Watching them grow and develop in the adversity is both exciting because of the nature of the dangers that await the group, and touching because of the way the situation reminded me of my childhood.

For the most part each character is given an appropriate time to develop. Seeing them as individuals and in a larger group for extended periods of time makes noticing the subtleties of their friendship more rewarding. The group doesn’t start off singing Hakuna Matata because it’s made up of multiple clusters of friends that intersect with common points of contact. Everyone has a different relationship with everyone else so they have to learn how to navigate their broader social environment. All that connects the group is their shared condition as outcasts. The combination of all the characteristics under one moniker, combined with the easily relatable themes, makes getting invested in the story easy. Hell, at some point in my life, I would have found myself in the Losers club and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

The most surprising aspect of the movie to me is just how scary Pennywise comes off as. It’s not just the special effects or the fact that the scares are intimately connected to the characters.It’s (no pun intended) the man under the makeup – Bill Skarsgaard. He absolutely sells Pennywise’s delight in torturing the children with how enthusiastically he throws himself in rushing at them or making fun of them with a litany of sarcastic jabs. He’s childlike in the way he laughs at his own jokes or the way he relishes in his “pranks”. It comes off as a perversion of innocence, which is exactly the point. Definitely one of the best horror villains and performances of the past decade.

Unfortunately, by making the movie more mainstream, especially in the use of cheap jump scare noises, the horror feel a lot less memorable or mesmerizing. It is scary and watching the creature torment the children as their worst possible fears is scary enough. I know jump scares are popular, and I’m not saying the movie needed to get rid of all of them, but I think it should’ve taken a more controlled approach to maximize the effect they have. Some of the It vs Loser sequences are genuinely unique and fun to watch. It’s a shame that they don’t get to shine on their own and get drowned out by a loud noise telling you to be scared. The third act also diminishes the tension of scare sequences by injecting random bits of humor that really ruined the tension that had been building up to then.

Certain characters get little to no love development wise and it makes them stick out like sore thumbs when compared to the excellent moments everyone else gets. I’m okay with the bully characters having less time to shine because the main cast is so large, but Mike got done dirty. I feel like he barely has time to grow and gel with the group and I think the interactions between him and the others could have been more interesting. The movie hints that there’s a racial dynamic at play, but it’s only ever mentioned by the bully and doesn’t feel like it’s as incorporated into the story. It’s a lot of missed potential that makes his inclusion feel odd.

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TLDRIt manages to be unique while being mainstream enough to watch with friends. The clever coming-of-age story is relatable to everyone who ever grew up afraid of something, and the characters and their respective tribulations will get you invested in the story, no matter how wonky some events play out. Some themes and characters aren’t properly developed which hold the movie back from being a true masterpiece, but it’s a hell of a fun time regardless.
Rating9.3/10
GradeA

Review: Let Me In

Director(s)Matt Reeves
Principal CastChloe Grace Moretz as Abby
Kodi Smit-McPhee as Owen
Richard Jenkins as Thomas
Release Date2010
Language(s)English
Running Time 116 minutes

This is a hard movie for me to rate and I’ve struggled with coming up with a number for a long time. I initially saw the movie in 2011 and thought it was amazing. I was completely enamored and couldn’t stop thinking about it. It got me reading the Wikipedia page to find more information ,and I saw that it was a remake of a Swedish movie called Let the Right One In, which itself is based on a novel of the same name. I thought it’d be fun to see the original movie and read the book to see how the Reeves version compared. The process left me in a strange position. While the Reeves version is stellar in composition, it comes off feeling like a replica of the original movie with an English dub. There are slight changes in setting, the starting point the movie leaps off from, and the way the theme of growing up is handled, but it’s not enough to make the movie feel like something wholly unique (like Evil Dead vs The Evil Dead) .

For those of you unacquainted with the book or 2008 movie, the story follows an ostracized young child, Owen, who’s struggling to find his place in life. He’s bullied at school and can’t really relate the adults around him. Eventually a young “girl”, Abby, moves in next door. Unbeknownst to Owen, Abby’s actually a vampire. As the two interact more often, a budding friendship is born, and their lives are radically changed. Given that information, the opening shot of the movie feels completely out of place with audience expectations. It starts in on a disfigured individual who jumps to his death from a hospital building, leaving behind a note that says “I’m sorry Abby.” This initial scene sets the tone for the rest of the movie and tinges the experience with a more sinister sense of mystery. Who’s the person , how did they end up there, and why were they apologizing? It gives the movie a lot of action before the slower paced story kicks in and is one of the unique things Reeves did to spice up his adaptation.

Traditionally, coming-of-age stories are about trying to find your path and footing in the world. The unpredictable chaos of everything combined with hyper-active hormones leads to a sense of confusion and wonder. Trying to determine how characters will progress becomes part of the fun. This movie subverts that expectation and is another original Reeves move. Adults are reduced to mere outlines of human interaction. Owen is rarely shown interacting with them and when he does those moments are often reduced to trite conversations with little weight. Hell, in a move I really like, Reeves never shows Owen’s mom’s face. The absence of any positive adult influence makes the progression of Owens story easy to predict, so if you like trying to guess or interpret those types of the things, you may feel like the movie tells you too much. However, if you accept the conclusion, the movie takes on this cool surreal feeling. It’s almost poetic watching the foregone conclusion slowly play out.

Smit-McPhee and Moretz knock it out of the park and give the movie a real heart and spirit. Their chemistry as friends is genuinely touching to watch and reminded me of a lot of moments in my childhood. You can see them warm up to each other, and because the movie takes its time, the subsequent places they go feel emotionally satisfying. Smit-McPhee really hits the nail on the head of bullied kid who desperately wants to feel like he has agency again. He manages to be creepy but sympathetic. You want him to find a path to happiness, even if he gives you the heebie jeebies with his weird masculine inducing rituals. Moretz absolutely nails child vampire. She’s innocent, but she’s also horrifying. She asks basic questions like “What’s a girlfriend?” but then has to consume other people’s blood to survive. None of these shifts feel out of character and it keeps Abby feeling complex.

Just because this is a romance with cute moments of friendship doesn’t mean it’s sunshine and daisies all the time. People are brutally murdered and their blood canvasses the white snow. The contrast is stunning and makes it clear that violence pervades our everyday existence. It can come from anywhere and doesn’t line up with what we think. The visual effects team does a great job at showing the horrors of vampire life by demonstrating the consequences of breaking vampire rules and by making the kill sequences feel deliberately violent. You can feel the pain respective character’s go through. Out of the two movies, I think this one is more visceral in its scares, so if that’s something you’re looking for you should check this out.

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TLDREven if Let Me In feels a little too derivative of its 2008 Swedish counterpart, its worth giving a watch if you’re looking for a coming-of-age romance with a horror twist. It’s equal parts heartwarming and horrifying and has some of the best child performances I’ve ever seen. I may rag on the movie for feeling like a clone of the original, but that’s not a bad thing. It means it has a great story, memorable characters, poignant and relevant themes, and great horror sequences. Reeves definitely refines and polishes some of these elements and I appreciate him making the movie more accessible to a widespread audience. I just wish that the movie felt more distinct .
Rating9.4/10
GradeA

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: CAM

Director(s)Daniel Goldhaber
Principal CastMadeline Brewer as Alice Ackerman/Lola_Lola
Patch Darragh as Arnold/TinkerBoy
Michael Dempsey as Barney
Release Date 2018
Language(s)English
Running Time95 minutes

I”ll be the first to admit that I thought this movie would be a crapshoot going in. I didn’t see any reviews or anything. I just thought the description sounded interesting enough to warrant a watch . A cam girl psychological horror? Even if it wasn’t that great at least it’d be something new. Man oh man, did I underestimate what I was getting into. From the very first scene, Goldhaber lets you know that this isn’t some trendy social media cash grab movie like Friend Request. Instead it’s a deep look into the horrors of internet privacy and security and the ways we’ve become almost defined by our digital personas.

The movie follows Alice Ackerman, more popularly known by her online persona, Lola_Lola. She’s a camstar who’s been rising through the ranks and is finally on the cusp of making the top 50 most popular content creators. However, just as things start to look promising, Alice notices that her account has been hacked by a girl who looks exactly like her. This clone “Lola” acts,looks, and feels the part and Alice is forced to navigate a harrowing situation with little to no support given the nature of the occupation. The set up is even scarier when you take into account the rise of things like deep fake technology. The movie isn’t based on real events, but I wouldn’t be so sure of that in a decade or two.

This is a movie that treats its subject matter with serious respect. The camgirls that are portrayed are real human beings. They’re smart and treat their source of income like any other working adult would do. Screenplay author Isa Mazzei needs to be commended for creating a nuanced, balanced look into the lives of a group that’s constantly judged but never given a fair shake at presenting their own stories. Likewise, every single person who knows of Alice and her occupation treats her differently. Yes, there’s slut shaming and vicious judgement, but there’s also acceptance and solidarity. It keeps the movie from feeling preachy, and helps focus attention on the plot, so the themes come off natural.

The discussion at hand is broad and touches on a lot of different topics that come together in interesting and horrifying ways. After Alice has her channel taken, she attempts to use different legal channels but never receives a proper response. It’s reflective of the way the law and corporations receive social buy in under the idea that regulative channels will properly do their job, but if people are willing to keep in line with sub-par service, then what’s the point of fixing anything? Interests are transient and there’s a quick fix for any kind of entertainment if you’re willing to look for it and have the capital to ensure that it happens the way you want. You don’t need to fix the system. You just need money to navigate it.

This idea is only expanded by the streamer/anonymous chatroom setting the story takes place in. Yes anonymity and ease of streaming allows content creators to reach out to their expanding audiences more often, but it comes at the cost of putting oneself out there. People give money to those do what they want, and given the ability of anyone to be a content creator, newer entrants have to constantly one up themselves and their peers. You never know who’s giving you the money or why they’re doing it. The audience never has to share and the information asymmetry can lead to some pretty horrendous situations. In some cases, it means receiving money to participate in awful activities. When a creator gives in, the result generates more depraved behavior because suddenly everything has a relative price point. It’s a vicious feed back loop that culminates in the virtual erasure of people. Cam girls aren’t people . They’re consumable objects . It’s just a question of whether or not the audience wants to hurt and/or sexualize them.

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TLDRCAM is a dark look into the tumultuous, and highly dangerous lives of cam girls. In a world where relevance equals money and money equals livelihood, people are forced constantly escalate their behavior to make ends meet. In the cam girl industry, that escalation comes with serious, sometimes horrifying costs. If you’re looking for a horror movie that effectively uses social media at the heart of its scares, look no further than CAM. It’s one of the best.
Rating9.1/10
Grade A

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Gerald's Game

Director(s)Mike Flanagan
Principal CastCarla Gugino as Jessica
Chiara Aurelia as Young Jessica
Bruce Greenwood as Gerald
Henry Thomas as Tom
Kate Siegel as Sally
Carel Struycken as Moonlight Man
Release Date 2017
Language(s)English
Running Time103 minutes

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- Mike Flanagan is one of the best horror directors in the game right now and this adaptation is the some of the best proof. Gerald’s Game is one of the few King stories I’ve read so when I saw Flangan was directing, I was intrigued in seeing how he’d adapt the unconventional narrative style the story uses. Flanagan and Jeff Howard both deserve applause for synthesizing the ideas of the novel in a suspenseful and easy to digest way.

The story follows a couple, Gerald and Jessica, as they go off on a trip to rekindle the spark in their marriage. After handcuffing Jessica to the bed and downing a few viagra, Gerald tries to initiate some rape-play which Jessica finds too disturbing to continue anymore. After she rejects his advances, he dies suddenly of a heart attack and she finds herself trapped in an abandoned house, handcuffed to a bed, and completely alone. The initial build-up to all of this is handled with an great eye for detail. Issues that come to plague Jessica in her struggle to survive are set up early on, so subsequent reveals and twists feel sweet and satisfying.

The story primarily takes place through a series of conversations Jessica has with projections of her subconscious. Representations of herself, her late husband, traumatic memories of her family and the situation that they placed her in, and nightmare scenarios plague her as she attempts to make out what’s real and what’s relevant to keeping her alive. As Jessica struggles to survive, she’s forced to navigate her trauma and the way she’s attempted to handle it throughout her life. Her story goes to dark places and if is presented with the respect and seriousness it deserves. There are hard scenes to watch, but they’re never exploitative or voyeuristic. They exist to remind you of the uncomfortable truth, but aren’t visceral or provocative outside of that. The deplorable nature of the act is horrifying enough.

A lot of the movie rides on Carla Gugino’s performance. She’s the protagonist and has to play a women who goes through some heartbreaking and emotionally complex realizations about herself and the way she’s dealt with deep seated trauma. Watching the layers of herself slowly fade away to the core of who she is is amazing, and you can feel the intensity of her desire to get to heart of what ails her. Gugino also talks to herself for most of the movie, but breathes life into the conversation so you always feel like something’s going on. The entire movie is her talking to projections of her subconscious, one of the avatars being her subconcious personified as a clone of herself. She manages to be just as convincing talking to herself ( aka nothing in the room) as she does when she talks to Gerald. It’s a testament to how well she threw herself into the role.

I love this movie because I never thought it would be something that could be adapted (a fairly common sentiment). The way that the ideas and discussions are streamlined into easy to follow story-lines gives the movie a more complete and tight feeling. Rarely do I like a movie for than a book, but this is one of those rare exceptions. The adaptation gives Jessica far more agency, which is important because the heart of the movie is learning how to deal with trauma. More agency means more ability to introspectively act and engage in a more thorough catharsis. Her journey through her trauma is moving and never comes at the cost of the more exciting elements of the story. The hard to imagine gory scene from the novel makes its way here and is just as hard to watch. It all just comes to demonstrate how well the adaptation understood the source material and the strengths of a film over a book. It only takes what it needs and does its best to cover the sentiments of what it doesn’t directly copy over.

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TLDRGerald’s Game is one of the best King adaptations to date. It’s a touching tale about overcoming trauma and reclaiming agency. There are certainly visceral scares, but the real horror comes from understanding of the way we try and deal with our pain.
Rating9.5/10
Grade A+

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Evil Dead

Director(s)Fede Alvarez
Principal CastJane Levy as Mia Allen
Shiloh Fernandez as David Allen
Lou Taylor Pucci as Eric
Release Date2013
Language(s)English
Running Time 92 minutes

Normally, when a horror fan hears the word “remake” they feel a deep sense of fear. Most horror remakes usually suck and are made as cash grabs that prey on nostalgia. They usually have a weak plot or one that’s functionally the same as the original with none of the soul or passion behind it. Certain iconic scenes will be redone as a moment of fan-service, but nothing of substance will be added to differentiate the movie outside of this fan-service. Outside of a few rare instances (like The Ring as an adaptation of Ringu) , horror remakes are doomed to fail because they refuse to innovate or add their own mark on the franchise. Thankfully for The Evil Dead fans, Fede Alvarez isn’t about that, and has managed to create a familiar but wholly unique Evil Dead origin story.

The film literally opens with misdirection, framing shots and moments to jog fan memories. You think you know what’s going to happen, but then it’s something completely different. Over the top violence, linguistic jabs, emotional turmoil. The first five minutes is like a small demonstration of what’s to come.The story picks up a while later, as a group of friends goes up to the iconic cabin the woods. Their purpose? To help their friend, Mia, get over her problematic drug addiction. The group is comprised of Mia, her estranged brother David, their eccentric friend Paul, David’s girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), and the self-appointed leader of the healing expedition,Olivia (Jessica Lucas).

The set up adds a nice motivation for the trip. All the characters are going to help their friend deal with a life-threatening issue. When a user goes cold turkey they become more paranoid, frantic, desperate, and afraid. The set-up would make any sign of possession easy to disregard as just as an effect of rehabilitation. The stakes are set early on , so the groups decision to stick out terrifying situations makes sense. It’s a clever premise that’s utilized properly.

However, unlike the original movie, this soft reboot struggles at establishing memorable moments for its characters, outside of just really gory sequences. The only interesting characters are the siblings because they get the lion’s share of characteristics and backstory. Their estrangement gives the relationship a sense of mystery which keeps us invested in figuring out what really happened between them. The most memorable sequences in the movie involve them because they’re the emotional core of the movie. They both have reasons to care about and be cautious of each other and the movie demonstrates that nuance properly. Granted, it’s not like I hated the other characters. I did like Pucci’s performance as Eric, but the story only starts to make use of his ability to be manic in the third act. Outside of that, every character feels like they exist just to be abused and disposed of by the script/ the ghosts that get summoned by the Necronomicon.

Speaking of which, the Necronomicon looks amazing and I love how much fun the team had in making and styling it. From the protective sealing around it, to the scrawled messages in it begging users not to use it, the book evokes a different sense of dread. In the original , the text is indecipherable/in another language , but here there are very clear visual cues.

Evil Dead – Page from the Necronomicon warning users not to touch it.

It makes the danger more apparent, but it also makes the decision to read it seem more absurd. The original gets away with it because the circumstances leading up to it are just an unfortunate result of the supernatural and the worst of peoples’ habits coming together with catastrophic consequences. It’s not that its the worst set up ever. It just feels messy. The character that ends up reading it is repeatedly shown to be a bit eclectic in matters about the occult. It just feels like if that’s the case, and they’re thereto help their paranoid friend suffering from withdrawal, that they would not say horrifying incantations. I can forgive it though, because it’s an Evil Dead movie and no curse means no fun.

That’s good, because the movie is a TON of fun. There’s a lot of love for the source material on display and you can tell that Alvarez understood how to adapt those original moments and update them for mainstream audiences today. The gore is even more over the top here and there are sequences that will leave your stomach queasy after watching. What makes these bloodbaths stand out is that they’re all done with practical effects. The horrifying applications of sharp material to flesh will chill viewers to their bone, and it makes sense when you realize it’s created via actual practical illusions and tricks. I love that they went the extra mile in selling the hyper-realism because it gives the franchise something completely different.

Now that I’ve said that, if you like the Evil Dead movies because they’re really funny, this movie may not be what you’re looking for. The movie attempts to replicate a lot of humor ,and to be fair to it, I did chuckle at some of the fast verbal lashings delivered by the deadites. My issue is just that the humor is few and far between. Most of the time it’s too fast or just feels like something edgy that should be funny but has no real meaning or weight. Though the movie can’t balance the its serious and comedic tones at the same time like Evil Dead 2,the way it handles its themes of overcoming addiction gives it something unique that the others don’t have. It’s also not chock full of fan service. Personally, I think it has just enough references to have older fans smiling, without focusing on them so much as to alienate brand new viewers. Its the golden amount.

If you’re looking for an Evil Dead movie that’s more related to the first movie in the franchise and are okay with/enjoy a more serious story-line, you should definitely check this out. I think one huge advantage this movie has is how easy it is to show to people who want to be scared by a horror movie. Aaron Morton did a great job at getting great shots and Bryan Shaw’s editing keeps tension high at all times. There are no lazy sequences and the supernatural events always feel like a threat. Jump scares are expected but get the job done and don’t feel cheap. Gory moments are actually hard to stomach (if you don’t like gore), and demonstrate real creativity in figuring out just how far to push the audience. Alvarez is a master at pacing so the movie always feels like its progressing towards some goal. When I first saw this movie, I was on my feet during the ending. Couldn’t believe how cool and aesthetic it all was.

Report Card

TLDREvil Dead is a great soft reboot that manages to tell the original’s classic story with enough twists to feel like its own creature. The film’s packed to the brim with gore and scares alike, so check it out even if you’re a horror fan not familiar with the franchise.
Rating9.4/10
GradeA

I’m writing something more involved about this piece, so I’ll save the spoiler thoughts for that.