Archive for the Horror Category

Fear Street Part Three: 1666

Posted in Drama, Horror, Mystery with tags on July 23, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

This follows Fear Street Part Two: 1978

In the concluding entry, our main heroine Deena (Kiana Madeira) has a vision of the events of 1666 from the perspective of Sarah Fier herself. The woman was accused of being a witch and there are glaring parallels between her life and Deanna’s.

Don’t let my 3 stars steer you otherwise. The finale isn’t great and I’m not recommending this unless you’ve watched the other two. However, it feels more like a distinct entity and less of an homage to other, better films. The attention to period detail is still questionable but at least I wasn’t alive in 1666 so I can’t critique its recreation of the era firsthand. However I saw The Witch, a movie that detailed the same era in 2015. This suffers in comparison. It’s disgusting without being even remotely frightening. That criticism could be leveled at the entire production. The lack of scares is frustrating. This is a tawdry drama centered around 90s teens ending a historic ordeal.

Thankfully 1666 is more committed to creating a unique tale. If you’re here for shocks you’ll get that too. A preacher with his eyes gouged out is standing at an altar addressing a congregation of recently murdered kids who also have their eyes missing. A slew of piglets are shown slaughtered after they were eaten by the mother. The 17th century was a dark time apparently. Only the first half is set in 1666 before returning to 1994 to conclude the story. This is where the saga comes full circle and ultimately answers the question of how the town of Shadyside came to be cursed. To that end, it is the most satisfying and a fitting end to the trilogy.

Fear Street‘s 330 minutes would imply some sort of grand epic journey but its episodic narrative never rises above a very shallow presentation. Only in the closing installment does its excessive length seem mildly justified. Given that the distinction between TV and movies is forever being blurred, one wonders if this wouldn’t have worked better as a television series of say 8 episodes of 41 minutes each. Much easier to chew over…and then spit out.

07-19-21

Fear Street Part Two: 1978

Posted in Drama, Horror, Mystery with tags on July 23, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

This follows Fear Street Part One: 1994.

We begin in 1994. Deena (Kiana Madeira) and Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) restrain Sam (Olivia Scott Welch), Deena’s girlfriend who is possessed, and track down the mysterious C. Berman (Gillian Jacobs) for help. She is the sole survivor of the 1978 Camp Nightwing massacre. Initially reluctant, Berman allows them inside her home and begins recounting the events of that fateful night. It concerns a “Ziggy” Berman (Sadie Sink) and her older sister and camp counselor Cindy Berman (Emily Rudd). The narrative then flashes back to an earlier time when teens at a summer camp unleash a witch who turns one of the campers into an ax-wielding maniac.

The only thing more single-minded than the witch is the seemingly endless mixtape of songs from the age. In Part One set in the 1990s, the soundtrack is flooded with tunes from that era: Nine Inch Nails, White Zombie, Bush, and others. Part Two relies on the same. Anyone alive in 1978 knows that the Bee Gees, Andy Gibb, Donna Summer, and the Grease soundtrack completely ruled the radio airwaves that year. Their presence was inescapable. Yet instead we hear unconventional artists like The Velvet Underground, the Runaways, and the Buzzcocks. Methinks director Leigh Janiak is imposing her personal musical tastes on a group of 70s teens. This perfectly highlights how Fear Street is inconsistent in presenting authentic period detail. Nevertheless it attempts an ersatz version of the era from a 2021 mindset.

The chronicle draws significantly from Friday the 13th without forging an identity of its own. The bloodshed is graphic, even topping Part One so fans who enjoy seeing people killed will be delighted by the carnage. The ax murders include victims who are stuck in the forehead, their skulls split in half. People are chopped repeatedly, even after they are dead. Luckily no one is particularly likable, so when a character is invariably disposed of, their absence isn’t missed. This is the plot and — despite my conspicuous distaste — it’s slightly better than the first.

Next up: Fear Street Part Three: 1666

07-13-21

Fear Street Part One: 1994

Posted in Drama, Horror, Mystery with tags on July 23, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Believe it or not, I try to be selective in what I watch. I guess I’m a glutton for punishment. Why would I continue to watch the sequels to a movie series that wasn’t good at the outset? “It will get better” I kept telling myself. In my defense, it did — a little. The final installment improved upon an extremely weak beginning. But I suppose the real answer is I have a slavish devotion to reviewing what the public watches. Fear Street was kind of a thing on Netflix in July of 2021. It was filmed all at once and released as 3 separate chapters over a three-week span. The trilogy is based on a collection of fictional horror books written by R. L. Stine. He’s probably best known for his kid-friendly Goosebumps novels which some call the “Stephen King of children’s literature.” More than 80 million Fear Street books have been sold so I guess it was only a matter of time before they were the subject of an adaptation.

The chronicle follows a group of teenagers in the fictionalized town of Shadyside, Ohio. They are terrorized by a history of brutal murders that have plagued the hamlet for centuries . Most believe this is the work of an ancient woman named Sarah Fier who placed a curse on the community before being executed for witchcraft in 1666. Our film opens with a massacre at a mall that has closed for the night . In the historically violent Shadyside, death is a frequent occurrence. Meanwhile, the wealthier and homicide-free Sunnyvale is set up as the very antithesis of that neighboring city. The young cast includes Deena (Kiana Madeira), her ex-girlfriend Sam (Olivia Scott Welch) who is a former Shadyside resident/current Sunnyvalist, Deena ‘s younger brother, Internet/video game nerd Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.), stoner Simon (Fred Hechinger), and their mutual smart-girl pal Kate (Julia Rehwald). The young gang is trying to piece together just what is afflicting their suburb and how to fight it.

Each entry in this account seems to draw from obvious influences and then dumb it down to its lowest common denominator. Fear Street Part One: 1994 is reminiscent of Scream with a sprinkle of Stranger Things thrown in for good measure. Given that, I can’t think of one single reason why anyone should watch this over its superior inspirations. Scream wasn’t a timid film but this manages to amp up the brutality, gore, and profanity. If you crave that sort of thing then there is your reason. However, the R-rated content is presented without style or regard. In short, it isn’t scary just relentless.

Next up: Fear Street Part Two: 1978

07-06-21

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

Posted in Horror, Mystery, Thriller with tags on June 6, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Back in 1970, Comedian Flip Wilson performed a routine on The Ed Sullivan Show featuring a character that would become his most famous persona. Geraldine Jones was a sassy, liberated Southern woman. Stay with me. I promise this is relevant. In the comedic bit, she is a preacher’s wife. Her husband angrily demands why she bought an expensive new dress. Denying all culpability she replies, “The Devil made me do it.” The response became a ubiquitous expression of the 1970s and a hilarious way to deny all responsibility for one’s actions.

This chapter could have simply been called The Conjuring 3 but the more creative title harks back to when it was a popular and lighthearted catchphrase. Yet there’s nothing funny about this flick. In fact, a very real event inspired this story. In 1981, Arne Cheyenne Johnson, 19, was charged with murdering his landlord, Alan Bono in cold blood while they fought over his girlfriend, Debbie Glatzel. The defense? “The devil made him do it” — or more specifically a demon manipulated Johnson into stabbing Bono to death with a pocket knife.

This is technically the eighth film in “The Conjuring Universe” but only the third to star Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as Ed and Lorraine Warren, two paranormal investigators. Ed is a self-professed demonologist. Lorraine is a clairvoyant and a light trance medium. Together they form a powerful team. The Warrens are called in to contribute evidence for Arne Johnson’s (Ruairi O’Connor) defense.

That factual basis could have laid the foundation for an ambitious courtroom drama highlighted by intelligent discourse and legal precedents. I would have so much preferred that narrative to the one presented here — a shallow fright-fest. As is de rigueur for satanic possession movies, we get scenes that steal iconography from The Exorcist. Look! A hat-wearing priest (Steve Coulter) carrying a bag steps out of a car and approaches a house at night in the beginning. Now Father Gordon is evicting demons from people by shouting scripture. There are lots of bizarre happenings that utilize unsettling special effects. The series of horror vignettes admittedly do give some genuine frights.

The production provides some creepy images that manage to engage at times. It begins when a supernatural presence is trying to obtain the soul of mild bespectacled 8-year-old David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard), Debbie’s (Sarah Catherine Hook) younger brother. The little boy is possessed and his body contorts in weird ways so that you hear his bones crack. Arne Johnson gets involved when he sacrifices his own body to save the boy by speaking directly to the beast: “Come into me, I’ll fight you, come into me.” Later in flashback, we see David was visited by the evil spirit earlier while lying on a waterbed. Those are effective displays. The film is entertaining in fits and starts.

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are great actors slumming in a so-so movie. It’s not terrible. I’d recommend this to anyone who is a big fan of chapters 1 & 2. However, if you’re a demanding connoisseur of quality horror pictures, there are far better choices. A Quiet Place Part II is currently playing in theaters.

06-04-21

A Quiet Place Part II

Posted in Drama, Horror, Science Fiction with tags on May 30, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

** WARNING – This review contains spoilers from A Quiet Place (2018) — not the current film, but the original that came out three years ago **

At the outset of 2018, no one could have predicted that A Quiet Place — a nearly dialogue-free horror movie with a minuscule $17 million budget — would become a U.S. Top 20 box office hit of the year. It even knocked Steven Spielberg’s much-hyped science fiction adventure Ready Player One out of the #1 position when it was released that April. A Quiet Place would go on to gross considerably more, so another chapter was inevitable. There will likely be a Part III given the success of this entry.

These are the continuing adventures of the Abbott household, a family desperately trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by a race of extraterrestrial monsters. The aliens can’t see, but they’ve got hypersensitive hearing. They attack anything that makes noise. Most of Earth’s human population has been exterminated. If you saw Part 1, all of this is merely a recap. If you haven’t, you should see that one first.

We open with a memorable prelude — a flashback at a baseball game. A flaming comet in the sky announces the aliens’ arrival. They brutally invade the town. John Krasinski returns as director as well as to portray Lee the father. Lee sacrificed his own life during PART I, so the opening prologue has a dual purpose. 1) It allows actor John Krasinski to make a brief appearance and 2) it introduces Lee’s buddy Emmett, (a grizzled-looking Cillian Murphy) who will become an important addition to this new story. Flash forward to the present day. Over a year has passed. Mother Evelyn and her newborn baby, along with daughter Regan, and son Marcus have all survived. They previously learned that the creatures are unable to withstand high-frequency audio feedback. Regan, who cannot hear, uses her hearing aid to produce the sounds that can kill them.

You know what they say: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Come be entertained by an intense tale that continues the frightening narrative. The introductory installment was a tension-filled nightmare. PART II delivers the same stress and anxiety. However, this one offers a somewhat calmer survival drama that will split off into three separate stories: one concerning Regan and Emmett, the second with son Marcus watching over the baby, and a third featuring mother Evelyn. There’s a sequence In the climax where editor Michael P. Shawver intercuts what’s happening in each timeline, uniting the missions of a trio of concurrent chronologies. The editing masterfully creates unbearable suspense. I loved it.

The greatest horror is not always about the events themselves, but the people they affect. Emotionally compelling performances are what elevates a merely good flick into something great . Emily Blunt is always stellar. Yet she is surprisingly less essential to this account. The MVPs of this production are the children. Millicent Simmonds as deaf daughter Regan and curly-haired Noah Jupe as introverted Marcus are indispensable. Their faces convey all the fear, apprehension, sadness, and relief necessary for us to be invested. Their fully-realized dread is perfectly expressed. The relentless weight of their dilemmas becomes relatable. It’s their achievements that make this adventure so powerful.

05-27-21

Army of the Dead

Posted in Action, Crime, Horror, Thriller with tags on May 27, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

It’s about quality not quantity in art. There is a power to simplicity. Most movie genres benefit from efficient storytelling. In particular, I’ve always thought comedies and animated films are better when they’re 100 minutes or less. After watching this 2 hour and 28-minute chronicle, I’m ready to add zombie movies to that list. The 1968 horror classic Night of the Living Dead adhered to that rule. Even Zack Snyder’s first foray into this genre qualifies. His feature debut was a remake of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. Ok, so I’ll concede the 1978 original was 126 minutes. There are exceptions to every rule.

Complicated epics may benefit from longer runtimes. However, this saga is rather simple. The zombie apocalypse has left Las Vegas separated from the rest of humanity. Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) is a former war hero who’s now flipping burgers. Casino boss Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) tasks him with retrieving $200 million sitting in a vault beneath the strip. Slight complication: In 32 hours, Las Vegas will be nuked by the government as a solution to its infestation. Scott accepts the challenge and assembles a team of experts for the heist. There’s little time to waste. The clock is ticking.

The narrative highlights a flamboyant band of mercenaries. Characterization isn’t a highlight, other than to emphasize tough guys and gals in its lively cast of personalities. Scott and his estranged daughter Kate (Ella Purnell) have unresolved issues that are shoehorned in for ersatz sentimentality. I remember Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick) and Ludwig Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer). The latter looking like a sturdier version of Anthony Michael Hall in Sixteen Candles. Their prickly interactions at the outset predictably develop into a friendship by the end. French actress Nora Arnezeder as Lily suggests Kristen Stewart in Charlie’s Angels with her short blonde hairstyle. Then there’s Zeus (Richard Cetrone ) the alpha male, and his queen (Athena Perample) in this society of the undead. Question: Can an intelligent entity with emotions and highly evolved problem-solving skills still be considered a zombie?

This is a Zack Snyder movie through and through. He’s not only the director but also a producer, and one of the screenwriters. This also marks the first time that the director has been his own DP. Much of the cinematography has a “unique” look. The actors in the foreground are often clear but the background is blurry. Occasionally even the stars are out of focus too. This was a conscious choice the director made, but it didn’t improve the experience in my living room. In a theater (this played on 600 screens) one might be more forgiving. On a TV it comes off like a visual glitch. It’s a strange decision in this 4K Ultra HD Blu-Ray age. Incidentally, Tig Notaro was digitally added post-filming, although the late addition doesn’t stand out from anyone else.

Army of the Dead has its moments. The high points occur when the adventure doesn’t take itself too seriously and calls attention to how — let’s face it — stupid it is. I especially enjoyed all the “on the nose” needle drops. They are a welcome reprieve from the heavy-handed gore. Snyder ends his saga with the most literally titled song you could imagine. The Cranberries’ protest anthem “Zombie” has absolutely nothing to do with reanimated corpses but here it is, appropriated out of context for your listening pleasure. “Night Life” and “Suspicious Minds” by Elvis Presley can be heard. However, the version of “Viva Las Vegas” that opens the film is a campier rendition by Richard Cheese and Allison Crowe. A cover of “Bad Moon Rising” by Theo Gilmore, “The End” by The Raveonettes, and Culture Club’s “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” also pop up at amusing points.

Army of the Dead is a straightforward story undone by its interminable length. You could depict two heists in this ridiculously long zombie apocalypse tale. Is it too early to start championing a new hashtag on Twitter? “Release the NON-Snyder cut!” I’d prefer a version where the studio boldly makes the deep cuts necessary to edit this distended tedium into a compelling piece of entertainment. There’s a decent movie buried somewhere amongst all the excess.

05-22-21

Synchronic

Posted in Drama, Horror, Mystery, Science Fiction, Thriller with tags on April 20, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Synchronic is one of those films that is conveniently described as “interesting” and it’s unclear whether you mean it as a compliment. The ambiguous word is perfection because it fits this movie to a T. Steve and Dennis (Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan) are paramedics in New Orleans who also happen to be best friends. They encounter a rash of unusual deaths in their line of work. A new designer drug called Synchronic is the common thread that unites all of the cases. It would appear this drug — which is sold in single-dose packets — might have otherworldly powers. When his partner’s daughter Brianna goes missing, Steve investigates.

The narrative is a slow starter. The first half establishes the close relationship between the central duo. It’s nice to see their bond is a positive depiction of male friendship. However, both men are adrift in their everyday lives, occasionally turning to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. Anthony Mackie’s character is a ladies’ man that has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Jamie Dornan portrays a man who had difficulty meeting women in the past (!) but is now married with two kids. He’s currently having marital problems. When the pair confront a series of bizarre fatalities in their job, it unfolds like a crime drama, disseminated in fragments using a piecemeal approach.

The second half improves. Steve becomes the hero as it concerns his investigation into the whereabouts of Brianna. His EMT partner Dennis is mostly sidelined. Dennis’ vague personality lacks a compelling identity anyway. Steve’s experimentation with Synchronic is intriguing. Here the chronicle starts to connect the threads of the grisly murders we witnessed before. These developments provide some much-needed clarification in a picture heretofore wallowing in existential gloom. The script plays with the idea that sometimes nostalgia isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. “The past f—–g sucks, man!” Steve cries out at one point.

This is the fourth feature from filmmaking duo Justin Benson and Scott Moorhead who specialize in quirky features (Spring, The Endless) that blend sci-fi with horror. Synchronic debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019 but didn’t get released to the public until after Project Power and Tenet. It feels like an amalgamation of those movies but through a low-budget indie B-movie aesthetic. Synchronic is a real downer of a film. Not a criticism. Just a fact. Nevertheless, its aimless meandering feels somewhat pointless until that mic drop of an ending involving a troubling sacrifice. The “good old days” are a misnomer. “Be thankful you live in the present” is the veiled admonition presented in its final scene. Fair enough. However I suspect a hundred years from today, someone will make a similar movie condemning our current era.

04-19-21

Saint Maud

Posted in Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller with tags on February 15, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I was starting to think this movie didn’t even exist. Saint Maud was one of the most promising premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2019. Shortly thereafter A24 acquired US distribution rights and planned to deliver it to theaters in April 2020, but then cinemas were shut down. A24 ultimately shelved the picture with no proposed US released date. It was finally dropped on the premium cable network EPIX on Feb 12, 2021. Hallelujah! Saint Maud has been freed from purgatory.

So the story concerns Maud (Morfydd Clark), a nurse who has recently become a devout Roman Catholic. There is a suggestion that the traumatic death of one of her patients prompted this conversion. She’s no longer employed at St. Afra’s hospital, however. Now she’s working as a personal home care nurse for a hospice patient (Jennifer Ehle). Amanda is a former dancer and understandably depressed in her current state. She does have friends that visit. She has a lover named Carol (Lily Frazer) as well. Maud doesn’t approve of these hedonistic interactions nor for the the fact that Amanda is an atheist. Maud comes to believe that God has called upon her to save Amanda’s soul.

Saint Maud is a striking film that uncannily elicits an ominous mood. Writer and director Rose Glass relies on religion as a motif. Faith in God has been a common theme in some of the very best horror movies. Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, and The Omen are prime examples. This isn’t as narratively strong as those classics but the atmosphere is rather affecting. The dramatic portrayal of a woman conflicted by pious mania can be mesmerizing. Imagine Piper Laurie in Carrie but less overwrought and more sympathetic. Stylishly filmed and strongly acted, the chronicle is provocative and troubling. Maud is unquestionably odd but she remains a fascinating individual. She genuinely wishes to help Amanda. She is sincere in her convictions and that earnestness initially compels the audience to tentatively embrace this mission.

Saint Maud is a compelling study of a woman come undone. It could also have been an inspiring take on theological fervor as well, but it falls short of understanding her beliefs. Maud soon veers into episodes of religious fanaticism that do make her seem a bit unbalanced. In disturbing episodes, Maud inflicts pain upon herself as some sort of absolution. In one scene, she punches several thumbtacks through two prayer cards. She then inserts them into her shoes to be transformed by the agony as she walks around town. As a person of faith, I am prone to regard such behavior as preposterous. However, there is some basis for these acts of spiritual discipline. Although it isn’t common, some ardent practitioners in the Philippines willingly subject themselves to an actual crucifixion. The Catholic Church condemns such acts of self-flagellation. Yet a small sect of believers continue to practice in this manner. Some insight into Maud’s thought process here could have deepened our understanding of this woman and transported the narrative to a higher plane. “It’s not a religion for wusses,” Carla once reductively explained to Sam on the TV show Cheers after he complained about the difficulty of doing a Catholic penance. This is cerebral horror that explores the passion of religion and then how those ideas can be distorted. Indie film distributor A24 also gave us The Lighthouse and The Witch. If you’re looking for that kind of experience, this should satisfy that thirst.

Run

Posted in Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller with tags on December 3, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

It wasn’t her first role, but I suppose people first became aware of Sarah Paulson back in 1995 on the supernatural-themed TV series American Gothic on CBS. It only ran for one season, but she’s been steadily working ever since. She’s arguably one of the hardest working people in show business. She’s done Broadway (The Glass Menagerie), starred in the ABC network TV program Cupid in 2009, and performed in supporting roles in a plethora of high profile films (12 Years a Slave, Ocean’s 8). However, what’s brought the most acclaim is her ongoing involvement in the FX anthology American Horror Story. She has portrayed many different characters on AHS. It has earned the actress a Golden Globe and 6 Emmy nominations for that show alone. She just began another similarly themed TV series Ratched on Netflix. She’s good at horrifying people. I mean that as a compliment. She radiates goodness on the surface but there’s a sinister quality underneath her placid exterior that is most unsettling. That edgy trait is put to good use here.

I didn’t’ watch Run when it debuted 2 weeks ago (November 20) on Hulu. It unexpectedly broke records as that streaming service’s most-watched film premiere ever. Then I took notice. The outstanding Palm Springs previously held that record. Run concerns a new mother (Sarah Paulson) who has recently given birth with complications. Flash forward 17 years later. Daughter Chloe, played by newcomer Kiera Allen, is in a wheelchair. She is housebound and chronically ill. Diane homeschools her daughter and seems to be a doting and loving parent. She unfailingly administers the medications Chloe requires to stay healthy. Then one day Diane gives Chloe an unfamiliar green pill. Chloe had inadvertently seen the bottle earlier. It was prescribed to her mother and this discovery creates a nagging suspicion in Chloe. She tries to get to the bottom of what’s happening.

Run is a modest but efficient thriller from director Aneesh Chaganty. He did the mystery movie Searching in 2018, a missing child saga entirely set on computers and smartphones. This is given a traditional approach, but it’s likewise compelling. Sarah Paulson is good at playing the kindly mother that may not be all she appears to be. Kiera Allen is impressive in her debut as Chloe. The actress has used a wheelchair for 6 years in real life. The account builds, exploiting a growing feeling of anxiety. Things get crazier and the adventure involves a battle of wits. The writing is dependable. As details unfold, however, there is a salient sense of predictability. The screenplay by Aneesh Chaganty and frequent collaborator Sev Ohanian contains foreseeable story beats. A game of pursuit, near captures, and escapes isn’t innovative. Yet a tale can succeed if the actors invoke your emotion. This boilerplate narrative might have failed in the hands of lesser talents. Paulson and Allen believably sell this movie. Because of them, I enjoyed Run.

11-23-20

The Dark and the Wicked

Posted in Horror with tags on November 9, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

“Not today Satan, not today!” I quietly whispered while watching this rumination on the devil. It was drag queen Bianca Del Rio who popularized this famous declaration on season 6 of RuPaul’s Drag Race back in 2014. Since then the phrase has become so ubiquitous that I doubt many people are even aware of its origin, but I like to educate as well as entertain with my reviews.

Louise (Marin Ireland) and Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) are siblings whose father (Michael Zagst) is slowly dying. The two arrive at their childhood home in Thurber, Texas to help support their mother (Julie Oliver-Touchstone). Mom has been caring for their father alone in a large ranch house on an isolated farm. She is overwhelmed by grief. Instead of welcoming their assistance, she seems agitated by their arrival. The home has been possessed by a dark and wicked (hence the title) entity and she had wanted to spare them the trauma. Now that they’re here, they too have become victims to the spirit’s heinous presence.

The chronicle is a very grim tale that mines a growing hopelessness. Even the religious nurse (Lynn Andrews) isn’t immune to the evil lurking within the home. Louise and Michael are detached and distant — not the kind of likable protagonists we usually want to embrace. The two have drifted apart. Granted, they are human beings. We have a basic kinship with their characters and situation. Although far from enemies, they aren’t particularly supportive of one another. Their relationship is almost antagonistic. Perhaps they’re racked by the guilt of having abandoned their parents to a lonely existence. This tension adds to an already unsettling environment.

This is essentially a haunted house flick. Director Bryan Bertino (The Strangers) relies on tropes famously implemented in films like The Exorcist and The Shining. This isn’t as good as either of those classics but the filmmaker is smart enough to take inspiration from the best. The events play out during one week and title cards break up the chapters by reminding the viewer what day it is. These waking nightmares grow more threatening over that period. At first, it’s suggested the disturbing visions are merely the product of a troubled psyche. Their frequency and intensity soon proves otherwise. Something malevolent is seizing the family. The creativity of the shocks along with the aggressive nature of the demon make this story quite compelling. There is something genuinely sinister here.

The devil is (literally) in the details. Jump scares can be effective. Sound designer Joe Stockton is the MVP. Creaky floorboards have never seemed as frightening as they do here. Every sound effect is terrifying. Every manifestation of the demon is alarming. Its potency will depend on your own experiences and taste. I appreciate subtlety and restraint in my horror. The first half worked a lot better than the second where the gore becomes more overt. Also, I’m not a fan of abrupt endings where a situation goes unresolved. Put that misstep in the negative column as well. Still, the anxiety culled from this atmospheric piece is pitch-perfect manifestation of dread. Its ability to extract a visceral fear is masterful. I’m saying that yes, I was scared….a lot….by this film.

11-06-20