Archive for the Horror Category

Knock at the Cabin

Posted in Horror, Mystery, Thriller with tags on February 3, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Knock at the Cabin is director M. Night Shyamalan’s take on the home invasion thriller. But given the filmmaker’s modus operandi, you know this isn’t going to be a straightforward horror movie. Rest assured an existential conundrum will arise to imbue the account with perceived weight.

Thankfully the story is efficient and gets started right away. A little girl (Kristen Cui) is vacationing at a remote cabin in the woods with her two thirty-something dads, Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge). 7-year-old Wen is alone when approached in the forest by a large man covered in tattoos named Leonard (Dave Bautista). He’s a soft-spoken guy who articulates in hushed tones. Dave Bautista is a hulking 6′ 4″ professional ex-wrestler. Still, he is believable as the second-grade teacher he professes to be, exhibiting a nuance and calm that makes his gently fanatical character seem even more frightening and unhinged. His sensitive performance is the MVP of this picture,

The situation will grow more horrifying. At first, Leonard seems friendly as he and Wen make small talk. However, when three additional people, two women (Nikki Amuka-Bird & Abby Quinn) and another man (Rupert Grint), emerge from the forest with homemade weapons, Wen’s ease turns to fear. She runs back to the cabin to notify her dads. They shut the windows and bolt the doors, but the visitors break in. A struggle ensues, and Eric gets a concussion. The intruders tie Andrew and Eric up. They inform the family they’re not there to cause them harm but to deliver a dire message.

What follows is a “What would you do?” scenario. The ethical parable could’ve been a succinct Twilight Zone episode. Nevertheless., M. Night Shyamalan, along with co-writers Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman, manage to adapt Paul G. Tremblay’s novel The Cabin at the End of the World into a 100-minute cinematic feature. Although they’ve changed the source material by removing a fatal development and rendering the ending less ambiguous. The cinematography by Jarin Blaschke (The Lighthouse) and Lowell A. Meyer (Greener Grass) is filled with conspicuous Dutch angles and closeups that emphasize the intensity of their predicament. The ominous score by Icelandic composer Herdís Stefánsdóttir (The Hate U Give) further complements that feeling of dread. It looks and sounds terrific.

Knock at the Cabin could’ve been worse, and by that, I mean even longer. Brevity is an asset, and as such, the saga doesn’t have time to be dull. The movie’s best scenes are flashbacks. A visit with the parents, adopting daughter Wen, and a conversation in a bar are more compelling than what transpires in the cabin. The details flesh out Eric and Andrew’s life together and highlight challenges in their life. They’ve experienced intolerance in the past. Is their current plight just another — albeit more extreme — example?

This apocalyptic tale could have been better. There’s not much to chew on besides a vague pseudo-spiritual narrative that fails to explicitly mention God or religion. However, that is the realm we’re playing in, no matter how hard these screenwriters try to skirt the issue. 18th-century revivalist preacher Jonathan Edwards spoke of a vengeful creator. Conversely, anyone possessing even a shred of faith that God is inherently loving will find this pessimistic take at odds with those views. It’s a pretty intense R-rated film. Murder is more than a threat. That young Wen is a witness to violent deeds makes them a lot more unsettling than if they had occurred without her present. Meanwhile, M. Night Shyamalan still finds humor in the depravity by inserting himself in yet another Hitchcock-style cameo. I laughed at his incongruous presence, although it felt inappropriate given the seriousness of everything else.

02-02-23

M3GAN

Posted in Horror, Science Fiction, Thriller with tags on January 9, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

The killer doll story has been a subset of horror for decades. Early instances of the well-worn trope can be found in Dead of Night (1945) and TV’s The Twilight Zone (1959). The 1970s reintroduced the concept with Trilogy of Terror (1975), Magic (1978), and Tourist Trap (1979), but it popped up the most during the 1980s in films like The Pit (1981), Poltergeist (1982), Ghoulies (1985), Dolls (1986), Child’s Play (1988) and Puppet Master (1989). Recent additions include Annabelle (2014), The Boy (2016), and Sabrina (2018). It’s time to add yet another entry to the fold. Meet M3GAN (pronounced MEGAN), an innovative life-sized action figure who can walk and talk…and dance, but I wouldn’t expect a meaningful discourse. Her existence adds nothing to the conversation.

M3GAN is a downright lazy interpretation of a basic idea. Gemma (Allison Williams) is a roboticist at Funki, a technological toy company. M3GAN (played by Amie Donald and voiced by Jenna Davis) is short for Model 3 Generative Android. Wide-eyed and girly, the doll is suitably creepy and the production design’s best asset. Gemma is working on this artificial intelligence (AI) robot for children at home. The toy is still in the prototype stage. Gemma’s 8-year-old niece Cady (Violet McGraw), is currently staying with her. Cady is struggling to come to terms with the death of her parents. M3GAN appears to be a good surrogate for her grief. Gemma is pleased by this as she can spend less time being a parent. Kudos to Allison Williams for portraying a cold personality that is, unfortunately, more realistic than people would care to admit. Gemma’s co-worker (Jen Van Epps) and Cady’s therapist (Amy Usherwood) are concerned with M3GAN’s growing presence in Cady’s life. We, the audience, were worried the second we saw the strangely lifelike doll because (ahem) we have seen movies before.

Horror films work when they can shock or scare us. M3GAN fails in this regard. We’ve had at least 80 years of the cinematic trope, so it’s astonishing to see a picture in 2023 do so little with the formula. M3GAN has been programmed to protect Cady emotionally and physically. Her AI grows more advanced as she bonds with Cady until — surprise! — the doll becomes sentient. The toy exhibits hostility whenever she spies a danger to her human companion. Naturally, this progresses into her killing the people and animals she deems a threat. The plot shuffles down a predictable path. As a result, there’s no tension or suspense other than waiting for the current scene to end so we can see the next obvious development.

M3GAN is spooky but lacks scares. However, that isn’t the raison d’être of this PG-13-rated fluff. It’s trying to be funny, but having a robot use words like “bitch” when she gets angry is just scraping the bottom of the barrel for wit. M3GAN inexplicably swaying to a pop song in the trailer inspired a TikTok trend. The marketing team wisely capitalized on this situation and hired a troupe of eight dancers dressed like M3GAN to move in a choreographed routine at the premiere and other random events. This makes the much shorter 10-second blink-and-you-miss-it dance in the actual film seem even more like a missed opportunity.

M3GAN isn’t campy enough. This is surprising because screenwriter Akela Cooper wrote Malignant, which had a zany sensibility you couldn’t predict. See the infinitely superior Bride of Chucky for an example of true outrageousness. The fourth installment in the Child’s Play franchise took doll-on-doll relations to the next level. Now that’s camp! And while we’re at it, the concept of an electronic device designed to entertain and mentor children isn’t even outlandish anymore. Count how many tots at the mall have their eyes glued to an iPad and not their parents. I know, 20 years ago, it would’ve been a TV at home. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Speaking of the status quo, the first month of the year has traditionally been the dumping ground for Hollywood studios. M3GAN is indeed a movie released by Universal Pictures on January 6th.

01-05-23

Bones and All

Posted in Drama, Horror, Romance with tags on December 1, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

According to the press materials. Bones and All is a tender tale of first love. Maren is a young woman learning to survive on the margins of society. Lee is a disenfranchised drifter. An unforgiving world cannot accept them. These youths drive off together on a “liberating” odyssey where they come to terms with who they are. You may ask, “Who are they?” because the official synopsis hides a salient reality. They’re cannibals! The title refers to the ultimate level: eating the entire human.

So that’s a weird concept. Remember the Fine Young Cannibals? The British band got its name from a movie starring Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood. A literal interpretation would be a perfect title for this film too. This romantic cannibal road picture is a parable about star-crossed loves who cannot resist devouring people. Based on cultural references, I’d say the year is about 1983. Maren (Taylor Russell) is a teen coping with her true nature. She wants what anyone wants, to be loved. However, Maren’s preferences have forced her into a shameful exile. She didn’t choose to be this way. After her father (André Holland) abandons Maren, she meets Lee (Timothée Chalamet), and the two go off on a journey together. Each geographic location gracelessly announced by the official state abbreviation in bold white letters across the screen.

These are morally reprehensible individuals. This duo is akin to the ones in classics like Badlands or Bonnie and Clyde. Writer David Kajganich (2018’s Suspiria) adapts this edgy drama from Camille DeAngelis’ 2015 young adult novel. The screenplay wants us to embrace their lamentable status as misunderstood loners. Oh, they have their “morals.” Maren attempts to limit her victims to ones who have already died. Lee tries to only kill souls whose deaths won’t affect others. He fails. At a slaughterhouse, Maren and Lee observe that cattle have families too—as if to plead that killing humans is the same as consuming meat. The fact that DeAngelis is vegan bears a mention.

It’s impossible to ignore that these teens do eat innocent people. The movie graphically reminds us of this. Bones and All is directed by Luca Guadagnino, who did the far superior Call Me By Your Name. This is a different kind of love story. I enjoyed the art-house aesthetic. Nuanced performances (when they’re not chowing down on humanity) are shot by Arseni Khachaturant using sentimentalized soft-focus cinematography. A hip indie cast includes Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies), Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man), André Holland (Moonlight), and Chloë Sevigny (Boys Don’t Cry)

Nevertheless, the smattering of positives wasn’t enough to overlook the overwhelming negatives. The plot is simplistic and empty, with only intense — no stomach-churning — violence at its core to distinguish it. These cannibals enthusiastically dine on dead bodies. The demise of one poor older woman who fell over and couldn’t get up still haunts me. I’m talking Grand Guignol. Feast your eyes on close-ups of mouths tearing into her flesh and pulling out chucks. Yes, body tissue will be mutilated and devoured in a bloody fashion. Some may find more to like if they can see past the blood and gore into the metaphor the screenplay is trying to push. I couldn’t get past the idea that this is simply a saga about bad people doing things I don’t want to watch.

11-25-22

The Menu

Posted in Comedy, Horror, Thriller with tags on November 25, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

“Eat the rich.” The expression is a rallying cry against capitalism and class inequality. It’s commonly attributed to Jean Jacques Rousseau, a political philosopher and leading figure in the late 18th century during the French Revolution. However, the idiom has been invoked many times since. The words are never uttered here, but that ethos is all over this movie and is especially apropos, given the account is all about eating. Not literally “people,” as the phrase somewhat humorously implies, but gourmet fare. However, this narrative does not celebrate fine dining. Obsessive foodies, celebrity chefs, and tasting menus will be roasted to the death..and it isn’t pretty.

The Menu is a dark and nasty satire on the art of fine dining. Hawthorn is the name of an elegant restaurant in the Pacific Northwest run by Chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes). It’s likely a mash-up of many haute cuisine destinations. Director Mark Mylo — best known for his directorial work on TV shows Succession and Shameless — is working from a clever screenplay by Will Tracy and Seth Reichs (The Onion). A visit to Cornelius, a prestigious destination for seafood in Norway, inspired this production. Living in Nothern California, my mind went to The French Laundry, which charged $850 per person at the height of the COVID pandemic. There’s also a more direct geographic comparison of La Isla, the isolated private island in Patagonia of chef Francis Mallman visited by affluent gastro-tourists. There’s no cell coverage or Wi-Fi there either.

Guests travel by boat to a remote island to dine at an exclusive venue where the chef has prepared a lavish multi-course culinary journey with a sinister agenda. That’s the plot in a nutshell. This is a world where the top 1% spend hundreds (even thousands) of dollars on an epicurean experience. The “Breadless Bread Plate” merely features dollops of oil and emulsions on a plate. “The Island” course is a rock with a raw diver scallop carefully adorned with pickled seaweeds and algae using tweezers. These chefs have reduced their craft to an intellectual exercise by taking the joy out of eating. The final insult? The diner is still hungry after their meal of minimalism is all over.

Then there are the 12 chic and shallow elites who have each paid $1250 a head. The guest list includes Nicholas Hoult as Tyler, an obsequious foodie who has watched every episode of Chef’s Table. He worships Julian Slowik. His date is Margot, portrayed by Anya Taylor-Joy. She is different, a cynic, unimpressed with all the highfalutin nonsense. “You’re the customer,” she chides a sycophantic Tyler. “You’re paying him to serve you.” Reed Birney and Judith Light play a wealthy couple whose marital problems are exposed during the service. Janet McTeer is a pompous delight as a powerful food critic. John Leguizamo is a name-dropping has-been actor.

Ultimately, this is a hilarious food film with stylish horror influences. It’s like Saw blended with Jiro Dreams of Sushi. The script mines a smug contempt for establishments that flaunt their farm-to-table practices like a badge of honor. Yet, one should approach the tongue-in-cheek tone with a grain of salt. Despite the semi-serious horror milieu, the atmosphere’s evolving sense of silliness must be embraced to fully enjoy these shenanigans. Airplane! represents the airline industry about as closely as The Menu embodies a high-end restaurant. Time and again, these idiotic victims do not behave like normal people. There are numerous examples, but any patron that would happily pull out their wallet to pay for the experience they get here would have to be either suicidal or certifiably insane. A healthy suspension of disbelief is required. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed this far-fetched parody.

11-22-22

Significant Other

Posted in Drama, Horror, Mystery, Science Fiction with tags on October 19, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

It’s a shame that Significant Other is saddled with that title. It’s so generic; the name escapes me every time I try to recall it. The movie is substantially better than the label suggests. The production begins with a red meteor falling from the sky into the forest. Soon after, we see a deer unexpectedly grabbed by an eerie tentacle. The story then switches over to a couple in a six-year relationship. Harry enjoys camping and takes Ruth on a backpacking trip to the Pacific Northwest. She has prescient misgivings. You’ve seen this tale a dozen times before, right? That’s what you think.

So I’m impressed when I think I’m getting a predictable horror film and am pleasantly surprised by something that subverts my expectations. Taking risks doesn’t always reap the rewards. Unlike another recent slasher sequel to a decades-long franchise, Significant Other makes some bold swings that actually do connect. What seems to be a simple setup about “a terrifying creature in the woods” becomes much more. Writers and directors Dan Ber & Robert Olsen have fashioned a horror picture into a multilayered meditation on relationships with several twists and turns. It appears that Harry is deeply in love with Ruth. Her feelings are a bit more ambiguous. Ruth suffers from extreme anxiety and is not handling the outdoors very well. They hike to a gorgeous scenic overlook, and he proposes. Ruth has a panic attack and rejects his offer. That’s just the beginning of their problems.

Adding to the unsettling atmosphere is a pair of intriguing performances. Maika Monroe and Jake Lacy exhibit a range of emotions that often catch the viewer off guard. No stranger to being a scream queen, Monroe had her breakthrough in 2014 with It Follows. She followed that up with The Guest (2014), Greta (2018), and Watcher (2022). Meanwhile, Jake Lacy utilizes the same blend of drama mixed with subtle comedy on the HBO anthology series The White Lotus. Together they comprise an unstable duo that seizes our attention—two unique individuals with strange personalities. Neither can be trusted. Who are these people? Where should my loyalties lie? That’s all part of the fun. If a movie is to be judged by the shock of a reveal, then Significant Other satisfies with at least one (maybe two) that are off the charts.

Significant Other is currently streaming exclusively on Paramount+. 

10-16-22

Halloween Ends

Posted in Horror, Thriller with tags on October 16, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

It all comes down to this. The film that started things back in 1978 is a classic celebrated by critics and audiences alike. There have been so many movies with various timelines in this series. Most are pretty disposable, but any franchise with crowds still demanding entries 44 years later incurs a certain level of respect. Call me crazy, but I think Universal Pictures should’ve dubbed the latest picture what it really is: Halloween the 13th — a winking nod to another well-known horror anthology.

Halloween Ends is technically part three of a modern trilogy following 2018’s Halloween and 2021’s Halloween Kills. This has also been sold as the climactic chapter (note the title) of the entire franchise. That’s a lot of pressure to deliver. Unfortunately, Halloween Ends fails to satisfy either as a follow-up that honors what came before or as a new standalone story.

We expect certain things from a sequel. This entry has very little interest in involving the characters we know. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is a minor presence in the narrative, and we don’t see the main villain Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney), for a full third of the chronicle. He takes a backseat to the action once he does. Director David Gordon Green has a different focus. The script he co-wrote with Paul Brad Logan, Chris Bernier, and Danny McBride, introduces an entirely new and rather bland fellow named Corey Cunningham (Rohan Campbell). He’s a teen who accidentally kills a boy (Jaxon Goldenberg) while babysitting in an admittedly promising prologue. Side note: The child was misbehaving. He got his just deserts. Corey is cleared of manslaughter charges but becomes the town pariah. Corey is a sensitive kid, and the local bullies mercilessly harass him. He snaps. Michael Myers understands Corey’s torment and takes him under his wing — like a protégé.

Halloween Ends takes some big swings but ends up striking out. Introducing a brand new outcast as the star is a risk that doesn’t pay off. Corey subsequently gains the affection of Laurie’s granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). Their romantic entanglement is a major component of this saga. Allyson has been through a lot. Corey is clearly damaged and throwing up all sorts of red flags, so her pursuit of him makes absolutely no sense. Fans who came to see scream queen Jaime Lee Curtis and her nemesis Michael Myers share the screen together will have to wait until the final 20 minutes of this two-hour production. It is predictably violent and ridiculously bloody, so enthusiasts who feast on gore should enjoy that segment at least.

The screenplay attempts to make a grand statement about “the inevitability of evil that exists in the world.” Michael Myers is more than a character here. He’s a symbol. The ongoing weight of Laurie’s guilt and despair is poured into writing a memoir. “Evil doesn’t die. It only changes shape,” she opines. Her introspective voiceover narration is like Chicken Soup for the Soul. These wispy ruminations inject unwarranted and misplaced importance into a slasher flick. The plot of Halloween (1978) could be summed up in three words: “Man kills teens.” It was that simple. It’s not hard, people. I just want to be frightened, and I wasn’t. My pulse didn’t even quicken.

This “final” installment is a sorry excuse to revive a tired franchise that did not merit twelve additions to the original (so far). It may be called Halloween Ends, but I have no doubt some screenwriter will creatively resurrect Michael Myers in another sequel using his DNA or invoking his supernatural spirit. I don’t look forward to that. However, I will end on a positive. Halloween Ends is an honest title because it does indeed genuinely and truly have a definitive end.

10-14-22

Barbarian 

Posted in Horror, Thriller with tags on September 15, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The element of surprise is crucial in horror. It’s all about creating a potent shock. Jump scares are an easy way to accomplish this. Even though the ploy is pervasive, it’s a cheap way to earn tension. More creative is when a film manages to surprise with a plot that upends the viewer’s expectations. Barbarian is that movie.

Tess is a documentary researcher who books an Airbnb at 467 Barbary Street in a derelict area of Detroit. The address is mentioned enough times to become a trivia question if this production stands the test of time. I’m optimistic that it will. Tess will be attending a job interview in the morning. She arrives late at night and is disturbed to find someone already staying at the property. The awkward man is memorably portrayed by Bill Skarsgård. The fact that he was Pennywise the Dancing Clown in 2017’s It will only fuel your misgivings. The mix-up is seemingly due to a booking error. She ultimately decides to stay the night, given the lack of other options.

The greatest horror films are built around a compelling lead, and Barbarian has one of the best. Tess is a smart cookie — in the beginning anyway. She takes a picture of Keith’s ID, keeps the bedroom door locked, and refuses to drink the tea he prepared out of her sight. Her later decisions will grow less and less defensible. Keith is an awkward man, but her reservations about him are somewhat calmed when he expresses love for a little-seen documentary on which she worked. They bond over a bottle of wine that he opens in her presence. She becomes relaxed. Think you know where this is going? You’re not even close.

The strength of Barbarian is in the intricate story that mutates and changes. I’ve barely scratched the surface of what happens. The tale will involve an underground passage beneath the home. Filmmaker Wes Craven would be proud. Tess’s bewildering decision to descend into a dark and foreboding basement is a foolish choice that makes no sense coming from a previously intelligent woman. However, this is a genre flick. Stupid decisions must be made to generate scares. A dreadful discovery arises. I must admit that scene is one of the scariest reveals I can recall in recent memory. The anxiety is aided by director of photography Zach Kuperstein whose expert use of lighting and camera angles throughout the film heightens the suspense. Then without warning, the account abruptly flips into a tonally different saga about a cocky actor named AJ Gilbride. Baby-faced Justin Long is playing wildly against type.

Barbarian is a twisty chronicle that manages to weave the decline of Detroit, how ineffective police allow rampant crime to flourish in impoverished areas, and the #MeToo social movement. These disparate elements are creatively united by director Zach Cregger who also wrote the screenplay. Cregger assumes you’ve seen enough horror classics (Psycho, Friday the 13th, Misery) to make easy assumptions that he can overthrow. I do take exception when the “big bad” is such a physically overwhelming entity that it removes all hope that it can be overcome. It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Despite the milieu, it’s highly amusing when AJ is initially excited to discover the additional basement of the home he owns. He chooses to measure the extra square footage without even considering the extreme danger in which he has willingly placed himself.

A talented ensemble aids director Zach Cregger, but Georgina Campbell is the MVP. The actress immediately joins the ranks of those classic scream queens that blend warmth with tenacity. Fellow actresses Janet Leigh, Linda Blair, and Jaime Lee Curtis are part of an elite club. I hesitate to make bold pronouncements that don’t stand the test of time, but her spirited and captivating performance is really that good. The success of Barbarian rests on her impressive achievement.

09-13-22

Orphan: First Kill

Posted in Crime, Drama, Horror with tags on August 25, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

In 2009, Orphan was the umpteenth offshoot of The Bad Seed. That 1956 movie started the “evil child genre,” which would inspire classics like Village of the DamnedRosemary’s BabyThe Exorcist, and The Omen.   Orphan didn’t exactly set the box office on fire, so it certainly wasn’t something I thought would ever garner a sequel. I suspect it was largely forgotten save for a cult following until now. Despite its connection to the earlier installment, Orphan: First Kill is a standalone account. Except for the titular soul, none of the individuals from Orphan appear in this chronicle. It’s also a prequel, so I’d suggest that you’d best start with this chapter if you haven’t seen the first. In fact, do yourself a favor and skip the inferior 2009 film altogether. Even the critical and audience reviews on Rotten Tomatoes support my opinion.

Orphan First Kill cleverly retrofits the foundation of the previous saga and surpasses the original. In this intro, Leena Klammer is a 33-year-old woman with a rare degenerative hormone disorder that causes dwarfism. The woman looks like a 9-year-old child. Leena is also a violent patient imprisoned in an Estonian mental asylum who has no conscience and lacks remorse. Leena escapes from the facility and tricks an unsuspecting family into thinking she is their long-lost daughter Esther Albright, who went missing four years prior. Mom Tricia (Julia Stiles), Dad Allen (Rossif Sutherland), and their teen son Gunnar (Matthew Finlan) welcome her home, although skepticism arises.

For slightly over half of this brisk 99-minute movie, there is a predictability to every development that hampered my enthusiasm. David Coggeshall’s screenplay is based on a story by Alex Mace and David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick. Initially, I mockingly enjoyed anticipating the likely outcomes. “Esther is hiding in that room,” I thought when newly arrived art therapy instructor Anna (Gwendolyn Collins) is locked in a confined space to keep her safe from the murderous Leena. “Now she’s in the trunk!” when Anna later drives away. It goes on and on like this. Then something happens at the 54-minute mark (I hit pause to verify) that is so unforeseeable that I stared at the screen in shock. It was as if the screenplay slapped me in the face and declared, “Just kidding! This is the real story.” From that point on, I was invested.

The production mines an unsettling milieu. Cinematographer Karim Hussain (Possessor) admirably contributes to the eerie mood. The engineers creatively disguise 25-year-old actress Isabel Fuhrman to make her appear more believable as the child she’s pretending to be. Forced perspective and body doubles (Kennedy Irwin and Sadie Lee) assist in the ruse. Isabelle Fuhrman and Julia Stiles are talented actors. They elevate their characters with compelling performances. Sadly the climax ultimately falls victim to more hackneyed convention. Still, the middle section redeems this entertaining thriller.

08-23-22

Beast

Posted in Adventure, Drama, Horror with tags on August 22, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Dr. Nate Samuels (Idris Elba) ) is a single father who takes his two young daughters, Meredith (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Sava Jeffries ), to a wildlife preserve in South Africa. While there, they are confronted by a ferocious lion determined to kill everyone and everything in sight. I don’t want to dismiss Beast as Jaws but with a feline, but that is basically the setup.

Man vs. nature can be the the foundation for a very entertaining film. “When animals attack” comprises a whole genre of cinema. Beast is nowhere near as outstanding as The Birds, but it’s decidedly more refined than the 1999 killer crocodile flick Lake Placid. Apparently, the lion is out for revenge because poachers murdered the rest of his pride. That’s a stretch. An untamed animal would never behave this way. Nevertheless, I was captivated by the various confrontations. There is a bit more drama than just a cat run amok. For one thing, Idris plays a father whose wife has recently passed from illness, so there are some unresolved tensions with his daughters. Sharlto Copley (District 9, Maleficent) also appears a wildlife biologist who is an old friend of Nate’s.

Beast is a competent thriller, a simple story efficiently told. I like that the movie knows exactly what it is – an uncomplicated shocker designed to produce thrills. As such, it was a brilliant decision to edit it down to a mere 90 minutes. Anything longer would be unnecessary. The MVP of this picture are the talenetd team in the sound department. We are frequently subjected to jump scares where the sound is so loud I literally jumped in my seat. Usually, I find those kinds of surprises a cheap way to elicit frights, but they are effective nonetheless. I’d be lyin’ if I said this was innovative, but it’s still a roaring good time.

08-18-22

Nope

Posted in Horror, Mystery, Science Fiction with tags on July 23, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The difference between homage and rip-off is subjective. The old joke is that an “homage” is when you copy someone else; a “rip-off” is when someone else copies you. Another glib definition is that when one enjoys the appropriation, the borrowing is deemed a lovely tribute, and when offended, it’s theft. However, I would like to offer a more sincere explanation. When you take elements that exist in beloved films and creatively manipulate them into something entirely new and innovative, it’s an homage. That is the process at play in Jordan Peele’s latest triumph.

The tale concerns a brother and sister who run a horse wrangling business. Daniel Kaluuya’s character incredulously goes by OJ, a nickname that invites double takes. Keke Palmer is the affable Emerald. Nestled 40 miles north of Los Angeles in the desert town of Agua Dulce sits the Haywood Ranch. Here horses are raised for use in Hollywood productions. This was their father’s livelihood, an enterprise dating all the way back to the beginning of motion pictures. In the official explanation, Otis Haywood Sr. (Keith David) has recently met with an untimely demise when he is violently pelted with stray particles thrown from a plane overhead. Yet something more ominous is looming. A mysterious cloud up in the sky seems to have a malevolent effect on the human and animal life in the area.

Nope is an ensemble anchored by the dichotomy of a pair of individuals. These two differ on how to proceed with the family’s legacy. Keke Palmer plays the free-spirited sister. Her lively performance is a vibrant counterpoint to Daniel Kaluuya’s aloof, almost lethargic personality. He is a man of few words, with virtually no expression. I have to assume the intention to render OJ so stoic was a directorial decision. To imbue this man with a sluggish demeanor was an unconventional choice I couldn’t embrace. Does nothing faze this man? In one intense, armrest clenching predicament, OJ quietly utters a simple — albiet hilarious — “Nope” when deciding whether to exit his car.

Once they realize something more sinister is afoot, the duo decide they need to document the threat. Aiding them is Brandon Perea as Angel, a tech employee at a Fry’s Electronics store who installs the security cameras they purchase. He’s also a conspiracy theorist that believes in aliens and wants to be involved in their endeavor. A dialogue about how UFOs are now known as UAPs is an amusing aside. They shun Angel’s assistance, although his tenacity prevails. Deep-voiced character actor Michael Wincott also appears as Antlers Holst, a cameraman from the old school that may have a solution to getting these mystifying events on film. If Nope has parallels to Jaws, then Antlers is our Quint.

Nope is filled with fascinating scenes, but it takes a while to groove into the rhythm of this picture. I didn’t know what the heck was going on at first. Nevertheless, Jordan Peele’s saga is a carefully constructed narrative that twists and contorts to include essential clues that gradually aid our understanding of the story. Paradoxes and red herrings crop up. The appearance of a TMZ reporter riding a motorcycle in a mirrored helmet becomes a fly in the ointment. Look again because these seemingly arbitrary ideas illuminate what makes these personalities tick. A key ingredient to the cast is Ricky Park (Steven Yeun), a former child actor named “Jupe” after his role on a popular 90s TV show Kid Sheriff. He now trades on that fame by running a Western-themed amusement park called Jupiter’s Claim. The outdoor show attended by a small audience is a jaw-dropping setpiece that descends into a terrifying sequence. A random vignette regarding his second failed sitcom and a monkey is a head-scratching bit of information that memorably opens the picture. It’s horrifying. Sometimes sound effects conjure up images that are worse than any visual.

Nothing about this chronicle is expected. That quality elevates this breathtaking odyssey into a compelling and bewildering experience. In a bit of misdirection, the movie starts with a cryptic quote from an obscure book of the Hebrew Bible: Nahum 3:6: “I will cast abominable filth upon you, make you vile, and make you a spectacle.” The prophet foretold destruction, and that is precisely what you will get. I was immediately taken aback. Is this Jordan Peele’s religious awakening? In a sense. His latest shows a reverence for Hollywood filmmaking.

Nope is about slowly building dread and the method for dealing with that danger. The account is masterfully detailed and executed. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema is among the MVPs with his masterful celebration of the visual grandeur using IMAX cameras. The presentation is stunning. Whether it’s the magnificent sweep of an aerial object or capturing the incongruity of inflatable tube men blowing in the wind across the open prairie, the impressive exhibition of Nope is terrific in a production inundated with the majesty of the unknown. Michael Abels’ (Get Out, Us) atmospheric music heightens the awe-inspiring displays. Jordan Peele borrows heavily from the book of Spielberg in how his narrative plays out. Most notably, the elements of Close Encounters, Poltergeist, and Jaws. The bloody iconography of The Shining and the love for classic Hollywood cinema in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood are in there too. Steven Spielberg made it scary to swim. Jordan Peele makes it frightening to look up at the sky.

07-21-22