Archive for the Horror Category

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

The Black Phone

Posted in Horror with tags on June 28, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

At first, it seems like an idyllic opening for a coming-of-age tale set in 1978. Finney Blake (Mason Thames) is a shy but talented pitcher who nearly strikes out Bruce (Tristan Pravong), a rival baseball star. The 13-year-old has a crush on Donna (Rebecca Clarke), a girl who serendipitously adores him right back. Finney’s also got a small but protective buddy named Robin (Miguel Cazarez Mora), a capable fighter.

Unfortunately, Finney and his sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw) are beset with severe problems. Their mother committed suicide even before our story begins. Their father (Jeremy Davies) awash in grief, is reduced to an abusive alcoholic. A group of bullies led by Moose (J. Gaven Wilde) torments Finney. It gets worse. The small town — a suburb of Denver, Colorado — is plagued with a series of kidnappings. An evil murderer is snatching juveniles in a dark van while wearing harlequin-like masks and brandishing black balloons. The media has dubbed this individual “The Grabber” (Ethan Hawke). Gwen harbors latent psychic abilities and experiences prescient dreams about the case. Her knowledge of unreleased details worries two detectives (E. Roger Mitchell and Troy Rudeseal). Missing youngsters start to accumulate, including both Bruce and Robin. Then one day, Finney encounters the Grabber and becomes his sixth abduction.

1970s period piece detail adds to the creepy atmospherics. Most of the film takes place in a darkened basement. The room is soundproof, with only a bed, a toilet, and a black phone mounted on the wall to break up the monotony of the space. Finney is alone, but other kids once occupied this area. Children in peril movies can be rather egregious, particularly ones threatening sinister developments too horrifying to recount here. It’s an alarming situation, and I braced myself for the worst. Luckily the mood veers towards optimism. Finney and his sister Gwen form a commendable sibling bond. They truly support one another. She never ceases to lose focus on her brother’s predicament.

It is so refreshing to see a horror movie where paranormal forces are actually working on the side of good. Ten years ago, writer-director Scott Derrickson gave us the low-budgeted but highly effective Sinister. Now he’s back to flip the script with co-writer C. Robert Cargill and star Ethan Hawke. The creative trio delivers another nifty Blumhouse production. The Black Phone flirts with a hackneyed formula. Menacing clowns, spunky kids, and inept adults were highly derivative ideas when Stephen King published It back in 1986. You’ll find all of that here. Yet the screenplay subverts expectations. We come to realize “The Grabber” is guilty of murder. Our mind recalls infamous serial killers Ed Gein, Ted Bundy, and Jeffrey Dahmer. But like them — he’s still a flesh and blood human. After he’s been abducted, Finney unexpectedly receives supernatural help from a mysterious source. There is a positive foundation that elevates the saga. Finney and his sister Gwen form a compelling team even when they are apart. They give us hope even during the film’s unsavory tone. The maturity of their performances unexpectedly raises the production into something uplifting.

06-26-22

X

Posted in Horror, Thriller with tags on June 9, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Certain productions evoke an age so perfectly that they feel as if they were made in that decade. It is most admirable that for a significant portion of its runtime, X is a well-mounted period piece. OK so the period is 1979 and the piece surrounds a small crew making an adult movie, but the aesthetic of X is artfully realized. The visual manifestation of the era is off the charts.

The traveling troupe is an eclectic mix of memorable personalities. Mia Goth is starlet Maxine Minx and Wayne is her producer boyfriend. Actor Martin Henderson is doing an amusing impression of Matthew McConaughey as the wannabe mogul. The rest of the troupe includes her fellow actors Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow) and Jackson Hole (Scott Mescudi aka Kid Cudi). Aspirational director RJ Nichols (Owen Campbell) thinks he’s creating art, and his innocent but curious girlfriend Lorraine (Jenna Ortega) does not. There’s a simmering feeling of unease that compels us to keep watching.

The group is on a road trip in rural Texas to photograph a new film. They arrive at the remote farm of cantankerous Howard (Stephen Ure) and lusty Pearl (also played by Mia Goth) — a creepy elderly couple. We’re not supposed to notice that both actors are aged with makeup, but the pair look a bit odd. Howard brandishing a shotgun is downright hostile. I would have turned around at this point. Nevertheless, he allows them to stay in the guest house anyway. The ensemble begins secretly recording The Farmer’s Daughters there without their hosts knowing. Ah but there’s a bit of humor lurking in the shadows. You see it turns out X is really a slasher film. Everyone knows that the sexual desire surrounding a porno shoot is exactly the kind of thing that’s going to incur the wrath of a killer.

X remains bloodless for so long, that I forgot it was horror. The vivid atmosphere of the 1970s is pure and the human conversation is surprisingly genuine. I was disappointed when it ultimately devolved into a mass of dead bodies. Writer-director Ti West (The House of the Devil, V/H/S) evokes the backwoods dread of pictures like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes. This is a sincere homage. He also drapes hackneyed themes onto the narrative. The superficial exploration of aging, mortality, religion, and morality is as effective as a diaphanous shawl in a snowstorm. Honest scares are appreciated though. I’ll admit a hungry alligator provides a potent shock. This should satiate fans of arty slashers. (Is that a thing?) However, I was disheartened by the promise unfulfilled. An evocative setup is consummated by the predictability of the genre. I guess the destruction of human bodies never goes out of style.

X is currently available as a video rental through streaming services (Amazon, Microsoft, Apple TV, FlixFling, etc.) and on DVD, which means it’s $1.99 at a Redbox kiosk.

05-24-22

Men

Posted in Drama, Horror, Science Fiction with tags on May 26, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

An impressive setup is always appreciated, but a satisfying conclusion is fundamental. Obviously, a movie should hold up from start to finish, but a great beginning is all for naught if the resolution can’t make good on the buildup. Men is the manifestation of a promise unfulfilled, an interesting idea that devolves into a disappointment.

Jessie Buckley is Harper Marlowe, a woman who retreats to the English countryside after her husband’s (Paapa Essiedu) death. They had a heated argument in James’ final moments. He became abusive and struck Harper in the face. She angrily pushed him out of the room and locked the door. He either attempted to climb back into the room from the 2nd floor and slipped or purposefully committed suicide by jumping, impaling himself on the iron fence below. His passing haunts her. A retreat to more peaceful surroundings does little to allay her anxiety.

Men is a folkloric fable that exploits the darkness of rural landscapes. The Wicker Man is perhaps the granddaddy of the genre but The Witch, Midsommar, and Lamb are all recent examples that did this skillfully. At the very least, Alex Garland vividly extracts an unsettling atmosphere from the seemingly tranquil setting of a country estate. Ah but something sinister is afoot. The first half employs the splendid cinematography of frequent collaborator Rob Hardy in an account of a woman’s unease. Harper hopes to alleviate her stress. The heart of the drama is built on the solid base of a compelling performance. Actress Jessie Buckley engenders our sympathy. That’s key. Actor Rory Kinnear is also memorable as the landlord of the manor where she’s staying. He is — as the English say — an odd duck. Also bizarre are the townsfolk of the village. These include a vicar, a policeman, and a schoolboy. Each one is an insensitive male figure with a dismissive attitude. Rory Kinnear plays them all.

I enthusiastically anticipate a new production from Alex Garland. He gained notoriety with screenplays that included 28 Days Later, Sunshine, and Never Let Me Go. Then cemented this reputation with his directorial debut Ex Machina. He followed with Annihilation. I had high expectations for his latest offering. The tale brilliantly creates the impending sense of dread for a woman. I felt that. The appearance of a stalker in the garden of the estate is a disturbing image I won’t soon forget.

Sadly, the chronicle doesn’t end well. The allegory is rife with symbolism. The cerebral exercise inserts pagan iconography like the Sheela-na-gig and the Green Man without explanation. When she first arrives, Eve — er uh I mean Harper — picks and eats forbidden fruit from a tree in the garden. But what exactly is Garland trying to say? Deciphering a story bereft of a plot but loaded with imagery can be daunting — especially when the metaphors aren’t profound. As the saga limps toward its crushing denouement, one can only luxuriate in the mood. Delve further to decipher the meaning beneath what’s presented and I uncovered a superficial objective, unsuccessfully realized.

The ickiest body horror in filmdom can repel or fascinate based on context. David Cronenberg (The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome, The Fly) practically originated the genre. At the very least, he regularly exploited it. John Carpenter’s The Thing, and Rick Baker’s makeup for An American Werewolf in London are iconic examples. Those hallucinatory displays served the narrative and elevated the plot. Here the payoff rests on an over-the-top effect designed to shock, but to what end? I’ll leave a deep psychological analysis of its themes to the viewer. However, it’s hard to ignore that Alex Garland has saddled his movie with such an all-encompassing title. Men suggest the overall conflict between the sexes. Its reflection on gender is — at best — obvious and superficially explored. I didn’t glean any insight or enlightenment from the presentation. This ultimately failed in execution.

05-19-22

Morbius

Posted in Action, Adventure, Horror, Superhero with tags on April 4, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The idea that each new superhero release must be a crucial component of some grand interconnected universe, is a bit wearying at this point. Morbius is indeed a meager slice of a larger pie that includes the Venom flicks. So far the three pictures are the cinematic manifestation of Sony’s rights to Spider-Man. Despite Morbius’ attempt at worldbuilding, its aspirations are low. The straightforward tale is just a monster movie at heart. Its undemanding nature is ironically a strength.

The story is extremely basic. Michael Morbius is a doctor who suffers from a rare blood disease. Michael’s colleague is Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona) and she predictably becomes his girlfriend. In his quest to cure his condition, he accidentally turns himself into a vampire who craves blood. Now Morbius is constantly torn between his human and monster states. He gets special powers whenever he transforms. Extra-sensory hearing is one ability. It bizarrely converts his ears into what looks like the gills of a mushroom. “Mad scientist cursed by a beastly alter ego” is a familiar trope. The same idea afflicted The Incredible Hulk and his alter ego Bruce Banner for example. There’s even a moment where Morbius utters the line “Don’t make me hungry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m hungry.” Sometimes a joke is so eye-rollingly bad it ends up being good. Granted the chronicle is cobbled from the details of other better films. Morbius’ deep fascination with vampire bats even recalls Batman.

Morbius has idiosyncrasies that amuse, sometimes unintentionally. Coming off of his flamboyant but enjoyable achievement as Paolo in House of Gucci, Jared Leto surprisingly underplays the role with a quiet intensity. With his neatly trimmed beard and long locks parted in the center, he suggests a Jesus-like figure in his well-groomed appearance. He is an odd personality. He arrogantly refuses the Nobel prize because his groundbreaking work may have saved millions of lives, but it didn’t improve his own. Well, that’s a stupid decision. His incongruous reference to The Notebook when a character gets sentimental is also comic. Speaking of whom, Matt Smith does the scenery-chewing as Morbius’s surrogate brother. Milo suffers from the same illness. Smith invigorates the silly drama with a goofy performance. His little dance as he’s getting dressed is an amusing interlude.

Morbius is not great for a variety of reasons. The saga frequently relies on wonky computer special effects. It culminates in the type of generic battle that blights even the best superhero installments. An end-credits sequence renders the film we just watched as a prelude to a sequel. I’m not looking forward to more chapters. However, if you can disregard that annoyance, the film is an uncomplicated piece of entertainment. It demands so little. At 104 minutes it unfolds in a blip — an antidote to bloated epics marred by their distended runtimes. Comic book obsessives usually don’t uplift a shorter account as better. Perhaps my unfamiliarity with the material helped. While the narrative is derivative, it’s pleasant as a creature feature. Morbius is not an experience that requires you dash to the nearest theater, but it is fitfully diverting.

03-31-22

Scream

Posted in Horror, Mystery, Thriller with tags on January 17, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Definitions vary but in Scream, a “requel” is a movie that functions as a sequel to an existing franchise but mimics so much of a previous entry that it verges on being a remake in disguise. Pictures like Mad Max: Fury Road, Jurassic World, Creed, and The Force Awakens are examples of this. Those all coincidentally came out in 2015. Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a recent illustration. As most of these titles show, a requel isn’t necessarily bad. That similarity exists between Scream and…Scream. Of course, Scream is fully aware of this before it apes the plotline of…Scream. Now this is confusing. From here on out, I’ll be adding a 5 to the latest Scream so I can (1) distinguish it from the title of its 26-year-old predecessor and (2) call it out for what it is.

Scream 5 returns to the quiet (?) town of Woodsboro, California. Yet another killer dons the Ghostface mask and begins targeting a group of teenagers. An attack on Tara (Jenna Ortega) compels her estranged older sister Sam (Melissa Barrera) to visit her in the hospital. Tara’s group of young and attractive friends assemble to figure out whodunit. Secrets from the town’s past come to light. That’s it. The plot isn’t going to win any awards. It’s Scream redux. In 1996 Scream became a substantial hit by turning the slasher film inside out. It satirized the clichés of the genre while also exploiting them. But let’s face it, it’s 26 years later and Scream 5 certainly can’t continue doing that.

Scream 5 brings something new to the table. This casts a wider net and considers the current state of sequels whose plot may seem like carbon copies of the original movie. Scream 5 mocks this idea. Then proceeds to do the very same thing by mimicking the developments of Scream but gently tweaking the narrative in meaningful ways. The screenplay is indeed funny and that’s where this installment shines. Even the very title imitates the recent trend of “back to basics” sequels that dispense with numbers like Halloween (2018) and Candyman (2021). This act of self-awareness is a precarious balancing act. There’s a fine line between smug and clever, but luckily screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick straddle the line. Scream 5 keeps you entertained with what it has to say.

It’s the spirited new cast that carries the story. The chronicle opens with a recreation of Scream‘s iconic intro when Drew Barrymore as Casey Becker answered the phone. This time however it’s actress Jenna Ortega playing Tara Carpenter. She has a debate about “elevated” horror pictures from directors like Jennifer Kent, Jordan Peele, and Ari Aster with an unknown voice. “I prefer The Babadook,” she says. I feel you, girl. The caller then forces her to play the most stressful trivia game ever before invading her home. Ortega is effective as Tara Carpenter. Even more compelling is actress Melissa Barrera (In the Heights) who portrays her older sister Sam. They enhance the saga because they’re likable. That’s important in a slasher film. I mean it helps when we care the people don’t die, right? “Legacy” characters David Arquette, Neve Campbell, and Courteney Cox are all back to placate longtime followers. They’re appreciated in supporting roles but aren’t essential to the story.

The screenplay also offers a cogent dialogue concerning certain zealous fans — specifically enthusiasts who feel betrayed by franchise installments that don’t adhere to a narrow definition of what constitutes a “good” sequel. Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) recounts how Stab 8 — the meta slasher film series within the Scream universe — forgot everything people loved about the first and undermined the subsequent movies. She is hip to horror tropes like her uncle, Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) in Scream & Scream 2. Her conversations with twin brother Chad (Mason Gooding) are where the script is able to intelligently introduce discussions about the perpetrator of these attacks and toxic online fandom.

Scream is the most meta franchise we have. Yes, I see you Deadpool. For the first time, a Scream movie is not directed by Wes Craven, who sadly passed away in 2015. Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett honor the spirit of the original while still offering a fresh take. This is the same directorial duo who created the ultraviolent Ready or Not in 2019, so expect blood to spurt and spray more than you’ve ever seen in a Scream film — at least since the first. I didn’t need to see the camera linger on a victim as the knife goes into the side of their neck and pops out the other side. Nor witness the ridiculous number of stabs that one (albeit deserved) fatality gets. With that said, the kills are creatively staged. One murder recreates the shower scene in Psycho but wait a minute…does it? The killer’s whereabouts upends our expectations. Scream 5 pokes fun of the sequel, fandom, and of course the slasher genre. A lot of it will feel familiar and that’s kind of the point. A witty screenplay coupled with a youthful and charismatic cast make this material feel vibrant once again.

01-13-22

Last Night in Soho

Posted in Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller with tags on October 30, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

A wistful affection for the past is understandable — even encouraged — at times. Nostalgia for swinging ’60s is a relatable devotion. I happily support any script that has a love for female soloists of the UK. I’m talking about singers like Cilla Black, Petula Clark, and Dusty Springfield, all of whom appear on the soundtrack. This is a saga about one fictional singer named Sandie ( Anya Taylor-Joy). But what if that sentimental yearning for yesteryear were turned on its ear? Perhaps the “good ol’ days” aren’t so rosy. Last Night in Soho is a gripping seed of an idea from director Edgar Wright he considers in a screenplay with Krysty Wilson-Cairn. The concept is a fascinating contemplation for half the narrative …..and then that approach is discarded for — shall we say — less intellectual concerns.

Ellie Turner (Thomasin McKenzie) is a young woman who aspires to be a fashion designer in the modern day. However, she has a fondness for 1960s attire and music. She has been accepted into a fashion school in London. Ellie is excited, and her grandmother Peggy (Rita Tushingham) is rightfully proud. However, gran warns that London is a city of “bad men.” Ellie initially plans to stay in the dorms, but roommate Jocasta (Synnove Karlsen) and her “mean girl” pals are less than welcoming. So Ellie gets a place of her own — a rented room in the flat of Ms. Collins (the legendary Diana Rigg in her final film). That night while in bed under the covers, she is magically transported back to London during the youth-driven cultural revolution. Ellie’s odyssey begins. This phenomenon will happen repeatedly on each subsequent night. She will be changed by these adventures. The past is a thrilling period…until it isn’t.

Ellie’s trips to the sixties are electrifying. There she is transformed into a completely different woman. Her experiences as the more worldly and confident Sandie are pretty captivating at first. They even have a beneficial influence on her in the current day. Ellie’s clothing designs — as well as the way she presents herself (hair, wardrobe) — will become a reflection of these encounters. They have a positive effect. Last Night in Soho gives Director Edgar Wright an excuse to indulge in what he does best. Recreate an age for which he has an obvious connection with style and panache. He then employs a soundtrack that augments his aesthetic. So often these needle drops in movies are tired ditties we’ve heard fifty thousand times. To his credit, not a single tune from the Beatles is referenced. Edgar Wright manages to select well-known chestnuts of the time that haven’t been played to death. At least not to this American reviewer’s ears. I have a penchant for the music of this generation so It’s not often that I am not able to identify every song. This production had me consulting the internet afterward and adding new selections to my existing pop playlist focused on the 1960s. That’s high praise.

Last Night in Soho enthusiastically and skillfully emulates the age with sophistication and verve. Her surroundings are an aural and visual trip that brilliantly captures the excitement of another era. A special shout-out must go to Marcus Rowland’s fantastic production design, the costumes by Odile Dicks-Mireaux, and Chung-hoon Chung’s cinematography. Ellie is captivated and so are we. A dazzling dance on the floor of the Cafe de Paris has Sandie/Ellie being swept off her feet on the floor of the club. The dance intermixes actresses Thomasin Mckenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy with her partner Jack (Matt Smith) and the manipulation is pure cinema. The camera angles and lighting are perfectly in sync to duplicate an era that is beautifully realized. These scenes dazzle the eye. The presentation is astonishing. I was transfixed to the screen. The manifestation is a passionate celebration of the fashion and music of the decade . Halfway through, I seriously believed this was going to be the best movie of the year.

Edgar Wright’s display is a genre mashup-up that ultimately details the despair of a promise unfulfilled. I suppose there are many innovative ways in which the director could have taken this interesting adventure. It turns out that blood-soaked zombie horror is not one of them. I go into most films not knowing anything about them, so this twist came as a shock. I did watch the trailer afterward and discovered it fully acknowledges the descent into horror. Knowing this development can only enhance your experience since it prepares you for the abrupt turn of events the story takes. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t have made what happens more palpable. Unless that is you think Georgy Girl would have been a lot better if only it had an ending like Night of the Living Dead.

10-29-21