Archive for the Horror Category

Sputnik

Posted in Drama, Horror, Science Fiction with tags on August 17, 2020 by Mark Hobin

sputnikSTARS3Sputnik embraces an ethos that will undoubtedly endear itself to some viewers more than others.  Personally, I get it.  There’s something extremely satisfying about a thoughtful sci-fi saga.  Scientists that are driven by intellectual thought more closely resemble the way things play out in real life than an action star that shoots first and asks questions later.  However, a movie favoring cerebral over emotional impulses is going to yield a decidedly lower level of raw excitement.

The year is 1983.  Two Soviet astronauts…er uh excuse me…cosmonauts are sent into space.  They unexpectedly encounter something out in the galaxy.  They crash land in Kazakhstan.  Only Konstantin (Pyotr Fyodorov) survives.  Authoritarian military Colonel Semiradov (Fedor Bondarchuk) is in charge of the government’s effort to study him.  Tatyana (Oksana Akinshina) is the controversial but effective doctor he brings on board to assist.  English speakers will probably associate the title with the first satellite launched in 1957 by the Soviet Union.  However, Sputnik is also the Russian word for “companion” and that’s exactly how it is meant here.  Konstantin inadvertently brought something back with him.

Creature design and mood are the best parts.  The potent but restrained use of special effects is highly effective.  The alien looks a bit like the Hammerpede entity from Prometheus but with the face of a wolf spider.  It’s impossible not to see how the DNA of Alien (1979) is an inspiration for the story.  Many have taken note of the similarities.  However, where Alien took place in space, Sputnik is a claustrophobic saga set in a laboratory where an explorer is being studied.  Additionally, the personality of the extraterrestrial is significantly different.   I contend this story actually adheres a lot closer to the narrative of Venom (2018).

Sputnik is fascinating.  I was completely enrapt whenever the creature was on screen.  I enjoyed so much about this film.  Screenwriters Oleg Malovichko and Andrei Zolotarev rely heavily on talky exposition for most of its runtime.  Yet many plot developments leave the spectator with questions that are still left unexplained by the end.  That’s a bit frustrating. The schizophrenic late in the movie shift to deliver a standard action movie style climax leaves a bad taste too.  Sputnik is the feature directorial debut of Egor Abramenko.  Given this audacious effort, I am interested to see what he does next.

08-15-20

She Dies Tomorrow

Posted in Drama, Horror, Thriller with tags on August 1, 2020 by Mark Hobin

she_dies_tomorrowSTARS1.5Not one feature in 2020 was inspired by the COVID‑19 pandemic.  After all, movies this year were made well before our current situation.  Oh, I’m sure at some point in the future a ton of releases will be directly influenced by our dystopian state of affairs.  Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped us critics to carelessly reinterpret everything as a metaphor for Coronavirus disease.  This is the umpteenth film to be analyzed this way.  That may help make it seem more of the moment, but it also serves to emphasize that the narrative is extremely weak.  The constant threat of death we have faced over the past year coupled with state-mandated restrictions and economic shutdowns are so much worse than anything these entitled individuals have to endure.  Their life is a blissful utopia by comparison.

So a woman named Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) thinks she’s going to die tomorrow.  Amy expresses these feelings to her friend Jane (Jane Adams), who thinks she’s crazy at first.  Then Jane too thinks she’s going to die.  Jane likewise confides this to her brother Jason (Chris Messina) and his friends at a birthday party he’s throwing for his wife Susan (Katie Aselton).  Like a virus, soon they too are consumed by the same feeling.  This continues.  That’s the story.

Some readers may notice a similar preoccupation with how death spreads with esteemed titles like The Ring and It Follows. Those films are infinitely more interesting.  She Dies Tomorrow is burdened with a very low budget aesthetic.  The focus shifts from one character to another so we are introduced to several sullen types.  The personalities all suffer from an overwhelming sense of ennui and are largely depressing.  Everyone acts in a very naturalistic style without any concern for advancing the plot.  Knowledgeable fans may recognize actors Chris Messina, Josh Lucas, and Michelle Rodriguez who all appear in brief cameos, so I guess director Amy Seimetz must have called in a few favors.

Given the fact that not much of anything happens, conversation and mood are the whole point.  These are successful souls agonizing over a self-centered existential crisis.  People whine about insignificant problems they have intellectually created within their minds.  These thoughts have caused Amy to drink.  She also has just moved into a new home.  Poor thing!  She replays an oppressive version of Mozart’s “Lacrimosa (Reprise)” by Mondo Boys on a record player.  Yes, a vinyl record so she’s a privileged hipster.  She plays it over and over again to the point of irritation.  The characters mumble their dialogue.  Much of the script feels improvised.  Hallucinogenic flashing lights and overbearing sound design attempt to add interest.  Unfortunately, while the idea of death escalates, there’s no explanation as to why any of this is happening.  No resolution either.  Inexplicably, critical reaction has been positive.  I was completely bored by the entire affair.  When I wasn’t disinterested, I was slightly amused.  At times the production is so ostentatiously experimental, it borders on parody.   Despite the laughs, the experience was mostly tedious.

07-22-20

The Rental

Posted in Horror, Thriller with tags on July 30, 2020 by Mark Hobin

rentalSTARS4You’ll reconsider the next time you decide to stay at an Airbnb after watching The Rental.  I mean when you think about it, moving into a stranger’s abode, even if only for a few days, is awkward.  It’s an intimate experience that requires trust.  This portrait presents insidious behaviors I may never shake.  But isn’t that what effective horror does?  Introduce fears that now haunt you.  I mean Hitchcock made the simple act of taking a shower scary.  2020 has had no shortage of horror films and wouldn’t ya know it.  This is a review for yet another.  Don’t write this off as an average release from the genre.  This one is quite good.

Our tale concerns two couples vacationing together for a weekend.  There’s Charlie (Dan Stevens) and his wife Michelle (Alison Brie) and then there’s Josh (Jeremy Allen White) and his girlfriend Mina (Sheila Vand). Josh and Charlie are brothers.  Mina and Charlie are business partners.  It sounds a little convoluted but as developments unfold, the relationships feel organic.  The connections help explain the familiarity that everyone has with each other.

The “rental” of the title refers to a glorious ocean view estate along the Oregon Coast.  The property is available to rent for anyone looking to get away.  Well, actually Mina’s application to lodge there is denied until Charlie’s is approved.  Did the fact that her full name is Mina Mohammadi have anything to do with that?  The group wonders.  That’s the first, but certainly not the last, disconcerting situation our foursome encounters.  Josh insists on bringing his bulldog even though there is a distinct no-pets rule.  That doesn’t bode well either.  Upon arrival at the house, they meet their host, a good ol’ boy named Taylor (Toby Huss).  The creepy passive-aggressive conversation they have with him has unsettling undercurrents that set the tone for their stay.

The Rental is the directorial debut from actor Dave Franco (21 Jump Street, Now You See Me) and it is a surprisingly assured and accomplished effort.  Beautifully filmed, effectively acted, and well-plotted ….up to a point.  This horror saga is an efficient 88 minutes.  I dare say the first two-thirds had me thinking this was more of a psychological thriller along the lines of something Hitchcock might do.  A lot of the credit must also go to the king of mumblecore Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies) who brings his talent for natural dialogue to the screenplay he co-wrote with Dave Franco.  An interesting schism is introduced after a disagreement arises over whether to take recreational drugs that first evening.

The cracks that exist within their respective relationships underscore the subsequent events.  College dropout Josh has already expressed reservations that he feels he isn’t good enough for wildly successful tech entrepreneur Mina.  These thoughts weigh on his mind.  Co-workers Charlie and Mina are back at the mansion dealing with a hangover from the previous night.  Meanwhile, Josh and Michelle have a deep discussion while the two are out walking together in the woods that same morning.  Josh drops some revelations.  Michelle begins to doubt Charlie’s faithfulness after being confronted with a disturbing pattern in his past relationships.

The Rental holds a brilliant set-up that could have gone any number of ways.  I must tread lightly for fear of spoilers but the uneasy feelings are further compounded by a shocking discovery they make on the property they are renting.  Unfortunately, the end isn’t — shall we say — as intellectually sophisticated as the beginning.  In fact, the narrative devolves into a completely different film.  I admit I enjoyed both of them.  What ultimately happens is still exciting.  Just a wee bit anticlimactic after the impressive setup I relished before.

Relic

Posted in Drama, Horror with tags on July 14, 2020 by Mark Hobin

relic_ver2STARS4The Unforgiven is a western with Burt Lancaster and Audrey Hepburn from 1960.  Unforgiven is a 1992 western directed and starring Clint Eastwood.  Heat is a 1995 crime drama with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino.  The Heat is a 2013 crime comedy featuring Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock.  The pantheon of two distinct movies whose titles are merely differentiated by an article “The” just added a new member.  The Relic is a 1997 horror flick with Penelope Ann Miller and Tom Sizemore.  This current release Relic is a 2020 horror movie starring Emily Mortimer.  However, it begins rather peacefully as a drama.  That’s part of what makes this narrative so compelling.  It ever so gradually lures you into its web of dread.

Relic is shrewdly built around a simple premise.  What will happen when our parents age?  The story is about a concerned woman named Kay (Emily Mortimer).  Her mother Edna (Robyn Nevin) goes missing and so she takes a trip out to the dilapidated old mansion where she lives and brings her own adult daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) along for moral support.  Kay’s mother does indeed show up again but she seems…..a little strange.  At first we the audience wonder if Edna is suffering from dementia, but then there are these weird sounds and shadowy figures that sort of appear in the nooks and crannies of the house.  It’s beautifully photographed at times exploiting the eerie vacant spaces of a large house as Kubrick did in The Shining.  These events justify that Edna’s fears might be based on very real things.

First time director Natalie Erika James does an excellent job at presenting this narrative.  It’s profoundly unsettling because it truly makes us understand the same experience as this trio of women.  We begin to question what is mental illness and what are supernatural forces?  Actress Robyn Nevins is like two distinct people as the aging matriarch.  When Edna gifts a ring to her granddaughter it’s a sweet gesture from a loving grandmother.  The very next day she angrily demands why Sam has stolen the ring when she notices it on her finger.  The scene suggests senility but Edna almost appears possessed, a completely different person.  It’s very effective.

Relic may be a spartan tale but it feels deep because of the thoughtful performances.  Director James adds all sorts of little touches to give these women a soul.  Edna’s home is littered with a collection of sticky notes as reminders to do menial tasks.  She has a hobby of carving candles, large bulky pieces whose wax has been twisted to form intricate shapes.  Meanwhile, Kay and her daughter Sam have a strained relationship.  Sam’s aimless job is a point of contention while Kay’s preoccupation with her own career has left poor Edna neglected.  Actress Emily Mortimer is always good.  As Kay, she exhibits fragility while still seeming intelligent and capable.  The thespian wields her vulnerability like a weapon that compels audiences to care.  If you enjoy horror flicks that are creepy without being overly graphic, then I highly recommend this film.  I quite enjoyed it.

07-10-20

The Wretched

Posted in Drama, Horror with tags on May 29, 2020 by Mark Hobin

wretched_ver2STARS3If nothing else, this movie will be an answer to the trivia question: What was the highest-grossing film in the U.S. during the Coronavirus pandemic?  The Wretched is a box office hit.  Theaters are still mostly closed in the U.S.  But thanks to around 60 drive-ins that have been allowed to operate across the nation, it has earned nearly $700,000 to date.  That’s pretty impressive.

This horror offering doesn’t really dwell on grotesquerie.  It’s more of a supernatural coming of age tale about a lonely teen named Ben (John-Paul Howard) whose parents are getting a divorce.  He’s currently staying at his father’s home.  While there, he gets a summer job working at the marina.  There he makes a friend in Mallory (Piper Curda).   Then the neighbor’s child Dillion (Blane Crockarell) doesn’t show up for his sailing lessons.  Things get more disturbing when his whereabouts become a mystery.   The family clearly had a son but now the father Ty (Kevin Bigley) denies ever having one.  He’s seemingly under the spell of his wife Abbie (Zarah Mahler).  She has been acting extremely weird.  Ben suspects the woman might be a witch.

The Wretched is a decent amalgamation of scary movies and journey into adolescence.  This is one of those stories where the protagonist is trying to reconcile his ability to fit in while also having to deal with some mystical shenanigans at the same time.  Puberty is hard enough!  I’ll admit the screenplay isn’t particularly innovative.  It’s a throwback to teen flicks like Fright Night, The Faculty, and Disturbia.  Let’s face it.  Even those pictures aren’t that original either so this is like a copy of a copy.  Nevertheless, among horror films being released in 2020, it holds up.  The production is stylishly attractive.  The practical effects are refreshingly subtle while remaining creepy nonetheless.   Additionally, the leads are rather likable.  That goes a long way in propelling this release into something worth watching.

05-24-20

The Lodge

Posted in Drama, Horror, Thriller with tags on May 17, 2020 by Mark Hobin

lodgeSTARS3When horror movies are bad, they are intolerable.  For me, that includes slasher flicks that solely exist to show blood and guts.  On the other hand, when they appeal to our psychological fears, they can be fascinating.  The Lodge comes from directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala.  They seem to specialize in what aficionados call arthouse horror:  Under the Skin (2013), The Witch (2015), and Midsommar are recent examples.  The genre is not for all tastes but if you enjoyed the Austrian filmmaking duo’s admittedly far superior feature debut Goodnight Mommy (2014) then this is a decent followup to that production.

This is a portrait that capitalizes on the emotional state of a person.  The tale concerns two children Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh).  They have been forced to spend Christmas at the family’s remote chalet in the mountains of Massachusetts with their father Richard (Richard Armitage) and his girlfriend Grace portrayed by an excellent Riley Keough.  The mood is grim because the kids’ mother Laura (Alicia Silverstone) has recently committed suicide upon learning that Richard intends to wed Grace.  While at the cabin, Richard the father responds to a work obligation, insensitively leaving Grace alone with the kids.  Empathy is clearly not one of this guy’s strong suits.  The “evil” stepmother is a trope, but Grace seems nice.  However, the children are understandably antagonistic toward her.  This stranger has ostensibly replaced their mom in their father’s life.  Some additional backstory, Grace was raised within a cult when she was a child.   She happens to be the only survivor of a mass suicide carried out by that group.  The underlying unease — inspired by that disturbing event — plays a significant part in the ensuing drama.   Let’s just say Grace is still dealing with some unresolved issues.

The inability to interact with our fellow man is genuinely lamentable.  As we currently shelter in place for the third month, the horror of social isolation has become a reality.  Whether it’s been enforced upon us by the state (COVID-19) or in a situation in which we have inadvertently placed ourselves (this movie), confinement can divide families.  Stepmom Grace (Riley Keough) is simply trying to coexist with her fiancé’s progeny.  The Lodge also involves physical deprivation.  Their dwelling soon loses power and heat.  That further adds to the ongoing tension.  Is this merely a matter of faulty utilities or is there something more sinister lurking beneath the surface?

Arthouse horror takes its time to progress.  It relies less on violent circumstances and more on a deliberate pace to intensify despair.  What I most appreciate about The Lodge is you can’t predict what’s going to occur at any moment.  The chronicle effectively exploits a creepy and unnerving atmosphere.  I truly admire that quality.  The narrative style captivates the viewer much in the same way that slow-burn storytelling snags an audience.  Plot developments unfold ever so slowly.  These characters aren’t keen on conversation but rest assured it’s all gradually building toward an explosive finale.  Before that happens, the anxiety is nerve-shredding.  I’ve purposely kept the specifics vague because more details would spoil the fun.  However, I will admit the account is seriously flawed.  There are some unexplored ideas the story could have considered.  The Lodge is a film of missed opportunities to be sure.  However, I was captivated throughout the saga and that’s saying something.

02-25-20

Vivarium

Posted in Horror, Mystery, Science Fiction, Thriller with tags on April 8, 2020 by Mark Hobin

vivarium_ver2STARS2.5Before March 2020, a science fiction-themed work like Vivarium would’ve been just another riff on a Twilight Zone episode.  Ok, I’ll concede that it utilizes a premise stretched preciously thin by its feature-length.  Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) and Gemma (Imogen Poots) are a young couple that go house hunting.  A peculiarly unsettling real estate agent, named Martin (Jonathan Aris)  introduces them to a residential tract development called Yonder that takes cookie-cutter housing to its conformist extreme.  Martin leads them into house #9.  They go inside. They chat for a short while and suddenly * poof * he’s gone.  They attempt to leave themselves but get lost in Yonder’s labyrinth of similar-looking roads.  After a while, they run out of gas.  Now they are compelled to spend the night.  The nightmare has begun.

Vivarium is a pessimistic ordeal about two individuals trapped at home.  Tensions arise due to the oppression of their forced isolation.  Occasionally there are incidents that will pique the viewers’ interest.   Early on the couple awake to discover a box with a living infant boy inside.  The instructions on the box read: “Raise the child and be released.”  The perplexing occurrence continues to lull the viewer into a state of unease.  The misery of parenthood is definitely a theme but it’s made worse by their confinement and inability to escape.  Their involuntary restriction to interact with anyone else adds to their growing hysteria.  Director Lorcan Finnegan has co-written a story with Garret Shanley about a civilization where personal freedoms have been eroded.

Vivarium‘s existentialist horror is admittedly helped by admirable production design.  Philip Murphy creates a maze of generic green monopoly houses that stretch endlessly unto the horizon.  The vivid color palette is quite effective.  However, no amount of style can obscure the fact that this is simply a movie about two people constrained to stay at home with an unruly child.  Can anyone relate?  The point could have been conveyed in a 10 minute short.  Yet Vivarium cruelly hammers the same objective for a full 98-minute feature.   The film is not only a descent into hell for the couple but for us the audience as well.  Let’s get down to brass tacks.  A month ago I might’ve found this to be an amusing — albeit implausible — bit of fantasy about a dystopian society.  At this moment in time, it feels strangely prescient.  Timing is everything in life.  Regardless, it doesn’t matter when this bit of hokum was unleashed onto the public.  It’s not powerful.  This a case where sadly real life is stranger (and a lot bleaker) than fiction.

04-06-20

Color Out of Space

Posted in Horror, Science Fiction with tags on March 23, 2020 by Mark Hobin

color_out_of_space_ver2STARS2.5When Nicolas Cage goes “Full Cage” it gives me comfort in times like these.  All U.S. theaters have been ordered to close for an indefinite period in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.  Hollywood production (as is much of the rest of the world) is currently halted to slow the spread of the virus.  There won’t be any new movies playing in cinemas for a while.  This is unchartered territory.  How long this can last is anyone’s guess.  Yet I will persist.  This won’t deter me from writing.  As long as DVD & streaming still exists, I will review new releases on that platform.  Color Out of Space opened to a mere 81 theaters back on January 24, 2020, in the U.S.  Needless to say few people (including me) had the ability to see it — even if they wanted to.  It was subsequently released to VOD, Digital, DVD, and Blu-ray on February 25th.

I was primed to enjoy this production.  Color Out of Space is science fiction fueled horror from Richard Stanley, the director infamously fired from The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996).  That might be a cause for concern.  On the plus side, this was produced by the same people who brought us the bizarre 2018 action horror film, MandyMandy was directed by Panos Cosmatos (Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)).  Now I’m not saying Mandy was great art, mind you, but it presented a bizarro appeal that I found amusing.  It’s was unique and that’s saying something in an age of reboots and sequels.  That cast featured Nicolas Cage in a wild acting display that added to its eccentricities.  He’s starring in this too and I can say his presence definitely adds to the strangeness.  The actor has been cultivating an offbeat persona ever since he starred in Valley Girl way back in 1983.  Anyone familiar with the actor’s work knows he chooses projects where he can bring an air of eccentricity.  This feature is no different in that respect and I can appreciate that.  In fact, there are a lot of similarities between the two films.  Nevertheless, where the quirks seemed to make sense in the former, it doesn’t serve much purpose here.

From a narrative standpoint, Color Out of Space is a fairly simple tale based on a short story by H. P. Lovecraft.  If you’re acquainted with that author, you know he can be a bit odd.  The text is significantly more scientifically detailed than what we observe onscreen.  The adaptation doesn’t have that much of a plot.  A meteorite plummets to Earth in a dazzling blaze of purple-pink hues and lands in their yard on a remote New England property.  Things get decidedly weirder from there.  Actually, I’m making the adventure seems like more than it is.  Meteor lands.  Mayhem ensues.  That’s it.  But there are some captivating special effects and an interesting visual style.  At one point, a large multi-eyed creature that resembles a praying mantis crawls out of the well. It’s a creepy moment.

Nicolas Cage gives another gonzo performance.  It takes a certain suspension of disbelief.  He plays a father married to his wife Theresa (Joely Richardson) with three kids Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur), Benny (Brendan Meyer) and Jack (Julian Hilliard).  They’re all living on a rural farm.  They also care for a herd of animals which allows Cage to say, and I quote “Now if you don’t mind, it’s time we milk the alpacas!”  The actor gets a lot of campy lines.  Another “delightful” exchange with his beloved daughter has him screaming at her to “Get the f— out of my sight, okay?”  Then he reconsiders and says “No, actually, I’ll save you the trouble and get the f— out of yours!”  He constantly reprimands his wife and kids with an exasperation that borders on comic relief.

This is not for people who idolize the work of H.P. Lovecraft.  It’s more like a springboard to create random vignettes.  Nonetheless, audiences who revel in Nicolas Cage doing his uniquely deranged schtick will find much to savor here.  The silliness doesn’t stop with the dialogue.  Another episode features mom making dinner.  While cutting carrots, she chops her own fingers instead of the vegetables.  I can’t even do the scene justice but everything is done for comedic effect.  The story is one big joke.  I admire this film for its silly sensibility and creative aesthetic.  However, those looking for a coherent account will find it lacking.  Oh, I forgot to mention that Tommy Chong pops up as an eccentric squatter who lives on the fringes of the family’s homestead.  He’s the cherry on top of a very messy sundae.

The Invisible Man

Posted in Horror, Mystery, Science Fiction, Thriller with tags on March 16, 2020 by Mark Hobin

invisible_manSTARS4I’ve seen a lot of good movies over the past year, but it’s been a while since an opening scene grabbed me as quickly as this one.  It’s so perfectly crafted.  A woman (Elisabeth Moss) wakes up in the middle of the night.  Cecilia is lying in bed.  There is a man (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) sleeping beside her.  His arm draped around her waist. A look of fear appears as she gently extricates herself from his grasp.  A nearby bottle of Diazepam suggests he has been drugged.  Quietly and methodically she retrieves her belongings, turns off the alarms and positions one camera to face Adrian, the sleeping man, so she can monitor him from her phone.  She attempts to leave.  However, at the last minute, his dog accidentally sets off a car alarm.  Cecilia is forced to make a run for it into the street where her sister (Harriet Dyer) is already waiting in a car.  No sooner has she entered the vehicle when Adrian comes out, smashing the window before Emily drives her away to safety.

I’m a big proponent of less is more.  Those early minutes are the very definition of that phrase. Despite the fact that no words are spoken, the introduction is a perfect tease to whet your appetite for more.  Sure you will have questions, but the answers are skillfully revealed over time in a way that supports the artistry of this narrative.  It may not rival Hitchcock, but someone has clearly studied his methods.  The Invisible Man was written and directed by Leigh Whannell – perhaps best known for writing movies directed by James Wan (Saw, Insidious).  Whannell may have made an unfortunate directorial debut in 2015 with Insidious: Chapter 3.  I won’t mince words.  It was an execrable work.  However, this feature is a solid example of his skills as a director.

The Invisible Man is such a fascinating endeavor.  That effectiveness is due in no small part to the performance of Elizabeth Moss.  The actress rarely does commercial releases like this.  She generally favors indie fare, although Us was a rare exception.  This is actually Moss’s first true lead role in a studio production and if it’s any indication of her abilities, there should be more.  We slowly come to learn the man she escaping from is Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a powerful tech entrepreneur who also happens to be an abusive boyfriend.  No injury is depicted.  However, her behavior tells you everything you need to know.  The intro is rather sophisticated.  However, the rest of the account amps up the violence.  People are dragged, hit and thrown by an unseen force.  It’s pretty well done so I found that action to be captivating.  However, on two occasions a person’s throat is graphically sliced open and those demonstrations are decidedly less understated.

The Invisible Man is a remake of the classic 1933 Universal monster movie (which was based on H.G. Wells’ 123-year-old sci-fi novel.  This saga bears little resemblance to the original source.  They’ve basically extrapolated Wells’ seed of an idea to create a completely different film for a contemporary audience.  The feature was originally going to star Johnny Depp and be a part of Universal’s Dark Universe.  Then the reboot of The Mummy franchise starring Tom Cruise flopped.  It deserved to — it was simply awful.  So when the idea of continuing the “Dark Universe” was canceled, we narrowly avoided a potential catastrophe.  Given how great this smaller-scale version turned out, it now seems like a blessing in disguise.  The Invisible Man is so much better than I could have imagined.  A low-budget Blumhouse production may have more modest ambitions.  However, it still manages to highlight the creativity and character development that makes a story compelling.  These characteristics elevate this horror flick which remains one of the very best films in the first quarter of 2020.

03-10-20

Brahms: The Boy II

Posted in Horror, Mystery, Thriller with tags on February 25, 2020 by Mark Hobin

brahms_the_boy_iiSTARS1.5Brahms: The Boy II is a fittingly awkward title for a story that did not demand a continuation.  The Boy was a modestly budgeted horror release in January of 2016.  It went on to gross $35 million in the U.S. and ultimately made $68 million worldwide.  It only cost $10 million so the fact that a sequel was made isn’t surprising.  The bewildering concept is that the previous entry ended on a note of finality.   A clever reveal made it seemingly impossible to create a compelling follow-up from that basis.  None of the actors from the film return incidentally.  My fears were indeed justified.  This movie is utterly uninteresting.

Killer toys usually involve a doll coming to life.  It’s practically a horror genre unto itself now.  They have a long and rich history.  I often point to the 1963 episode “Living Doll” from the TV series The Twilight Zone as a key inspiration.  It wasn’t the first example but it was a notable work.  The Child’s Play series is probably the most famous incarnation for audiences of today.  The Boy is part of that tradition and it was a serviceable drama that offered an amusing twist.  For this work to exist, however, screenwriter Stacey Menear had to retroactively introduce new elements.  These additions change what made the original film unique and reduce this new offering into something wholly pedestrian and dull.

Brahms: The Boy II is so thoroughly generic, mundane, banal, mediocre, uninteresting that to write a longer review would essentially be a creative exercise in using a thesaurus.  Sadly the narrative is a complete zero.   Nevertheless, it has some nice attributes.  I will admit the production design is lush.  The old mansion with its rooms of ornate furniture is nicely photographed and there is an underlying sense that something exciting could happen at any point.  Actor Christopher Convery as 8-year-old Jude conveys weirdness.  Sitting in a sweater-tie combo alongside his porcelain doll dressed in identical attire is a captivating image.  Now how’s that for a plot twist?  A one-and-a-half star review that ends on a positive note.