Archive for the Mystery Category

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

Nightmare Alley

Posted in Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller with tags on January 4, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“Film noir” is a term used to describe the genre of stylish crime dramas released between 1945 and 1960. Subsequently, “neo-noir” was a loosely defined term created to describe pictures that advanced the same sensibility but came after the classic period. Nightmare Alley is a novel by William Lindsay Gresham published in 1946 and subsequently became a 1947 movie starring Tyrone Power. Now Guillermo del Toro has adapted the same story (with Kim Morgan). Truth be told, my expectations were substantially restrained. I wasn’t a fan of his last release, The Shape of Water. However, color me surprised. I was completely captivated by this adaptation. Some of my favorite neo-noirs of the past 25 years include L.A. Confidential (1997), Match Point (2005), Brick (2005), Drive (2011), and Nightcrawler (2014). Nightmare Alley is an outstanding addition that ranks highly on that list.

The crime drama begins within the shadowy world of a second-rate carnival. Bradley Cooper is perfectly cast as Stan Carlisle, a charismatic man of questionable character. Stan takes a job in a traveling carnival owned by Clem Hoatley (Willem Dafoe). The occupants consist of the usual hustlers, grifters, and various sideshows including the unfortunate circus geek (Paul Anderson). Stan begins working with a clairvoyant act that comprises “Madame Zeena” (Toni Collette) and her husband Pete (David Strathairn). Pete becomes something of a mentor to Stan and begins teaching him the tricks of the trade. These methods incorporate cold reading techniques used to extract information from their marks. However, Pete warns never to use these tricks to put on a “spook show” which means channeling the dead. Meanwhile, Stan is attracted to Molly Cahill (Rooney Mara), a fellow carny whose schtick is to allow electrical charges to run through her body. He makes suggestions that improve her act. They form a connection. Then he proposes they leave the carnival together and start a new routine on the road exploiting the craft he has learned. As his approach becomes more and more sophisticated, Stan enters the pantheon of high society. Things get progressively more complicated from there.

The last time Guillermo del Toro directed a production it won the Oscar for Best Picture. That feat is unlikely to happen again. Nightmare Alley hasn’t been as warmly embraced. However, as far as I’m concerned, this is a far superior work. Guillermo del Toro has built a solid reputation on stories about monsters. Although his latest chronicle doesn’t feature any mythical creatures, it still details monsters of humanity. The story may involve unsavory people but it’s gorgeously filmed by cinematographer Dan Laustsen. At the same time, production designer Tamara Deverell recreates a 1930s carnival with authenticity and style. The tale unfolds with the complexities of a carefully plotted saga helmed by a director who knows exactly what he is doing. Every filmmaking decision informs the account which features an extraordinary ensemble of actors, all of which give performances worthy of acclaim. It’s incredible I’ve gotten this far and haven’t even mentioned Dr. Lilith Ritter, a psychiatrist played by Cate Blanchett. The character is a femme fatale in the most classic tradition. I’ve purposefully kept the specifics of her involvement secret so as not to spoil any of the twists and turns of the narrative. The second Lilith challenges Stan at one of his shows, I was enrapt. Every scene in which she is featured is mesmerizing. Ok so honestly, I was engaged throughout. That is the barometer of an entertaining movie. This also happens to be a work of art.

12-23-21

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

Lamb

Posted in Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller with tags on October 19, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Can overanalyzing a movie diminish its enjoyment? I love this question because it acknowledges a simple truth about films we love. Some accounts — while fascinating — don’t stand up to that kind of analysis. Lamb is a captivating picture, but it needn’t be scrutinized. It’s not for everyone, but it was for me. I enjoyed its weirdness.

Director Valdimar Jóhannsson is making his feature-length debut. He co-wrote the screenplay with Sjón, a poet, novelist, and lyricist who frequently collaborates with singer Björk. This folk tale concerns sheepherders in rural Iceland. On a fateful Christmas Eve, one of their sheep has a baby. This lamb is different. The couple has lost a child and perhaps this is why they take extra interest in the animal. The overarching through-line is a tender yarn about a maternal bond. They wrap the animal up, bring her into the house and have it sleep next to them in a crib in the bedroom. They name her Ada. It takes some time before we — the audience — understand what makes this baby unique. Although if you’ve seen the trailer, her deformity will not be a surprise.

The mood is somber and there is little conversation. The actors convey a lot with looks and glances . Actress Noomi Rapace (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo [2009]) imbues María with a steely resolve. Rapace is a Swedish actress but she lived in Iceland for a few years with her family as a child. She is still fluent in the language. Actor Hilmir Snær Guðnason (The Sea) is less famous outside of his native Iceland. As Ingvar, he manages to convey both the stoicism of Gerard Butler and the lighthearted goofiness of John Ritter. I use those references because he suggests both actors in appearance.

Haunting and hypnotic. That’s Lamb in a nutshell. It is a production that heavily relies on atmospherics . Developments unfold rather slowly. There’s a palpable feeling that something sinister is brewing. Like a pot simmering on the stove just on the precipice of a boil. However, there are welcome bits of levity that alleviate the solemnity. Ingvar’s brother Pétur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) shows up unannounced to stay for a while. The next morning he is sitting at the breakfast table. When Ana comes to the table, the look on his face is priceless. His response affirms what the audience has been thinking.

Lamb can be challenging. The story is not heavy on plot. Movies that get by on simplicity should be brief. This saga is 14 minutes shy of 2 hours. There are periods where the lack of dialogue and events don’t serve the production. The stretches of silence can almost parody the minimalism of an art-house flick. Then again, I’m convinced the humor is intentional. The visual manifestation of Ana is a weird hybrid of horror and comedy. A chronicle with a slow narrative with little action can often tax the viewer’s patience. Here however the quality has enough provocation to keep the viewer enrapt. There is so much to appreciate here.

10-12-21

No Sudden Move

Posted in Crime, Drama, Mystery with tags on July 28, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

It feels like a lifetime ago when Steven Soderbergh first announced his arrival with Sex, Lies, and Videotape. It caused a sensation at the Cannes Film Festival in 1989 when it won the Palme d’Or. It also revolutionized the independent film movement in the early 1990s by making significant money at the box office. The last time Steven Soderbergh directed something that felt like an event was probably Magic Mike in 2012. That was nearly a decade ago, but the auteur has been steadily turning out movies. Some are great (Side Effects) and some are not (The Laundromat).

No Sudden Move is pure Steven Soderbergh. In that sense, it’s a film noir that should delight his most ardent fans but leave everyone else in the cold. It stars past collaborators Don Cheadle (Out of Sight, Ocean’s 11) and Benicio Del Toro (Traffic, Che). Curt and Ronald are two petty criminals each separately hired by Doug (Brendan Fraser) to work together. They are to kidnap low-level executive Matt (David Harbour) and force him to retrieve a document from his boss’ (Hugh Maguire) safe. You won’t know what that piece of paper is until the very end and even then it’s a perfunctory reveal that’s more likely to elicit a shrug than a gasp. That MacGuffin — by definition — was never the point.

It’s all about style and mood. Steven Soderbergh has honed his craft. This is a period piece set in Detroit, Michigan during 1954 that weaves the auto industry and organized crime into a dense account. Apparently, those two worlds have a lot in common. What begins in the rugged streets of Detroit ultimately ends up in the stately board room of a company. The idea that rich and powerful corporations have little regard for the law in their all-consuming desire for money is a most tired subject. Yet it can be the simplistic basis for a very entertaining story.

Simplicity enhances the possibility for depth. Soderbergh has a solid foundation. Unfortunately, each subsequent scene is burdened with more densely written dialogue than the next. The chronicle never gives the audience a chance to ponder what’s happening before additional layers are added. The narrative is weighed down by details. Ed Solomon’s screenplay confuses characters with excitement. Ray Liotta, Jon Hamm, Amy Seimetz, Kieran Culkin, Noah Jupe, Craig Grant, Julia Fox, Frankie Shaw, Bill Duke are all introduced as essential cogs in a complex machine. Not enough? Let’s throw in an uncredited cameo by the director’s most frequently employed actor. The Johnny Depp to his Tim Burton as it were. Soderbergh’s fans already know who I’m talking but I’ll leave his appearance as a surprise to everyone else.

The late great French director François Truffaut once pronounced that clarity is the most important quality in making a picture. No Sudden Move is a heist film. In essence, the saga is simple, but the plot twists and turns through an ever-expanding ensemble. In a tale where shifting alliances are the norm, you can’t be sure of anything. The only thing you can count on is that no one can be trusted. There’s nary a break in the conversation. Wait a minute? Who’s Frank Capelli? Is that Aldrick Watkins? These questions and many others will likely arise. Those key characters are portrayed by actors Ray Liotta and Bill Duke incidentally. Consulting a cast list will prove most helpful. If this were a live performance, I’d rely on a playbill to keep track of all the parts. This is a production that demands your undivided attention with no distractions. As such it would’ve been the perfect choice for a theatrical experience. Sorry. It bypassed theaters and was released on July 1 to HBO Max. This means you will need the right setting to enjoy this movie. I did and that’s why I’m recommending the film.

07-25-21

Fear Street Part Three: 1666

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

Rating: 3 out of 5.

This follows Fear Street Part Two: 1978

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

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

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

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

07-19-21

Fear Street Part Two: 1978

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

Rating: 2 out of 5.

This follows Fear Street Part One: 1994.

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

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

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

Next up: Fear Street Part Three: 1666

07-13-21

Fear Street Part One: 1994

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

Rating: 2 out of 5.

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

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

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

Next up: Fear Street Part Two: 1978

07-06-21

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

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

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

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

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

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

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

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

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

06-04-21

The Woman in the Window

Posted in Crime, Drama, Mystery with tags on May 24, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

The Woman in the Window apes the work of Hitchcock so superficially that the word “derivative” doesn’t seem to do it justice. Perhaps forgery is more apropos.

This glossy thriller stars Amy Adams as a former child psychologist living in Manhattan named Anna. She’s recently separated from her husband Ed (Anthony Mackie), who has custody of their nine-year-old daughter Olivia (Mariah Bozeman). Nevertheless, they periodically talk on the phone. Anna rents her basement to a boarder named David Winter (Wyatt Russell).

More important information. Anna suffers from agoraphobia and never leaves the house. She regularly spies on her neighbors, out of boredom I suppose. The Russells — a family of three — move in across the street. She meets their teenaged son Ethan (Fred Hechinger). He is a sensitive soul, and they quickly form a close bond. Then Anna greets his mom Jane (Julianne Moore) when she happily drops over. They have a chat over wine where Jane alludes that her husband Alistair (Gary Oldman) is abusive. A bit later, she sees Jane stabbed to death while staring out her window. She is convinced Alistair is the culprit.

The inspiration for The Woman in the Window is clearly Hitchcock’s Rear Window. THE miracle of 2021 cinema would have been if this even came close to that masterpiece. The feature is directed by Joe Wright (Atonement, Darkest Hour). Screenwriter Tracy Letts (August: Osage County) — who also appears as Anna’s psychiatrist — adapted the 2018 novel by Daniel Mallory who writes under the pseudonym A. J. Finn. It’s not a crime to be inspired by a classic film. Borrow from the best and call it an homage, right? Yet shoddy art is still some sort of an offense. I’d like to make a citizen’s arrest. This story is sloppily thrown together.

For one thing, the screenplay doesn’t play fair with the audience. We’re never 100% sure that what Anna sees and does is real. She is frequently drinking wine and in a constant drug-induced haze because of her anxiety issues. She blacks out a lot. Are psychoactive drugs to blame? Is she being psychologically manipulated by the people around her? Maybe she’s just mentally depressed? We can’t take what we are shown at face value.

The Woman in the Window has gotten mostly negative reviews. Yet I didn’t hate it as much as some. It starts out rather promisingly as a slow-burn mystery. However in the last 30 minutes, the narrative hastily dumps all of its revelations. It’s ridiculous. I’ve seen episodes of Scooby-Doo that ended better. Actor Brian Tyree Henry closing dialogue as a detective is particularly bad. Another thing that annoys me is when you insert clips of famous movies in your new production. Anna loves old films. Not only do we see a clip from Rear Window, but also Laura, Spellbound, and Dark Passage. The choice inadvertently mocks the viewer. Thanks for reminding me of all the better motion pictures I could be watching right now.