Category Archives: Horror

“Us” Movie Review

After watching this movie late at night, I’m officially afraid to look at myself in the mirror anymore. Not that I was a particularly big fan of doing so to begin with. This horror thriller premiered as the opening night feature for the 2019 South By Southwest Film Festival. Following incredible buzz from those who attended, Universal Pictures released the film worldwide on March 22nd, 2019. Making over $7.4 million from Thursday previews, which far outpaced that of the director’s previous film, it has thus far grossed over $247.4 million at the global box office. Already on its way to an extremely profitable run, the film had the highest-grossing opening weekend for an original film since James Cameron’s Avatar way back in 2009. Written and directed by Jordan Peele, the film is the second of five proposed “social thrillers” he wants to make, the first of which was his debut Get Out. Disappointed by audiences’ general confusion about that particular film’s genre, he went ahead and decided to make a full, straight-up horror movie, inspired heavily by the Twilight Zone episode “Mirror Image.” The director has repeatedly stated that while it was very important for him to have black actors in the starring roles, the film is not actually about race. Lupita Nyong’o stars as Adelaide Wilson, a young woman dealing with a trauma from earlier in her life. During the summer, she goes with her husband Gabe, played by Winston Duke, and their children Zora and Jason to a family beach house in Santa Cruz. One night, they are confronted by a group of evil doppelgängers named “The Tethered.” Throughout the night, they must fight to survive the Tethered and their cruel plans while getting a closer look at who they really are. That right there is about as far as I can go with the premise before getting into spoiler territory. Much like the director’s previous effort, that description just barely scratches the surface for what’s really going on in the film. That was one of the main reasons why I loved Get Out so much back in 2017, and a huge reason why I was anticipating this movie. Ever since the project was first announced last spring, I’ve been salivating to see what movie Jordan Peele would come up with next, especially after winning Best Original Screenplay. Even if it wouldn’t be great, I would still make an effort to go see it in theaters because the director already has THAT much support from me. While it may be a completely different film from Get Out, Us is just as much of an audacious, thought-provoking, and supremely entertaining genre film from the former comedian. However, your own enjoyment of the film might have to depend on expectations. If you’re expecting another round of scathing social commentary on race relations in America, then you’ll likely be disappointed. This is indeed Jordan Peele’s first swing at a horror movie, with plenty of loving tributes and subversions sprinkled in throughout. In that sense, Get Out is arguably thematically stronger and more focused in on its issue. That being said, I would actually argue that Us is a better paced film, and it still has a lot on its mind than mere suspense and kills. It isn’t just the idea of “we are our own worst enemy,” but also how classism in modern society can help create a fear of the Other. Once you strip away a person’s social standing, or lack thereof, there’s very little that separates us from each other. Lupita Nyong’o has built an amazing repertoire over the last few years, and this performance is only the next step in her career. As Adelaide, she is paranoid and mindful of all of her surroundings, always feeling like the threat is only a few paces behind. She reunites with her Black Panther co-star Winston Duke, who strays very far away from his role as M’Baku. His performance as Gabe is one of trying to consistently prove himself as the “man” of the house, attempting to impress their wealthy friends and act intimidating when the Tethered all arrive. Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex are also worth noting as the daughter and son, Zora and Jason, respectively. Both of them forego the trope of bad child acting in horror cinema by adding endearing layers to their characters, making us truly care about their survival. Other players include Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Anna Diop, Tim Heidecker, Elizabeth Moss, twins Cali and Noelle Sheldon, and Duke Nicholson. Of course, all of the actors also pull double duty with their Tethered counterparts, managing to be both creepy and physically imposing. Nyong’o is especially impressive as her doppelgänger “Red,” particularly during an unbroken monologue about her life story told through an unsettlingly raspy voice. Meanwhile, the technical aspects of Us show that Jordan Peele is only getting an even stronger grip on his own unique voice. For this outing, he chose Mike Gioulakis as the cinematographer, who also shot Glass and It Follows, and it really paid off. Like those other film’s there’s a certain fluidity and surreal nature to the camera in each scene. The lighting is on point, capturing the darkness in each character with subtlety and grace while making room for some impressive Steadicam moments. Nicholas Mounsour edits these moments together really well. Not once during the 1-hour and 56-minute runtime did a scene feel choppy or hard to follow. The precision and deliberate cut between each different scene or shot is extremely commendable. It often moves back and forth between two separate time periods, offering more context to what’s going on. Michael Abels returns to collaborate with the director to compose and conduct the instrumental film score, his second for a feature film. It’s an infinitely more impressive soundtrack than Get Out, utilizing numerous unconventional instruments to convey a sense of creepiness. The film’s opening credits are played alongside an unsettling anthem that mixes chanting in a nonsense language and unique percussion beats. Other tracks use either swaying or plucked strings to their advantage and never act as a device for a cheap jumpscare. The soundtrack also utilizes the hip-hop song “I Got 5 On It” by Luniz to great effect. Abels somehow managed to transform it from a fun, feel-good song into a genuinely terrifying melody. That’s no easy task, and for that alone, he deserves to be on a list of the most promising composers working today. With strong performances, evocative imagery, a fantastic score, and one of the most unique movie monsters in recent memory, Us is a marvel of originality and thought-provoking ideas wrapped in a fun horror movie. By taking lessons from his debut feature, Jordan Peele has already established himself as a filmmaker who has my undivided attention. I eagerly look forward to anything he’s working on in the future, and I hope that in the years to come, we’ll be talking about this film the same way we’ve been talking about The Shining and A Nightmare on Elm Street and all of the other horror classics.

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“The Curse of La Llorona” Movie Review

How exciting! This is my first ever review for a film I saw at a festival! I wish it were a better film, but hey I won’t complain too much. This supernatural horror thriller had its world premiere at the 2019 South By Southwest Film Festival. It is currently scheduled to be widely released in theaters on April 19th, 2019, by Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema. Made for the budget $35 million, given the studio’s track record the last couple years, it should have little problem earning it all back by the end of its theatrical run. But whether its middling critical reception can improve with general audiences remains to be seen. Produced by James Wan and Gary Dauberman, this movie marks the feature-length debut of director Michael Chaves, who previously helmed a number of short films. The screenplay was written by partners Tobias Iaconis and Mikki Daughtry under the original title The Children. Wan and CO. were apparently so impressed by Chaves’ work on the film that they immediately hired him to take over the next Conjuring film, which is supposedly slated to begin production later this year. Set in Los Angeles in 1973, Linda Cardellini stars as Anna Tate-Garcia, a social worker and widow. She’s called to check in on the status of a single mother Patricia Alvarez, played by Patricia Velásquez, who claims to be protecting her two boys from La Llorona, a ghost in Latin American folklore. Also known as the Weeping Woman, the story goes that a young Mexican woman drowned her children in a river after discovering her husband’s infidelity and then drowned herself out of extreme guilt, cursed to wade through the waters for eternity. Now, Anna becomes convinced that La Llorona is coming after her family next and enlists the help of a disillusioned priest, played by Raymond Cruz, to stop the evil spirit. Let’s get this out of the way before going any further: The Curse of La Llorona is the newest film in The Conjuring Universe. While such rumors had persisted for a while, it was always marketed as its own standalone horror flick. I don’t really consider this to be a spoiler because the connection to the other films is extremely lowkey, but take it as you will. To be perfectly honest, I don’t really have that much familiarity with this franchise, other than hearing a lot of praise from horror fans. I enjoyed what Wan did with the first Saw movie, and I like how he’s giving opportunities to newer filmmakers in the genre like Chaves or David F. Sandberg. Being my first experience at a film festival, there was a unique sort of anticipation I had for this film. And while The Curse of La Llorona has its share of fun moments, it just can’t quite rise high enough to separate itself from the crowded deluge of ghost movies. I have no doubt that Michael Chaves has a great career in the genre ahead of him, and he certainly shows some great skill behind the camera. But the issue is that the script he’s working with is so rote that it often feels like he’s fighting off what begs to be a jump-scare fest and dumb character decisions. At the very least, it could have honestly used an overhaul by another writer to make it a lot better. Furthermore, similar to The Cloverfield Paradox last year, I don’t feel like this had to be connected to The Conjuring at all. It’s a very fleeting moment shown in the latter half that doesn’t bear any actual relevance to the plot itself. I understand the desire for brand recognition to increase box office potential, but this could have easily written that crossover out entirely and no one would be the wiser. Linda Cardellini’s built a pretty sweet resume over the last few years with roles in films like Green Book and the underrated A Simple Favor. For her first stab at the horror genre, she does a pretty great job as Anna and exudes a certain vulnerability and strength in a frightened mother. Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen and Roman Christou play both of Anna’s children, Samantha and Chris, respectively. While horror films are often prone to terrible child actors, these two showed a decent range with what they were given. Patricia Velásquez is also pretty good as the petrified mother in Anna’s case while Breaking Bad‘s Raymond Cruz delivers some goods as a man of faith who may be the family’s best hope of survival. While they both did well with the material, their limited screen-time and development makes it hard to become invested in them. Cruz particularly feels underutilized and only really becomes important in the second half, and at that point he feels more like an archetype than an actual character. As continues to be tradition with New Line’s horror films, The Curse of La Llorona has some pretty polished and inspired moments from behind the camera. Wan’s regular cinematographer Don Burgess captures much of the action in darkness, often switching between tight Steadicam and handheld scenes. After a somewhat uneven prologue, the opening scene sees a single shot follow Anna and her children rushing around the house to get ready for school, setting the atmosphere. There are also a number of admittedly impressive bits where a shot seems like it’s following the titular ghost in one area, only for her to come back in the same shot. But the editing by Peter Gvozdas is pretty inconsistent and at times frustrating. While not necessarily choppy, it does feel in favor of creating jump scares with different shots following another. It can be clever sometimes in how it shows imagery, such as highlighting table cloths to imply that La Llorona is there. But the film is already wrestling with a meager script and editing it in such a ham-fisted way felt detrimental. Despite what the tone this review may make you think, I had a decent time with it. This is certainly a leap ahead of other horror movies like Wish Upon and The Bye Bye Man, but it still feels weighed down because of its obligation to the Conjuring Universe. Definitely a better viewing experience with a huge crowd, The Curse of La Llorona is a fleetingly scary flick that muddles a truly terrifying legend in favor of franchise connections. If for nothing else, this film shows that Michael Chaves clearly has a lot of talent and should enjoy a healthy career in Hollywood. His and Wan’s hearts are in the right place, but it just doesn’t make enough effort to distinguish itself from the genre. You’re most likely going to leave the theater having a fun time with all of the other patrons, but won’t remember much of it come the next day. But hey, it was super fun to watch at South By Southwest, so it’s great for that memory.

“Velvet Buzzsaw” Movie Review

I’ve only been to a handful of art museums in my home state in Texas, and I can confirm that there are indeed people who act like the people in this movie. I shudder just to think how much more snobby they could be in a huge place like L.A. or New York. This satirical horror-thriller premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival to a wide range of responses from those who attended. Just 5 days later, it was released in a limited theatrical engagement as well as on the streaming service Netflix on February 1st, 2019. The $21 million production was supposedly originally going to be released back in October of last year, but got pushed back. Written and directed by Dan Gilroy, the same man behind 2014’s Nightcrawler, the project was conceived from the filmmaker’s tumultuous experience co-writing Tim Burton’s unmade version of Superman Lives. Embittered over Warner Bros. concern for the increasingly large budget over anything else, it had apparently taken him quite a while to make peace with the disaster. He has frequently described the film to be similar in themes and style to Robert Altman’s ensemble classic The Player. Set in the glitzy modern art scene of Los Angeles, the story follows quite a few characters, but it mostly focuses on well-renowned art critic Morf Vandewalt, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. His agent and lover Josephina, played by Zawe Ashton, discovers a treasure trove of never-before-seen paintings by a recently deceased artist named Vetril Dease. But when numerous people in the world of art seek to profit off of them, including Rene Russo as the cutthroat gallery owner Rhodora Haze, these paintings apparently come to life and start murdering anyone wanting to make money. 2014’s Nightcrawler is one of my absolute favorite films of the last decade, and one of the best directorial debuts I’ve ever seen. It was clear that Dan Gilroy had something to say about the ruthless world of commercial entertainment and how anything can be made into such with enough grit. Not to mention, it featured two astounding and horribly snubbed performances from Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo as the sociopathic protagonists. The prospect of seeing these two actors reunite with Gilroy on a brand new movie, especially one as oddball as this ,was highly intriguing. After all, the modern art world has essentially become a parody of itself. And while Velvet Buzzsaw isn’t anywhere near as good or revelatory as Nightcrawler, it’s still very entertaining and engaging. Although it is a straight-up horror flick, it really isn’t all that scary or even disturbing. Rather, Velvet Buzzsaw approaches its subject matter with a surprising amount of silliness and hot air, (The characters’ names are deliberately ridiculous) while still telling its story with a lot of venom. Most of the individuals in the film are pathetic creatures who only care about how much money a piece of art may make, and not at all appreciate what Jackson Pollock or Allan Kaprow are trying to say with their art, with one character exclaiming, “What’s the point of making art if nobody sees it?” However, it ultimately falls prey to its setting, and at points it starts to feel like a pretentious critic shouting into the void. While it is poetic that the film was funded and released by Netflix, it still doesn’t feel as insightful or deep as it wants to be. Thankfully, it tries to avoid much self-seriousness with a mad capper tone, which helps save it from becoming a hollow mess. Morf Vandewalt has to be one of the weirdest names I’ve seen recently, but Gyllenhaal hams it up perfectly. He’s a sniveling, detached, and snooty critic who may not even believe his own critiques as long as the piece is a success. Gilroy’s real-life wife Rene Russo and Toni Collette are equally brilliant as Rhodora Haze and Gretchen, the icy art gallery owners who always have money on their minds before anything else. While they may be rivals in the film, their goals are very similar as they want nothing more than to be the only ones to sell Dease’s paintings. And the big ensemble cast features awesome roles from John Malkovich, Billy Magnussen, Daveed Diggs, Tom Sturridge, Natalie Dyer, but the biggest revelation has to be Zawe Ashton a Josephina, the agent who finds the art in the first place. While at first she appears decent, she gradually and deliberately gets rid of any sympathy for this character as she herself succumbs to insatiable greed. Like Morf, she slowly becomes disillusioned with reality from these works and will do anything to stay at the top of the ladder. I’d love to see what else she has in store for viewers in the future. Meanwhile, the technical aspects show that Gilroy is further developing his own style and voice. With Paul Thomas Anderson’s regular cinematographer Robert Elswit, who shot the director’s two previous films, he proves once again he has a unique talent for shooting the city of L.A. The shots and framing are as sleek and shiny as the world in which the story takes place, and frequently floats around from character to character in a scene. It also uses lighting to its advantages in many aspects, such as telegraphing when someone might be killed next. The director’s twin brother John Gilroy also edits the film, as he has for every member of his family. It knows when to cut away from a shot or let something linger on-screen. And this being a horror movie, you’d expect there to be some creative or memorable deaths. With so much art to go around in the plot, I was pretty impressed by a lot of the kills, some of which drew real laughter from me. Replacing the director’s previous collaborator Jams Newton Howard, Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders give us the film score. I’ll be perfectly honest, I can’t remember a single track or note from the whole film, so it’s not really worth it. Instead, it leans a lot on contemporary pop or electronic songs. This ultimately contributes to making the art world feel even more plastic and vapid. Knowing what it wants to do and wasting zero time lollygagging before getting to it, Velvet Buzzsaw is a gleefully trashy and scathing, if somewhat slight portrait of profit over art. It’s definitely an interesting next step for Dan Gilroy’s directorial career, if not a totally solid one. He clearly has something to say and a particular way to say it, all while trying to keep it as an entertaining horror flick. I would say more, but honestly, critique can be so limiting and emotionally draining.

Top Ten Most Anticipated Movies of 2019

Welcome to to the year 2019, readers! Every year brings a new crop of movies that get my blood pumping for one reason or another. This year is no different, as there are a number of high-profile (And smaller indie) releases that have been holding my attention for months on end now. As per usual, there are so many coming out within the next 12 months that it was kind of hard to narrow down into a ranked list. I could only include 10 on this list, though, so here are several honorable mentions that are also on my watchlist for the year.

Honorable Mentions:

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Shazam!, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, It Chapter Two, Artemis Fowl, The Kid Who Would Be King, Missing Link, Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, Captive State, Aladdin, The Lion King, Alita: Battle Angel, High Life, Velvet Buzzsaw

Let’s see what’s coming out, now.

#10: “The Irishman” (TBA 2019)

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If the last few years have proven anything, it’s that Netflix really wants to be taken seriously in the filmmaking industry. While there are still several directors and producers who are cynical about the streaming service’s merits, they have managed to attract numerous high-profile auteurs due to their emphasis on creative and artistic freedom. One of those auteurs is Martin Scorsese, whose long-gestating project The Irishman was finally given the green light once it got to Netflix. While it technically doesn’t have an official release date yet, most sources seem to indicate that it’s going to be released sometime in 2019. And with the recent theatrical success of Roma, I can easily see this as a window for them to open more of their films in theaters. If for nothing else, I just want to see Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci (In his first role in nearly a decade) work together on-screen.

#9: “Joker” (Opens October 4th)

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I can’t quite explain why, but Todd Phillips’ Joker movie has my interest piqued more than any other comic book adaptation coming out next year. Obviously, I’m looking forward to Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel, and Shazam!, but this just seems really different from those other films in so many aspects. Based on many accounts I’ve read, Warner Bros. is gunning for a more character-driven, smaller-scale film. Rumor has it that they’ll let get an R-rating, and may even put it into a fall festival next year! Joaquin Phoenix seems like a natural fit for the titular part, reportedly having been terrified by the script he read. And if the set videos prove anything, it’s definitely going to be fast-paced.

#8: “Glass” (Opens January 18th)

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19 years it’s been since Unbreakable first came onto the scene as a brand new superhero movie, but the world was sadly not ready. Now, with a surprise twist at the end of Split, M. Night Shyamalan is officially bringing the story to a conclusion, albeit in a drastically different world than the one it was when it began. Superheroes have absolutely flooded the market in the last 10 years, and it’s both great that Glass is coming out at the genre’s peak, and sad that it took this long. Regardless, it looks like a really cool and intense showdown between the three super-powered beings we’ve come to know, all while wearing its love of comic books proudly on its sleeves. And its use of color looks genius.

#7: “Midsommar” (Opens August 9th)

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It’s honestly kind of problematic for me to say that I’m “excited” for a new movie by the same guy who made Hereditary. I honestly couldn’t blame anyone who still hasn’t recovered from that feverish nightmare, but writer-director Ari Aster already has another film coming down the pipe. This time, it involves a violent pagan cult in Amsterdam. Described as an “apocalyptic breakup movie,” A24 has reportedly constructed a 15-building village to bring his twisted vision to life, so it’s definitely worth keeping tabs on for the end of the summer.

#6: “John Wick 3: Parabellum” (Opens May 17th)

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The set photo above is easily enough to have me already pumped to the max about the supposed trilogy capper for Lionsgate’s surprise action franchise. I’ve absolutely loved these movies not just for their incredibly well-choreographed and shot action scenes but also for the unique world that has been built. John Wick 3: Parabellum seemingly promises to further blossom that world as we getting to see not only more assassins, but also introduces a society of NINJAS. Need I say more?

#5: “Us” (Opens March 15th)

It’s safe to say that after the phenomenal success of Get Out, including an Oscar win for Best Original Screenplay, Jordan Peele knows exactly what he wants to do and how to do it. He’s lined up quite a few projects as a producer with power that it’s somewhat easy to forget he’s stepping behind the camera once more next year for a new horror movie. The trailer for Us looks incredibly enticing, as it sees him tackling more high-concept material with a larger budget this time around, along with some impressive casting choices. I’m curious to see what sociopolitical topic Peele will be satirizing this time, but based on the imagery shown thus far, he’s cooked up yet another original triumph.

#4: “Ad Astra” (Opens May 24th)

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Having seen We Own the Night, The Immigrant, and The Lost City of Z, I’m now convinced that James Gray is one of the most underrated filmmakers working in America. He has a certain classical touch that seems to permeate across multiple genres. I’m incredibly curious to see what he has cooked up for Ad Astra, an original sci-fi epic apparently inspired by the novel Heart of Darkness. It centers on a slightly autistic Army engineer who goes on a space voyage to find his father, who was last heard heading for Neptune about 25 years earlier. Not only does boast stars like Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones, but also Christopher Nolan’s recent muse Hoyte Van Hoytema is handling the cinematography.

#3: “Knives Out” (Opens November 27th)

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With nary a poster, trailer, first-look image, or even proper synopsis in sight, it says a lot that I’m putting Knives Out this high on the list. It has been described by several sources as writer-director Rian Johnson’s modern-day take on a classic Agatha Christie whodunit murder mystery. It’s far too rare that we can get a movie as simple as that these days. Not to mention, it has a stacked cast including Daniel Craig, Lakeith Stanfield, Chris Evans, Don Johnson, and even Jamie Lee Curtis. It’s really intriguing to see what Johnson has in store for a smaller-scale story like this after helming a huge blockbuster like The Last Jedi. Speaking of which…

#2: “Star Wars Episode IX” (Opens December 20th)

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It feels super lazy for me to include a Star Wars movie on a list like this, but I just can’t help it. As per usual, any and all details of what might be going on in this sequel trilogy capper are being kept under lock and key. We do know that newcomers include Richard E. Grant and Keri Russell have joined the cast, Billy Dee Williams is reprising his role as Lando Calrissian, and the plot will take place one year after The Last Jedi, perhaps one of the most divisive films of the decade. What makes it all the more enticing is that it is planned to be the final installment of the Skywalker Saga, which has spanned decades now. Of course, Disney has more Star Wars material planned to come down the pipe, but to see the story finally reaching a real conclusion is kind of like taking one last trip to your old hometown before saying goodbye.

#1: “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (Opens July 26th)

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You’re going to have to work extremely hard to make me not feel excited for a new movie written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. While he has gone through some pretty rough patches recently- severing ties with Harvey Weinstein, the Roman Polanski audio, Uma Thurman’s revelatory Kill Bill story -the auteur still has plans and has no intention of slowing them down. His 9th feature film- and supposedly his penultimate one, if what he says is true -legitimately sounds like a passion project he’s been working towards his whole career. It’s going to be set in Hollywood 1969 as a Western T.V. actor and his longtime stunt double struggle to make it in a changing film landscape, and also happens to involve the infamous Manson Murders. Featuring an absolutely sprawling ensemble cast packed with movie stars and said to be close in style to Pulp Fiction, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood sounds like an epic in the making.

Do you agree with my picks? What are your most anticipated films coming out later this year? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the Comment section, and as always, if you like what you see here, be sure to Like this post and Following my Blog for similar content. Happy New Year, everybody!

“Hold the Dark” Movie Review

If this and Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia prove anything, it’s that the Alaskan Wilderness is a scary environment to go hunting for killers. I don’t care how pretty the scenery may be, if someone (Or something*) up there is wanted in questioning, I want no part in any of it. This horror thriller was initially set to premiere out of competition at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. However, following a series of heated clashes between the distributor and festival elites, it was pulled away from its original summer release and instead premiered at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival in mid-September to somewhat polarized reactions. Following another screening at Fantastic Fest, it was released (very briefly) in art house theaters and on the streaming service Netflix on September 28th, 2018. Directed by Jeremy Saulnier, the same man behind Blue Ruin and Green Room, his childhood friend and frequent star Macon Blair adapted the screenplay from the 2014 novel of the same name by William Giraldi. A24, the same production company that released Green Room, was initially supposed to distribute the film, before Netflix acquired worldwide rights in January of 2017. Set in December of 2004, the film opens with a young woman named Medora Slone, played by Riley Keough, whose young son is seemingly taken and murdered by wolves near a tiny Alaskan village named Keelut. She writes to Russell Core, played by Jeffrey Wright, a writer and retired naturalist who studies wolf behavior, begging him to help track down the wolves and kill them. She wants to make sure she at least has something to show her husband when he returns home, who’s currently deployed in Iraq. But while Core agrees and is out on the job, he accidentally gets drawn into a very dark mystery that the rest of the village seems to be in on. I’m a pretty big fan of Jeremy Saulnier’s two previous directorial efforts, Green Room and Blue Ruin. While the characters in both films were victims to making stupid choices, they both illustrated an exciting new filmmaker with a tight control on his voice. So getting the opportunity to see his next picture from the comfort of my dark living room in the evening made me anticipate Hold the Dark, not to mention the wonderful cast assembled. In particular, I wanted to see how he would be able to handle the bigger-scaled story compared with what he had previously written and directed. While it’s admittedly not really as great as those films, it’s still a solid thriller worth watching at least once. It’s clear in its metaphors that Saulnier has much he wants to say about human nature and our violent natural instincts. We witness numerous heinous acts committed by humans in either the village in Alaska or over in the Iraq warzone, ranging from murder to rape. In comparison, the wolves of Alaska, which are often viewed as savage and uncivilized, are oblivious to their own actions; everything that happens to them is seen as natural. Similar to his previous films, Hold The Dark doesn’t hold back on gruesome violence, but none of it ever happens unless it’s in service to the story. In fairness, Saulnier and Blair ultimately get carried away with their metaphors as the film doesn’t seem to lead anywhere totally concrete. It attempts to hint at something a little more supernatural, but rarely does something totally meaningful with it. I’ve enjoyed seeing Jeffrey Wright in a number of supporting roles over the years in both T.V. and film. And he proves here that he’s fully capable of carrying a feature-length picture as a lead character. As Russell Core, there’s a quiet aura and history of sadness and loneliness surrounding him, and we watch him trying to cling to reason and do what’s right. Riley Keough and Alexander Skarsgård also do great work as the Slone couple, who never seem quite right when they’re separated. From the very minute that these two first appear onscreen, they exude a cold, observational outlook on the remainder of their community. Julian Black Antelope and Tantoo Cardinal do superb supporting work as indigenous locals who seem to know something isn’t right with the family in question, while James Badge Dale is wonderfully subdued and grizzled as the honest cop hopelessly looking for answers. There are also tiny but effective parts by Peter McRobbie and Macon Blair himself that leave something of an impression. Meanwhile, the technical aspects of Hold the Dark reveal reasons why Saulnier is a talent worth watching out for. Magnus Nordenhof Jønck’s cinematography is quite gripping, using the bleak snowy environment to create a strong yet melancholic atmosphere. The way that it focuses on subjects and their every movements is very reminiscent of David Fincher, especially in the slow way that it reveals certain things. The editing by Julia Bloch, collaborator for the director on his previous efforts, cuts the movie in an extremely patient, slow to roll manner. Whenever violence bursts out, such as an intense shootout at a barn, it refuses to linger on gratuitous or bloody images for too long. It also focuses on certain subjects while other things are happening offscreen, as if to create a distant and observational look at the events displayed. Brooke Blair and Will Blair, Macon’s younger brothers and who have previously scored Saulnier’s last two features, have written some music for this film. It is in line with material they’ve written in the past, as it mostly consists of somber synthesizers and strings, reflecting the sad world the characters all live in. It also has a couple of tracks using the same instrumentation but instead arranged to rack up intensity. Filled with atmosphere and perhaps more metaphors than it can afford to carry, Hold the Dark is a sturdy, if unsatisfying slow-burn with a tight central mystery. Jeremy Saulnier proves that he’s able to handle a bigger budget, even if the results don’t always work. Moreover, Jeffrey Wright and Alexander Skarsgård provide some of their best work yet and show why they should be taken more seriously by studios and filmmakers. If for nothing else, this movie stands as further proof why I never want to live in Alaska.

“Suspiria” Movie Review

Watching this film in the middle of the night during Thursday previews was definitely not a smart move on my part. This supernatural horror drama initially premiered as part of the official competition at the 75th Venice Film Festival. Following a series of divided reactions at other festivals like Fantastic Fest and early Halloween screenings, it was released in theaters worldwide by Amazon Studios on November 2nd, 2018. Thus far it has only grossed about $1.2 million on a budget of $20 million, although it seems to have mostly attracted a younger demographic and currently has the highest screen-per-average box office launch of the year. Directed by Luca Guadagnino, best know for Call Me By Your Name, he had been trying, as a producer, to get a remake of the original 1977 film by Dario Argento off the ground since at least 2008. After numerous actors and potential directors dropped from the project, Guadagnino opted to helm it himself, aided by A Bigger Splash screenwriter David Kajganich. It also helped create one of the most high-profile fake actors in history with the alleged casting of “Lutz Ebersdorf” in a key role. Although it shares a similar setting and even features original star Jessica Harper in a cameo, all parties have insisted that this is not a straight remake of the original film. Set during the German Autumn of 1977, Dakota Johnson plays Suzie Bannion, an American dancer from a small Mennonite family in Ohio. She is accepted and moves into the prestigious Markos Dance Academy in Berlin headed by lead choreographer Madame Blanc, played by Tilda Swinton. A number of strange events occur, such as the disappearance of a radicalized American student named Patricia Hughes. Bannion soon realizes that the academy is being run by a history of sinister witchcraft, and is also investigated by psychoanalyst/Holocaust survivor Dr. Josef Klemperer. Although I haven’t yet watched the original film by Dario Argento, I can totally recognize why it’s considered a classic in the horror genre. From its gorgeous aesthetic and creepy imagery, there’s a lot of influence it’s had over the last 4 decades. I also watched Call Me By Your Name a few months ago on an international plane, and while I thought it was really good, there was a part of the story that felt incomplete. When I heard that that same director was next tackling a reimagining of Suspiria, I was skeptical if he would be able to pull it off. I was excited even more by the divided reaction it has received from critics and audiences thus far. And after watching it, I was almost completely gobsmacked; this is a genuine, flawed masterpiece. First of all, I fully know that not everyone is going to appreciate this movie as much as I or others may. Aside from last year’s Mother!, it’s hard for me to think of a more controversial film in recent memory released by a big-name distributor. Like that picture, it’s very easy for me to recognize where the film will falter for many viewers, as some may see its themes and ideas as either too ambiguous or too blatant. There’s an almost Kubrickian approach to the style and format of storytelling, practically encouraging discussion among audiences. I have a fair grasp on what it was talking about, such as how fascism and national guilt for atrocities is far from a thing of the past. (The historical setting certainly helps with that) It may require a rewatch to fully understand what Guadagnino and Kajganich were going for. Dakota Johnson completely wipes her Fifty Shades fame away here with her most substantial and physically challenging role to date as Suzie Bannion. Her shyness and somewhat quiet attitude reflects an innocence in grave danger at this academy, as she slowly unravels the horrors behind the curtains. Meanwhile, Tilda Swinton continues her fruitful collaboration with the director in no less than three(!) different roles. The first is obviously Madame Blanc, the stern and brilliant director of the institute who tries to instill a maternal grace and mentorship in her young wards. The second is Josef Klemperer, who was officially credited and marketed as a real-life psychoanalyst named “Lutz Ebersdorf.” Her transformation under heavy makeup (Prosthetic penis included) is convincing as a Holocaust survivor who may be too curious for “his” own good. The third role is a secret, but let’s just say that it seemed unnecessary for her to adopt another role. Other significant players include Mia Goth, Chloë Grace Moretz, and Elena Fokina as terrified fellow dance students at the academy while Angela Winkler, Małgosia Bela, and original Suspiria star Jessica Harper in small but vital roles. Everyone has something to add that makes the journey even more spooky and spell-binding. Meanwhile, in a year loaded with brilliant horror films, Suspiria might just be the technical masterpiece of them all. Guadagnino reunites with his Call Me By Your Name cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom for the camerawork, and it’s a dynamic show. Shot on 35 mm film stock, this remake forgoes the original’s use of bright primary colors in favor of something deliberate more dull and cold, as if it were a fevered nightmare in winter. The use of special techniques, such as whip pans and sudden zooms, makes it feel like a subtle homage to horror films of past decades. Walter Fasano edits the film in a beautiful way that matches everything. Using parallel scenes as cutaways makes some otherwise mundane moments rather frightening and real. This especially comes during the central dance sequence, which lasts nearly 6 minutes but thanks to appropriate cuts and movement kept me on the edge of my seat. The lush and sensual choreography by Damien Jalet certainly helped, but it would not have been as compelling had it not been for the intense editing work. Following in the footsteps of his former band member, Radiohead lead singer and front man Thom Yorke composes and conducts his first score for a feature film. With the soundtrack he’s created, one has to wonder why he’s never written music for a film before. (“Exit Music For a Film” not withstanding) The film opens and closes in its credits with a haunting ballad called “Suspirium,” which helps establish the melancholic, ominous atmosphere to be found throughout the 2-hour and 30 minute-long journey. Other tracks consist of Yorke’s soothing yet strained voice and dynamic chord progressions from piano and synthesized brass. The aforementioned dance sequence is accompanied by a gorgeously tense opera of different instrumentations, written as though Igor Stravinsky himself rose from the dead and composed a score for a horror epic. With gruesome imagery matched with heavy thematic weight and some of the most extravagant dance sequences in film this side of Black Swan, Suspiria is an audacious coven of pure cinematic evil. It’s perfectly easy for me to see why this won’t work for everyone out there, but I couldn’t help but be awestruck by what Luca Guadagnino and David Kajganich set out to accomplish. I can’t say whether or not it’s superior to the original, but I can say that what transpired on-screen will stick with me for quite a long time- for better and for worse.

“Apostle” Movie Review

If ever one needed a reminder of why never to start a separate “commune” or new belief system, here’s a great example. At the end of the day, it can only end badly for people on all sides. This period folk horror drama from The Raid writer-director Gareth Evans initially premiered at the 2018 Fantastic Fest to a wealth of positive reviews. It was then released on the streaming service Netflix and a handful of specialty theaters on October 12th. Following the huge international success of his Indonesian action films Merantu, The Raid, and The Raid 2, Evans next set his sights on a film set in the English-speaking world. Rather than capitalize on his success in the action genre, he decided to try his hand at an idea that had apparently been burning in his mind for a while. Set in 1905 England, Dan Stevens stars as Thomas Richardson, a drifting young man who has become disillusioned from faith and his privileged family. He returns when he learns how his young innocent sister Jennifer has been kidnapped and being held for ransom by a dangerous religious cult on a remote Welsh island. Led by the Prophet Malcolm Howe, they believe in a great goddess of the island who gives them everything, including crops and water. Thomas travels to this island in an attempt to rescue his sister, learning of the cult’s truly dark rituals on the way. Confession time: I have still yet to watch either installments of The Raid, which seems to be heresy in the realm of action movie fans. Don’t ask why, it’s just been a very complicated, and thus far unsuccessful, endeavor to seek it out. Regardless, I’d been very interested in watching such a curious project, especially one I can watch alone in the dark at night from the comfort of my living room. It had also been marketed by some as The Raid meets The Wicker Man. (Original one, NOT the Nic Cage remake) I was surprised to learn, however, that Gareth Evans decided to take the route he did with Apostle, and it was a pleasant surprise. This is one of the better Netflix Originals to come out and just a great horror movie in general. In all of cinema, there is perhaps nothing that terrifies or disturbs me more than the occult or those who follow it. Previously, a sci-fi film released this year called The Endless by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead also dealt with that tough niche to really thought-provoking results. Apostle seeks to address that once more with its own original take on the occult, and it’s no less disturbing. Watching the citizens of this island blindly participate or comply with some truly horrific actions, for no other reason than “It was as She commanded” is unsettling to say the least. In fact, the film as a whole is an indictment of faith and how people have used it to justify acts of violence dealt out to those who don’t believe like them. Worse still, the cult’s beliefs are shown to be quite sane, but they still exploit it for personal gain. It begs the question of whether humans are naturally violent creatures and whether virtue is impossible in our world- at least without vice. Dan Stevens has impressed me with his FX show Legion, and I dare say his performance here is on par with it. As Thomas, he’s cynical and dark after losing his faith in God, telling one person, “Beware false profits, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly, they are ravening wolves.” There’s quite a bit of physicality to the role, and it soon becomes clear that he’ll do anything to rescue his beloved sister. Opposite him, Michael Sheen does tremendous work as Prophet Malcolm Howe, one of the most intriguing villains in a film this year. With a charismatic presence and a sharp tongue, you can clearly see how he was able to persuade an entire chunk of the British population of his Goddess’ existence and importance. His daughter is played by Lucy Boynton, and she helps to create a fascinating dynamic with him. As with the children of the other two founders, there is a clear disconnect between what he preaches and what she wants in life; she sees Thomas as her first insight into the real world off the island. Mark Lewis Jones is convincingly creepy and gross as Quinn, Prophet Malcolm’s right-hand man and enforcer. We can tell there is a lot of pent-up anger and jealousy within him, even as he silently carries out his duties. As for the technical aspects, Apostle is pretty distinguished in a year filled with great horror movies. Matt Flannery’s cinematography, also responsible for both installments of The Raid, is as stunning and visually appealing as the island on which it is set. When there are action scenes in the film, they show in their full, brutal glory without lingering too long to become gratuitous. Evans also shows off his talents as an editor with a kinetic yet patient form of cutting the scenes. With each cut, you can practically feel every crunched bone and cut flesh in the fights, adding to the brutality. What’s more is that the houses and sets for the village itself are brilliant and period accurate. It feels as though there’s a whole history to it, as the houses all look handcrafted and incredibly lived-in. Meanwhile, Aria Prayogi and Fajar Yuskemal both compose the musical score for Apostle, in addition to being the primary sound designers. While there are a handful of tracks that ultimately go to the horror cliché of sudden strings for jumpscares, for the most part it’s pretty respectable. It has a rather uneasy and atmospheric tone throughout, signifying that something is seriously wrong with both this place and its inhabitants. Like a lot of great folk horror stories, it doesn’t try to be obvious a lot of the time, but it does build in intensity when needed to. While overall it was a highly entertaining and gripping thriller with some interesting things to say, the film felt maybe 15 minutes too long. With the mythology that Evans has built here, there is inevitably some fat to be found that could have been trimmed down. The first hour or so is very slow rolling, with some dialogue or scenes that seem a tad out of place. However, it’s mostly redeemed in the satisfying and brutal conclusion, which is likely going to keep me thinking for a little while. Apostle is a brilliant genre melting pot in a great backdrop. This certainly ranks among the more unique horror films to be released this year, in large part thanks to the conviction of both Gareth Evans and Dan Stevens. Stay as far away from cults as you can, but watch this movie from the comfort of your home.