Category Archives: Horror

“The Void” Movie Review

With high-quality horror movies like Get Out earlier this year and total shitfests like Wish Upon infecting this summer, this movie got a bit lost in the shuffle. Now that it’s been released on Netflix, I’m here to tell you whether or not it’s worth your time. This independent horror thriller from Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski premiered at the Alamo Drafthouse’s Fantastic Fest before getting a small release of only 50 theaters on April 7th, 2017, doubling its tiny $82,000 budget. The film was a passion project for the directors on Indiegogo where they raised all of the funds. Eventually, Jonathan Bronfman, one of the executive producers for the film The VVitch, discovered it and brought it to DFilms to be distributed. The 90-minute plot follows a policeman who brings a dying man into a secluded hospital in the middle of the night. The staff and patients inside soon realize that they are surrounded by a group of hooded cultists who will not let them leave. Couple that with some truly weird creatures hidden within the hospital itself, and now we have ourselves a big thrill ride. This is clearly an homage to horror films from the 1980’s, specifically the filmography of John Carpenter, Wes Craven, and David Cronenberg. And honestly, that is my favorite decade of horror movies, as each one that came out was perfect in just about every aspect. It also seems to take some inspiration from the works of H.P. Lovecraft. In an era where so many horror directors base their films off of something that came out recently, it’s refreshing to see a pair of people who understand modern horror’s roots. David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows from 2015 proved as much. But while The Void starts off strong and promising, it fails to leave any lasting impact or impression. The most obvious way that it pays homage to the masters of the genre is that Gillespie and Kostanski had a big itch for using practical effects. They specifically avoided the use of CGI, and instead decided to rely heavily on practical effects and makeup. The hooded cultists are wearing real robes with triangles painted on them. The characters are confined in real hallways at night time. The monsters they encounter are fused together with makeup and real prosthetics. So much of the movie feels real and gives it this lived-in element. Another way in which the directors pay tribute is through the otherworldly soundtrack by the Canadian band Blitz/Berlin. The tracks are synthesized beats and ambient noise designed to create the tension of a scene. No single track is really that memorable, but it felt right at the moment and pretty fun to listen to. It definitely added to a dripping atmosphere that was so creepy and suspenseful to be sucked into. As far as characters go, they’re all pretty much exactly what you would expect them to be. The only person in the cast with any real work to their name is Ellen Wong, and she had a pretty minor role. No, the real star is Aaron Poole as the everyman cop. He’s the one who’s constantly trying to keep order in this increasingly chaotic situation. You see everything from his point-of-view from the beginning to the twisted conclusion. So you immediately empathize with him, as well as some of the other people stuck in that hospital. But where the film falters is that there is a huge gaping pit in information regarding much of the film’s lore. Where did these hooded cultists come from? What do they truly want out of our protagonists? How long have the monsters been around in our world? The ending doesn’t offer us much help either, as it kind of convolutes these questions into oblivion. “But dude, not everything has to be explained to us. Some things are best left to interpretation by the beholder.” I agree with that sentiment, my fellow cinephiles. But there is a distinct difference between giving us hints of an answer and withholding information to a point where the story begins to make no sense. Both leave people wanting more, but only one of them is actually satisfying. I thought The Maze Runner taught us that already. I will say that it’s nice to know there are still young fans of old-school horror movies and even take inspiration from them. And even though it’s not original by any stretch, it did feel much fresher and fun than a lot of contemporaries in the genre today. But still, The Void is an empty practice in nostalgia-inducing aesthetic and practical special effects. It’s great to watch with your friends at night on the couch at home, but not really worth much of a second viewing. Much less $10-12 in paying a ticket to see it theatrically.

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“Jaws” Movie Review

So it occurs to me that I can make a blog post about whatever I want, no matter how irrelevant it may seem. But I recently rewatched Jaws for the first time in many years on a format unlike any other out there. So let’s talk about it. This iconic action-horror-thriller was initially released on June 20th, 1975, where it grossed over $470 million worldwide against a small budget of $9 million. This made it the highest grossing movie of all time in the U.S. until George Lucas showed up 2 years later with Star Wars. Based on the Peter Benchley novel of the same name, which was said to be loosely inspired by real events, the story stars Roy Scheider as Martin Brody, the newly appointed police chief of an island town. During the town’s most lucrative time frame, the 4th of July weekend, they find themselves being terrorized and harassed by a great white shark intent on munching down on all of them. Brody, with the help of oceanographer Matt Hooper and local shark hunter Captain Quint, sets out on a quest to stop the sea creature once and for all. What is it about Jaws that it so well-respected and acclaimed from scholars and fans? Well, for one, it began the term “blockbuster” because, at the time of its release, there were so many people lined up around the street corners under the hot summer sun just so they could see it. It also became infamous for starting the trend of “high-concept” films, which allowed for big-budget Hollywood affairs with a simple premise that was easy to market and didn’t retain much below the surface. However, what sets this film apart from so many others is that there is so much to appreciate beneath simply what you see; because it’s often what you don’t see. One of the most celebrated aspects of Jaws is the fact that the young director Steven Spielberg chose not to show the shark Bruce, which was nicknamed after his lawyer. Adopting the “less is more” mindset from Alfred Hitchcock, he works with his cinematographer Bill Butler to create off-kilter camera angles from both underwater and above the surface. The Master of Suspense even praised the film for paying homage to his style. Even though the shark is known to be the threat of the movie and makes an impact on the characters, it doesn’t even make an appearance until nearly two-thirds into the 124 minute-long running time. In their defense, the shark itself did look pretty fake, but it did produce one of my favorite reaction scenes ever, when Brody quietly tells the Captain the iconic catchphrase, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” But the reason why the big bad beast is sparsely seen is that the production was hard for all parties involved. In fact, all accounts say that Jaws was a NIGHTMARE to make. The cast had a really contentious relationship with one another, probably due to the lack of a finished script. Meanwhile, the shark was initially supposed to appear more often but before filming began, the wiring and mechanisms broke. The lesson from all of this? It is extremely hard to shoot a movie out on the water. But it also teaches us that sometimes, similar to the original Star Wars, a movie will come out best when the odds are seemingly stacked against you. Of course, one cannot simply talk about Jaws without talking about the Oscar-winning score. Before Star Wars, Indiana Jones, E.T., or Schindler’s List, John Williams composed the music for this monster movie and became endlessly iconic. During the more suspenseful moments, he’ll resort to low toned horns and strings repeating two notes. As the tension grows, the notes will be faster and faster and gain more volume as the climax reaches. Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider, and Robert Shaw portray the three men on the boat in the final act of the movie. They do a terrific job with excellent chemistry and surprisingly engaging dialogue that keeps their characters relatively grounded. They needed to work well together, otherwise, this implausible story would sink like a rock. Luckily, they spearhead the rest of the cast and provide a certain humanity missing from most movies in the genre. But let’s face it; there’s no shark that would ever rationally behave like Bruce. This movie could probably never happen in real life, and the events that the book was based were likely exaggerated in order to create more drama. But still, I have not one single problem with this movie. Jaws is a magnificent and compelling thriller that catapulted the Hollywood blockbuster to fame. I saw this again at the “Jaws on the Water” special event hosted by the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, and it was a total blast. If it’s available, I encourage you to see the movie this way, no matter how scary it may seem. But no matter what, just see it at twice in your life.

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“The Mummy” Movie Review

Oh, the things I do for you guys. This horror action thriller from debuting director Alex Kurtzman released nationwide on June 9th, 2017, surprisingly earning back nearly $300 million at the box office. It also marks the beginning of a brand new cinematic universe franchise entitled “Dark Universe,” a highly publicized reboot of the Universal Monster series from the 1930’s and 1940’s. Tom Cruise stars as a looter named Nick Morton who accidentally stumbles upon the grave of a thousands-year-old mummy princess, played by Sofia Boutella. Once she awakens, it’s up to him and Annabelle Wallis to prevent all hell from breaking loose in the modern world, while a mysterious organization looms over everything. Now this movie has been raked over the coals by critics and audiences everywhere, saying that it is a betrayal of everything this franchise stood for. Confession time: I was never a fan of Stephen Sommers’ original The Mummy from the late 1990’s or its two sequels. I haven’t seen them in years. I also think that some of the early Universal Monster movies are a bit overrated. In short, I genuinely do not care about this series, so I was able to enter the theater with a completely open mind. And after 107 minutes of my time absorbed, I walked out blown away… at how bad this actually was. Let’s start out with the positives in this movie, as I typically like to do. Like most of his other movies, Tom Cruise totally brings it to his role as Nick Morton in physical demand. The fact that this man is willing to perform most of his own stunts and retain that iconic All-American smile gives an edge and sense of being fun to watch that most action stars miss. While yes, he does run a lot, his character arc is essentially the same one he’s been playing for the last several years. Meanwhile, Anabelle Wallis plays his love interest with some great feistiness and is able to keep her wits about her. Their love story follows all of the beats you’d expect rather predictably and lazily. Sofia Boutella is a greatly underrated actress and action heroine who deserves more recognition than she already has. Her mummy actually had a relatively intriguing backstory Despite the rest of the cast consisting of A-list talents such as Courtney B. Vance, Jake Johnson, Javier Botet, Marwan Kenzari, and Russel Crowe, they feel wasted and wanting of more to say and to do. And that’s apparently because Cruise reportedly had way too much creative control over the production of The Mummy. From rewriting the meager script (Which already had six people credited to writing) to teaching Kurtzman how to properly direct to downplaying the roles of actors, this might as well have been his own directorial debut, Stanley Kubrick style. No wonder Universal Studios gave a monster salary for this film. Now I’m left to wonder if the movie would have become better if he had let the creators do what they wanted. I haven’t even gotten to the technical parts of the picture, which are an extremely mixed bag. The sound design and surround audio are crisp and nice, especially during gunfights or tomb looting moments. But the visual effects are the most inconsistent aspect of the film as a whole. Some scenes, it looked fine; not nearly impressive, but fine enough. Other times, it looked a wholly unconvincing sequence of greenscreen voodoo magic infused with whatever few practical sets were built on a studio lot. The design for the mummy herself, Princess Ahmanet, was pretty cool and showed off some impressive make-up, but that’s about the extent of it. Action movie man Brian Tyler composes his fourth feature film score this year, and can be deemed as “passable.” While it does lean on the tense strings during some of the more horror-driven moments, for the most part, the tracks often feature rousing orchestral arrangements in the vein of high-flying adventures like Indiana Jones. Which I find funny, considering that Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy actually started out as an Indiana Jones rip-off, which itself was a parody of tomb raiding adventures like the original from the 1930’s starring Boris Karloff. Everything that goes around eventually finds a way to come back around. But above all else, The Mummy is simply frustrating in its attempts to set up the much-talked about “Dark Universe.” Alex Kurtzman is so convinced that he has to create this world in which we can have sequels and spin-offs in the future that he and the other five screenwriters end up rushing through many beats. Whereas Marvel Studios took their sweet time establishing the whole universe and set of characters to come, The Mummy wants to get it all out of the gate immediately, using Russel Crowe’s character of Dr. Henry Jekyll and his organization as a thread tying it all together. Hell, even the DC Cinematic Universe seemed more patient than this one does. To be fair, that whole segment involving Jekyll and his people was the most genuinely entertaining part of the entire 107-minute runtime, and as far as I’m concerned watching the origin of his character and organization would have been a much more interesting movie than the one we ultimately got. All the hype around this new cinematic universe of iconic movie monsters coming together and this is the best thing they could come up with? Unless you’re the curious completionist or fan of brainless action, The Mummy is a desperately rushed and wholly underwhelming barrage of boneheaded potential. Confusing in tone and disappointing overall, there is honestly a compelling movie SOMEWHERE underneath this foundation; it’s there. I’m just waiting for the first person who finds it.

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“The Belko Experiment” Movie Review

For those of you who were upset about my being forgiving toward Kong: Skull Island and wanted me to really shred a movie apart, don’t fret. I just saw The Belko Experiment. This gory slasher horror-thriller was independently produced for a budget of $5 million, and will no doubt earn it all back in a matter of no time following its wide release on March 17th, 2017. Directed by Greg McLean from a script by James Gunn, of Super and Guardians of the Galaxy fame, the project was reportedly written way back in 2010, getting green-lit twice before officially entering production in late 2015. Set in the dump of nowhere near Bogota, Colombia, the narrative follows a group of white collar office workers at a small company called Belko Industries. One day, all of the doors and windows are suddenly shut off by blast doors, when a voice comes over the intercom and announces the start of a new “experiment.” If at least 30 people are not dead within the next several hours, then twice that amount will be killed. To be honest, that premise is actually quite fascinating. Essentially Battle Royale meets Office Space, there’s plenty of potential for a social study at human nature. Not to mention that, in recent years, low-budget horror films have been enjoying a sort of renaissance with their high concept stories and profitable box office receipts. Sadly, The Belko Experiment is not one of those pictures. To start off, the movie is unsure of itself in the tone. The least that a movie in this genre can do is to stay aware of what it is and focus on that aspect entirely. But The  Belko Experiment is never quite confident in what exactly it wants to be. On the one hand, the story could make for an interesting social commentary on how far human beings will go in a game of survival. But it doesn’t take itself seriously enough to be that, so then it could possibly be a dark comedy or satire. But the movie is not funny enough to be classified as such, so then all that’s left for it is a shameless gore fest. And if that’s what it actually wanted to go for, then The Belko Experiment pulled it off with flying colors because, oh my God. There is not a chance that anything released this year from this moment onwards will be more violent than this. Even James Mangold’s Logan seemed tame compared to this film. I would dare called it “Saw without the traps,” but to say that it’s THAT violent and disturbing would be a bit of an overstatement. Despite that, there are actually moments of fun. As soon as the experiment started everything got more suspenseful and you felt that anyone could be a killer. When it comes to the cast, there’s only so much that can be expected from a film like this. Mostly comprised of lesser-known actors, a handful of them actually do a respectable job given the material. John Gallagher Jr. is perfect material for our Everyman protagonist that wants out of this situation. His talkative demeanor makes him more relatable and makes you want to root for him. On the opposite end of that spectrum is Scrubs star, John C. McGinley, who is just so creepy to watch, it’s a bit uncomfortable. He clearly is having the most fun out of anyone with his role, especially when hay hits the fan and goes on a killing spree. Everyone else, though, is either phoning it in or trying way too hard. Michael Rooker and Tony Goldwyn, arguably the biggest names in the movie, seem particularly stiff and wanting of more to say and do. Also, I don’t understand why some cast members think they have to act cartoony. One character reaches an emotional breaking point and starts to cry. But his cry was so fake and unbelievable. I don’t quite know if it was the actor’s fault, but it definitely took me out of the movie for that moment in time. Oh yeah, and there’s one character arc that goes absolutely nowhere. There could be an argument that it was a trick into letting the audience know that no one in this building was safe and that anyone could die. But that doesn’t change the fact that it was built up to a point where you really care for them, and then suddenly they get killed out of the blue. It was at this point in the 88-minute running time that I figured a good ending could redeem the movie as a whole. But the truth is I HATED the ending for The Belko Experiment. This has got to be one of the most on-the-nose setups for a potential sequel I’ve seen in recent cinema. For a while, I was wondering how it was going to end, and then this is what we get? It’s borderline insulting. In all honesty, it’s possible to see this as the start of a new franchise in the same vein as The Purge. Though the first movie doesn’t achieve its full potential, the sequel(s) can capture what a lot of movie fans like myself were expecting on the first go-around. For right now, though, The Belko Experiment is an empty, shameless gore fest confused in tone and direction, but with some fun parts sprinkled in here and there.

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“Get Out” Movie Review

So… damn… satisfying. This socially conscious horror comedy was released by Universal Pictures on February 24th, 2017, earning back nearly 8 times its meager $4.5 million budget. A stunning directorial debut from Jordan Peele, one-half of the comedy duo Key and Peele, this movie stands as proof positive that even the funniest comedians are dark and damaged people deep down inside. Also written by Peele, the story focuses on an interracial couple- Rose and Chris, who go to the former’s parents’ house for the weekend. Only thing is they don’t yet know that Chris is a black man, so when they arrive, they act so awkwardly white around him. The nice get together is interrupted when Chris starts noticing weird behavior from everyone attending and soon decides he has to leave. I keep it vague like that because the trailers are so shrouded in secrecy. But that was probably my favorite aspect of the movie. Having watching all the ads and learning nothing about the plot, I walked out having had no idea what I was in for. It’s rare these days in cinema that you can go to a movie, especially one with no ties to any franchise, and come out with that feeling. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Get Out is that even though he’s nowhere to be found and it’s a very different genre than he’s dealt with before, Jordan Peele is still able to project his own unique voice into the R-rated script. The dialogue and character interactions are very well-written and make for some of the funniest parts of the film. Not only does it sound realistic, but it does a brilliant job at portraying passive, almost unintentional racism. There are no moments when the father comes out wearing a Confederate flag t-shirt while shooting his shotgun and yelling N-words. But rather it is perfectly illustrated in the first dinner scene, when both Rose’s father and brother, played wonderfully by Bradley Whitford and Caleb Landry Jones, respectively, ask him if he has a college basketball scholarship. These are middle-class liberals who would have voted for Barack Obama a third time if they were given the chance. But even still, we all have different stereotypes of certain groups of people and regularly use them, even if we don’t know they’re offensive. This movie addressed that very well. Though admittedly, it quickly strays from anything realistic. When it comes to the acting department, everyone did a great job with their characters. In the lead role, Daniel Kaluuya is convincing and likable as Chris. Up to this point, his only other role worth noting was a one-off in the second episode of the British anthology series, Black Mirror. Considering the universal acclaim that this movie has garnered, I wouldn’t be surprised if this gets him more mainstream attention. HBO’s Girls alum Alison Williams is excellent as his girlfriend, Rose. For much of the time, you’re left teetering on the edge of whether she’s in on her parents’ agenda or is in the same boat as Chris. And also like her male counterpart, I could see this film potentially getting her more roles in the near future. Another thing that made Get Out work so well was the excessive amount of homages and references to older horror movies. Whether it’s the way Toby Oliver shoots the look of the film, a passing piece of dialogue, or just how a scene was cut together, there’s no denying the debt it owes to previous successes of the genre. I would say it reminded me of Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods from 2012. Not only is it a great movie on its own, but it also celebrates the genre that it inhabits and even addresses the problems with various modern day incarnations. The very first scene, alone- which, to my best recollection, was almost entirely taken on one shot -lets you know that it’s going to be a very flavorful kind of ride. It continues a trend which I consider to be classic futurism, which combines old genre conventions into a modern setting with some brand new ideas to enjoy. There is, however, one minor flaw that should be clarified for audiences. Yes, it is indeed a horror movie with some elements of the “slasher” sub-genre. However, I felt that it was not as scary as it was darkly funny. Make no mistake, this movie is definitely creepy, and sometimes downright weird as hell. But I found myself and the rest of the theater just laughing out loud more than jumping from my seat in sheer terror. Quick little side-story: My friend and I went to see this film together in a theater filled with all manners of characters. I have not known an entire auditorium of fellow moviegoers to clap and cheer when a character dies. This happened at least twice. Even though this really has no relevance to my actual review, it enhanced the fun aspect of seeing the movie. In the end, Get Out succeeds on many different levels. As a horror thriller, a character-driven mystery, a dark comedy, and a relevant social commentary on race relations in America. Unique, fresh, unpredictable, original, and completely hilarious in the darkest way possible, this has to be one of, if not the best horror movies to come out in recent times, and arguably one of the best horror movies ever made.

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“Green Room” Movie Review

About 10 months ago, I professed that Deadpool was the most violent movie released in 2016. I would now like to retract that statement after having seen Green Room. This slasher horror-thriller- written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier- premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015 before receiving its theatrical release the following April. Barely turning a profit on its $5 million budget, the A24 production further provides proof of Saulnier’s repertoire as a character-focused indie director. Following a series of less than desirable circumstances, the young punk rock band, the Ain’t Rights, reluctantly agree to perform a gig at a neo-Nazi bar in backwoods Oregon. After their performance, the bassist, played by the late Anton Yelchin, accidently walks in on a horrible crime being committed in the green room. The band gets held hostage, and now we have an intense, grisly, unforgiving game of cat-and-mouse. Jeremy Saulnier is also responsible for bringing us the 2014 revenge film, Blue Ruin, a well-crafted piece of thoughtful, original cinema rarely seen in the thriller genre. This horror film is a stupendous follow-up to that, no doubt, but I have issues with some decisions certain characters made. I’ll discuss that a bit later, but let’s first talk about the cast. The lead and supporting actors did a fantastic job with their respective roles. Anton Yelchin is truly the underdog of this story, thrown into one of the worst scenarios imaginable with little knowledge on how to get himself- or his friends- out of it alive. The two biggest standouts were, first of all, Macon Blair as the skinhead Gabe. For all intents and purposes, he was the only reasonable neo-Nazi in this movie. He’s the one who keeps trying to come up with ways to clean this situation up without anyone dying. But he has to put up with his superior, Darcy. In the other standout, Patrick Stewart gives an against-type performance as the leader of these neo-Nazis. Mundane, intelligent, and almost entirely unsympathetic, watching Jean-Luc Picard becoming the methodical leader of a group of violent hate criminals deserves more recognition. While on the topic of the antagonists, Green Room did a surprisingly unique job with its portrayal of white supremacists. Make no mistake; they’re all terrible human beings who probably deserve to rot in jail or even get killed. But it establishes that this kind of group serves as a family for troubled outsiders. In fact, half of the skinheads onscreen don’t even look beyond the age of 20. It brought an interesting human element to these villains because the one thing scarier than any movie monster is the random man on the street no one would think of twice. On a technical level, this is a very impressive film. The exterior shots of the dense outdoor woods around the bar are stunningly beautiful, bringing a sense of realism and isolation for our protagonists. Meanwhile, on the inside, Julia Bloch’s sharp eye for editing shows when the band members feel closed in by their oppressors. And yeah, in case you didn’t catch it in my intro, this is one violent movie. Every act of violence happens for a reason in the plot, so nothing is gratuitous with any drawn out close-up shots of people dying. But the sheer brutality may turn off some of my more queasy audiences. From disembowelments to broken arms to Pitbulls chewing off a person’s neck, Saulnier holds absolutely nothing back. But the area where I felt this film faltered were the decisions some of the characters made in the script. Similar to Blue Ruin, some of the people on-screen made a number of choices ranging from questionable to just outright stupid and frustrating. Much of the runtime is spent seeing the band debating about their plan of action in the titular waiting room before going out in the open, and retreating back to the green room. Were I in their shoes it’s difficult to say if I would have made the calls they had to make. All I know is that were Michelle from 10 Cloverfield Lane one of the band members, the whole plot would have been over in maybe 15 minutes. But I guess they had to find a way to expand it to an hour and a half to justify the theatrical release. If anyone ever gets into this kind of situation, keep this in mind: Never run off by yourself when the shit goes down. Sticking with your party is the most efficient way to stay alive in a game of cat-and-mouse. That’s not anything to say that the movie is bad. In fact, Green Room is a fantastic and unique horror film to have come out this year, an otherwise baren wasteland of mediocre attempts in the genre. The realistic dialogue flows well with the character interactions and the setting itself, making for one hell of an intense and gorey thrill ride. Though, I can’t recommend it for everyone.

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