Category Archives: Independent

“Brawl in Cell Block 99” Movie Review

Another S. Craig Zahler film has come our way. Another instance of me wincing at the horrific violence on-screen. And yet another time when I can’t look away from it and actually have fun with it. This director knows just how to mess with me. This gritty action drama thriller first premiered at the Venice International Film Festival on September 2nd, 2017. After subsequent screenings at both TIFF and Fantastic Fest, it was released in select theaters on October 6th, 2017. While actual box office numbers are uncertain, because it premiered on VOD platforms a week later, it’s believed to have sold quite well. Having previously won success with his Western horror Bone Tomahawk, writer-director Zahler apparently knew exactly the type of movie he wanted to make next. After a series of unfortunate circumstances, drug courier Bradley Thomas, played by Vince Vaughn, is sent to prison where he immediately becomes undesirable. Soon, he’s informed that he is forced to kill a fellow inmate in Cell Block 99 in order to save his pregnant wife. Just as with his debut feature Bone Tomahawk, this plot can be easily summarized in two sentences, which I love. S. Craig Zahler proves to be the rare writer-director in this day and age who truly understands the power of simplicity. And because this story is simple, he’s able to find a way to punch through and get to the entertainment value with ease. Sure, it takes a while to get to that point, but the wait is well worth it. The biggest audience that he’s going to rouse up are fans of the Grindhouse Era. For those who want to know, “Grindhouse” refers to a specific type of action movie, typically coming from the 1970’s. They were all dealing with dark, brutal subject matter in badass yet playful ways. And yet most of them were made in poor quality and covered up that fact by showing multiple releases back-to-back. In some cases, it bordered on exploitation. Zahler seems to have an affinity for these so-called “cult classics,” as Brawl in Cell Block 99 dons the coat of an intense prison drama yet revels in all the genre violence fans could want. There’s a guy whose face is de-gloved when being pushed against the concrete floor. If that sounds like too much for you, don’t bother with this one. For anyone else, you’re going to fall in love. Vince Vaughn has proven himself in both comedies and dramas, but this is easily the best work of his career. No one else could have played this stone-cold man who hides his emotions very well, but still shows us how tortured he is in moments of quiet. When asked by a counselor whether or not doing time would do him any good, he sarcastically remarks, “Prison will give me plenty of time to look at guys I don’t like.” Former Dexter star Jennifer Carpenter is also quite good as his pregnant wife Lauren. She manages to break out of the simple archetype and never loses her wits, even when the bad guys have taken her. Meanwhile, the two villains are portrayed by Udo Kier and former Miami Vice star Don Johnson, who do malevolently excellent work. Both are comfortable veterans of this genre, and just as with the Troglodytes in Bone Tomahawk, you really grow to hate them both. And for a movie homaging trash cinema from the 1970’s, there’s a surprising strength in the technical aspects. The production design lends itself well to the brutal environment of prison, which becomes more decadent as the story moves along. This along with the simplistic costumes add a lived-in feeling to the world. Cinematographer Benji Bakshi frames all of the scenes with beautiful, elongated wides capturing everything on-screen. A scene where Bradley tears his car apart with his bare hands in just a few different takes is as riveting as it is terrifying. The sound design is equally effective. Depending on what speaker you have, you’ll be able to hear every bone crunch and every punch land on the flesh. Stylistically, it’s fairly similar to John Wick. But whereas that neo-noir actioner had a lot of precise choreography, this one is really about a big dude pummeling his way through anyone standing in his way. What enhances the intensity even more is the fact that during these sequences, there is no music playing. No original score, nothing sentimental. But in other instances, the soundtrack will play off of some funky big band tune from the 70’s or 80’s. In a way, this choice further reinforced its simplistic, understated style. They were fun to listen to at the moment, but I’d be lying if I said I remember the names of the artists. As with Bone Tomahawk, the biggest issue facing this film is the pacing. It spent a surprising amount of time in the first half setting up its characters and story. That was all fine and dandy for making me care about Bradley Thomas, but with all the long takes, I feel like it went on a little too long. Some fat could have been trimmed in the editing. And there is one shot of what is clearly a mannequin standing in for a human being near the end. You could argue that it was to further homage the cheap nature of the Grindhouse Era. But to me, it just became rather glaring. Despite some uneven pacing, Brawl in Cell Block 99 is still a gritty, badass slice of pulp entertainment anchored by an incredible lead performance. 100% unapologetic for its brutality and finding veils of light beneath the dark subject matter, it’s not for the faint of heart. But for those wanting something outside the box of the industry, you’re going to have a total blast with this movie. S. Craig Zahler was already a talent to watch, but now he has my attention for any of his future projects.

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“Raw” Movie Review

In all of 2017 cinema, I don’t think there has been a single film that lives up to its title quite like this one. Dear God, I had to take a few showers after watching this. The debut feature of writer-director Julie Docournau, this sexually-charged horror drama premiered at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival under the International Critics’ Week section where it won the top prize. It was released worldwide on March 10th the following year and just barely earned back its budget of $3.1 million. It also held a screening at TIFF, and the screening for it was apparently was so real and volatile that two viewers fainted and were escorted out via emergency medical services. That should give you some idea as to the effect this movie had upon audiences, including this critic. The story follows a young woman named Justine who begins attending an unnamed veterinary school somewhere in France. Upon meeting up with her older sister Alexia, she becomes embroiled in harsh hazing rituals from upperclassmen. Despite being a lifelong vegetarian, she is forced to eat raw meat on campus and her craving for flesh only gets stronger as she goes on a personal journey. How do you even evaluate a film that repulsed you in almost every possible way yet still loved everything about it? This movie had gotten a lot of hype leading to its release, if only because of how explicit its content was. I’m not typically one for foreign films, but I was still intrigued. There’s not much I can build up to saying this, so I feel it’s appropriate to put out there: Raw is one of the best directorial debuts of the 21st century so far. One could easily write this off as the nothing more than the next shocking entry in art-house French horror cinema. You’d be forgiven for thinking just about that. But it’s also a surprisingly involving coming-of-age drama about Justine’s transitional period in life. There’s a sensual undercurrent flowing with every act of brutality carried out onscreen. She’s just budding her true self out into existence in a very horrific yet captivating manner. It’s not until she finally blossoms like a flower that we discover what she’s truly capable of. And it’s not exactly comfortable viewing. Garance Marillier totally knocks it out of the park in her lead role as Justine. She evokes all of the insecurities and naivety typical in a teenage girl, but she also brings something charming and different about the character. She and Docournau were made for each other, evident in the fact that they made a short together before this. Her sister Alexia is played by Swiss actress Ella Rumpf, who brings something neat to the supporting table. She’s definitely the more unstable and party-hungry of the siblings, and her wildly unpredictable decisions throughout the movie take the viewer further down the rabbit hole of juvenile hedonism. And finally, Justine’s roommate Adrien is played well in a fantastic debut from Rabah Naït Oufella. Of the characters, he was perhaps the most interesting one because of his contradictory nature. And his scenes provided most of the spare laughs in the film. And Raw also makes sure to grab viewers’ attention through its technical aspects. Belgian cameraman Ruben Impens contrasts the lens’ technique quite often. Often times, a scene unfolds from a beautiful, distant wide shot which helps develop the atmosphere. We can’t see the faces of the people, but we know what they’re doing. The one exception was a during a party scene early on in the film that was captured on a single shaky shot. We follow Justine the whole way through the event, and we really share her feeling of discomfort. Other times, a shot will linger on one particular subject for a certain amount of time which heightens the uneasy and foreboding tone of the film. The musical score is composed by British man Jim Williams in his 6th feature film, and boy is it memorable. The soundtrack at times feels like an homage to old-school horror movies, with plucked strings and organs switching off from each other. In fact, that’s probably not too far off from he had intended. But still, the main melody is composed of a harsh synthesizer that works to further establish the warm feeling of tension and anxiety. It also succeeds in keeping the audience humming after the credits roll. Before you start humming, though, you’ll have to wash out all of the disgusting imagery you’ve just witnessed. Despite its 99 minute-long runtime, virtually everything horrendous or provocative that you could imagine is placed somewhere in the movie. Want a bit of context? Arguably the tamest part of the entire movie is when Adrien, Justine’s roommate, is watching gay porn on his laptop. But it’s not exploitation. There is ultimately a purpose for the violence and gore, it pushes the plot and character development forward. All of it leads to a shocking final twist where everything is suddenly given more meaning and all we’ve seen is explained. To be honest, it’s actually not as bloody as I had anticipated, but that’s not saying much. While it’s certainly not for everyone, especially the faint of heart, Raw is a lurid parable of flesh and sexuality. It has finally been added to Netflix after months of failing to hunt it down. It’s genuinely one of the best films of 2017 and reveals Julie Docournau as a brand new talent to keep it an eye on.

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“Mudbound” Movie Review

I’m crazy behind on writing movie reviews. I’ve effectively canceled plans to review The Phantom Menace to get more out there. Let’s start with one of the most triumphant. This historical period drama made a splash at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival when it premiered to critical acclaim. Following an intense bidding war, Netflix landed the distribution deal at a whopping $12.5 million. It was widely released on the streaming giant on November 17th alongside a limited theatrical run. So if there’s any movie this year that Netflix is gunning for Oscar consideration, it’s going to be this one. Based on the novel by Hillary Jordan, the story follows two families- the white McAllans and the black Jacksons -who are forced to live and work together on a cotton farm in rural Mississippi. When their two eldest sons Jamie and Henry return from World War II, tensions rise as serious ethical and moral questions are brought up. They must wrestle with poverty, racism, love, and loyalty in a Deep South that doesn’t seem to want either of them. I know what you must be thinking from that short synopsis: This is yet another movie existing solely to make white people feel guilty about their past, yet in the end, lets them know that prejudice is a thing that has long since ended. My friends, please wash that thought out because this film is far more than something so simple as that. I had heard lots of buzz from this picture ever since it premiered back in January. Whispers that Netflix may finally have a major contender for the Academy Awards on their hands. One might easily scoff at that idea, but those whispers were true. Director Dee Rees’ Mudbound is a huge step forward for the service. As you may recall from a previous review, it’s been reported that Netflix is currently $20 billion in debt from all of the original content they’ve been putting out. In fact, there was another report a month or so ago saying that they want to produce and distribute as many as 80 films next year. In my humble opinion, that’s not a good idea for them. If anything, they should become more selective of their library of content. Films like this and Okja have the potential to set them up as one of the great Hollywood studios, and indeed, this film’s Oscar chances may send more filmmakers flocking towards them. The whole cast does a fantastic job here, but this is clearly a show for the matriarchs of the family. Carey Mulligan’s role as the wife Laura defies period stereotypes by being neither a White Savior or a racist plantation wife. Instead, she is a headstrong woman stuck in a household run by masculinity. Mirroring her is singer Mary J. Blige as the concerned Florence Jackson, who easily trumps everyone else in the film. Despite having the best of intentions, her world is constantly swirling as the families clash and reconcile. Garret Hedlund and Jason Mitchell play the two prodigal sons with excellent chemistry. The scenes of their bonding and sharing stories from the War give the audience hope that everything will be okay. The one character who’s not shades of gray is Pappy, played well by Jonathan Banks. A virulent racist, most of the families’ problems stem from him, and I didn’t like watching his scenes. Mudbound isn’t just a showcase of pure acting, as the technical aspects are very accomplished. Rachel Morrison’s cinematography reflects the dirty world the characters have to live in. It’s a rich and down-to-earth aesthetic that perfectly captures the scope of the story. The shots of vast fields and open land are contrasted by the small houses the McAllans and Jacksons are trapped in. There’s also some visceral editing from Mako Kamitsuna with near-perfect cutaways in every instance. Two particular examples standout. The first is when Jamie and Henry are losing friends in combat over at Europe while a Gospel service begins singing heavenly tunes. The other is a disgusting act of violence committed near the end of the film that moves away enough for the viewer to see with their imagination. Both were powerful and unveiled a bigger picture than just this farm. The musical score is composed by artist Tamar-Kali Brown. He manages to bring an Americana voice to this story, fitting since it’s a Southern drama. Most of the tracks mix together sorrowful low strings with a soulful African-American chorus. Some other tunes sound like bits and pieces of rhythm and blues music from the early part of the century were mixed together in a melting pot. Blige also contributes her beautiful voice for an original ballad called “Mighty River” that plays over the ending credits. Much like the message of the film itself, it’s lyrics are clear: we’re not so different from each other. And we need to clean our wounds of the past. Which brings me to the thing binding this film together: hatred. Both of the families have it in them, and even give it out in small doses. If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that racism is far from over. Yes, we have come a long way since the days of both slavery and Jim Crow laws were considered societal norms. But Dee Rees understands how deeply rooted and complex of a problem this topic is and even makes a case that may never evaporate from the land of America. That’s not to say that the film is misery porn with no hope for humanity. Instead, it presents the parasite of prejudice as it is, and even ends on a note of love. Although it occasionally feels like there are too many characters at once, Mudbound is a sprawlingly relevant Southern triumph of character and melodrama. It’s one of the most essential films of the year, with a heavily involving story and shaded individuals with humanity to spare. It gives me hope for the future of Netflix originals. Please set aside 2 hours and 15 minutes to watch this movie, and you’ll feel the same way.

“The Girl With All the Gifts” Movie Review

I didn’t know that originality still existed in zombie flicks. The world still has a few surprises in store for me. Released in theaters earlier in February this year, this post-apocalyptic horror drama made a lengthy run on the festival circuit the previous year, from Toronto all the way to the BIFF. Despite favorable reviews from critics, it only managed to earn back half of it’s $5 million budget. The craziest thing about this film’s production isn’t the fact that the book it was based on was written in tandem with the screenplay. What was more insane is the fact that the filmmaker Colm McCarthy got aerial shots of London by going to Pripyat, a part of Chernobyl. Adapted from the novel by M.R. Carey, who also wrote the screenplay, the story is set in an England following the breakdown of society due to a fungal infection. Anyone who is turned becomes a sort-of zombie called “hungries.” But one special girl named Melanie oscillates between humanity and damnation. With the help of a teacher, a scientist, and two soldiers, she embarks on a journey that may lead to mankind’s survival. I know what you might be thinking from hearing that premise: The Last of Us. Many people who have seen the film have compared it to the highly acclaimed video game by Naughty Dog, and indeed it does share some similarities from both a thematic and storytelling standpoint. You learn just the right amount of backstory to get the apocalyptic picture and see the characters in their current state. And as an enormous fan of the game, I was quite enticed to watch this horror movie. By the time the credits rolled, I was a mini-mess. This is a gorgeous and fantastically entertaining movie, horror or not. Much like The Last of Us, the focus is not on zombie violence. Make no mistake, the hungries are ferocious and allow for some really tense moments. But they’re almost secondary to the human drama and how the characters react to the situation. With most of the population wiped out and the children in danger of infection, humanity seems doomed. But along comes this girl with a special ability and high I.Q. Indeed, it does sound like familiar ground for the genre, and there might be some viewers who might not connect with a young girl in charge of saving the world. Even some of the characters question it, with one character saying, “Why should it be us who die for you?” There are long stretches of the movie with quiet, asking for patience from its audience. A total newcomer to the industry, Sennia Nanua is an absolute star as Melanie. Highly intelligent yet incredibly innocent, the film is often terrifying because we’re scared for what could happen for her. Gemma Arterton has struggled with films like Quantum of Solace and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunter. But here, she is captivating and compassionate as a teacher assigned with normalizing children on the military compound. When the main group is let loose into the British wilderness, she is the one that tries to keep everyone under a level head, unafraid to put her own life at risk. Meanwhile, Glenn Close impresses as Dr. Caroline Caldwell, a pragmatic scientist bent on finding a cure for the disease. She wants to help Melanie, but she has a hard time trusting anyone else, especially the hot-headed soldiers. And technically, The Girl With All the Gifts is an astounding motion picture. As I said, some scenes were shot near Chernobyl, which contributes to enhancing the oppressive and apocalyptic atmosphere of the picture. Simon Dennis chooses to film a lot of scenes with handheld cameras, but still keeps attention to what’s happening to the characters. A sequence where our heroes make their way through a field of still hungries in the streets of London was particularly terrifying. The couldn’t make a single sound, and each time the camera cut away to an undead being even just twitching, my heart would stop. Another moment of note is when the character’s are taking a pit stop in the forest, and they start hearing signs of other life (Or lack thereof) around them. Such was the power of the editors. The soundtrack was composed by first-timer Cristobal Tapia de Veer, and honestly, it’s not that memorable or noteworthy of a score. It’s pretty similar to other films of its kind in terms of style and structure. Moments of intensity and violence are backed by rigid guitar and pulsating percussion, while quieter moments are bolstered by emotional strings. But the key difference here is that the score also incorporates ambient sounds of nature, chaotic vocals, and the outside world. In a way, this further immerses the audience into a decaying world with the broken remains at our feet. Aside from that, I won’t be going on YouTube to replay certain tracks. There’s really nothing left that I can add. Almost everything about this movie worked for me, and tells a story with a big scope on an intimate scale. And that’s what makes it such a mini-triumph. The Girl With All the Gifts is a breath of fresh air in a dying genre. It’s currently available on Amazon Primer, and I implore you to give it a chance. It’s one of the year’s most overlooked films.

 

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“First They Killed My Father” Movie Review

Yeah… I can’t really think of any jokes right now. This biographical coming-of-age war drama premiered at the city of Siem Reap, eventually making to the fall festival circuit. It got a positive reception at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival before being released on the streaming giant Netflix on September 22nd. Although they don’t release the number of people watching, it’s believed that anticipation was building up as it was being marketed as Beasts of No Nation set in Cambodia. Produced and directed by Angelina Jolie, the film has been adapted from the memoir A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung, who also had a part in writing the screenplay. The story focuses on Loung Ung as a 5-year-old child in Cambodia, just as the United States Army pulled out of Vietnam. After the radical Khmer Rouge take over the country in 1975, she is trained as a child soldier while her family of 6 siblings and weary parents are forced out of their city home to live in a labor camp. Against her will, she is forced to take part in a 4-year regime that results in the death of over 2 million Cambodians. It’s clear how authentic Jolie wanted to be with this subject matter. There is not a single big name Hollywood star to be found on the casting list, nor is the film spoken in English for our own convenience. The film was shot on location where the co-writer had been to, all of the actors are real Cambodian citizens, and the film is spoken entirely in the Khmer Cambodian language. Relax, fellow Americans, it has been translated into English subtitles so that you can understand the plot. It’s pretty bold for someone as famous as Angelina Jolie to make a movie that rejects Hollywood conventions. She tried this previously with films like Unbroken and In the Land Of Blood and Honey. And while neither one is particularly amazing, this Netflix Original riveted me from scene one. Virtually unknown for the moment, I hope that young Sreymoch Sareum gets more recognition as a child actor. The entire film is told through her innocent eyes, unable to comprehend the true evil unfolding all around her. This arguably makes the tragedy of it all even more depressing. Looking over her shoulders for the first half of the picture is Kompheak Phoeungas and Socheta Sveng as Loung’s concerned father and mother, respectively. They present an interesting dichotomy, as the father is a disgraced army soldier hiding his loyalty, whereas the mother is miserable and depressed by their situation. Yet the two of them try their best to remain positive and hopeful for their children, the only logical thing to do in a situation like this. As mentioned earlier, there are no Hollywood big names filling out the rest of the cast. Every single actor, whether they are primary characters or one of hundreds of extras, was from Cambodia. And not a single line of dialogue is spoken in the English language, which is arguably even more impressive. Hopefully, this opens up a floodgate of possibilities for more chance of diversity in the film industry. But since this film was released on a streaming network, odds are that they’re probably not going to take it very seriously. But in a technical aspect, this film is quite accomplished. Anthony Dod Mantle frames the camerawork in a wholesome and naturalistic way for the scenes. Shot on location in various villages in Cambodia, the realistic lighting combined with the beautiful nature is something to behold. So that when some of these places start coming down, we feel even sadder and want Loung to get out of there even more. But since this is told entirely through her perspective, the film is edited by Xavier Box and Patricia Rommel to feel confusing to us viewers. We get strong implications of what is going on with the Khmer Rouge, but the film cuts away from explicitly showing us everything. In a way, this made things even more terrifying because, unless you’re already familiar with the story, it feels like anything could swoop in from out of the camera and take out our protagonist. Marco Beltrami is composing the musical score for this picture. While not necessarily his best soundtrack to date, it does feature his signature style of percussion like bass drums making a huge impact. Literally. At almost all times, there’s a hit that permeates in even some of the more quiet scenes. But he doesn’t succumb to emotionally manipulative strings common in films like these made by Hollywood. Instead, he brings out genuine feeling, even allowing us to tear up near the end when there might be light at the end of the tunnel. However, similar to Beasts of No Nation, I do not feel like this film is one that can be revisited more than once. I acknowledge this as one of the year’s best films, and will proudly tell anyone to watch it. But there are just too many scenes that are difficult to watch for me to recommend multiple viewings. The fact that this is based on a true story makes that pill even harder to swallow. Even so, First They Killed My Father is an empathetic look at evil through the eyes of innocence. Please seek this film out on Netflix and watch it. In this day and age, with atrocities regularly on the news, the subject matter has only become more pertinent. Mourning is the first step. Remembering is the next.

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“Upstream Color” Movie Review

This film has been on my mind way too much for me to not write a full-length review of it. I’ll try my best, but I doubt I’ll get anywhere on the right track. Premiering as part of the U.S. Dramatic Competition section at the Sundance Film Festival, this experimental science-fiction drama was released on April 5th, 2013. Made for just the mere budget of $50,000, it went on to earn back over 11 times that amount during its theatrical run. This is the second feature film from writer-director/everything else Shane Carruth, 9 years after his debut Primer. The story follows a young woman played by Amy Seimetz who is trapped in a cycle by a complex parasite. During her torment, she meets and subsequently falls in love with a man in a similar condition, played by Carruth himself. As they try to put together the fragments of their past lives, they also try to find where it all started and break free. To say anything further would ruin the surprises of the story. It’s not like the movie lives or dies off of these twists and turns, but it goes in some very unexpected directions. And for that, I will remain silent. It has been a long time since I was unable to form a real opinion on a film after the first viewing, but that’s just the case with Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color. In fact, it’s so different and organic that I feel like calling it a “film” or a “movie” would do it an injustice. This was an experience. Now to let you know off the bat, I have not seen his debut feature Primer. For some reason, that one has been unavailable to me through the resources at my disposal. So as my first time with Carruth, I approached this one with a completely open mind because the synopsis was extremely vague and the trailer even more so. None of the reviews would tell me a single thing about it, and I’m glad they didn’t. Going into it cold without much prior knowledge was probably the best way for me to absorb this movie. That being said, I do feel like I should watch this movie a few more times to truly absorb everything that they were trying to say here. The film feels like a 96 minute-long metaphysical poem about the tests of love and dedication. At its most basic, Upstream Color is a romance story with characters who have been emotionally fractured and are trying to put the pieces back together. Even the parasite was replaced with something else like, say, a prescribed medicine, the message would still make sense. But this approach allows the story to become far more universal and abstract. It’s also a gorgeous movie to look at. Carruth is one of those “one-man-show” types of filmmakers, as he completed virtually every aspect of production himself. In a way, that allows his own unique voice to resonate with all departments of the filmmaking process. This includes cinematographer, where he crushes many different colors under a hazy palette. The bokeh-like photography is enhanced by David Lowery’s editing techniques alongside Carruth which cut away with many shots. There isn’t a single shot in the movie that feels misplaced. Every frame has a purpose for the story or its message. Carruth also tries his hand at composing the musical score, which feels right out of a film from the 80’s. Primarily made up of droning synthesizers with different sounds it helped add an ambiance and atmosphere that felt appropriate to the surprisingly melancholic mood. There’s one track, in particular, played near the end, that I keep looping on YouTube as a way of keeping me calm and relaxed. It doesn’t swell with big horns and strings. It just keeps the emotional undercurrent flowing throughout the runtime. However, this film is not made for everyone. I feel like I should inform you of that right now. It breaks many different conventions of storytelling and standard structure. The way the arcs unfold over the course of the movie don’t feel forced or contrived. It takes its time to show (and rarely tell) these two’s story go about. It demands the audience to remain completely engaged. Otherwise, not everything will make sense to them. I had to watch this film twice (back-to-back viewings, in fact) in one day to get a better understanding of it all. This isn’t your typical romantic drama or science-fiction movie. Upstream Color is a wholly original and challenging film that represents the power of singular filmmaking. Shane Carruth is a newfound treasure of American cinema and we shouldn’t lose him anytime soon. At the very least, I want to see what he can come up with in The Modern Ocean.

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“Wish Upon” Movie Review

This film is brought to us by John R. Leonetti, the director of Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, The Butterfly Effect 2, and most recently Annabelle. That’s all of the information you need to know right there. This teen horror flick was released on July 14th, 2017, earning back $20.7 million against a $12 million budget. According to some sources, the script by Barbara Marshall was voted to the 2015 Black List. That means it was selected as one of the best-unproduced scripts in all of Hollywood. It also means that there is the foundation for a good movie somewhere in the plot. A young unpopular girl named Clare in high school is haunted years after her mother committed suicide. One day, she receives a Chinese wishing box from her father’s dumpster diving affairs. After using it on a girl bullying her who gets necrotizing fasciitis, she has 6 wishes left in the box. But each one must come with a new victim. So how does this movie fare against other schlock of its kind? Well, let me go ahead and get the positives right out of the way: Wish Upon is a marginally more enjoyable horror movie than this year’s The Bye Bye Man. But that’s like saying watching a Shakespearean actor fail hilariously onstage is more tolerable than a standup comic giving a painfully unfunny routine. Aside from that… yeah, this movie’s really terrible. Just its own concept feels an idea that’s been used countless times before. But in this particular case, it feels rehashed by emerging film students with the budget of an entire grocery aisle worth of Ramen Noodles. I really thought we were past the time where we got truly atrocious teen horror movies. That films like It Follows and The VVitch had taught genre enthusiasts to get back on track. That the era of 2000’s splatter garbage was officially over. Make no mistake; while this one doesn’t star Paris Hilton, it’s still just as bad. How about that acting? Hoo boy. I’m sure that Joey King is a nice young woman in real life, but she is so lifeless as the main protagonist. In fact, she actually comes off as unlikable because even though bodies consistently pile up, she still wishes for more. Not far behind her is Josephine Langford as the popular girl who constantly teases Clare. Everything that comes out of her mouth sounds like it was written for ABC Family back in 2000. (Okay, if I’m being generous it was 2005) Ki Hong Lee and Ryan Philippe are by far the best performers here as her crush and father, respectively. But sadly, neither of them can save this mess. Similar to The Bye Bye Man, this movie is incompetent from a technical standpoint alone. The editing for every death scene is so horrendous and chopped up. It felt like Peck Prior was forced to cut many corners in order to stick to a PG-13 rating. Other times, it elongates a scene to draw out the tension, Final Destination style. But it ended up being hilarious in every possible way. There is an overhead shot of the city our characters inhabit. It was so fuzzy, like 480p-level bad, that it looked like a video game level from a pre-alpha Resident Evil 6. And just like some the worst horror films out there today, there virtually is no real score here. Almost all of the tracks are stock songs. They’re all composed of simple violins and other strings meant to make the audience jolt when a jump scare happens. Nearly everything else that plays in the background is some sort of 2010’s pop song meant to advance the teenage girl drama that we all SURELY relate to. Who doesn’t think of bubblegum pop at a friend’s party? All that being said… Wish Upon entertained me. But not at all in the way the filmmakers had intended. Whether it was from one of the awfully stupid deaths or from a horrendous line of dialogue, I had a hard time resisting the urge to laugh my ass off. I firmly believe that this is one of the funniest movies to come out all year. If you get some friends to all come over to your house at night with the drinks and snacks, you’re going to have an awesome time. That’s what I should have done. But taken as a whole, there are so many absurdities and leaps in logic for a movie that takes itself way too seriously that it can be seen as anything but a roast session. When you have Barb from Stranger Things and she can’t save your movie, that’s when you know you’re in trouble. Wish Upon is a pittance of ironic enjoyment mired in utter shit. While it was unintentionally fun for me, I cannot in good conscience encourage you to watch this as a film critic. One of the funniest movies of the year and simultaneously one of the worst.

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