Darke Reviews | The Curse of La Llorona (2019)

Prior to moving to the southwest far too long ago for my comfort, I had not heard of this urban legend. To be perfectly honest, I first came across it with the Supernatural pilot episode where they faced the woman in white. My fiancée at the time, had heard of her and told me some of the stories and variations. Urban legends are always fascinating, an interesting aspect of modern mythology and folklore that tell you as much about a place as anything else. For where I grew up we had the statue of Black Aggie, who had many many dark and horrifying stories around what happens should you cross the statues path, including one notable story of someone dying of fright in her arms. Of course there’s Bloody Mary, who is one of the most widely known ones, that in turn inspired the film Candyman. What makes this movie special is that this isn’t American or even European folklore at play, this is a story of Mexican origin and damn if we don’t need some other legends making it to the screen.

But was she the right one?

First we should talk the story of La Llorona. There are variations to it and the reason why, but it is the horrifying tale of a mother out of jealousy or rage drowned both of her children. Then in her weeping grief, killed herself once she realized what she had done. She is most commonly in a white dress and veil, similar to (if not actually) a wedding dress. Her tormented spirit cries for her lost children and even now she looks for the children of others to replace her own; but alas…the cycle repeats. It’s a grim story even without the haunting aspect and automatically should put most people on edge. The movie itself doesn’t disappoint here as it opens with a dreamlike visual of our woman in white and her crime. This is important because when a movie like this opens with killing young kids, no one is safe. With most horror movies you can expect the final girl, or maybe the kids surviving, but by opening with the death of children this movie removes that security blanket and you are left with a pervasive sense of dread throughout. That is a plus in the movies favour.

The screenplay was written by Tobias Iaconis (Five Feet Apart) and Mikki Daughtry (Five Feet Apart). that tells the story of a social worker in 1973 Los Angeles who becomes immersed in the world of the spirit and must save her kids before it’s too late. This is not a complex story, but it doesn’t have to be. What it does have to be is tightly focused on a mother trying to save her children from an enemy that is not a living being. They have that, mostly. The challenge here is you know the threat is real and not in her head, that the mother and children also know the threat is real. The movie tries to insert some additional friction and makes a weak attempt at world building around it, but while it lands it doesn’t have any weight and could have been excised without a viewer even noting it was there. There is of course one (mild) moment of stupidity that I couldn’t forgive as it would have completely altered the already useless friction. One other elephant in the room I feel is important. Neither of the writers are LatinX. They do treat the material respectfully, to my perception, but I really feel if you are adapting a specific cultures folklore and mythology that is non-white you might want to have someone from that culture there.

Director Michael Chaves (The Maiden, Conjuring 3) was aware of this. In an interview with Daily Dead at ComicCon he spoke of the weight this movie would have.

Michael Chaves: Yeah, I think because it’s such a cultural touchstone, and beyond just being a cultural tradition, it’s also a family tradition. This is something that abuelas would tell their grandkids for hundreds of years. It was always, “You better be good or La Llorona is going to get you.” That was a huge weight, and we did a lot of research and there were a lot of discussions. I really feel like we made absolutely the best La Llorona movie that could be made. It’s scary as hell. (source: Heather Wixson interview of Michael Chaves and Patricia Velazques on DailyDead .com)

 

As a white woman, I can’t say if he succeeded. I can say that it appears he did.  I know that Hispanic culture was part of my life for 15 years thanks to my ex-fiancee and I learned a lot. Everything felt respectful and nothing at all felt stereotypical as I watched. The performances he drew from all of his cast, regardless of age worked very well.

Linda Cardellini (Scooby Doo, Green Book) has to carry the weight of the movie and does so as our mother of two Anna Tate-Garcia. Young Roman Christou as the eldest child Chris, and Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen (Self/Less) as the youngest Samantha have their own load to carry and both do well enough. Raymond Cruz (The Closer, Major Crimes) is always a pleasure and fits right in as both heavy and some much needed comedy. Patricia Valasquez (The Mummy) is a delight even in her intense role as Patricia Alvarez the first victim of our spirit. Tony Amendola makes his appearance as well as Father Perez, which automatically connects the movie to the universe of Annabelle and the Conjuring.

On a technical perspective, this is a very dark movie. I mean that literally. It’s dark. Lighting is next to non-existant and used sparingly through the movie which while it is fantastic at setting the mood can do some damage to engagement when everything gets slightly more noticeable when the ghost is present – kinda the opposite of what you want. Props to the serious atmosphere though. The other downside, and this is unfathomable, is CG steam. Why? Why do we need CG steam coming off the coffee cup? Why do we need CG steam coming off a lantern? It didn’t look good guys. You can do better, especially when so many other of the effects are practical and effective as hell.

TL:DR?

While almost every beat is predictable as they come with all appropriate McGuffins and Chekhovs present and accounted for, I rather enjoyed the movie. Producer James Wan has a pretty solid reputation for putting out low budget movies that even contained within a near single location still manage to weave an interesting and engaging story. The Curse of La Llorona is no exception to the pattern. True the biggest innovation to the genre is faithfully bringing a longstanding tradition to a wider audience, sometimes all a movie needs to do is do all of it right. It doesn’t have to reinvent the industry or be the next big thing to be good. This is one of those. It knows what it is, what it can do and tries to do it’s best at that.

What really adds, as I mentioned in the deeper dive, is the fact everything and everyone is fair game. When you kill kids for your opener nothing is sacred and that tension is important to keep you wondering who lives and who dies. No…I’m not telling you who lives and dies either. That’s against the rules

Aww ok. But should I see it?

If you were interested or this is your genre. It’s an above average entry that works rather well and might be one of the stronger entries in the shared universe it is part of.

Would you see it again?

Not likely in theatres. I don’t think there’s an experience or detail I missed to bring me back to see it there.

But….

Yeah I am probably buying it.

Parting thoughts or parting shots?

Both. I give props to James Wan here. This is how you do a shared universe and do it well. Sure you can go the Marvel/Disney route and have these complex intertwining co-starring stories that are big and bombastic. I mean c’mon most of us are going to watch one next weekend. Wan went the other direction here and while you do have an intertwining story they do function well enough on their own as standalone films and prequels that could work without the other film. Just insert a character from another film and the connective tissue exists. That let’s you set up for the film coming later this year in the franchise, but doesn’t force the viewer to watch everything before.

Other studios trying to do their “Cinematic Universes” should maybe look at the scrapper that is The Conjuring Universe instead of the heavy weight that is Disney.

Just an idea.

 

 

Darke Reviews | Hellboy (2019)

I need Ian McShane to narrate my life. Sure people talk about having Morgan Freeman do it or Samuel L Jackson for the complete other take; but for me, it has to be Ian McShane. I never fully appreciated the gift that he was until seeing him in the remake of Death Race (2008). This is a man who is all out of anything to give. This is a man who I am almost certain walks on set, reads his script, and generally goes “screw it” and does what he will and they just film him – and it always turns out awesome. If you’ve seen the John Wick movies you know this to be true as well. I only bring this up now because this movie opens with narration by Mr. McShane and it sets a very firm tone for what the movie will give you.  It wastes very little time establishing any of this and if you don’t like the first minute of film you won’t like the following hundred and nineteen. As a film goer and critic I appreciate it when movies manage my expectations in such a way. Jordan Peele did this with much praise in US and now we have one of my favourite underrated directors doing it here in Hellboy’s 5th movie installment.

But does it work?

As mentioned this is the 5th installment of a Hellboy movie, with the original DelToro in 2004, the animated Sword of Storms in 2006, the animated Blood and Iron in 2007, and The Golden Army in 2008. The last three have the creator of Hellboy as one of the writers and all of them have Ron Perlman in the titular character role, and the other live actors in their respective supporting roles. This marks the first time that Mike Mignola is not involved in the writing (but he does get an Executive Producer credit). To say that the tone of this movie is irreverent would be an understatement of apocalyptic proportions. Andrew Cosby’s (creator of TV series Eureaka and Haunted) script is very much in the vein of of the previous ones, with Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. (Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense) trying to stop a very potent supernatural baddie from ending human life letting the creatures of the night rule once again and for Hellboy himself to face his own dark potential. To be fair, as the Vampire Princess I am kind of rooting for the monsters – it’s a blood thing after all.

The movie does a decent job setting up who Hellboy is and what he believes in pretty quickly with a well done show don’t tell scene. We’re given the crash course rehash of his origin with some very clear comic book characterizations and other characters, like The Lobster, not previously seen in a Hellboy picture being lifted from page to screen. Cosby clearly does love the material and embraced every aspect of the over the top nature of it and brought it to the script; perhaps at the detriment of giving us any compelling characters beyond Hellboy, Broom, and Alice Monaghan. The movie suffers from an eternally brisk pace that doesn’t let you ever linger long enough to care much about anything which can leave you wanting if you don’t feel for the stakes.

That being said I am pleased to see Neil Marshall back in the directors chair again. His filmography is regular watching in my crypt from The Descent, to Dog Soldiers, to Doomsday, and Centurion. This didn’t feel like one of his movies though.  Sure Doomsday mashes up a zombie apocalypse movie, MadMax, and a medieval film all in one, but the overall look, feel, and tone here doesn’t feel like him entirely. It’s shot well and you can fully place everything being done and have a great sense of scale and geography during some of the fights and sweeping shots; which is definitely him, but its the closer moments that are somewhat off.

That might come down to the technicals. Normally Marshall is all but 100% practical in every shot; with few exceptions. He doesn’t shy from the gore when appropriate, nor does this movie; but the visuals they look well bad. When some of the blood effects and creature effects in movies a from over a decade ago look better than one made now, you have a problem. Many of the digital creations are more detractors for the movie than they are supporting, which is sad because there is practical work at play here. My gut tells me, and I bet I could research and prove, that this may have fallen victim to post production touch ups and overwork similar to the 2011 prequel of The Thing. There was intense and amazing practical work done, but someone at the studio came in and had the team redo all of the effects with digital over the practical. It is infamous in how bad it is at times. This looks about the same. Again this is sad because Hellboy looks great, some of the low key practical effects through the movie also look great – but the digital is not good.

People will want to know how is David Harbour (Stranger Things) vs Ron Perlman in the role of Hellboy. He’s good. I am biased, as many will be, that Perlman is better. I think some of it comes down to how well and how often Perlman gets to emote and how clear he sounds doing so. There’s a lack of clarity in the speech and lack of presence in that speech that overall hurt Harbours otherwise ideal casting. He looks good in the part, he emotes when he can, but I think the movie doesn’t really give him the chance to be as iconic as Perlman was.  The next match up of course is Ian McShane vs John Hurt as professor Broom. They aren’t even the same character and thus cannot be compared. I mean it is the same character but the take on it is so radically different you would not know it. McShane does as he does on American Gods, and chews all the scenery and we love him for it, but much like Harbour we aren’t given enough with him to make him more than Ian McShane, which is unfortunate. Daniel Dae Kim (LOST, Hawaii Five-O) is also done a disservice as Major Ben Daimio. He is able to elevate the part just enough to make it work, but only barely. Sasha Lane (Miseducation of Cameron Post) is the only one who manages to make a real impression playing Alice, but only barely.

TL;DR

The original Hellboy had a budget of $66 million (just over $91m adjusted) but it shows in the painstaking care of the practical. Lionsgate did this movie no favours in its $50 million budget. The intense practical of the 2004 Hellboy makes it a stand out film, while unfortunately the intense digital elements here cut this one off at the knees. This is a movie that has a very talented director, a capable cast, a script from someone who clearly knows his source material and the result is something of a muddy mess. Hellboy clearly deserved better than it got and unfortunately what looks to be some level of studio hands in the pot allowed a movie filled with sound and fury signifying nothing.

This feels more like something you would have expected from an early 2000’s Miramax movie instead of a late 2010’s Lionsgate one. This isn’t to say it’s awful. Quite contrary to that it actually is kind of fun at times in a throwback kind of way. I have to wonder if knowing their hands were tied the director, cast, and crew just embraced the travesty and rode with it like Slim Pickens. Everyone tries here. Everyone clearly looks like they are having a good time. The music director clearly was enjoying themselves and this certainly doesn’t feel like any other comic book movie you will see this year, largely due to the intense amount of digital and practical blood effects. This movie is an R Rated one and took full advantage of it.

Yes, but should we see it?

Yes, but preferably with alcohol or *lots* of popcorn. It is that sort of beer and pretzels movie that shouldn’t be but is and knows both of those things are true. I did enjoy myself, but I can’t tell you this is a good movie either.

Would you see it again?

Not in theatre, no.

Ok, what about buying it?

Yeah, I have no issue with that. I can order a pizza, open a bottle of bloo, er wine, sit down and just enjoy.

So it’s a …?

This is an entertaining, turn your brain off for two hours, have a drink and enjoy movie. I can’t be certain it was meant to be that way, but the net result is that.

I wouldn’t hold out hope for a sequel, but stranger things have happened. Also I still need Ian McShane to narrate my life.

 

Next week, I may or may not see the Curse of La Llorona – but face it we’re all waiting for End Game.

Darke Reviews | Pet Sematary (2019)

I saw a new meme yesterday going around. “What type of person are you based on the book you read in High School?” It had all the classics most of us had to read in the 80’s and 90’s. Me though? Didn’t really read them or pay much attention to them. I did however read Tommyknockers a few times and even had a greeting to one of my best friends (who will likely read this) during that time. We recently reconnected on FB and I used that to let him know it was me (I am a different than I was then). He’s also the one who gave me one of my fondest nicknames. So yeah in high school I wasn’t reading the required, I read Christine, Cujo, Tommyknockers, The Stand, and yes Pet Sematary. By that point I had already watched the 1989 movie a few times, mostly for Fred Gwynne’s last performance and my girl crush on Denise Crosby.

They say sometimes Dead is better. Should this have stayed buried?

Obviously based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, this time the adaptation of the story for the screen is done by Matt Greenberg. Greenberg has had some adaptation work for King before either in his writing work on Children of the Corn III or the amazing 1408.  He also provided us one of the better sequels in the Halloween franchise, H20. Unfortunately he is also the one who did the screen story for Seventh Son. Don’t look it up or watch it. The script however came from the mind and idle hands of Jeff Buhler of the Midnight Meat Train and last years…interesting series Nightflyers; and the mildly disappointing The Prodigy. This is very much an adaptation of the King story where it is far more faithful in spirit, but still not the book – so don’t go looking for that. The basics are there, a doctor, his wife, daughter, and toddler son move from the big city to a small town in Maine (c’mon it’s King you expect it to be anywhere else?). Their new home is beautiful if you can stand the tanker trucks doing 60 on a road that clearly should be a 30, and this creepy little town graveyard for pets way back in the woods. When the family cat, Church, dies thanks to one of the aforementioned trucks their helpful old timey neighbor introduces the father to what lies beyond the barrier in the Pet Sematary. Burying Church in that stony soil begins an ever darkening and maddening chain of events.

As you can tell if you are familiar with the 89 movie or the book the meat is there, the potatoes are there. It digs deeper than the last attempt and shows that the writers cared to do so, but I am not 100% sold it went deep enough. There is not a real fault with the script or the dialogue of the movie. The mistakes of the past are gone, but there seem to be new ones; where it feels like a late 2000’s adaptation. Everything you want is there, but some aspect of it doesn’t quite resonate. I feel that some of it may go to the execution by duo directors Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch; but again it’s hard to pin it down. Their staging is fine, the blocking is fine, the actors performances are fine. One or two of the visuals is a bit rougher than I think they should be, but others just work.

Jason Clarke (Winchester, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) nails it as atheist doctor LouisCreed. I buy him as a man who is faced with the impossible and then an impossible choice. Amy Seimetz (Alien: Covenant, The Killing) carries the trauma of Rachel Creed’s childhood, well enough; but I felt absolutely no chemistry between her and Clarke. This isn’t to say they aren’t trying, because they are – it just doesn’t quite work. John Lithgow can do no wrong and while he lacks more of the folksy quality in Gwynne’s earlier performance he still pulls off Judd well enough; even without a good ayup.  Jeté Laurence, at age 12, as the daughter Ellie, has her work cut out for her, but I felt she did better than many in her age group ever could have; and unlike Seimetz comes across having real chemistry with Clarke.

On the technical side of things to say the movie is short is an understatement, with a 101 minute running time including credits which run for about 8 of those minutes there is little fat on the movie. Then why does it at times feel like it’s moving so slow? Yes, there’s a point to pacing it for tension, which it builds, but they did this at the sacrifice of something. A little effect here. A poorly executed dream like sequence there. A ghostly image that exists because it had to, but not because of service to the story. Also shooting in the summer when you are supposed to be in Maine in the fall? The lack of appropriate colour shows.

TL;DR

Pet Sematary is a solid horror film; its perfectly serviceable. One of Kings better film adaptations to be sure, but I feel it is a reactionary product. When IT blew everyone (and more than a few records) away in September of 2017 it was only a matter of time before people began to look for the next King property to remake. Sure this one had been in talks since 2010, but it was green lit in December of 2017 right as IT was wrapping its $300 million domestic haul. A rushed schedule had filming in late June 2018 wrapping August 11th. This has all the hallmarks of a studio absolutely trying for a cash grab and investing just enough to make the movie look good while doing it. The problem with moves like this by studios, they *feel* like they are a cash grab when you watch it. You can see where every single corner has been cut and while you can’t put your finger on whats wrong with the picture you absolutely know that something is.

What made IT work was the investment of time and care, the $35 million didn’t hurt either. The $21 million budget on this one with the time given shows. Yes, the actors care. Yes, the production crew cares. That also shows, but those edges, those frays, and uneven cuts. That reek of something that feels like a studios hand or perhaps a not as good as they need to be writer making a choice does it all a disservice. While there are plenty of movies who run too long, this one is about five to ten minutes too short. If this comes out with a longer directors cut I might be happier with the final product.

So should I see it?

See Shazam first. It’s the superior movie this week, by leaps and bounds. That being said, while my critique is fairly harsh for the movie, I did enjoy it, but it was despite its flaws. This one is going to be VERY mixed and you’ll have to decide for yourself your tolerances.

So maybe, but unlikely.

Would you watch it again then?

Not in theatres, no.

Though buying it?

Yeah, I’ll buy it. Like I said, I did enjoy it. I just have to call a movie on what I think is wrong with it. Clarke, Lithgow, and Laurence are absolutely enjoyable. Seimetz tries, but it doesn’t work.

Do you think the content soured you?

This is one of King’s bleaker stories; which is saying something. The Stand at least had hope. You have kids and family pets dying and then coming back as something else, something different. You have a growing madness and desperation as you watch innocence die. That’s pretty bloody bleak. I knew that going in so that isn’t it. I don’t even mind the major change to the story for this adaptation, they made it work; but the movie lacks commitment or conviction.

I’m glad that this movie was remade. The 89 one is one of the rougher King adaptations, but I just wish a little more had been given to the movie.

Again I enjoyed myself, and the cover of the Ramones song Pet Sematary by Starcrawler. I just think we could have had more. Maybe the soil of my heart is too stony for this one.