Darke Reviews | It: Chapter Two (2019)

It’s no secret how much I loved IT 2017 as that review attests. I didn’t go back and read the book to see what was different and a thousand people did their videos on what was different between that movie, the mini series, and the book. Even now as I write this I know there are a thousand people writing their scripts for the differences between the book and the movie. As I mentioned in the original review, I don’t care. This review won’t compare the original series or the book as all three are different styles of creation which would be unfair to compare against one another. King can spend a hundred words or more for a single description, both series and movie can do it with a single frame, held for two seconds. King has the luxury to explore the depths of psyche and depravity in a way that no Made for Network TV could conceive of, especially in the wake of the 80s and early 90s. Even now such material would be found on streaming content, cable, or premium cable to really go there. So thus book and mini series cannot truly and fairly be considered rivals, just as the mini series is a product of its time and capabilities this movie is a product of its and needs to be judged appropriately.

Does it continue the story of IT Chapter 1? Are questions answered? Are the required plot beats hit from the original material to progress the story? Is it scary? Is it visually interesting? Do the actors feel like they are the grown up versions of the children they had been? Does the ending feel like a good conclusion?

Or…should IT have not come back?

Certain credits remain in place, which might seem obvious considering the $700 million global haul it took on a $35 million budget, but Hollywood does stupid things all the time. Look at Dark Phoenix bringing back the writer of the most maligned X-men movie to write…the same movie. Gary Dauberman comes back as the writer to finish out the story, with a brief stint putting out the Nun, Swamp Thing for DC, and Annabelle comes Home in the meanwhile. Thanks to maintaining that same writer, the movie has a consistency with the 2017 release that keeps the flow going, and with it being an adaptation much of the material is there. Dauberman has perhaps one of the more unenviable tasks in this production as he has to adapt the unadaptable with some significant deep lore from the book that the series couldn’t touch and he has to decide what if anything to keep from that lore. I don’t disagree with most of his decisions. Point in fact some decisions made are so well done they almost make me overlook some of the flaws in that script (possibly editing, hard to tell). Which does mean there are flaws. The movie needs a few trigger warnings and while…thematically accurate I am not sure it was needed or could have been altered to not be as rough. I will discuss more on that in the TL;DR section. Some of the jokes could have been toned back or removed and left only for the villains to tell; mostly weight based ones for the record. I’m also not 100% on a beat from the end, but I will let it ride for now. Overall the screenplay does everything it needs to and shines where it must.

Which brings us to director Andy Muschietti, who has done nothing between the movies which is probably a good thing for the man directing this. He makes plenty of brilliant choices here and absolutely nails drawing the performances from the cast; but the flaws that might be in Daubermans script or in the editing must land on him. You can’t make certain references to objects, places, or phrases if you never set them up successfully. The movies near three hour running time does as well. There are at least two full scenes which could be struck from the movie and it wouldn’t have an effect on the overall plot for all that they did. While they may be canonical and something folks would like, it added nothing with some of the changes made to accommodate them. The trick to superior editing is removing a scene and if it doesn’t change the flow or narrative in any significant or character driven/growth way then it could be cut. It may seem I am being harsh on him, but I am really pleased with the overall product, but the parts that detract fall on him.

What doesn’t detract is the acting.

McAvoy and Chastain are well known and more than capable of playing the adult versions of Bill and Bev and they nail it. Bev is missing something I think, but that might be screenplay or editing failing not Chastain. This also marks their third appearance together in a movie as near as I can tell. Jay Ryan is hard to tear your eyes away from as the adult Ben Hanscom, meanwhile James Ransone (Sinister) brings it as an adult Eddie Kaspbrak. Andy Bean (Swamp Thing) nails the adult performance of Stanley Uris ridiculously well, you feel like you are really looking as if he grew up and looked the same just taller. Isiah Mustafa (Shadowhunters) gets the Mike Hanlon as an adult and brings all the desperation and depth he needs to bring everyone back to Derry after 27 years. All of them are good, if not great, they brought their A games and no one phoned it in in the slightest, but we need to talk about Bill Hader (SNL, Superbad). His Richie, his performance is absolutely next level. Some might say he wasn’t particularly funny and I would say they missed the point because those jokes were meant to fall flat. This mans acting is just through the roof and continues to bring the film back together in a way that makes the stakes seem so real for these adults. The same comes for the kids who are back to reprise their own roles for different angles on scenes we know and scenes we never saw, Jack Dylan Grazer (Eddie), Sophia Lillis (Bev), Jeremy Ray Taylor (Ben), and Finn Wolfhard (Ritchie) get the most shining moments with Wolfhard getting an absolutely powerful scene that will surely be overlooked by most.

This is where Muschietti shines everyone. These performances require actors who are above the par, but it also requires a director who knows all of his stuff to get the performances I saw. Now I didn’t mention Skarsgard in th acting section relegating him to the technicals, but this isn’t his story this is theirs. He’s there. He does his thing. He is legitimately scary at times, but Chapter Two is all about the kids, the adults, trauma, and coming home again. While most of the work around Pennywise this time is good, some of the forms and threats just don’t look as clean as they could and another pass, another rendering effort could have taken them a step in the right direction towards ideal completeness. Of course, that doesn’t stop this movie from having raw nightmare fuel left, right, and center that was generated in a computer. There’s enough to keep some folks up at night that doesn’t involve clowns trust me.

TL;DR?

It: Chapter Two does everything it set out to do. It completes and concludes the story of The Losers Club and Pennywise the dancing clown. There are laughs to be had, there are jumps, and there are tears. There is real and imagined horror through this movie from the opening scene to the bruises on adult Bev’s arm that never go away during the length of the film. Growing up in a small town not too dissimilar from Derry, I can see coming back to town and walking through it to see what changed and what hasn’t and sometimes that’s terrifying in its own right.  Facing your past can be its own fear and making your own future as well. The movie is able to successfully hit all of these beats, plus never ceases to have a level of tension and did I just see that moments through it.

Knowing that Dauberman and Muschietti deviated from both the book and the original mini-series adds its own level of tension. If you know either of those incarnations you know things that will happen, but as proven they are willing to change things. So when the title credits begin with a WB logo surrounded by the deadlights, you can’t be sure *how* they will interpret scenes. What will their take on the Chinese Restaurant look like? The library? The final form? Who lives, who dies? It’s all up in the air and that is a magic all its own.

Should I see it though?

Yes. Absolutely Yes. Why aren’t you watching it yet? Go home. Watch it.

That said…I need to dip into spoiler(ish) territory out of respect for all of my readers needs for some potentially unexpected triggers.

  • Trigger Warning: Abuse of LGBT persons in the opening scene. Its a bit hard to watch, even harder thinking some people might be cheering it on.
  • Trigger Warning: Suicide. It is done as well as you can do that scene, but much as I didn’t know about the one in A Star Is Born, I must give my readers the warning if they have never seen the mini series or read the book.

Would you watch it again?

Even with the three hour running time? Yes. Yes I would. Lets go. Big screen. Big sound system.

You’re going to buy it aren’t you?

I am curious to what the box set will look like on my shelf. Yes.

Is it as scary as the first? 

Hmm I don’t think so. Sorry to say, part of the fear of the first is the initial shock value of what they did and the kids in peril. This focus on the adults and us knowing Pennywise, does take away some of the terror. That’s more or less like Alien vs Aliens. You will never be as afraid of the Xenomorph as you were in the original, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have it’s own level of terror.

Any parting thoughts?

It does run a bit long and hits a Return of the King type ending sequence, but beyond all of that this will be and should be a very well received film in my opinion. I do think that Mike isn’t treated particularly well by the script or the film and there’s some opportunity there; some of the CG could be cleaned up – but again this is about as good as you can do with the amount of material needing to be adapted.

Also three of the cast (McAvoy, Chastain, and Hader) were in Disappearance of Elanor Rigby together…the hell?

Darke Reviews | Ready or Not (2019)

Hey everyone, it’s been a few weeks since there’s been a review. I’ve had a lot of real space issues recently, from the AC going out in my house in Arizona on the night I saw Hobbs and Shaw, to the death of a family member the night I saw Scary Stories to tell in the Dark. Short reviews on both of them right now. Hobbs and Shaw was ridiculous in concept, execution, acting and was everything the trailer said it would be. If you saw the trailer and went ‘thats my kinda movie’ then you should have seen it by now. For Scary Stories, it too delivered what it promised, a teenager (no younger) appropriate horror film directed by the man who did Autopsy of Jane Doe and produced by Guillermo Del Toro. Again if this wasn’t enough to get you there it may not be for you, but I enjoyed it for what it is. That of course brings us to Ready or Not.

 

NOTE: This is the R Rated trailer, its NSFW.

 

Ready or Not? Should you come?

This is a Fox Searchlight picture, which is 20th Century Foxes indy arm of production, but also the one that gave us most of their award winners such as The Shape of Water, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Black Swan, 12 Years a Slave, and Birdman. This is not those movies. This is one where a director and writer with an idea went “can you fund us please?” and someone in this arm went “yeah ok sure”. Writers Ryan Murphy and Guy Busick (Urge  – not the Purge), put their past experiences together and delivered the story of a young woman marrying into a ultra rich family with strange rituals and a penchant for taking a game a bit too far. This is a movie that if it did not take inspiration from the great You’re Next I would be surprised, but easily will sit on the shelf next to it. Giving us an ultra rich family, psychopathic tendencies, and a final girl who is all too human. In the production notes for the movie I found this bit pleasing

Screenwriter R. Christopher Murphy muses that “with Grace we are turning on its head the horror genre trope of the ‘final girl;’ where in many horror films, you have a cast of innocents stalked by one psycho and one final girl remaining to challenge the killer. But in READY OR NOT Grace is the only intended victim, one whom several people are hunting.”

Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin (Southbound, Devil’s Due) and Tyler Gillett (Southbound, Devil’s Due) despite being relatively new to the game show some good decision making behind the camera. They effectively take some very very horrible people and bring out the charm in them so that while yes, you want them to die its not because you just want them off camera. Many slasher films of the late 80s to today have forgotten that where yes, you look forward to horribly people dying, but usually its just to get them to shut up. Here the near buffoonery of the performances keeps the wretchedness of the people from being completely overwhelming to the point of distraction. The humor that punctuates the movie is entirely within character and keeps the tone light enough to breathe between some of the more intense scenes. The directors also brilliantly remember that unlike many horror and action movies injuries matter and simply putting a bandage on it does not stop the pain.

Granted they may give the direction, but the actors need to sell it. Samara Weaving (The Babysitter, Mayhem), niece to the incredible Hugo Weaving, is a heavy weight in the film and can deliver. Every reaction felt naturalistic and held its continuity to the story, the experience and her character Grace. You might be saying “Yeah that’s acting”. To that I point you at the last abomination they called a Die Hard movie and compare it to the original. What is expected of Weaving here is not exactly a small feat to pull off for 96 minutes but she does it.  Not only that she had a voice and made sure the directors were true to the character.

Co-director Matt Bettinelli-Olpin remarks, “Sam made it important to herself, and to all of us, that the movie not get repetitive and that there be an arc for Grace. We were so grateful for her attention to detail from moment to moment.”

Adam Brody (The OC, Shazam!), as the brother in law Daniel takes what otherwise what would be a one note character and gives it a few layers; mostly through alcohol and dry wit, that keeps you watching him when he’s on the screen. The rest of the cast, which is the rest of the family is absolutely fine. Every last one of them has a distinct personality; but is more than their personality trait – another lost lesson in film-making within the genre. I have to believe Melanie Scrofano (Wynonna Earp) made her character Emilie’s weapon of choice the pistol for pure humor value, or the directors did and she ran with it.

From a technical perspective, there’s some nice use of camera techniques that help tell you what is going on as much as whats within the frame; though some of the musical cues are a bit too on the nose for my tastes. This may be been a de-constructive attempt by filmmakers, but it didn’t quite stick as well as everything else did. There’s a lovely mix of practical and CG gore through the movie, but the practical as expected reigns supreme. With the previously mentioned 96 minute running time, including credits, the movie moves are a brisk but not a wasted pace that keeps advancing the plot without the need for anyone to have their IQ drop to do so.

TL;DR?

I enjoyed this movie. Like a lot. I am hard pressed to tell you its a horror movie, but I am jaded in that space. There’s gore, there’s the hunting of a person, but this is more like the cool aunt to the action movie genre. Slightly less action, but willing to go the extra on the violence, the language, but not sacrificing story to do so. I mean sure there’s other horror elements to the movie, but to me horror is something intended to scare – and this just doesn’t have it. It has a good plot, decent tension, great acting and solid directing.

I mentioned You’re Next earlier and it would fit well there, or perhaps with something like No One Lives or Even Lambs Have Teeth. Not quite scary enough for me to call Horror nor actiony enough to fit in that genre, its solidly between the two and it belongs there as the directors and writers knew what they wanted, released a trailer promising that thing, and finally delivered on it and even had a bit of restraint in doing so.

Should I see it though?

Like I said, I enjoyed this. My Dark Court enjoyed it and neither of them are into the genre – so that’s saying something. If the trailer looked remotely entertaining to you throw the dice and play the game

Would you see it again?

Yeah. You buying?

Uh…no, but will you buy it?

Oh totally. This will get played a few times a year when I am in the mood for a solid Final Girl type movie.

Parting thoughts on this one?

Go to a theatre with an alcohol license, while you don’t need it to have a good time – it somehow fits. Or maybe a nice glass of Chianti.

Was that a spoiler?

No; but if I hate myself enough I will watch Angel has Fallen later this week and write a review on that. Though if it’s as bad as London has Fallen it probably won’t be worth a review.

You didn’t write a review for London has Fallen because it was so dull.

You understand my point then.

For now, I leave you with the fact that THIS despite it’s midweek release in August is one of the more fun movies I’ve had this year and definitely one of the more entertaining in the genre, and a note from Costume Designer Avery Plewes

When making a genre movie, “Don’t send things to dry cleaners. It never goes over well; they will get freaked out, no matter how well you know them.”

 

 

 

Darke Reviews | Child’s Play (2019)

I’ve never quite been what one would call a fan of the Child’s Play series. I’ve watched most of them at one point or another and while not a fan appreciate how bat-guano-crazy they get; even with the first movie. I mean come on, this is a movie about a doll possessed by the soul of a psychopath who begins to kill people. A doll. This isn’t like Annabelle or any of the modern haunted dolls, this is literally the DOLL killing people. The Puppetmaster series at least acknowledged its camp in its own unique Full Moon way. To be fair, as Child’s Play went on the series got weirder and weirder, and did acknowledge just how strange it is as a series in its own way. As with any remake of a franchise that has some serious fans there was doubt on a new movie being made.

Should Chucky go back in the box?

The first thing to address is, is this a sequel, a remake, or a reboot? Based on everything I have to work with this is absolutely a remake with no acknowledgement to the original movies in anyway shape or form. It has all of the hallmarks of a remake as well, with callbacks to the original but most of them being ham-fisted; right down to getting the name Chucky. The screenplay that drove this is from Tyler Burton Smith, who as near as I can tell is not related to one of the producers the often lamented Seth Grahame Smith. Seth is known for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter; but also the writer for Tim Burtons abomination of a Dark Shadows movie. Knowing Seth is a producer and Tyler Burton Smith has video game writing credits before this gives me some insight to aspects of the movie; which is suffice to say emotionally flat. I acknowledge I might be in a bad mood, because I was offended by one of the trailers before it but the movie goes out of its way to make every human the worst possible versions of themselves.

Like I get it, as slasher movies (De-?)evolved we began to look forward to obnoxious people being killed and our killer being more of a protagonist than even our final girls. This took it to a new level that was just off-putting rather than perversely gleeful. Only two characters in the movie are remotely likable and they are tertiary characters at best. That is not good. Part of a horror movie is to feel tension that a character you like is going to be harmed. Here? Not only do you feel no tension, you are just waiting for them to die because they are just bleh; but thats not enough they have to upscale it before hand. It’s completely unnecessary and takes away from any impact the movie could have had as you know a horror movie. If the people are likable, then when the doll begins doing what it does…you worry. You wonder whats going to happen next and then have favourites you don’t want dead. Here…who cares? Not me. Certainly not the script.

I think the director tried to care, but I am not sure he was cut out for what he had to do here to make this work. Lars Klevberg’s only other work was the film Polaroid which was supposed to be released in 2017. Remember that one? Here you go:

I had completely forgotten about this movie until writing this review. I went to check did it come and go with a whimper, but found out it never even showed up. It was pushed back twice on the release schedule then never released here in the US. It *finally* got a German release in 2019, but thats about it. Looking at the two pictures I see a man who tries to go for cold barren landscapes, he wants to use his lighting to create mood using stark single colours to light a scene. He prefers relatively tight shots on his cast, but rarely a full close up. He tries to play with the camera, but forgets that the camera is a point of view itself and if you decide to track it as if it was first person you need to make the motion make sense. In other words he is trying, but needs to refine a bit before he gets there.

Aubrey Plaza gets to run solo in this one as the main star of the movie and the mother of the child who acquires the doll. She tries and having seen the full force of her personality in Legion, Safety Not Guaranteed, and a ton of clips from Parks and Rec, she’s entirely wasted here. Her delivery is flat and I can only blame the direction, she tries but doesn’t have the inertia to or will to overcome that which holds her back. Gabriel Bateman, who plays the new Andy is fine I guess. If anything his performance feels the most natural and sounds like a kid reacting to what he has to. There’s an odd choice by the movie to make him hearing impaired, but it adds absolutely nothing to the movie to do so. I have a feeling there’s a draft of the script where it comes into play more but someone said this looks too much like A Quiet Place and cut it from the movie but not the hearing aid entirely. Mark Hamill is fine as the voice of Chucky, but the script gives him nothing to work with compared Brad Dourifs take in 88. This isn’t a slight on Hamill, we know what he can do with voice acting, but the script gave him nothing. Nothing to do with it.

The only thing remotely interesting in the movie is how they use the fact the Buddi doll is like a generation nine Alexa and connect to your home, phone, tv, and even roomba. Again the idea is interesting, but they don’t take it nearly far enough. The movie is a very brisk 90 minutes – with credits, so time could have been spent to do something curious, something new with it, or something to add to the horror, but it doesn’t. Even the gore, which I am sure other reviews may talk about was more mild than it was intense. I won’t even go into some of the more interesting logistical issues.

TL:DR;

This is the kind of remake that people warn you about. It tries to be new, but tries to keep ties to the original. It tries to be edgy and reinvent the franchise, but misses the point. The script is not great, the direction mediocre, the acting mediocre, and generally comes across as a flat movie trying to find relevance. When 2013’s Curse of Chucky and then in 2017 had Cult of Chucky come out and was a strong entry in an almost 30 year old franchise, this feature comes across even more unnecessary and painfully derivative from Don Mancini’s work on the other seven films. This strikes even more of a vibe as Curse and Cult are reasonably scary for the franchise.

Should I see it then?

No. Just no.

Would you watch it again?

Only if I was stuck in the body of a possessed doll and had no method of locomotion….

So not buying it then eh?

Not even a little thought on that.

Is it that bad?

The doll looks bad. The movie is bad. I kept hoping Charles Lee Ray would end it for me. Just watch Curse and Cult of Chucky and hope for the best that Don Mancini gets to do something with the franchise again.

Darke Reviews | Brightburn (2019)

Apologies now, this review might be shorter than many. It’s late but I am committed to the members of the Vampire Princesses domain who enjoy her work. Now many folks didn’t know about this one, even horror movie fans so first let me give you a trailer.

 

So if the idea of tween Superman as a horror movie doesn’t intrigue you in the slightest, you can probably stop here. If it does there’s a review for you below. I’ve been curious about this one since that trailer above dropped and yes having James Gunn’s name attached as a producer on that added to it. We’re talking the guy who wrote the screenplay for the remake of Dawn of the Dead, Lollipop Chainsaw, The Belko Experiment, and Slither. Oh yeah some little movie called Guardians of the Galaxy. This has promise.

Did it keep its promise though?

The movie was written by Brian Gunn (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) and Mark Gunn (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island), which makes sense with the brother /cousin respectively on the producer staff. The thing is though I bet there’s an uncredited writer for James on this too, but well since it’s uncredited I can’t say it’s there officially. The two men, however, don’t exactly have a pedigree to say they can do horror. Pedigree is apparently not a always a requirement. The final product delivers everything on the tin as it were and doesn’t shy away from any of the topics involved. It’s fairly tight, fairly well holds to it’s own logic and consistency and even elevates some of the traditional comic tropes and puts them firmly in the horror genre.  The most obvious trope played with is the alliterative name of our protagonist, Brandon Breyer; but its not the last one. Director David Yarovesky gets his first theatrical release and its a solid one. His choice of shots is engaging, his overall framing is excellent, and while yes he uses many horror tropes he does them to great effect. It works especially well when unlike many horror movies where you have a disappearing shape, this one has cause to be able to do that. I think what works best between the script and direction is that this is how I could see the events playing out if they had happened as shown. At no point did I really go…that was an odd choice. It felt natural.

Elizabeth Banks, yes that one, goes hard into this one. I know I was impressed with her in Power Rangers as the villain, but here she just nails it as the adoptive mother to Brandon. She is the emotional core of the movie and while I was kind of numb (mostly tired) leaving the movie as I think to write this she kept me invested. She kept my interest as we watch Brandon evolve through the film. David Denman plays the adoptive father (oddly also from Power Rangers, but also The Office) and has to deliver a different performance than Banks and it works. Jackson Dunn has the other weight in the film as Brandon. Unfortunately, his performance is a bit one note. I believe this is intentional and as directed, but there’s a detachment in the acting that seemed almost the easy choice to go with. No fault of Dunn there, but it’s one of the weaker elements of an otherwise strong film. Granted the performance does have the right amount of creepy and endearing which is a hard balance with lesser actors or directors.

From a technical perspective there are a few shots which just take the bloody cake. One of them is in the second trailer (not linked) and it’s everything as promised. There are some gore effects I don’tr ecall seeing before and am pleased to have seen them now. At 90 minutes it’s tightly edited and tightly paced so there’s no room for opportunity there.

TL;DR

I told you this one was going to be short. There is not a lot to discuss that wouldn’t cross into spoiler territory. Brightburn kept its promise. It is everything it said it would be, nothing more and nothing less. I want to use this movie as an example of how to be properly subversive to the superhero genre, how to put the twist on it that is needed. It treats everything in the movie, and the audience itself, with respect and intelligence not explaining more than is needed and using show don’t tell to the right levels.

Should I see it?

Honestly, we’ve needed some really solid horror. We got it. If thats your jam, so is this movie.

Would you see it again?

Yeah actually. I would.

So you are buying it?

Absolutely.

Was it that good?

No. It’s just good. Sometimes that is enough. It was tonight. I enjoyed it. It delivered on its promise and really that’s all we need in a lot of cases.

 

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 | Us (2019)

Jordan Peele was only vaguely on my radar a few years ago because my best friend had me watch a few clips of Key & Peele, but as you all know comedy and I have a tenuous relationship held by the barest tether. It didn’t really resonate with me, so I moved on with my life. Then two years ago Get Out is released around early February and it becomes THE movie of the year that is still talked about and analyzed by hundreds of YouTube content creators and film students – and rightfully so. I had long heard that Jordan was an extremely talented comedian, so when he comes out swinging with one of the best original horror movies in years I am not terribly surprised. My ex and I often talked about how some of the great comics could turn the best serious roles ever simply because they understand timing, pacing, and the layers of human emotion far better than most. The same applies to Mr. Peele.

With this being his second turn at bat in the horror genre is he still swinging as strong?

Taking on the writing, producing, and directors credit is a bold move in Hollywood even now. It fails more often than it succeeds, but Jordan Peele is talented and has a clear vision of what he wants to do.  From the opening frame he is determined to tell you what to expect, he wants to set the expectations for the movie and then begin to play on them as the story unfolds. In this he absolutely succeeds. There’s a base understanding of fear he works with in Us that many directors would be wise to follow suit with. There’s fear of the unknown and fear of the known but using them together – that thats a trick right there. The story of what is happening to this family as they face their doppelgangers is designed to make you uneasy and to make you worry for their fate and he does that well. Because of the fact you are dealing with doppelgangers, you really don’t know who will live and who will die as the story progresses. You are never fully allowed to believe anyone is safe and that is a failing that most horror movies have. You KNOW who is safe so you don’t feel the tension of whats going to happen. Here, you don’t know what might happen or what punches won’t be pulled.

That’s a good thing. It keeps you invested in the story. It has you rooting for the family and worried for them. Again something many horror movies forget to maintain.

Much of that aside from the direction of Jordan lays on the broad shoulders of Winston Duke (Black Panther‘s M’baku) and Lupita Nyong’o (Black Panther, 12 Years a Slave). Nyong’o owns this movie and her role as a mother trying to survive. As with the rest of the cast she performs double duty as both the mother and the doppelganger and there is a lot of performance happening here. She continues to impress with every performance and any movie with her would be lucky to have her. She’s an absolute powerhouse who can fill the frame with every bit of energy even if she is being restrained. That kind of power is impressive, especially when you put her 5’5″ next to the 6’5″ Winston Duke. He has an amazing physicality that was on full display in Black Panther, yet here he feels like he has dad bod. For someone who has used and is used to his physical presence to pull it back and feel weaker, to feel smaller is a feat unto itself.  In Black Panther he showed he had charisma and charm and this movie proved that wasn’t a trick, and also lets him be a bit awkward at times and it works. His chemistry with Nyong’o is believable and they do feel like a family unit.

Holding your own against these two would be difficult for many, but credit must be given to both child actors. Shahadi Wright Joseph (Young Nala in this summers Lion King) as the daughter and Evan Alex as the son. They have a lot to do as well, but each performance is different and strong enough that when they are in the frame with the others it works and their presence is known.

That partially comes from the technical direction with the framing of the shots. Peele and his cinematographer Mike Giolakis (It Follows) use the camera wisely. They avoid some of the camera tricks others would go for and instead just use lighting and blocking to set the stage and create the tension in the moment that you need. There are some retrospectively brilliant shots I am thinking of in the movie that I noticed, but wish I had noticed more. There are some scripting flaws that I can’t quite work through, but the brisk pacing of the movie doesn’t give you time.

TL;DR?

Us is worth seeing. While I don’t think that Peele knocked it out of the park like he did with Get Out, this is a solid line drive with a good double or triple out of it. Baseball references, who knew right? Get Out is sufficiently creepy from the onset and while I would love to say it maintained that through out I don’t know that it did. I can’t quite put my finger on what didn’t work as well for me, but I know that the direction is good, the acting is terrific, but there’s just something missing enough that I know I like it, but I don’t know how I feel about it.

It could be said, that I need to digest it more. That I need to talk about it more and what others got from it. That could very well be true. What we do have though is an original horror movie in a time when people are still vetching about nothing original. What we do have is an excellent writer and director in his sophmore effort in the horror genre doing better than 90% of others in that same field. I will warn, slightly spoilerish, if you want gore this isn’t your movie. It has it’s share of blood being spilled, but its done with an appropriately restrained hand.

Should I watch it though?

Absolutely. I like this movie a lot. I can’t say I love it, but I do like it. If you enjoy horror and tension this movie has both.

Would you watch it again?

In theatres? Maybe. I don’t know that it would or should get a second viewing at theatre prices.

But you would buy it?

Absolutely. I can see myself very easily curling up on the couch with a nice cup of cocoa or cider and watching this movie a few times.

Anything else to add?

Like I said above, I like this movie. It’s a very good movie. Its what I want more of in the genre. I am not conflicted on that at all. I just can’t quite pin how the movie made me feel – which is interesting in and of itself. That could be a success or a failure on the part of the movie, but for now we’ll just say its worth discussing.

 

Now, I won’t be seeing Dumbo next week. I really have no interest in it so will be taking the week off, but I may have a surprise this weekend. After that, well I hear Dead is Better

 

Darke Reviews | Overlord (2018)

JJ Abrams name? Check. World War II? Check. Something that looks like Bernie Wrightson drew it in a fever dream? Check. A potential extended variation from Heavy Metal? Check. See also Fever Dream. Potential DOOM movie accurately made as told by the trailer? Check. Cool title based on the actual Operation Overlord (aka Battle of Normandy)? Check. An opening title sequence straight from a early Hollywood war movie? Check.

Is any of the speculation on this true?

The story of the movie Overlord was written by Billy Ray, who also worked on projects like Volcano, The Hunger Games, and Captain Phillips. The screenplay was done by Mr. Ray and Mark L. Smith, who worked on the 2015 remake of the French film Martyrs (reliable sources say the original is a hard watch), The Revenant,  and the Vacancy franchise. So we have someone who understands epic tales of heroism and someone who gets splatter horror. This seems like an ideal pairing. Second time Australian director Julius Avery (Son of a Gun) takes the helm, with Abrams name as a Producer credit and not a lens flare to be seen.

From a storytelling aspect, they deliver on much of what the trailer for this movie promised. You have a crew going in ahead of the the D-Day invasion in June of 1944. The Nazi’s shoot down most of the squadron and the survivors band together to finish the mission – destroy a radio tower that will make it easy for the Nazi army to defend the beachhead. They work their way through hostile territory and find the French village with the tower, a potential ally, and something far worse. Now me personally, this does hearken back to stories of “Weird War II” and could easily have fit in the same universe as an Indiana Jones, Dead Snow, or Frankenstein’s Army. Weird, occult experiments that involve the profane in an attempt to build a 1,000 year empire. There’s all sorts of anecdotal stories of such things happening during World War II, and those with imaginations take them to wild extremes. This movie being one such extreme.

It looses some internal consistency as the movie develops though that felt a bit jarring to me, but that could be expectations I placed upon character more than writer intent. I’ll let that one go (mostly), as there’s other nice attention to detail that was worth noting such as regional accents with people speaking French. Jovan Adepo (Fences, The Leftovers, The Central Park Five) has some serious chops and carries the movie as our main protagonist Private Ed Boyce. The film is his characters crucible and he does well in both the quiet moments and the loud. The slow fear of waiting on the plane to the panic of being ripped out of it and so much more. Kurt Russel’s son Wyatt, plays our other main protagonist Corporal Ford. He doesn’t have his fathers charm or screen presence, but he tries and delivers what he needs for the movie. French actress Mathilde Ollivier, on the other hand does have some presence even if her character more or less is our standard strong female lead in what is otherwise as a sausage fest.  Pilou Asbaek (Euron Greyjoy) is almost unrecognizable as an SS officer and one of the chief protagonists of the film, and not surprisingly he makes it work.

The technicals on the movie are a mixed bag. We have CG Blood instead of squibs for some of our gunshots, but then squibs in others or better cg at least. Directors. Hollywood. You have not yet gotten CG blood to look nearly as good as a squib and stage blood. I promise you. Keep trying, but leave it for TV, we’ll let you know when you get there. The Gore when it gets there is solid, but I wanted more, bearing in mind I saw this when I was 6 and it was rated PG.

 

The gore is enough for an R, but really this is a soft R in my opinion. There’s beautiful attention to detail in the opening shots and really hits home what many of the stories of the early air raids and paradrops ended up like. They weren’t going for Band of Brothers here, so much is glossed over and left in the wings respectfully. I appreciated it being there though. There’s more things like both these stories through out where there’s beautiful details that most may overlook or beautiful shots, but then something that just doesn’t quite deliver the punch it could.

TL;DR?

It was fun. I was entertained. The actors were engaging. The movie is shot well. I just don’t think it delivered on what it promised enough. This could be a result of me having seen so many other movies, especially more nightmare fuel style that this just didn’t have an impact. I never really got the tension I wanted or the thrills.

The problem I think, is it doesn’t go extreme enough. The movie carries an R Rating, but with movies like Dead Snow and it’s Sequel already touching on this subject and Frakenstein’s Army taking it to the most Holy Hell what in <Dieties Name> was that? If Dead Snow is the Dawn of the Dead Remake, Frankenstein’s Army is Hellraiser, and this….rates as a well made, well executed, The Fog or …maybe Videodrome. This is to say it is a competently made movie with some solid practicals in places, some decent tension in others, oodles of atmosphere, but not nearly as much Gore or “WTF” as they writers think they achieved.

Great built up, just not quite sticking the landing I thought I would get.

Should I see it?

If this is your type of movie. Sure thing. In theatres. The opening sequence with theatre quality size screen and sound is totally worth it.

Would you see it again?

Honestly, if someone took me to see it, I have no problems with that.

Buying it?

Odds are in it’s favor.

Ok, but I am a HORROR FAN!

Horror fans should get a kick out of this as we don’t get movies like this in theatres often enough that are well made, well acted, engaging, and deliver at least on some of our horror needs.

Anything else?

There’s a hard R horror movie waiting here, maybe on the editing room floor, but Overlord just didn’t give me what I hoped it would.