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.

Darke Reviews | Halloween (2018)

The most anticipated horror movie of the year, coming out two weeks prior to one of the most anticipated days of the year for a certain crowd. Halloween has a lot to live up to and a lot to make up for. A brief history for those who don’t fully understand where this movie is coming from; which considering the track record of the series makes sense.

Halloween was originally conceived back in the late 70’s to be a serial style movie with a different horror story each and every Halloween. When the original 1978 version made 144 times its budget back the studio insisted on a sequel and effectively dumped money in John Carpenters lap to do something he really didn’t want to; a sequel. Thus Halloween 2 in 1981 and why Michael and Loomis die at the end of it, with Carpenter having the vain hope of ending that story. In 1982, yeah, barely a year later, Halloween III: Season of the Witch came out. This was more akin to what Carpenter envisioned and tells an entirely different horror event on Halloween. It was too weird for audiences who were in slasher heaven and the title confused them expecting more Michael. So 6 years later as the horror and slasher craze grew with Jason, Freddy, and Pinhead, we get the Return of Michael Myers (1988). This is the start of the late Moustafa Akkad reign on the series, as a producer since the ’78 version he began to have more influence on the series along with other producers such as …the Weinsteins. This was the start of the story getting really convoluted and barely following its own continuity. Michael was back, Loomis was back. Now they introduced over the next three movies a cult that gave him supernatural resiliency and more. It’s so much worse than this, but trying to keep it simple here. After Halloween 5 (1989), and Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995), there is a slight break before Halloween H20. H20 was supposed to be a clean return to form on the 20th anniversary of the original. It returned to basics with Laurie and Michael, but just didn’t quite grab audiences as much as it probably should; even though it has possibly the second most satisfying ending in the series. The last of the original Myers series is Halloween: Resurrection and the less said about this the better. I will not discuss Rob Zombies Halloween movies – except to say I hate them. I’d rather watch the Cult of Thorn run (4,5,6) more than those.

With me so far?

So the writers were in a bind here. How do you tell a Halloween story respecting the lore, the history, and the icon that is Michael Myers but deal with the mess left by the sequels AND remakes? Simple solution reboot the series, but not from scratch. From the original. Ignore everything that has come since 1978 and go. Get Carpenter onboard for the first time in forever and see what you can do. I don’t envy the task Danny McBride (Pineapple Express, Alien: Covenant), his friend Jeff Fradley (writer for the HBO show Vice Principals), and David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, and the critical darling “Joe”) had on this one. Ignoring the content of the other movies is easy, but really remaining true to what the original film delivered character wise and bringing that back 40 years later – thats hard. They are putting themselves, Green especially as a director and writer here, up for target practice.

They need not have worried if they did at all. They did craft an honest sequel to 1978, which has several references that make the necessary callbacks without reminding us of a better movie. With few exceptions no one here in the script does anything dumb or illogical. The characters make sense. They feel like they would make these decisions based on everything you know and it propels the plot forward; if anything aside from Laurie the script lacks care for some of the fodder leaving you to not really care as much when they die which removes some of the tension that could have added to the film. The kills, which are important in this genre are well executed and tastefully done and yes brutal; rather than gore porn or splatterhouse style. The camera remains as still as Michael letting you savor what you both see and don’t see in frame. There are so many shots in this movie that are perfect for a wallpaper for your phone or computer because of how they were filmed; which means credit needs to go to cinematographer Michael Simmonds.

The acting is fantastic from the majority, with Jamie Lee Curtis giving us the same sort of transformed character that Linda Hamilton did between Terminator and Judgement Day. Laurie Strode is damaged, but focused, she is brave yet so afraid. Curtis more than capable of delivering the nuance; while the script and shooting let her as well. Andi Matichak gives a very human turn as Laurie’s grand daughter Allyson, and importantly she feels like she’s part of this family. I’d like to enjoy Judy Greer more as Karen Strode, the daughter to Laurie, but the script and character do her no favors, nor do they give Toby Huss much to work with. I was curious how Nick Castle would be returning to play The Shape once more as he did a majority of the motion and body work in the 78 version; while three other actors did other takes including the one face shot. He nailed it. He and the Mask are a presence and malevolent.

TL;DR?

Cutting the meat a bit short here, but its coming up on 2:30 and I do need sleep and really I just think you should see the movie. With a lean runtime of 106 minutes, John Carpenter back on the score, and some of the best horror cinematography I’ve seen in awhile Halloween is the return to form we’ve been waiting 40 years for. It isn’t perfect and suffers from some character issues and isn’t as tense as it could be Halloween was well worth the sleep deprivation for me and definitely worth it for fans of the franchise.

Should I see it though?

Yes. XD would be lovely to hear the music in admittedly and I did miss that opportunity.

Would you see it again?

Yes.

Buying it?

Yes. No doubts.

Are you overselling it at all? There’s a lot of hype on this one.

Manage your expectations. This movie isn’t the second coming of Michael, but it’s close.

It has some flaws and there is a kind of hollowness to it in some respects; yet I can’t blame those on the movie entirely.  The 1978 version is one of the first of it’s kind and without a doubt the most well known of its kind. John Carpenter and Debra Hill gave us something new and visceral then that Black Christmas (74), The Hills Have Eyes (77), The Town that Dreaded Sundown (76) and even Texas Chainsaw (74) just didn’t quite hit. Since then we have had 40 years of horror, with a majority of them being slasher flicks. There is next to nothing we haven’t seen before you can do in this genre and we all are a bit jaded here in 2018.

That didn’t stop McBride, Fradley, and Gordon Green from doing their best.

Personally, I think their best is good enough and this is the Halloween movie we need right now.

 

Edit: Because I included the original theme in the original review here is Carpenters take on it 40 years later

Darke Reviews | Hereditary (2018)

Having come from a dysfunctional family dynamic made this movie all the more interesting for me as the story unfolded.

Wait, you want a better lead in than that cold open? Sorry the movie has me going on a “Whiskey tango foxtrot” opening. Ok so this review is obviously late to the train be it hype or damnation, you decide.

I had been hemming and hawing on seeing it until my friend Grim D. Reaper over on MovieCrypt.com gave it the first zero skull review I remember seeing from him in a very long time. As Grim got this Vampire Princess into writing reviews in the first place over 20 years ago I trust his judgement. He and I don’t always see eye to socket, with me being the harsher critic, but I always respect his views. This was enough to turn me away from the film. A week later another dear friend, a true love, and moonlight in my life went the complete other direction on it. She was thrilled with the production and the movie. This left me in an odd spot, two people I trust and value the opinions of have opposite reviews of the film – thus I must see and decide who is right and who is dead. Wait, wrong movie.

From studio A24, which also brought us The VVItch, Ex Machina, and FreeFire; not to mention critical darlings like Lady Bird, Room, and Moonlight; you expect a certain style. This is a studio that has only been around for 5 years and has received 24 Academy Award nominations; and has several wins under its belt. A true indie studio but with a budget they use to make some of the most eclectic sets of films you will find in anyone’s catalogue. It would be dangerous to say they all have a certain vibe as the three mentioned I reviewed couldn’t be more apart in tone, style, or format; yet still there’s something familiar about them that is similar. There is a tight closeness, a sense of risk, and passion behind and on the camera you don’t see in many big budget productions from the major studios. I could tell you there is heart, charm, fear; but you could find those in any studio.

Hereditary does belong amongst the ranks here. You can tell that writer/director Ari Aster had a story in his head and heart he wanted to put on screen. He had a very clear vision on how and what he wanted to shoot which translates to every cell on screen. It is also transparent to me that he is a very talented director who brought out the best performance I have ever seen from Toni Collette. Playing Annie, she is a mother clutching with both fists to try to hold on to a family so damaged by past trauma you have to wonder if there is really anything to save. She is absolutely a powerhouse of acting through the film from sedate to on the edge to well  she covers the ranges. If anything her performance is so bold that it completely overshadows Gabriel Byrne who turns in a very subdued performance as Annie’s husband Steve. This turn down, which I find common in indie films like this where the actors energies are just a bit off from usual; turned down from 11 to a nice 7. It works here and gives the necessary balance to Collette’s role. The family is rounded out by Peter, played by Alex Wolff, and Charlie, played by Millie Shapiro. Both actors give a wonderful performance under Aster’s direction and their own abilities do shine be they subdued or manic.

The problem with the movie, despite its technical and artistic proficiency is the story and the characters. For the tension of this supernatural family drama to work, you need to invest yourself. Few of the characters present themselves as likable to me enough for me to care about their fate. This isn’t to say they don’t feel real, because most of their in character actions, dialogue, and beats make sense within the context of the film, the history hinted at, and other points of the movie that paint a mosaic of trauma that can only lead the direction it goes. Yet; if you don’t invest, you don’t let the movie in or let yourself into the movie it could come across almost comical at times; which I know is not the intent. There comes a point where the art gives in to itself and seemingly goes off its own rails and no vision or amazing performance can keep you on the ride.

Now this could be because I watch so many movies. I’ve discussed this before that seeing too many films can actually be detrimental to the movie going experience. You see things, you notice things. It’s hard to avoid words in titles on peoples YouTube videos or reviews; which if you see them and have a certain level of insight into film give away all too much. I remember back in 99 when I read a three sentence review of the Sixth Sense and the last one said “with a twist you won’t see coming.” In that moment I called what it was. It took away a bit of the experience for me and that was 20 years and a thousand or so movies ago – its’s why I promise you all to be spoiler free even in my descriptions of the films.

TL;DR?

Hereditary’s hype train is amazing, with a marketing campaign you don’t see much anymore that hearkens back to old 50’s and 60’s movie going experiences with stories of nurses in the theatre for when people faint. I can’t say it lives up to the hype. I wish I could. I think that Grim may have been too harsh on it, but he might be in the same boat I am with so many movies under his belt, certain beats feel almost telegraphed to us; a skill we cannot separate from our experience as we watch the movies we do – especially when people rave about it the way the critics did on this one.

Hereditary does not live up to its marketing campaign; but it is also not bad either. It is a very artistic look at the horror genre in a way I haven’t quite seen before. While sure, I saw many things coming a mile away, the overall structure, camera work, acting, and tight feel to the production are without a doubt to me solid.

Many folks rave on the ending and I can see why. It just didn’t land for me at that level.

What would you rate it?

If I had to give a fang count on this one, it would net maybe a 3.5 out of 5. It is solid, well made in every aspect, but even with my connection of dysfunctional family I didn’t get as invested as I needed to feel the impact of it’s summation. I think this is a good movie and I was intrigued and entertained, but you have to want it. You have to put effort in. I wasn’t all the way there so it only goes just the right side of good.

Should I see it?

If you haven’t already, I can say give it a shot on matinee. I think the atmosphere of a big theatre, dark, and quiet will help the movie for most people. Watching at home, in the light, with all the distractions will certainly take away from the experience.

Would you see it again?

With the right friends? Yes. I think there’s a lot of discussion material to be had about intent, artistry, execution, and of course meaning.

How about buying it?

I’m torn. Without the friend component I don’t think I would watch it again and to spend $20 on it for a physical or digital copy seems off; yet again it’s something to be studied for what it did do.

That was an interesting turn of phrase…

Yeah, wasn’t it? I think this is the perfect film school or art house movie. Not that it looks like a movie from a film school project, but that there’s a lot to analyze here that can and should be. There’s a strong discussion to be had as I said before.

You can easily go either direction on this film which is why I am (perhaps cheaply) landing in the middle; but in a time when we say we want original films – we can’t turn down our nose when we get one that is this well made.

 

Darke Reviews | A Quiet Place (2018)

I have to admit from the initial trailers I’ve been excited for this movie. John Krasinski directing isn’t what did it, I have never watched, nor am likely to watch an episode of The Office. I don’t think I’ve watched a single thing he’s starred in. Emily Blunt is always a gift in film and to be fair is a draw here. No, what got me was the premise. A horror movie with a creature that attacks based on certain types of noise and sound. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Sure the Descent has creatures that *should* hunt that way, and The Cave has creatures that use echo location, but none of them explored fully a creature above ground that stalks and kills its prey if it makes noise. I specify above ground because yes, the Tremors films “Graboids” do hunt by sound. The set up here is different with a clear intent to invoke raw tension in the viewer.

I have a mouth and should I scream?

Yeah ok not my best lead in question pun, I just wanted to get to writing on this. Feel free to suggest better ones in the comments on Facebook. The movie was written by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods. The two have been collaborating together for well over a decade on various shorts and a single TV movie with this being their first theatrical feature film together.  Krasinski nabs a screenplay credit for any changes he made on set while directing. As I am not familiar with any of the pairs prior works, I can’t comment like usual on trends or patterns in story. What I can say is they provided us something that horror does better than almost any other genre; a tight focused character piece. The trailers tell you all you need. We have fast moving creatures that hunt day or night at the slightest of loud noises. They apparently are very strong and due to the near post apocalyptic feel the movie sets up very difficult to kill.

Can you imagine living in a world where you can’t speak to anyone around you? It’s entirely possible for me to go from the end of a work day on a Friday to the Monday morning without uttering a word or hearing another human voice. It happens quite a bit. I know how that leaves me on that morning and I cannot fully appreciate or realize what going days, weeks, months, or even years would be like. What does it mean to survive like that? With a family? With children? Is it even really living? The movie probes into these topics just enough with the charming backdrop of an upstate New York farm and monsters waiting for the kill.

I often pick on films for introducing concepts and not exploring them fully, if at all. This one introduces several fascinating concepts in horror and humanity and delves just deep enough under the skin to leave you thinking about it as the tension rises. Tension being something Krasinski as a director did extraordinarily well. Much as I tear into films that don’t have good rises and falls of tension, this one is like watching someone inflate a balloon. You see it getting bigger and bigger and you can’t be sure if it’s going to pop. Every now and then, a little air is let out letting you breathe for a moment, but then they get right back to it. It works.

With a small cast of four people everyone has to be on their A game to sell the drama underlying the horror. Blunt and Krasinski do their parts well, but with Emily this is to be expected and it’s clear John has talent to keep up the game while also being behind the camera. Noah Jupe, does well enough as the pre/early teenage son Marcus, who is trying to understand his place in the family and the world. Millicent Simmonds, who plays the eldest daughter Regan who is deaf, does a great job getting both the angry and slightly rebellious teenager while still respecting the rules of the movie.

There is also one other critical factor to this childs role in the movie – she too is deaf. More and more movies are being called to the carpet – rightfully so – for casting abled individuals in character roles that are disabled. It’s takes away an opportunity for someone who is capable of performing a role and giving it to an able bodied person. It’s worth noting that this also comes up for those who are Queer when straight people are cast in roles that are explicitly queer. While it shouldn’t *have* to be praised for this, the casting and production of the movie *does* deserve praise for casting Millicent as a character who is deaf. I keep saying representation matters and this is yet again an opportunity that was taken to prove it. Well done movie. Well done.

From a technical perspective the production does a lot very right. It feels odd to praise a movie based on silence for its sound design but I must. There is an ingenuity at play here with the right sounds at the right times, at the right volumes. It amplified everything in the theatre. A creak of a chair. Someone shifting in the seats three rows back. This made it so when the sounds got loud you really appreciated all there was to it. The editing was fantastic with solid camera work to support it. Then of course comes the creature design. I liked it. That’s all I am saying.

TL;DR?

I really enjoyed this movie. It was good tension ratcheting horror with the right pay offs at the right times. It delivered on all it promised me and I can earnestly recommend this film to people. If Krasinski decides to keep himself behind the camera in future projects we have a good director joining the fray.  I hope we get more of Millie in future films as well. She’s already declared that she wants to continue acting and advocating for the deaf community and we should support her. I really hope Hollywood does.

So I should see it then?

Yes. If you were interested, slightly interested, at all curious – yes. D-Box seating isn’t needed. It didn’t add much that I noticed to the experience.

Would you see it again?

Probably. If someone local wants to go.

Buying it then?

No question

You don’t praise horror movies this much – whats the deal?

Because most horror doesn’t try. It relies on too many old tropes or characters you really can’t wait to see die. This does none of those things and explores an idea we haven’t seen. Don’t tell me there is nothing original left and then ignore this movie.

Last thoughts?

#RepresentationMatters

Darke Reviews | Happy Death Day (2017)

Review 2. It’s 1AM? Do you know where your writers are? Probably awake like me thinking of the thousand ideas that didn’t come to them when they were coherent enough to write them down during the day. True story. Ask a writer. They can confirm this. That isn’t why you are here though or likely the time you are reading this. You want to know if the idea of Groundhogs Day as a horror movie works. The trailer sets it up nicely and I am surprised by the amount of restraint they show.

So did it work or will watching this make you relive a nightmare over and over and over…and …

Scott Lobdell, yes the same guy who wrote Uncanny X-Men in the 90s  and created one of my favorite characters “Blink”, takes a stab (sorry I had to) at big screen film writing with Happy Death Day. We are not discussing 2005’s Man of the House or a potential sorority focus he may have in his work. We are, however discussing the fact he wrote a fairly straight forward slasher film with the Groundhogs day twist. It’s a slasher film with a hidden killer and a time loop story. I can’t say much more on it without spoilers. It’s pretty basic, but utterly functional in its application. Director Christopher Landon (writer on Blood and Chocolate, and director of Paranormal Activity The Marked Ones) has enough to work with and a few good set pieces to play with, even if they are basic in the college slasher film. The remote college campus, a hospital which always seem to have abandoned wings in them, and a sorority/frat house.

Again it’s all pretty basic, but as I mentioned to a coworker today – in the horror genre if you can make basic work that isn’t so bad. They play with some interesting conceits in the film which was a nice change of pace and try to keep it interesting. The primary failing and I have to warn is that there is not a lot of gore here as Blumhouse (production company) and Universal went for a PG-13 rating rather than a hard R. This is October guys. Go for the R. Nothing is going to disappoint a horror movie fan more, especially in the month of horror, than a weak film that doesn’t go for the throat when it can. You can get away with a PG-13 horror film but to do that you need more than this delivers in the story, scares, and thrills department. I am not sure if they shot for the R and it got edited to the PG-13 or what, but the lack of some key slasher genre elements really weakens the film. I know some are booking this a horror comedy – but the comedy doesn’t quite land for me. It does have fun with it’s premise and that at least counts for something.

It isn’t a total waste though as Jessica Rothe (La La Land), who plays our victim Tree (yes…that is her name) does carry the film to the best of her ability and I like her! This is necessary and it works and really keeps the movie out of the bad category. The problem of course is it isn’t a lot of weight to carry. She covers the gamut of emotions in her performance and it does work to watch her develop after each death. The film does not spend  too much time before getting to the first kill which was pleasing; just enough to establish and then get into the guts of things. I’d like to say any of the deaths were inventive within the trope they were playing with, but it’s all pretty straight forward.

TL;DR?

Happy Death Day is an OK film, but literally almost anyone could have succeeded with this concept. It isn’t a stupid film, nor does it really treat the characters or audience in a stupid way but it also doesn’t challenge us. The rating and lack of guts (figurative and actual) hampers the movie in ways I didn’t realize until I was writing this. I just kept feeling something was missing and now I realize what it was. Do I want to see Rothe die over and over again in gory ways? Eh not particularly, but if you want a real “Final Girl” you have to give us something to sink our teeth into and taste and this one just doesn’t do it.

Should you see it?

If you are a genre fan maybe, but at matinee only.

Are you going to buy it?

Ask me in 4 months when it comes out on BluRay and I’ll decide then, right now that is up in the air. Unrated then yes.

Was it bad or something?

No. I was in fact entertained, but in this field I want to also feel some tension but I felt absolutely none. So it fails as a horror movie even if it succeeded at being mildly entertaining.

Ok so what’s next for October?

Well, I was hoping to see American Satan this weekend, but Tucson has no screenings of it. I really like Andy Black and this just looks positively interesting – and I will take interesting.

Darke Reviews | Flatliners (2017)

It’s generally not a good sign for a movie when I don’t have any Thursday night screenings available, so alas the review comes tonight a few hours after the last show. Obviously I have seen the original a couple of times when it first came out and on VHS. It was beautifully atmospheric and though it came out in 1990 it still was riding that wave of 80’s that will mark it forever. I can’t say I have any particular fondness for it one way or another, I thought it was good and had a lot of stars of the day headlining it. Obviously I was curious when this one started dropping trailers a few weeks ago. I thought they were interesting and there’s always a glimmer of hope for a remake. So I threw on one of my favourite shirts, not realizing the irony and headed off to the theatre.

Oh the irony

You get what anyone gets. You get a lifetime

So should they have resuscitated this film or left it for dead?

The story credit here goes to Peter Filardi, original writer of the 1990 film as well as The Craft. Which largely means this was brought to you by the writer of Source Code, which was interesting in concept if not execution, Ben Ripley has the screenplay credit. I cannot say if Filardi had any work on this one or not, but the core story he wrote remains intact with names changed to protect the innocent and the guilty. In the 80’s and 90’s we didn’t expect a lot of our sci fi or horror films, not really. As an audience we’ve come to expect more because we have literally seen it all before. Which makes Ripley’s choices on script so problematic for me.

Flatliners has at least a half dozen different ideas, concepts, and notes of interest. Every last one of them is dropped in favor of keeping the beats of the original. With almost 30 years of separation between films and some seriously interesting plot threads introduced the movie fails to embrace those more interesting ideas and instead treads the already worn path to mediocrity. With so many advances in science and medical technology since then and the story premise presented by the characters it could have been explored. The reactions and results could have been explored. A characters existence in the story could have been explored. New consequences, new risks could and should have been taken. The movie took one, but it was the safest to take.

With remakes, and some sequels, writers can be condemned for violating the source material. Deviating too far from it. Conversely they can be criticized for not doing something new or original. What gets missed is the middle ground. You can be faithful to the original story, original concept, and original ideas; but also tell something new and explore new ideas separated by the times in production. From 1951 to 1982 – 30 years right? Compare The Thing/The Thing from Another World. The concepts are the same. There’s beats that are the same but these are vastly different films and both are applauded for what they did. The same could be said for The Fly (28 years), Dracula (1930s, 70s, 90s), Nosferatu (50 years). Outside of this genre, we have 3:10 to Yuma, Thomas Crown Affair, The Seven Samurai to Magnificent Seven, Oceans Eleven, True Grit. These films are all proof that you can tell the near exact same story and improve on it or at least make it different enough to be fresh without losing the heart of the material itself.

Flatliners, like most remakes in this decade, plays it safe. It stays in the lines and takes very few risks. As I said, it does take one or two, but they aren’t entirely successful. One I feel was a studio add to “amp the tension” but just looks ridiculous because I know they don’t have the fortitude to see it through.

This leaves me disappointed as a whole. Neils Arden Oplev (The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo) is capable of more. The shots are pretty. The acting is sufficient, but there’s nothing new or unpredictable in those shots. Just adding to how safe and milquetoast the movie ends up being. Again I think he may have had some hamstringing from the studio on this, as well as being saddled with a PG-13 rating. Who do they think is going to see this? Go for the R and commit.

The acting is fine, by the by. Ellen Page is always a joy, even with a joyless character like Courtney. She has enough charisma to make the character likable as she convinces others to join her crusade. Diego Luna and Nina Dobrev have wonderful chemistry and are probably two of the most heartfelt performances in the movie. James Norton, largely known for his work across the pond and the voice of Dragon Age Inquistions Cole, turns a character that I should have hated and gives him something to work with. Kiersey Clemons rounds out our medical students with poor judgement. She has a decent body of TV work and will be the Iris West to Barry Allen in the upcoming DCEU films. She, like the others was cast well and holds her own. There’s absolutely no fault on acting here.

The fault lies with script and production. We’ve talked about how safe the script is. The remainder of the production isn’t nearly as risky, probably to keep that rating.

TL;DR?

Flatliners should have had a DNR signed if this was going to be the result. This is a bland, mediocre film that does nothing particularly new or interesting with the original story to warrant it’s existence. It tries to introduce stuff, but drops it a hot ten minutes later. I think at some stage of the production someone suffered partial amnesia to forget so many things; especially in a film about being haunted by the past.

Which I guess comes to the final statement on the movie. When you consider the subject is guilt over past sins, the weight of them on you and how they can kill you – I think that’s what happened here. No one involved had either the power or ability to say no. No one had the power to go could we do better. So they didn’t try and because of that – this movie will die.

Should you see it?

No. Its not badly shot or badly acted. It’s just irritatingly droll.

Huh?

I wanted more from this movie only because it kept showing me it was capable of it. It kept showing me things that were far more interesting than the final result and those things were never actually explored.

Ok so you aren’t seeing it again. How about buy?

Newp. There’s nothing here for me to both trying to remember.

So you hate it?

Not really. Just disappointed by the wasted potential.

So what’s next?

Image result for origami unicorn blade runner

Darke Reviews | It (2017)

It’s been 27 years since I read Stephen Kings IT. No joke. It was freshman year in high school and me and my friend Darrin were reading and sharing our King stories and favourites. I bet if/when he reads this post he will remember the days we both would go – “Late last night and the night before.” It’s also one of the few times I had read a book before the film, when we were unexpectedly graced with the TV Mini series in November 18, 1990. The mini series gave more than a few people coulrophobia (fear of clowns), but looking back its hard to see why when you remove the nostalgia glasses. Don’t get me wrong, I love the mini series but it doesn’t really hold up all that well across the board now as Nostalgia Critic pointed out deftly a few years ago. Parts yes were really well done, but very made for TV and very PG. Here we go with a theatrical release and an R Rating (I hope)

Should IT have stayed in hibernation?

So to be very clear I have little recollection of the book, aside from one or two things. This will be judged as the movie itself. I won’t be comparing it to the 1990 version either as these are incredibly separate beasts; which while there’s a nod or two here and there are structurally, tonally, and behaviorally different films. Make no mistake this is not the IT you grew up with. The beast evolved with the times.

Now as I understand it, considering I try to avoid insider info now, the core screenplay was by Cary Fukunaga, writer of Sin Nombre and Beasts of No Nation. It had additional work done by Chase Palmer (no relevant credits I could find) and Gary Dauberman (Annabelle and Annabelle: Creation). As I can’t remember the source material sufficiently I can’t speak to its adaptation. Things I do remember such as the house on Neibolt Street, made it into the film and were quite well done. What struck me most is how well they balanced the horror, the dialogue, and the humor in the film. There were times people laughed, people shrieked (yes shrieked), and even applauded during the 2 hour run time. I even triggered the applause during one scene; which moved like the wave in a stadium. The movie was resonating with people of all ages in the crowd from the teens to the elderly. I question the logic of the person who brought the 10 year old though. The writing was solid through and through with tension building, release, and even breaks to laugh at well timed and well placed humor. It is not flawless however, as there does seem to be some loss of fidelity to the Losers club. Mike, and Stanley don’t feel as fully formed as they could be. I think Mike suffers the most from this as some of his arc from the 90’s was moved to Ben. You do get a sense of who he is, but it isn’t remotely the same level as what Bill, Bev, or Ben get. You do get your Losers club, but they aren’t 100% realized.

That could potentially fall to material on the editing room floor or decisions made by director Andy Muschietti (Mama). This is one of the few failings of the film. It could be script, could be director, could be editors. Muschietti nailed it otherwise. His vision for the camera with director of photography Chung-hoon Chung (Old Boy – the original, The Handmaiden) were nothing less than inspired to me. Dutch angles used appropriately but not overused. All of the basic shot types are used with precision. Not once did I feel “oh this should be been done as an over the shoulder” or “too close for no reason. go to a wide here.” The blend of diagetic and non diagetic sounds, music used within the material the characters can hear vs music for the audience, worked well especially during the opening credits. What impressed me most is the methods in which tension was built. The jump scares are few and far between yet the movie twists that emotional rubber band to its breaking point a number of times. Those familiar with the previous work will expect beats that never come and get a handful that make you question how much they are changing. All of this to the movies credit.

None of it would work without the kids though. Jaden Lieberher (Book of Henry, Midnight Special) has a lot of weight on his 14 year old shoulders as Bill. He delivers. He has the chops to be the charismatic leader of the Losers, so desperately searching for his little brother when everyone else tells him no. Jeremy Ray Taylor (bit roles in Ant-Man and 42) is our new kid Ben. His fear of Henry, his isolation, and his feelings are shown well through action as much as dialogue. Sophia Lillis, as Beverly Marsh, turns it up to 11 in her performance. The 15 year old actress is both strong and vulnerable. Bev is the rock for the group and Lillis shows the range of the character well. Stranger Things alum Finn Wolfhard (Mike Wheeler from ST) is our mouth Richie Tozier. This is a thousand times different than the Seth Green performance from 1990 and quite honestly superior in every way. Jack Dylan Grazer, another 14 year old, plays our Eddie Kaspbrak.  This kid has star power, quite possibly the “weakest” of the Losers, he doesnt let that stop him and its hard to turn your eyes to focus elsewhere when he speaks. Sadly, as mentioned before Chosen Jacobs (Mike Hanlon) and Wyatt Olef (Stanley Uris) don’t get nearly enough to do. They sell their fear. They are part of the Losers no doubt. You just don’t have as strong as a sense of them due to the flaws above, but the actors did their absolute best.

On a more technical standpoint, the movie really nails the 1980’s in the vein of the aforementioned Stranger Things. Its the end of the 80’s but rather than overload us with toys, phrases, pop culture, and pure nostalgia of the time they use it as set dressing for atmosphere. There are little things here and there that hit those points, but they aren’t a focus and the movie is all the richer for it. I looked to my friend Tony who I saw it with tonight (thanks to his screener tickets) a few times and went “I remember doing that.” That’s how you hit 80’s. It was perfect. Additionally there’s a cute little time table through the film told via the marquee on the movie theatre. Not a spoiler, just if you want to know “specific dates” that’s how you can tell. Beyond the 80’s the movie needed to be tension filled through sets, lighting, and make up. It was. If anything the flaws that exist are minor. There’s incredible attention to detail on Pennywise…oh wait I didn’t mention him in the actors.

Bill Skarsgård has given our favourite clown new life. Having watched him in Atomic Blonde (twice now) I was surprised how much I lost him to the character. That is a very good sign. He does some interesting things with his voice, face, and body language that aid in making this Pennywise absolute nightmare fuel. I was asked if he was better than Curry. Short answer is yes. Long answer: Its a different character with a different movie that comes from the same source material.  The choices in the technicals surrounding him (Costume, Make up, FX) only add to make him one of the most terrifying characters I have seen in awhile.

TL:DR?

IT may be the scariest movie I have seen in a very long time. This is horror done right. This is King done right. This should be in the top 5 list of any King movie list. It ranks with Carrie, The Shining, and even Shawshank. While it isn’t a perfect movie, it is extraordinarily well made, trope avoiding, and drenched with atmosphere (and blood during one scene). It has gore, but doesn’t overdo it instead letting the starkness of it offset the performance by the kids. The Losers club are performed in their A game and feel totally natural.

IT comes with my highest recommendation and while summer 2017 may have been the most disappointing for Hollywood in 25 years – this movie is surely a sign of what can happen when you treat a property with respect. Wonder Woman, Logan both show this as well. I hope Hollywood takes note of what worked so well from casting, to direction, to script, to film style. This movie works.

Should you see it?

If you have a fear of clowns or horror movies in general? No. Otherwise – Yes

Do you plan to see it again?

Yes. Absolutely.

Buying it?

Without a doubt.

Ok, but did it scare you the Vampire Princess?

Yes. It’s a pleasant feeling I had long since forgotten in movies.

Parting thoughts?

The 90’s one will have a soft spot in my heart. This is just well done and I can’t wait for the sequel.

Wait….sequel?

*grin*