Darke Reviews | Bit (2019)

If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you know one of my nicknames is The Vampire Princess. Sadly, that does make me the Vampire Princess of Tucson. Unfortunate. I have my Dark Court, whom I adore, with the possibility of some new membership from some new folks in my workplace. I have literally almost a hundred (possibly more) vampire movies in my collection. I really need to update my catalogue. I love everything about them and will watch, or attempt in some cases, any vampire movie I can find.

Surprisingly though for a creature that is centered around the forbidden and eroticism since LeFanu, and then later Stoker, there is not a lot of Queer vampire content. Sure there is a significant amount of 60’s and 70’s exploitation films in the genre; but when you examine the past forty years there is not a lot. Embrace of the Vampire in 1995 positively was shocking to people for its content, which is so mild its like putting Salt on a meal and calling it “too spicy”. Sure the flavor was there, but it didn’t push boundaries. There’s argument to be made it was because America grew up with Alyssa Milano and to see her in this role was too much for the pearl clutching set.

Why is that important now and to this movie? 

Bit is written and directed by a Cis-Het-White Man (self described) who gets what I was missing in my vampire movies..

In an interview with Vulture

I really love The Lost Boys. I really love Jem and the Holograms and glam rock and David Bowie. So it was like, how do we do Jem and the Holograms and The Lost Boys? And one of the big things was, I think we all kind of know that most R-rated movies are sort of coded for 13-year-old boys. I’m not saying 13-year-old-girls don’t like them, too! But I wanted to make a movie that was coded for young girls that’s just as R-rated as anything else.

He did it. But then, THEN he went and made it inter-sectional. He wrote a white lesbian character, a black lesbian (or bi), someone who coded non-binary (possibly ace), and a latina vampire who wasn’t hypersexualized (sorry Salma Hayek). Oh, but I am so not done. Our main character is Transgender – and not once, not one bloody time does the term come up in the movie. There’s no reveal, no exposition, just the language that so many transwomen and those around them live with. The doubt, the fear, the anger, the platitudes. The entire script is done with total respect to all the intersectionality presented and the main character in a way I could not have fathomed.

And on top of all of that, the writer and director (Brad Michael Elmore) made it non negotiable that the main character be played by a TransActress.

I was very adamant about the fact that the role was only to be played by a trans actress. It’s in the script, and it was a no-deal if it wasn’t. The script also makes note of the fact that I don’t care what level of transition the actor we get is. Because producers can be horrible, I didn’t want to pin it on anybody’s ideas of what should or should not be passing, what should or should not be considered trans. – Source Vulture

Do you have any concept how empowering it is to see a woman like me on screen as a vampire? This is *my* representation. This is the representation for a lot of women out there, Queer or otherwise.

But is it good?

For a movie with a $1.5 million budget, yes. Yes it is. Elmore is aware of his limitations and pushes them where he can, but delivers the goods with what he has. The fangs, the gore, the overall vamp effects, and some burns are better than movies with budgets ten times that size, or twenty. It gave me a story I’ve been craving and the conversation that comes with it and never forgot atmosphere along the way.

The actors of course have to deliver as well. Nicole Maines (Supergirl) is front and center as our protagnoist Laurel and delivers solidly and cleverly, bridging both snark, emotional pain, and a special kind of ennui that felt like I was watching me. Then we have the “Bite Club”, with Diana Hopper (Goliath) as Duke, Friday Chamberlain (The Fear of Looking Up) as Roya, Zolee Griggs (Wu-Tang: An American Saga)  as Izzy, and Char Diaz as Frog.  In a small, but important role, James Paxton (Eyewitness, son of the late Bill Paxton) as Laurel’s brother Mark. There are going to be some who interpret her and some of the actors as flat or stilted. That is not what I see at all. For me I read them as me and my Dark Court talking. A level of casual, snark, and familiarity that sounded like actual people talking. Even the parents of Laurel are scripted well and in a way that had my friends going “yay”.

It does have some flaws. There’s a scene or two that seem to come out of nowhere, some dialogue choices that don’t work and a scene or two that feel missing or could have been fleshed out. That being said from the other technical aspects it is tightly edited and without a single gratuitous or exploitative shot in the entire damn movie. When does that happen? Oh when the director takes the time to have the female director of photography ensure that the male gaze is not owning the camera.

TL;DR?

Bit is the movie I have been waiting for and needed for my collection. I couldn’t say its the movie I didn’t know I needed, because I have been craving this style, this feel for a very long time now. It is not blockbuster material and had it been released would have made its budget back and probably a few times that before fading, which is sad. It’s VOD release enables it to be the cult classic vampire movie that I think it is destined to be. It manages to be fang in cheek enough without crossing the line of being too self aware.

This is a completely original, beautiful, fun, feminist vampire movie that the GENRE needed and no one had quite nailed so perfectly before. I’ve watched it three times since its release on Friday and know this one will make my regular rotation when I am in the mood.

Should I watch it?

Yes. Yes you should. Support this movie so the director and the cast and the producers know it is right that the audience is there and we can get more like it.

Would you…never mind you did watch it again.

Yep. At least one more viewing this week is expected.

Did you buy it?

Twice. Once on Amazon and once on Vudu, just in case.

I guess that answers where to get it.

Hope so. It’s worth the price.

Any final thoughts?

I need to get a copy of the soundtrack for my vampire writing playlist. I also want the movie poster for my collection.

Darke Reviews | The Invisible Man (2020)

I jokingly referred to this as Gaslighting the Movie when I saw the trailer. I’ve been debating, until watching it, how to do a Claude Rains joke, or if someone asks me “Did you see the Invisible Man?” making a crack “of course not, he’s invisible.” This is not the movie to make those jokes. Now, I have no confirmation of this, but this also feels like a movie that might have been shelved for a bit, as part of Universal (the movie’s distributor) and their ill planned (but not ill advised if we’re being honest) attempt at a Dark Universe. There was of course “The Mummy” in 2017 and my undying hatred of it and its ham fisted attempt at a solid launch of this Universe. Dracula Untold back in 2014 which had a shoe horned ending to try to insert it in the DU. Looking back at the classics, we’re only missing a few, Phantom, The Wolf Man, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and The Invisible Man.

The character of the Invisible Man first appeared in 1897 with a short story by H.G. Wells. It was further and widely popularized by the 1933 classic produced by Carl Laemmle Jr., directed by James Whale, and staring Claude Raines. The first two names are important because they *WERE* the Universal Monster makers. This movie was so iconic, as many of these were, that it spawned many sequels and other interpretations. I would say one of the more successful and well known attempts at a remake or re-imagining was in 2000 with the Kevin Bacon lead Hollow Man. This iteration introduces the sexual predator aspect, which brings us to our movie tonight.

Trigger Warning – Sexual Predation, Domestic Abuse, Gaslighting

Yeah, no quippy question today. The movie was storied, screenplayed, and directed by Leigh Whannel, who brought us much of this centuries modern horror. He is the writer of Saw, and two sequels, the Dead Silence remake, Insidiious and two sequels, and 2018’s Upgrade; which he also directed. I was not a fan of Upgrade, though many critics and others were. With this one Whannel has left his gore hound and supernatural horror background and continued his exploration of science horror as he did with Upgrade. Ironically, one of the major set pieces here is the same house from that movie. So if you do watch this and watched that – that’s where you’ve seen it before.

*sigh*

Ok, my joke title isn’t. This movie’s opening sequence is probably one of the most anxiety inducing scenes I have seen in an extraordinarily long time. While I myself have never been the victim of physical abuse, I know more than a few people who have and listened to others. I do know Narcissitic types and gaslighting, and other mental and emotional abuse techniques from having them used on me more times than I can count, and probably more than I was aware of if my reaction to this movie is any indication. The first seven to ten minutes of this two hour film are nothing but watching someone escape from their abuser. There’s barely a line of dialogue, the musical queues are light, but the camera control is on point. You watch as this woman, Cecilia Kass (Handmaids Tale Elisabeth Moss) clearly is trying to escape someone she is terrified of. The movie doesn’t waste any time showing you what she went through, or even telling you, it skips to the escape. The tension is real here, or was to me, with it continuing to build even through her actual escape. THEN the movie shows you what she was running from in just a few short seconds.

The rest of the movie plays like this. You spend the entire time watching this woman get broken down -after- she escapes her abuser. After it appears he is dead (not a spoiler, its in the trailer). Watching as someone or something manipulates her world and those around her to make her look more and more irrational to a situation. Full props must go to Ms. Moss here. She plays the descent like Nero played the fiddle. Aldis Hodge (Turn, Underground) and Storm Reid (A Wrinkle in Time) show up and play it all straight, but are completely overshadowed by Moss.

The tension and anxiety I felt going through the first act and a half of the movie were palpable. Enough that a few times I considered leaving. Not because I was scared, but because the movie made me uncomfortable. There are different kinds of horror, and this type, this type did not need to make the monster invisible to have him be the monster he is. He was all too real a Monster before hand and there are too many people in relationships with such monsters. That’s the power of this movie. Not the method in which he became invisible, or even the fact that he is, its that this kind of evil is real and doesn’t get tied up in a bow in 120 minutes.

If anything the last half of the movie becomes easier to watch, but this is where the plot holes form the largest. While there are a handful in the beginning, and they are significant, the last of them is large enough I could drive the USS Nimitz through it. This is also where IQ’s drop significantly with some of our protagonists. There are important questions that *are not answered* that leave me scratching my head even now.

TL;DR?

The Invisible Man is a rather well made modern horror. Easily made on the cheap, with a $9 million budget, production studio Blumhouses MO, the movie can’t help but turn a profit this weekend at the box office. It is well shot, though Whannel did clearly want to get a few “Upgrade” style camera move shots in.  I would say a solid quarter of the running time the movie is shot with Moss in a medium shot where you can see her and the entire room she’s in. No one HAS to be there, but her acting and the movie lets you think there is without a single drop of effect. Shots like that pepper through this film and build significant tension that never quite gets released. I would say the movie only even has one actual jump scare in it.

All of that being said…I drove home and was still feeling unclean having watched it. Normally when I write these reviews I listen to music or nothing at all to let me focus on the writing. Anything with actual dialogue can be distracting, but here I had to put on a nice safe horror movie like “You’re Next” to feel better.

Wow, should I watch this?

If any of my trigger warnings were relevant to you. No. No you should not. I am having a hard time recommending this movie. Despite some glaring plotholes, it really is well acted and well shot and does make you feel. You feel her fear, her anxiety, and the tension.

Would you watch it again?

Not for a long time.

Buying it? 

I really do not know.

You don’t usually ‘feel’ like this about a movie.

I know. I am a little surprised myself. While the IQ’s dropping and plotholes annoyed me the emotional resonance of the rest of the movie hit hard enough and well enough that I consider it an overall success. Just…its a little too real for my tastes with that opening.

I just can’t shake that people will be entertained by this and not get the horror isn’t the invisibility, its the abuser and the victim no one believes.

Darke Reviews | Gretel & Hansel (2020)

I had secretly been asking for this of any power that be that would listen. While I am still awaiting a new vampire renaissance, I still have enough material coming out of various and often dubious quality. I watch as the zombie era desiccates as it should after a time. I see the Werewolves still awaiting their due, I am sure it will come at some point. The one I have been missing for some time and longing for in the dark was The Witches. I am not sure what happened with them after a brief surge in the 80’s. The Craft and Practical Magic did what they could, but alas it was not enough.  I am not talking a movie that is vaguely about Witches (sorry Blair Witch) either, I am talking about movies definitively about the Hollywood and Fairy Tale witch. Perhaps my timelines are blurring a bit where the space between is not as noticed, but since 2016 we have the superlative VVitch, then we had the rise of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina  now in its 3rd season; and now in the beginning of 2020 we get Gretel & Hansel. I could be hopeful in believing this, but I will take what I can as this is a painfully under served genre.

NOTE: The genre with few exceptions has little to nothing to do with any actual practicing witches. These films should never been conflated with any sense of realism so my term of Hollywood and Fairy Tale witches is important to consider.

With that out of the way should you fall under Gretel’s spell?

The movie was written by Rob Hayes in his first long form and theatrical turn. He has some shorts credited as well as some TV, but this is that first foray into the bigger machine. From a story perspective it is at its simplest a fairy tale with a modern storyteller. Gretel and Hansel are left to their own devices in a time not quite defined, but clearly intended to be 1600-1700’s. In an attempt to find food, shelter, and perhaps a permanent home they end up off the path and in the care of Holda and within her house in the woods. Holda has much to offer both of the children, but all things have a price. Who will pay it and how steep will it be?

You know how from time to time two movies come along that make you think the script was shopped around and while one studio officially turned it down they then had someone else write something similar? Dante’s Peak and Volcano. Armageddon and Deep Impact. Normally that happens in the same year, this happened three years apart. This attempts to invoke the VVitch and could very well be a distant cousin to that film as the ties are close. Perhaps too close? I don’t mind it as much because the stories themselves are different and the temptations offered are more or less real to each other. I suppose my confusion with this one is – what is the message Hayes is trying to tell?

The visual style and direction of Ozgood “Oz” Perkins started as an actor in a variety of films from different genre’s before taking the directors chair in 2015 with The Blackcoats Daughter. It’s clear to me he has seen the VVitch, but has also seen The Neon Demon. There is a real love here shown for Giallo style movies and high art, style over substance film making. Clear intent is made with distorted focuses, abnormal perspectives, colour palettes both muted and vibrant, and a synthwave soundtrack (by Robin “Rob” Coudert) straight from a Nicolas Winding Refn movie. There is a very real pulse from the music that drives the movie as much as the actors do with it’s own dissonant chords that aren’t done by sharp notes across the strings. The entire aesthetic leaves you just enough off balance that with the stilted dialogue and harsh performances a viewer begins to question dream, reality, or both? Sadly, the questions are answered by modernism. The veritable green curtain is pulled too far and we don’t get to savor some of the key moments because the final cut of the movie was perhaps too direct.

Now I mentioned above harsh acting. This is not bad acting. Quite the contrary, Sophia Lillis (IT, Nancy Drew) has a lot to do here as Gretel. She has to be controlled and controlling. She has to go to what is trying to be unnatural dialogue from that mysterious period and on top of that still be someone we wish to see victorious – however that victory may look. Samuel Leakey, roughly age 8, doesn’t have an easy time of it either. Equally challenging dialogue and a need to be both childish and quiet isn’t easy. The amazing Alice Krige (Star Trek: First Contact, Silent Hill) was made to be the Witch o the Wood. Her presence and experience clearly helped here with both young actors and also bringing a level of menace from moment one that cannot be denied. These performances were harsh but its by design and good acting that they succeeded.

TL;DR

I found Gretel & Hansel a satisfying film. It was the film I was looking for and hoped it would be from the trailer. I also know this will not be everyone’s cup of tea. There is severe style over substance here despite this quote from (Ozgood) Perkins:

“It’s awfully faithful to the original story. It’s got really only three principal characters: Hansel, Gretel, and the Witch. We tried to find a way to make it more of a coming of age story. I wanted Gretel to be somewhat older than Hansel, so it didn’t feel like two twelve-year-olds – rather a sixteen-year-old and an eight-year-old. There was more of a feeling like Gretel having to take Hansel around everywhere she goes, and how that can impede one’s own evolution, how our attachments and the things that we love can sometimes get in the way of our growth.”[Ew.com]

This theme is spelled out too much. The underlying currents within the movie are at odds with one another, despite the metaphor for puberty and finding ones own place in the world. Maybe they intended to leave it to discussion, but with a movie like this I don’t advise it. It will leave most audiences going “ok and?” where they should be going “ok more..”

I want more of this and more like it. I haven’t felt the way I did on the drive home in some time and the charge I felt was good. It only comes when a genre movie hits me right and this one did, but I promise it will miss the mark for most.

Should I see it then?

If this looked of interest to you? Yes. If you enjoy Witch movies ala Hollywood? Yes. Want atmosphere for days and some rather nice visuals? Onward to the Matinee you go.

Would you watch it again?

In theatres? Perhaps with friends who would wander into the woods and wish to stay.

That was cryptic. Are you going to buy it?

Yes.  Yes I am. My shelf of magic movies is too small and this will go nicely.

Were you scared? I mean this looks to be a horror movie.

No. It was far too tame to scare me or disturb me. Others might find some aspects a bit more on the squeamish side. Thematically it’s more dark fantasy than horror to me, but much like with the cold I am hard to impress. I’d love to get some time with the director and discuss with him the authorial intent.

All in all this was a satisfactory outing for me, but won’t do it for far too many to be considered a success story. There are too few jumps and oohs and ahs, and that message just leaves everything too murky despite its visual appeal.

 

 

Underwater 2020 Poster

Darke Reviews | Underwater (2020)

Feels like it’s been forever. Granted it has been two full weeks since I wrote a review, I also didn’t give you my friends my best and worst of 2019…might still get around to that. Usually around this time in the review, especially one early in the year, I will remind you that January is one of two things, a dump slot or Oscar bait. 1917 was released limited prior to this week so it could be the Oscar bait, literally nothing came out last week and this week we get a comedy I don’t imagine many will see and this bit of film that did not get a lot of promotion as near as I can tell. Granted, I have ad blockers, and pay for YouTubeRed so I don’t get commercials, but I truly don’t believe many know about this movie. Sadly I had to see it alone, as my two thirds of my Dark Court aren’t for horror and the other third did not think this was for them.

So is this a dump slot movie?

To me yes, in so much as that the studio wasn’t sure what to do with it or how to market it.

Example: The trailer

 

I Really don’t expect the average studio to look at some finished projects and know what they have and don’t have, especially on something like this; and this movie being a 20th century fox property prior to the buy out makes it more of a “well lets drop it and see if we can make something” move from the Mouse House. That said, you have a story by Brian Duffield (The Babysitter, Insurgent), with screenplay credit also going to Duffield. Adam Cozad (Legend of Tarzan), also receives a screenplay credit. I like what they do here. This is not a dialogue rich movie, but it is a dialogue appropriate one. What do I mean by that? Well despite most trends where this could have been exposition heavy to explain this thing or that thing or THAT thing, they don’t do it. Sure there’s some exposition, but it’s just enough to let you hear it and either follow along or don’t. The rest of the dialogue, with the exception of one character who I will get to in a bit, all feels natural given the circumstances and very directional to the story driving it, or the characters forward in a refreshingly honest way. The movie this reminds me most of, and I have a feeling this is Duffield coming through, is Alien. Imagine that crew, but underwater. The staging is different, the threat is different, but its that feel of character that is there and I was honestly riveted.

Credit has to go to director William Eubank (The Signal) for that as well. He makes beautiful use of Production designer Naaman Marshall’s (Art Director: The Dark Knight, PD: Don’t Breathe) work to create a both infinitely huge and claustrophobic space. The terms and conditions of being that far down are set up early and the movie reminds you of them frequently enough to make you worry, but not frequently enough to make you go “get on with it.” The Darkness and the depth of being nearly seven miles down on the Ocean floor have their own weight and menace to them, as much as open space did in well.. Space. To paraphrase, from a cheesy, but albeit really enjoyable movie, The Core – “Space, space is easy. There’s nothing there. When you go down, you have tons and tons of pressure.” That, in this case is both figurative and literal.

While not a cast of one, like Moon, the cast is small, with only 7 credited characters. Kristen Stewart gets top billing as Norah, a mechanical engineer on the deep mining rig and carries much of the movie on adept shoulders.  This is not, nor are any of them, a deep character, but that means in a film like this the work is even harder. Stewart not only has to make you care about her characters fate, but that of the others, and doesn’t get a lot of dialogue to do it. This relies on her abilities as an actress to use body language and expression; you know that thing everyone picks on her about, to sell the movie and she does. Jessica Henwick (Nymeria Sand on Game of Thrones, and Colleen Wing on The Defenders), plays Emily a research assistant in the wrong place at the wrong time and here again has to deliver and I find that she does. French Actor Vincent Cassel (Black Swan, Brotherhood of the Wolf) as the Captain brings weight to the movie, while John Gallagher Jr. (Peppermint, 10 Cloverfield Lane) brings some humanity. I am really starting to like this actor. The one stand out however, is TJ Miller. He adds nothing to the movie other than wasting the oxygen of the rest of the cast and crew. He could, and should, have been replaced with most any other comedic actor if they wanted levity in the film and it would likely have improved things. But can’t win them all I guess.

I would spend another few hundred words here raving on the production design of the movie, instead I shall be concise. I love the production design. Literally everything about it. That is all.

TL;DR?

This movie is hard to market, which is sad, because I haven’t had this good a time with a movie like this in a very long time. I am trying to remember the last time a movie made me feel tense and looking at the screen for something, anything that seemed out of sorts. They don’t play with jump scares or high shrieking notes, they actually just build tension and dread. When the characters get to breathe, so do you. I came out of this movie excited for what I saw and what it delivered. It was surprisingly satisfying end to end.

This is a dump slot movie in that I also don’t know when else it could be released and do well enough for “Top men” at the studios. It’s not avante garde enough for the major awards circuits or indie circuits, but would never be a blockbuster either. So it’s in a weird limbo, but feels right there too.

I also mentioned Alien before. This movie is possibly the most Alien that has Alien’d since Aliens and there’s no xenomorph. The deep sea suits look both futuristic, yet lived in and rugged, but also reminiscent of those on the Nostromo. The tight corrodors, the cables, the pressing threat of death all evoke more feelings like Alien did than the last four movies combined. I suppose that is setting a high bar for the movie to draw that comparison but its what I was feeling as I watched it.

Should I see it?

If the trailer seemed curious to you, yes.  While not as “huge” as Space, the movie benefits from a big screen viewing.

 

Would you see it again?

Yes. Even at full price.

Buying it then I guess?

Yes, yes I am. Hopefully I can work the Dark Court up to it at the Manor.

Alien huh?

I know. I know. Underwater won’t win any awards, it doesn’t change the status quo of film, it doesn’t particularly do anything groundbreaking, and sadly will go overlooked by most. It is a solid little near future tension packed film. The characters felt real enough and Stewart carries well. When people say “we made the lead like Ripley”, this is what that SHOULD look like, vs….well every other time they claim that. Thankfully here, no one claimed it, but they did earn it.

What’s next?

Why Doolittle of course!

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