Darke Reviews | The Curse of La Llorona (2019)

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

But was she the right one?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

TL:DR?

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

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

Aww ok. But should I see it?

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

Would you see it again?

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

But….

Yeah I am probably buying it.

Parting thoughts or parting shots?

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

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

Just an idea.

 

 

Darke Reviews | Us (2019)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TL;DR?

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

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

Should I watch it though?

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

Would you watch it again?

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

But you would buy it?

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

Anything else to add?

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

 

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

 

Darke Reviews | Overlord (2018)

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

Is any of the speculation on this true?

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

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

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

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

 

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

TL;DR?

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

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

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

Should I see it?

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

Would you see it again?

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

Buying it?

Odds are in it’s favor.

Ok, but I am a HORROR FAN!

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

Anything else?

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

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 | Winchester (2018)

Going to skip the usual teaser intro into the review I think. I was undecided on this movie prior, but Helen Mirren is always a good draw. Jason Clarke really hasn’t disappointed me. I have a mild fascination with the Winchester Mystery House and a strong desire to visit. I figured – why not? I want to see more movies in the theatre than last year, write more reviews (I still owe someone a Dungeons and Dragons AND Core review). Still want to write the review for The Shape of Water. Low budget horror is doing really well and I missed *the* film of the year from last (end of) February; Get Out.

Those last two words are what I did. Astute readers who follow me on Facebook may notice I am writing and posting this review faster than I could normally. The movie start time is 7pm. I am writing this review at 8:35 PM. There were 20 minutes (I checked) of trailers.

So in my desire to see more movies this year also comes a promise to myself. I won’t endure a bad movie any longer than I have to, I don’t get paid for this. My site isn’t monetized. Is that fair?

So why is it so bad? I have a list:

  • Jump scares. The movie has nothing but jump scares. I counted 9 in the first 40 minutes. Amounting to nothing.
  • Audio quality. You know how there’s a slight reverb or off pitch sound when you talk to someone through a speaker phone in an office? Every line of Helen Mirrens dialogue had a hint of it. It clearly wasn’t the theatre as no one else did, but her – yep. I can’t say if it was intentional or not. I hope not.
  • Pacing. It was booooring. There was no tension, barely a plot. When there wasn’t a set up for a jump scare there was psuedo intellectual dialogue passing itself off as acting or overhead shots of the house.
  • Camera Work. I should not be able to “see” the camera, I should be following the motion, not waiting for the move or the cut. Everything was set up and telegraphed to the point I could tell you most of what was coming and when. Shots that should be amazing or dramatic fell flat or were cut by a jump scare.
  • Acting. I think it was happening. You could almost see Helen Mirren rehearsing her lines for The Nutcracker and The Four Realms or Anna; maybe she was picturing where the hot tub this paycheck was going to would go in her house. I mean she is fine, but this is what it looks like when she phones it in.

TL;DR?

The movie is nothing short of boring and this is a crime. It did nothing with the potential of focusing on a story of Sarah Winchester and her drive for the house, the spirits literal or figurative she was haunted by. The house itself, a documentary is far more interesting than this movie could ever be in its current incarnation. This is surprising with Michael and Peter Spierig at the helm as Daybreakers was amazing, Predestination was interesting, I heard Jigsaw did the franchise well; so this leaves me wondering what happened.

I feel like this is a studio trying to do what Jason Blum and Blumhouse productions have done with movies like Insidious and Sinister, even lifting some of the visual effects from a few years ago, but failing spectacularly.

Should I see it?

No. Just…no. Let it die and it’s spirit be trapped in the house.

Will you buy it?

I would sooner go to the house and have a tour given by a person who amputated their own tongue.

Is it that bad?

I am mostly just agitated at how much a wasted concept exists here. How bland and boring it is. Even The Commuter was more interesting than this.

Any upsides?

I suppose the upside is that the 3.5 million dollar budget paid some folks salaries and might drum up some tourism for the real house?

Ok so what’s next?

Thursday February 15th, Black Panther. One of the most anticipated movies of the year.

Thursday February 23rd Annihilation. One of the movies I am truly excited for because of the director and cast.

Praying for all the March releases, such as Death Wish (not hopeful), Red Sparrow (too irritated we are getting this instead of Black Widow), A Wrinkle in Time (all of the yes), Tomb Raider, Love Simon (it looks adorable), and Pacific Rim 2. Lots coming in March, most of it will set the stage for the rest of the year too.