Doctor Sleep

2019

Dir. Mike Flanagan

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Cliff Curtis, Kyliegh Curran,

This summer I was lucky enough to visit The Design Museum and see their wonderful exhibition on Stanley Kubrick. Amongst the items they had on display from the Kubrick archives was an original manuscript of Stephen King’s The Shining, complete with margin notes from Stanley Kubrick. It also had a quote from Kubrick explaining that he liked the novel because it went deeper into the psychological aspects of Jack Torrance, and wasn’t just about the supernatural. Kubrick’s film adaptation has gone on to be a horror masterpiece, whilst Stephen King has publicly voiced his outrage at the changes that Kubrick made whilst adapting his novel for the screen. So when director Mike Flanagan took on the task of adapting Doctor Sleep, Sutephen King’s sequel to The Shining, he had a tough job on his hands, pleasing both Stephen King and fans of Stanley Kubrick’s seminal masterpiece.

As you may have already guessed, I’m a big fan of Kubrick’s movies, but I’m also a huge Stephen King fan. I love The Shining, both book and film, even going as far as having Jack Torrance being the only Pop! Vinyl figure I own, and choosing blinds for the spare room based on the pattern being the same as The Overlooks carpet. I’d also read Doctor Sleep the moment it was released, and had thoroughly enjoyed it. The tone of the book Doctor Sleep is very different from The Shining. It’s here that Flanagan faces his biggest challenge, melding together the tone of Kubrick’s movie, with the tone of King’s sequel. It’s a feat that Flanagan achieves with ease. Following on directly from the incidents of The Shining, Doctor Sleep then jumps forwards to the modern day where Danny Torrance is now a grown man and recovering alcoholic, still haunted by the events at The Overlook Hotel. He has tried to hide his shine for years, but soon comes out of hiding when Abra, a young girl with a lot of shine, is targeted by a group known as The True Knot, vampires who feed off the steam of young children with The Shining.

As a pure adaptation of a novel, Doctor Sleep is fantastic. It’s largely faithful to the book, and brings out the best in everything I love about King’s writing. There’s a slight alteration in terms of the style of storytelling. This film is far more linear than King’s book, but for the first two thirds of the movie, this is beat for beat the book I read years ago. Flanagan is fast gaining a reputation for adapting horror novels, with The Haunting Of Hill House bringing the classic novel into the modern age, and now this film. It’s clear to see that he loves the source material that he is working from.

Flanagan also excels in bringing together a fantastic cast. Ewan McGregor is perfect casting for the older Danny Torrance. Bringing a desperation and melancholy to the role. Whilst the young Kyliegh Curran is amazing in a difficult role, one scene in particular where she channels Danny is a great showcase of her talents. Best of all though is Rebecca Ferguson, as Rose The Hat, named for the hat she wears. Rose is the leader of the True Knot, and Ferguson is completely captivating as the main villain of the piece. In fact, the True Knot are all genuinely terrifying.

From Occulus, to The Haunting Of Hill House, and now Doctor Sleep, Flanagan’s films have always dealt with the horror of death, and the question of what lies beyond. In this respect the ghosts of The Overlook are never truly scary in this film, they are there for our characters to come to terms with death. Flanagan’s films suggest that genuinely good people do not have to worry about what comes next. The True Knot on the other hand, are not good. They are most definitely bad, and because of this they fear death above all else. It’s this fear which drives them to torture and kill kids with The Shining for the steam they give off. They feed off of it like a pack of animals, and Flanagan does not shy away from the brutality of their crimes. In a stand-out sequence, they torture and kill a young baseball player, played by the incredibly talented Jacob Tremblay, and in this one sequence Flanagan makes you truly hate and despise the True Knot.

Their agency is the driving force of the movie, and is what sets the difference of tone. The Shining is a psychological horror, and Doctor Sleep is a vampire movie. It’s in the final act of the film that Flanagan manages to deftly merge these two tones into a cohesive one. Bringing everything to a satisfying conclusion which will please both fans of Kubrick’s film and Stephen Kings novel. If the film falters at all it’s in the slightly slow pacing, and the casting of lookalikes to play characters from The Shining. After seeing such fantastic CGI and de-aging techniques in recent films, it is slightly off putting to have an actress who kind of looks like Shelly Duvall.

As a Kubrick and King fan this film was everything I could have hoped it to be, and whilst it doesn’t quite deliver the scares of Kubrick’s classic, this is still expert storytelling which manages to tie together the style of two distinctive masters.

Catch Up Reviews

2018, Uncategorized

I’ve missed a couple of months recently, and the truth is I’ve found it hard to find time to sit down and write reviews. There are a couple of reasons behind this. One of them is moving house. Apparently that’s quite stressful. The other one is my new job. The great thing is my new job allows me to do tons of writing, all film related, which is fantastic, and has for awhile obviously taken prominence. Not that I’ve stopped going to the cinema though, oh no. Now that I’m getting more of a balance back in my life I’m able to get  back to reviewing films. Yay! 

As I mentioned, I haven’t stopped going to the cinema. It felt like it would be a shame if my opinions on those films got lost to time, like tears in the rain. Yes, I do value my opinion that much. So I thought it would be a good idea to do a couple of mini reviews on the films I should have reviewed. Enjoy…

Ant-Man and The Wasp

Another enjoyable entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The problem was it couldn’t help but feel a bit light weight after Infinity War. Meant as a palette cleanse, it all felt a little too disposable. I loved Evangeline Lily as The Wasp, but felt here arc was a little wasted, so much more could have been done. Funny in places, the jokes did start to feel repetitive, and there were lapses within the inner logic of the movie. 

6/10

The Predator 

Shane Black didn’t reinvent the wheel with this one. What he did do though was deliver everything you would want from a movie about an alien game hunter. It’s not a great movie, it’s not that well made. The editing is all of the place, and it doesn’t make a huge heap of sense. It is incredibly fun though. There are some great characters, stellar jokes, and gratuitous violence. All in all, a good time at the movies. 

7/10

First Man

This is not a film about the achievements of man. It does not bask in the glory of space travel. It’s much more personal than that. It’s a story about a man who had to travel to the moon so that he could come back home. It’s a study on grief, and the different ways humans deal with it. What surprised me was just how moving this film was. It owes a huge amount of debt to The Right Stuff, an influence on Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, of which First Man shares a lot of DNA with. They would make a hell of a double bill together. 

8/10

Halloween 

Michael Myers is back. Again. Jamie Lee Curtis is back. Again. She’s dealing with PTSD after the events of the original movie, and he’s back trying to kill her. Again.  Yes, we’ve seen this before, but Halloween acts as a course correction for the series. Pretending that nothing past the first movie happened, this takes Halloween back to its roots. It’s brutal, scary, and fun. It’s not a perfect movie, but will reward fans of the series whilst serving as a great entry point for those new to the series. 

7/10

A Star Is Born

Filled with fantastic performances from Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, this remake of a remake is better than it had any right to be. It’s Coopers first film behind the camera, and he does a great job. The performance scenes are incredibly realistic, with the use of real venues and audiences paying off. The songs are great too, with Lady Gaga’s fantastic voice really selling the believability of the story. It’s poorly paced though, and could do with losing a good 30 minutes. I found it strange how little I was moved by the end of the film, which is a sure sign that something wasn’t quite working. 

6/10

Crazy Rich Asians 

I’m not a fan of romantic comedies. Generic. Boring. Fluff. I loved Crazy Rich Asians. It’s an incredibly well made comedy, with a likeable cast, and characters you can’t help but root for. This is all played against a spectacular backdrop, with an insight into a world and culture that was completely new to me. It’s charming, funny, and moving. I can’t recommend it highly enough. 

8/10

The Nun

I really like The Conjuring  movies. The movies focusing on The Warrens. The spin-offs so far have been a little underwhelming. The Nun is just the wrong side of boring.  It has one good jump scare which has been completely spoiled by the trailer. The lead actors a likeable enough, but there is such a whiff of unoriginality here. It’s all a bit The Exorcist, but without anything that makes that movie work. These films just end up so superficial, that they really aren’t about anything at all. I mean, you have a priest and a Nun in training and not once does anything here make them question their faith. It’s just characters going through the motion of the plot so they can get to the end of the film. 

4/10

The Meg

I wanted this to be so crazy bad I’m a way that makes the whole film ridiculous and fun. The film ends up being both bad and ridiculous,  but as if no one told the film makers that was the film they were making. Instead they try to make a serious movie which is part Jurassic Park, part Jaws. That’s not what people want from this movie. They want to see a giant fucking shark being punched in the face by Jason Statham. There was a point in the movie, probably the most serious, emotional conversation in the whole thing, and it was all I could do to not burst out laughing. It’s just awful. I was promised a movie where Jason Statham chases a giant shark across the high seas. It took an hour to set that up. It should have been a fun dumb movie. It ended up being dumb, boring, and bad. 

3/10

Venom

If Venom had come out in 2005 it would have been seen as the natural continuation of the Sam Raimi Spider-Man series. Lucky for us, we’ve had a decade of fantastic super-hero movies which have  really pushed the genre forward. It just seems like no one making Venom has seen any of those films. Tom Hardy is great, and the moments where Eddie Brock are bickering are great. The film excels when it unleashes it’s dark sense of humour. The action sequences are pretty well done too. It’s just a shame the film takes so long to get anywhere, and wastes its time with unnecessary sub plots which aren’t paid off. It’s by no means a bad film, and I left the cinema thinking I’d quite happily go and see a sequel, but there is plenty of work to be done. 

6/10

BlacKkKlansman

I loved this movie. It’s funny, suspenseful, emotional, and scary. Spike Lee sets his stall out early with Alec Baldwin playing a racist Doctor, creating a video about white supremacy. It’s clear the parallels Lee is trying to draw. The cast are all fantastic, in particular John David Washington in the lead role of Ron Stallworth. The film is both shocking and provocative, but also incredibly entertaining, but it does its job. When a racist cop is caught being misogynistic and racist on a wire tape, he is immediately fired, with someone declaring that the good old wire trick, it always works. You can’t help but think how the last guy got caught on tape didn’t get fired, he got elected president. 

9/10

Christopher Robin

A gentle, but affecting film. It starts off incredibly strong, and ends well, but the middle does drag an awful lot. I enjoyed the way the characters of Winnie The Pooh has been reimagined, and Ewan McGregor does a great job. It’s a film with its heart in the right place, it just has some serious pacing issues. It at times feels more like a nostalgia trip for grown ups rather than a children’s film, but it does include some quite childish moments, you can’t help but wonder who this film is actually meant for. There are moments in which the film clearly hints towards mental health, but then there are also sequences of Ewan McGregor playing with leaves in the woods. It’s all a bit disjointed. 

6/10

A Simple Favour

Pitched as Gone Girl with more laughs. This was supposed to be a more serious outing from comedy director Paul Feig. Sadly, this is very much a case of style over substance. It’s nowhere near intricately plotted enough. It’s reveals come across as damp squibs, and Anna Kendrick does her best to make the jokes land, but this film just isn’t clever enough. If it wasn’t for the starry cast, this would have been a TV movie, or a soap plot in the 90’s. As a mystery movie, it’s not interesting. As a thriller, it’s boring. It’s not funny enough to be called a comedy. It’s just all a bit bland. It needed to go deeper, to go darker to truly resonate. 

3/10

Well that’s it. I’m all up to date now, and hopefully should be back with more regular reviews. Please check out my latest review on The Nutcracker and The Four Realms

Hereditary

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Ari Aster

Starring: Toni Collette, Milly Shapiro, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, and Ann Dowd.

It’s a hard badge to wear, being touted as the scariest horror movie in years. It builds up a certain expectation in the audience. The problem is each audience member will have a different expectation. They’ll each have a different definition of scary and what they expect from a horror movie. Some horror movies grab you by the throat and don’t let go, some take you on a ghost train of a ride, others take their time, seeping into your sub-conscious, unsettling you for days. Some scare you with jump scares, others scare you with ideas. Hereditary is the latter. Ari Aster’s debut feature is a deeply disturbing slow burn of a movie.

The film opens with the Graham family attending the funeral for the family matriarch. Annie, played here by Toni Collette, had a strained relationship with her mother, and is struggling to realise how she feels about her passing. She’s plagued with guilt and grief which seeps into the rest of the family. When another tragedy strikes, things really start to unravel.

To give anything more away would be to spoil the joy of the film. It’s not that there are so many twists and turns, in fact if you’re keyed into the narrative you could easily guess where this story is going, but it is a film that you experience. The less you know about it going in, the more the film can work it’s magic, and there is plenty of magic here. It’s a dysfunctional family drama, that is shot like a horror film. The scares for the most part are all character driven. It cleaves so close to real, everyday emotions, that it manages to unsettle you by allowing you to stare into the characters eyes, trying to figure out what’s going on with them. The film works on a very literal level, but also works as an exploration of grief and guilt, and as a metaphor for mental illness.

The reason this film works as well as it does is down to two factors: pace and acting. The cinematography and editing of this film is sublime. As I said earlier it’s a slow burn, but it works so effectively. The camera lingers on actors faces just long enough for it to feel uncomfortable. It creates images which over the course of the film become more significant, and more terrifying with that significance. It may be slow, but it never feels too long. The acting from all involved is superb, but Toni Collete and Alex Wolff are the standouts as mother and son. Watching both their characters unwind is heartbreaking and disturbing, often at the same time.

Their performances are masterfully directed by Aster, who makes us question them as reliable narrators enough to wrong foot the audience. You don’t know whether what your seeing is a dream, actually happening, or the manifestation of a mental illness. It makes their scenes all the more terrifying. One scene in particular where Alex Wolff is lying in bed, only to have his head grabbed by hands coming from underneath it showcases this. Is it scarier that it was a spirit from the other side grabbing him, or that it was his Mum who now has no recollection of it. It’s these questions, and then not knowing that stays with you past the initial jump scare. This is all bolstered by a fantastic score, a throbbing beat that underlines the whole film, bringing with it a sense of urgency and dread.

If you enjoy the movie for the first hour and a half, then it’s the last half an hour which might lose you. I really enjoyed it, but it’s at this point where the film cuts loose and allows itself to unravel. You’re either going to go with it or hate it. For me, it made sense both in the films internal logic and narratively. It’s an ending which didn’t squash or justify any of my theories I had about what was really going on, but one that worked for all my theories. It has a definite answer, but allows itself to still be open to analysis, due to the unreliableness of the characters we see the events through.

This is not a jump a minute white knuckle thrill ride, but a slow burn, emotionally engaging horror movie. It will stay with you long after the credits role, and you will come away with your own opinion on what you actually just saw. I can’t wait to see it again, just to spot some more puzzle pieces. It’s well directed, well acted, well shot, and well edited. It may not be the scariest horror film ever made, but it’s one of the years best films.

9/10

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. J.A. Bayona

Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, Jeff Goldblum, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, Rafe Spall, Ted Levine, Justice Smith, Toby Jones, BD Wong, and Isabella Sermon.

I have a huge amount of reverence for Jurassic Park. It was easily one of my favourite movies growing up. I had it recorded on VHS from a television broadcast, and I watched it constantly. I wore that tape out. That being said, when I saw the two sequels at the same age, I instantly forgot them. These were not movies that I had on repeat. When Jurassic World came out, I did really enjoy it. It played on the nostalgia I had for that first movie. Yes, it took me down a well trodden path, but one that I was happy to stroll down. Going into Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, I was worried that we would just get a re-tread of The Lost World, a film I have no reverence for. Smartly they’ve decided to take the franchise down a different path, but with all the possibilities available it’s surprising that this is the story they have chosen to tell.

We pick up six months down the road from Jurassic World. The dinosaurs are free, and have been left alone on Isla Nublar. Problems have arisen though when a dormant volcano on the island suddenly becomes active. Bryce Dallas Howard returns as Claire, who is heading a charity campaigning to save the dinosaurs from certain death. When government officials decide to leave the dinosaurs to their fate, Claire is approached by Benjamin Lockwood, John Hammond’s business partner who helped usher in the cloning technology. He has a plan to save the dinosaurs, and get them to a sanctuary. He needs Claire’s help to locate the creatures on the island. To rescue Blue, the last raptor, they will need to enlist the help of Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady.

The trailer for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was perhaps the worst cut trailer I have seen all year. It seemed that it showed too much, but in fact it only showed footage from the first 50 minutes. It’s a shame though because this is defiantly a film of two halves, and for me the first half was more interesting, but I knew every beat before I went in. The second half of the film is baffling. It’s clear that they were keen not to repeat what has come before, and it’s commendable that they have laid the track for future entries, but I just can’t understand why they have chosen this particularly story to tell. The film changes tracks so abruptly from huge summer blockbuster to episode of Primeval, you’d think that the production had ran out of money. This all adds up to a soul crushingly dull cinematic experience.

I enjoyed the first half of the movie. It’s a logical extension, even if it’s the same plot as The Lost World. The set pieces are all excellently executed, the combination of animatronics and cgi are far superior from those in the first Jurassic World. There is some gorgeous imagery here, both awe inspiring and heart breaking. It’s all fun stuff, and Chris Pratt excels doing his best Indiana Jones routine. It’s a shame that all this, although enjoyable, felt so boring. If you had seen the trailers then there are no surprises for the first hour of the movie. The film pretty much climaxes at the end of this half. To the point that there is a clear moment for an intermission to be inserted. When the film resumes, the stakes have been reset. The scale is smaller. The tone of the film has changed, shifting from high octane action to small scale horror. It’s a bold move. It’s a move that doesn’t work. The elements of horror at the end of Jurassic Park worked because Spielberg had spent the whole movie teasing the raptors, but never showing them. Here we’ve already seen the raptors, we’ve already seen hundreds of dinosaurs, all with the ability to kill our protagonists. It’s all so predictable, even the film’s biggest twist is telegraphed from early on.

It’s by no means a poorly directed film. I think Bayona stages the set pieces well, and manages to draw tension from the settings. Where the film really fails is with its lead characters. Gamely played by Pratt and Howard, their return to the franchise largely feels unnecessary. There is no character development, and their scenes together are largely unforgettable. Toby Jones, Rafe Spall, and Ted Levine flesh out the cast, but they are caricatures of film villains. This is fine during the blockbuster spectacle, but when the film shifts to something more intimate the character work needed to be more nuanced. The repetitiveness of the beats of this film, and in fact, the entire franchise is starting to tire. There are too many scenes where our characters are faced with a snarling dinosaur, only for a bigger snarling dinosaur to save their lives by attacking it. The writers may have been trying to branch the story out in new directions, but they have created something which is both predictable and dull.

Fallen Kingdom is more like two separate episodes of the Jurassic World series stuck together. They are both so different in scale and scope. There are some well staged action sequences, and the film has to be admired on a visual level, it looks beautiful. They’ve looked to branch out in a new direction, but the surprise is that this is where they decided to go with it. The ending promises more to come, but it was a dull and predictable slog to get there.

4/10

The Strangers: Prey At Night

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Johannes Roberts

Starring: Christina Hendricks, Bailee Madison, Martin Henderson, and Lewis Pullman.

Whilst the beginning of the film professes that the following movie is based on a true story, if you do a bit of digging the true story bit relates to someone knocking on a door to see if anyone’s home in order to burgle empty houses. The Strangers: Prey At Night is a sequel to The Strangers, although the connective tissue is that the same killers are used, there’s no real story through line, and you could watch this without ever having heard of the original. Original director Bryan Bertino is gone, and incoming director Johannes Roberts directs from a script based on Bertino’s original screenplay. Roberts is best known for low budget flick 47 Metres Down which became a break out hit.

The Strangers: Prey At Night follows a family of four, as they make a journey across America to drop their young, troubled daughter, Bailee Madison, off at boarding school. They have arranged to stay at Christina Hendricks’ Uncles holiday trailer park along the way. They arrive at night to find the park deserted, but with keys left on the office desk. As family tensions build, they are soon interrupted by a team of three masked killers, who without motivation want to toy with and then kill the family. What transpires is a fight to survive the night.

I have to admit, I had one of the most unsettling cinema experiences whilst watching this film. I went to an early morning screening, and sat dead centre, four rows from the front. I was the only person in the screening. About half way I through I found myself looking behind my shoulder, checking there was no one behind me. I guess this shows that if nothing else the film was working, it was unnerving me. If the first film was a tense home invasion thriller, than Prey At Night is a homage to the slasher films of the 80’s. Think Friday 13th mixed with The Purge and you’ll have some idea of the tone of this film.

There is nothing new here. It’s a deeply unoriginal film, but it also manages to be quite fun. The use of 80’s pop ballads is as toe-tapping as it is chilling. The cast all do really well with the material they are given. Especially the youngsters Bailee Madison and Lewis Pullman. They give you just enough to root for them, even if their characters are thinly drawn. Madison, in particular, does well. Her characters back story is hinted at, but it’s never really explained. There’s an inciting incident that sent the family on the trip, that we are told she’s responsible for, but we are never told what it was.

At 86 minutes, this is a fast thrill of a movie, and the short length is a real benefit. Parts of the film reminded me of director Adam Wingard, and his writing partner Simon Barrett. There films You’re Next, and The Guest, are similar as they both take a lot of inspiration from John Carpenter and Wes Craven, but they also smartly subvert some of the tropes, and it would have been nice to have seen that level of intelligence on display here.

What we get is an effective homage to 80’s slashers, that adds nothing new to the genre. It’s well enough put together, and there is fun to be had, but it’s unoriginality leaves it lacking.

5/10

Truth Or Dare

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Jeff Wadlow

Starring: Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Violett Beane, Sophia Ali, Landon Liboiron, Hayden Szeto, Nolan Gerard Funk, and Sam Lerner.

2018 has been a fantastic year for horror movies. In the last month we’ve seen both A Quiet Place, and Ghost Stories released. Two incredibly different movies, both of which pushed the genre in exciting directions. Arriving hot on their heels is Truth Or Dare, the latest from Blumhouse Pictures, Jason Blum’s production house which specialises in making low budget horror movies which return huge box office, whilst also pushing the envelope with Whiplash and Get Out. Here he invests in director Jeff Wadlow, best known for directing the middling Kick-Ass sequel. If 2018 has been a great year for horror, Truth Or Dare feels like it should have come out in 2000.

Truth Or Dare follows Lucy Hale’s Amelia, a college student dragged along to Mexico by her friends for Spring Break. On their last night in Mexico she meets a guy called Carter at a bar. Carter invites Olivia and her friends to an abandoned Mission, where they start to play Truth Or Dare. When asked to tell a truth, Carter tells them that he tricked them to come up to the Mission so they would play the game. He tells them that the game is real, and if they don’t play they will die, if they don’t do the dare they will die, and if they don’t tell the truth they will die. They brush it off, but after one of their friends dies when chickening out on a dare, they realise Carter was telling the truth and that they will have to play.

Let’s make one thing clear. I’m probably not the target audience for this movie. This is a film which has got its sights set on 15-18 year olds. The casting alone makes this painfully obvious. Lucy Hale from Pretty Little Liars, Tyler Posey from Teen Wolf, these are some of the hottest stars in American television, all from shows aimed at an audience younger than me. If these are the kind of shows you enjoy, you might have some fun with this movie. If you’re a hardened horror fan, there’s nothing here for you. It moves at a good pace, and the cast do well, but at the end of the day it’s a stupid premise, and the execution is too sincere to have fun with it.

The direction is lacklustre at best. The look and feel of the film is far from cinematic. It’s like binge watching a whole season of The Vampire Diaries, although that comparison is unfair to The Vampire Diaries. There is next to no tension. There are no actual scares; Wadlow is more interested in framing and lighting his good looking cast than actually making the horror in this movie work. It’s laughable at times, but not intentionally. When the kids visit the police station for the third time in a day, you know the movie has no internal logic. I just used the word kids, which is ridiculous, because these actors are clearly much older than the parts they are playing. It’s like all of the bad horror tropes from the 90’s and early 00’s blended into one awful movie.

The biggest disappointment though, is that the film doesn’t embrace the ridiculousness of its premise. The easiest comparison for this movie is Final Destination, which had fun with the way in which it disposed of its cast in increasingly ingenious ways. The deaths in Truth Or Dare are terrible. It’s a strangely bloodless movies, and the deaths are staged so simply, you wish more thought had gone into them, that they’d been smarter. These aren’t characters you are supposed to care about. Most of them you don’t spend enough time with, and the ones you do are pretty terrible people, so their deaths aren’t supposed to hit on an emotional level. Which is fine, but they could have at least made the deaths fun. Alternatively, they could have approached it with a more knowing tone. Used the 90’s horror tropes in a way to make a pastiche of movies like Final Destination.

This film fails pretty much on every level. It’s not scary, it’s not smart, and it’s not funny, at least not intentionally. Save yourself the cost of a cinema ticket, and binge watch a young adult box set, you will get a lot more out of it. Alternatively shove a pen in your eye socket, it will be more fun.

 

3/10

Ghost Stories

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman

Starring: Andy Nyman, Paul Whitehorse, Alex Lawther, and Martin Freeman.

Based on their own stage play, directors and writers Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman bring their creation to the big screen. I’ve never seen the aforementioned play, in fact before the movie came out I hadn’t even heard of it. Dyson is best known for The League Of Gentlemen, whilst Nyman is best known for his work with Derren Brown. The influence of both is apparent on the screen. This is classic horror, with its roots in psychology.

Andy Nyman plays Professor Goodman, a tv personality who hosts a documentary series exposing psychic frauds. When his hero, Professor Charles Cameron, an older tv host who debunked the supernatural, invites him to look at three cases which have evaded explanation, Goldman sets out to find the logical explanation. What follows is an anthology of three different stories told through interview and flash back. Paul Whitehouse, and his tale of an abandoned asylum. Alex Lawther, and his late night drive through the woods; and Martin Freeman, and his experience with a poltergeist.

Ghost Stories is a genuinely scary movie. Scary in a way rarely seen these days. It’s creepy, it’s weird, and it’s superbly done. It’s very easy to describe this as a rollercoaster of a movie. It eases you into it, and then the tension starts to build, ratcheting up until the big scare, and then it sends you hurtling into the abyss, making you both grip the arm of your seat, and giving you a huge smile at the same time. There’s a pattern to it as well, with each story ending at its most horrific for a quick reset before we hurtle into the next story. There is an over arcing plot to the anthology style, clues which keen eyed viewers will pick up on early. It helps hold the film together, and allows for some genuine twists and turns, which are satisfyingly tied up.

The cast are superb. Alex Lawther is a rising British talent, after starring in an episode of Black Mirror, and The End Of The F**king World. He may be in danger of being type cast, but boy does he do creepy well. The whole of his segment is pretty much shown through close ups, and he sells the terror particularly well. Paul Whitehouse is great in more dramatic role for him, and Martin Freeman is reliably solid. It’s perhaps telling that all these actors can do comedy well, and though this film is certainly not a comedy, laughs are used in the same way as a jump scare, it’s a release of the tension the film has built up, and adds to the enjoyment of the experience. Director, writer, and star Andy Nyman more than holds his own against these better known names.

If the film does have any flaws it’s in the way it can’t quite escape it’s stage show origin. It’s a good looking film, but was obviously shot for a modest budget. Stylistically it reminded me of BBC’s Sherlock, but that may have been the Martin Freeman connection. The three story structure also felt designed for the stage, I haven’t seen the play, but I can imagine that where the film cuts out of the flashbacks is where there is a black out on stage. The resets also meant that there was no sense of escalation. I wanted each story to get scarier and scarier. Instead it built to the same crescendo and cut at the same volume at almost every story. I enjoyed the ending, I had clocked on to some of the stuff going on quite early, but was left satisfied with the explanation, even if it was slightly spoon fed.

Overall, this film is a great deal of fun. It’s a ride of a movie which will both scare and exhilarate in equal measure. Hopefully it will be bring about a new dawn of British horror nmovies. It does have a uniquely British sensibility to it. It’s not afraid to take risks, it’s got weird moments, the fact that these moments work is due to fantastic direction and a great cast. It perhaps wraps things up a bit to neatly though, which whilst satisfying from a story point of view, does mean that not many of the scares linger once the film has finished.

7/10

A Quiet Place

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. John Krasinski

Starring: John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Noah Jupe, and Millicent Simmonds.

From starring in the US version of The Office, to action star, to first time director, it’s seems there’s nothing that John Krasinski can’t do, as he makes directing one of the scariest movies in years look easy. It helps that he can enlist the help of his superstar wife, Emily Blunt to join his cast, but the credit for what has been crafted here should all go to Krasinski. In a character driven horror story with a sci-fi premise. There were rumours before it came out that it might be another surprise Cloverfield movie, it’s not. Cloverfield Paradox could only dream of being this good.

The film is set in a near, post-apocalyptic future. Most of the human race has seemingly been wiped out by what you assume is an alien species, but we’re never told where these monsters have come from. The catch is that the creatures are blind, but have super sensitive hearing which they use to hunt down the humans. John Krasinski plays Lee, a man trying to keep his family safe whilst preparing for the birth of another child with his wife Evelyn, played by Emily Blunt. The only way to stay truly safe though is by staying silent.

A Quiet Place is the most affecting horror movie in years. I have to admit, horror isn’t my favourite genre. I don’t get scared by films, and the modern day horror film is all about long periods of quiet leading to jump scares that I find myself bored. This was not the case with A Quiet Place. Tense, and taught throughout, it functions as a completely engaging thriller that had me on the edge of my seat the whole time. The sci-fi setting gave the film a level of intrigue, and the story itself had an emotional edge which helped elevate the movie above its horror trappings.

There’s a lot to be applauded within this movie, but the element that really makes it work is the sound design. It’s no surprise that a film which is about being as quiet as possible hinges on how well the sound works on the film. The diegetic sound, and its use is incredible. The score is non-intrusive, and Krasinski uses both as a tool to ratchet up the tension. An early scene between Millicent Simmonds Regan and her brother is a great example. Regan is deaf, and uses a hearing aid. During the sign language conversation, Krasinski Cuts between close ups of the two of them, the sound transitioning between what the two of them are hearing with the cuts. There’s a rhythm to this, starting slow, and getting faster, and as the rhythm builds so does the tension. It’s impressive stuff.

The film also works because of the emotional core. The film is crafted around an emotional story about a Dad and his little girl. It’s this story that is the real focus of the film. The investment I had in these characters meant that the more visceral moments really hit home. I physically winced and jumped during moments in this film, not something I normally do. This investment is down to both great story telling, and great acting. John Krasinski does well as the stoic father, and there’s a great soulfulness to his performance, his puppy dog eyes exuding pain and torment, but it’s the two females in the film who really wow. Emily Blunt is fantastic, and is given some of the meatier stuff, and Millicent Simmonds all but steals the film as Regan. It’s a performance which announces the introduction of a future star.

A Quiet Place is one of the best horror movies in recent times. It’s a thrill ride of a film, that will have you on the edge of your seat the whole time. It’s tight and taught, but every moment of the film counts. John Krasinski has hit a home run on his first try, with an intelligent and economic use of cinematic tools. There’s also a nice little message of female empowerment. It starts with Krasinski only taking his son to go get supplies and food, with the two women left at home to do the laundry, this is nicely switched at the end of the film. I’m not a huge horror fan, but I loved this.

9/10

Annihilation

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Alex Garland

Starring: Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Benedict Wong, Gina Rodriguez, and Tuva Novotny.

Alex Garland maybe one of the greatest names in contemporary science fiction cinema. As a screenwriter he has given us the likes of 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Dredd, and Never Let Me Go. His directorial debut, Ex-Machina, was adult sci-fi at its best, and showcased how his flair with a camera was equal to his skill with a pen. For me, the big shame of Annihilation is that I didn’t see it in the big screen. Rumours are that the studio behind it thought it was too intellectual to sell to modern day cinema goers, so sold it to Netflix instead. It’s a shame as much of the joy of the movie lies in the details, which are harder to spot if you’re watching on your phone. Yes, I did end the film confused about some things, but that’s the point of a film like this, you’re supposed to question what you saw, it’s supposed to provoke discussion. Too often are audiences treated as dumb, so it’ll be a shame if this becomes the norm for studios.

Annihilation is the story of Lena, played by Natalie Portman, an ex-soldier who is now a teaching academic in the field of biology. Her husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac), is still a soldier, and has been away for two years. Lena fears the worst, but one day Kane shows back up out of the blue. He has no idea where he has been, or how he got home. He starts to become ill and falls into a coma. A government agency soon step in, and tell Lena that Kane was a part of a team who entered The Shimmer, a permeable membrane that has settled around a national park in Florida and is slowly expanding outwards. Kane was the only member to come back. In order to find a solution to what is wrong with Kane, Lena joins a team of three other women scientist to enter The Shimmer.

Annihilation is an ambitious movie. There are ideas in this film that go beyond the normal blockbuster. It follows themes of self-destruction, and re-birth, and explores what it is that drives us as humans. It’s not a perfect film though, it juggles its ideas well for the most part, but doesn’t pay everything off at the end. The thing about it though, is that I saw it last night, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Maybe, it’s too soon to write a review for it, because it really is a film that needs to gestate in your mind. I think this might be my first review with slight spoilers, as it’s a hard film to write around.

It’s a truly feminine film. I mean that in the sense that it’s a feminine story. Nothing happens in this film for no reason, so the fact that it’s four women scientist going into The Shimmer is important. Each moment of this movie is like a puzzle piece, and you need them all to unlock the film. I’ve seen a lot of people who’s questions after the film seem to be on the nature of The Shimmer, on whether it’s an extra-terrestrial weapon or not, I think that misses the point. The questions I was asking were about identity. Is Lena still Lena? I honestly believe the answer to that is yes, and no. Sticking with the themes of destruction and re-birth, Lena isn’t the same Lena as the beginning of the film because she has gone through something, and is now irreversibly changed.

The film is gorgeous to look at. The dreamscape that is The Shimmer, looks incredible. At points being fantastically beautiful, and at other points being terrifyingly hideous. Both the production design and the cinematography are incredible. The special effects can leave something to be desired, especially at the climax of the film, which almost lets the whole thing down. Portman is terrific in the central role, but too many of the other roles feel underwritten. There’s one moment where another character tells Lena all of the groups secrets, and that seems to be it for their development. I’m still mulling over some of the science, and I can’t quite believe it holds up, which isn’t usually a problem as it is just a film, but the ideas of this film are rooted in their science.

Garland has stretched himself, and his budget, and created a fascinating watch. It’s ambitious, but doesn’t always nail it’s ambitions. It’s definitely a film that will stay with me, and that’s what I want from my sci-fi. It’s an emotional story that didn’t quite connect with my emotions. It’s a cerebral film, which will keep you thinking.

7/10

After thoughts: Spoilers Ahead

– The thing that bugs me most is the tattoo. It’s obviously important. It switches from character to character, and Portman has it on her forearm at the end of the movie. If this tattoo is supposed to represent that she’s a doppelgänger then why did she have it before entering the lighthouse. Does that mean she was already a doppelgänger before she entered? I could be part of the DNA being refracted, but Tattoos aren’t programmed into our DNA.

– My overall feeling is that the Lena who came out The Shimmer is the original Lena, but also completely different. The way our body works is that cells constantly replicate and die. So the person you are in five years time is still you, but every cell will be different. Lena’s cells had started to replicate with the mutation so by the end she is a completely different person whether she is a doppelgänger or not. This is a physical manifestation of the battle she is having with herself, and how what she goes through changes her, echoing Sheppard’s dialogue when she talks about the death of her daughter, saying she mourned for two lives, her little girl, and the person she once was.

– The film can be read on many levels. The two I like the most is as a metaphor for cancer. In particular cervical cancer, which is mentioned at the beginning of the film, and which I think ties into the design of the tunnel at the lighthouse. The other way is it looking at it in a very Jungian fashion. Karl Jung talks about how we have to deal with trauma in the sub-consciousness in order to over come it, well this film could be looked at as journey into Lena’s sub-conscious where she has to battle her own self-destructive behaviours in order to overcome the mistakes she has made.

Unsane

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Steven Soderbergh

Starring: Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah, Juno Temple, and Amy Irving

 

Thank the fates that Steven Soderbergh came out retirement. The indie superstar director who came to prominence with Sex, Lies and Videotape, and became a big player in Hollywood with the likes of Erin Brockovich and Oceans 11, would be sorely missed in the current cinematic landscape. It’s hard to pin point Soderbergh’s particular style, from Contagion to Magic Mike the director is always trying something new. My favourite film from Soderbergh is the two part biopic Che, which of course is a million miles away from the romp that is Logan Lucky. Unsane is mooted as his first horror movie, although it shares a thematic thread with Side Effects, both films dealing with the issue of not being able to trust your own mind. What has made Unsane stand out is the fact that Soderbergh decided to shoot the whole film entirely on an IPhone. It’s a decision that for the most part works, and for this movie feels like a smart creative choice, rather than just a gimmick.

Unsane is centred around Claire Foy’s Sawyer Valentini, a young woman who has just moved to a new city to start a new job. She’s cold with all those around her, not looking to become friends with any of her new work colleagues, and asking dates for one night stands, no strings attached, and definitely no contact afterwards. We soon find out that Sawyer has been a victim of a stalker, and that the reason behind her move was to get away from him. She still sees him everywhere though, so she decides to get herself some help. She visits a councillor who asks her to sign some papers. Signing without reading, Sawyer soon finds herself involuntarily committed to a mental institution. Things get worse when she starts seeing her stalker as an employee of the hospital.

As Sawyer Valentini, Claire Foy gives a tour-de-force performance. Fresh off her role as Queen Elizabeth II in Netflix’s The Crown, Unsane gives her a chance to really show off her range, and she gives it her all. From hysterical, to cold, to obviously seductive, this is a role which could come across as unlikeable, but Foy taps into some raw emotions which have you rooting for her all the way through. The way she starts at a place of such stead-sureness, and how she lets the inner doubt slowly creep into her face is an acting masterclass. She creates a character that is entirely believable, and helps us feel like she could be any one of us. Joshua Leonard does well in the stalker role, walking the fine line between threatening and pitiful. Jay Pharoah is great too, instantly likeable and charasmatic as Sawyer’s only friend in the institute. There is a suprise cameo too, but that felt a little distracting.

The use of an IPhone works really well. It makes everything in the frame seem tight and claustrophobic, perfect for a film about someone who feels trapped. The slight change in focus, and the auto white balance also add to a sense of uneasiness. If the aim of the film is to make us question how sane Sawyer is, these factors are an effective dynamic in telling that story. Technology is also a big part of stalking these days, so seeing everything through an IPhone lens does feel fitting. There is also some nice touches of social commentary, especially in regard to how private mental health clinics work in the US. Soderbergh does well to almost strip Foy of her humanity the second she steps into the hospital. She becomes just another number, or just another product on the production line.

If Soderbergh does mount some tense moments, the film doesn’t really hang together as a whole. The pacing is a little off, and some scenes feel like they go on forever. It’s also a little too predictable, it plays with the idea of Foy’s mental health without ever really paying it off. I’ve had this problem with some of Soderbergh’s over films, like Contagion. You leave feeling like you’ve had an amazing starter, but not like you’ve had a full meal. It also, for me, wasn’t scary enough. It’s tense and unsettling in parts, but I didn’t feel like the tension was ratcheting up, again probably more of a pacing issue. I think it also stumbled whilst balancing on the line of scary because it could happen to you, and just downright unbelievable. Too many moments where characters are in shock because they thought something like this could never happen, but as an audience member you’re thinking “nah, this really could never happen.”

Unsane is worth watching to see how Soderbergh utilises the IPhone camera, and for a huge performance from Claire Foy, but really offers little else. It’s tense in parts, but never lives up to the sum of those parts. It shows a lot of promise early on, but kind of meanders into nothingness.

5/10