Welcome!

If you're just coming here for the first time, uh... you're late. The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story). But it's still kicking 1-2x a week, and it's better late than never! Before reading any of the "reviews", you should read the intro, the FAQ, the MOVIES I HAVE ALREADY SEEN list, and if you want, the glossary of genre terms and "What is Horror?", which explains some of the "that's not horror!" entries. And to keep things clean, all off topic posts are re-dated to be in JANUARY 2007 (which was before I began doing this little project) once they have 'expired' (i.e. are 10 days old).

Due to many people commenting "I have to see this movie!" after a review, I have decided to add Amazon links within the reviews (they are located at the bottom), as well as a few links to the Horror Movie A Day Store around the page, hopefully non-obstructively. Amazon will also automatically link things they find relevant, so there might be a few random links in a review as well. If they become annoying, I'll remove the functionality. Right now I'm just kind of amused what they come up with (for example, they highlighted 'a horror movie' in the middle of one review and it links to, of all things, the 50 Chilling Movies Budget Pack!!!).

Last but not least, some reviews contain spoilers (NOTE - With a few exceptions, anything written on the back of the DVD or that occurs less than halfway through the movie I do NOT consider a spoiler). I will be adding 'spoiler alerts' for these reviews as I go through and re-do the older reviews (longtime readers may notice that there is now a 'show more' which cleaned up the main page, as well as listing the source of the movie I watched, i.e. Theaters, DVD, TV) to reflect the new format. This is time consuming, so bear with me.

Thanks for coming by and be sure to leave comments, play nice, and as always, watch Cathy's Curse.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Havenhurst (2016)

FEBRUARY 21, 2016

GENRE: SLASHER, THRILLER
SOURCE: STREAMING (ONLINE SCREENER)

If nothing else, I've made one thing perfectly clear over the years: I enjoy seeing Danielle Harris in my horror movies. So when I saw her name in the cast list for Havenhurst I asked for a review screener, something I almost never do anymore because I lack the time to keep up with such obligations (indeed, this review is like two weeks late). But honestly, I couldn't remember the last time I saw her in a new horror movie*, so my interest was piqued enough to make the exception. Alas, I don't like to spoil anything in the first paragraph, but if you were planning to see the movie just for her, I would advise you to skip this one, as she dies in the first three minutes - before her credit even appears! Not that I thought she was the Final Girl or anything (Julie Benz is billed first), but three goddamn minutes? Even Drew Barrymore lasted a good ten minutes in Scream!

Luckily for the part of my brain that is able to enjoy horror movies even if Ms. Harris isn't around, the movie isn't all that bad. Kind of a blend between Saw and Crawlspace, it takes place almost entirely in the titular building, which is home to several people who are trying (some harder than others) to improve their lives after hitting rock bottom with drugs, booze, sex, etc. But the place is run by the always delightful/creepy Fionnula Flanagan, who insists on obeying the rules (NO drugs, booze, sex... you get the idea) or else they will be evicted immediately. Since this is a horror movie, you can guess what actually happens when someone is "evicted", and while I can't vouch for the logic of a place that is clearly at the center of what must be several disappearances without ever being investigated (until now!), it works for what it is, and at 84 minutes with credits certainly doesn't wear out its welcome, unlike certain other creepy building movies of late.

And while I missed Harris, it's not like Benz is chopped liver, and it was nice to see her playing a more relatable character since her other genre turns tend to be a little more fantastical (Buffy) or unlikable (Saw V). She's a recovering alcoholic who was friends with Harris' character and has moved into her now vacant room at the Havenhurst, and seemingly isn't there for more than 12 seconds before she starts getting suspicious of the sounds she hears in the middle of the night, Harris' sudden disappearance, etc. There's a fun little but of detective business where Benz and a cop/possible love interest discover that the blueprints for the building (found in Harris' things; we are led to believe she was killed for snooping) depict rooms that are bigger than they appear to be in reality, the rare horror film to include hidden passageways that are actually logically implemented, instead of just being there for the hell of it (Black Xmas is a particularly eye-rolling offender). Plus for whatever reason I always just enjoy watching people study diagrams and solve minor mysteries like this in movies; if In The Mouth of Madness spent a full half hour on Sam Neill cutting up the book covers and making the Hobbs End map it'd probably be my favorite Carpenter movie.

Another thing I liked was that it randomly invoked H.H. Holmes, who in real life had a "murder house" much like Havenhurst that was modified to make victims easier to access and kill. It's an interesting way to use a real life serial killer without going to the trouble of making it a period piece (or a silly supernatural thing like 8213: Gacy's House), and also to allow the audience to enjoy its cheap thrills without it feeling exploitative, as it might if it were recounting the actual murders Holmes committed (which numbered anywhere from nine to two hundred victims, depending on his mood during confessions). There was a wave of indie biopics about serial killers during the '00s (many of which I reviewed here, almost none of which were particularly good) that I don't think ever actually covered Holmes, oddly enough. I assume the 19th century setting would have been too difficult to pull off for those low budget affairs (which, for all their faults, did usually try to stick more or less to the facts, unlike Naked Massacre or Henry, which were much looser versions of high profile murderers), but suffice to say an accurate film about him would be, if nothing else, one of the most colorful, given his cross-country trail and aforementioned architectural shenanigans. Scorsese and DiCaprio are supposedly making one, so hopefully that comes to fruition, especially if Marty's in schlock mode.

My only major issue was that it could have been paced better; we know something's up right off the bat and Benz is front and center for the most part, so it starts to feel a bit repetitive. There's no real mystery to what's going on (we see who the killer is in the first scene with Danielle), so it's mostly just a "how will it ultimately conclude?" waiting game. The murders are gorier than expected (especially the nurse lady) and it's fun to see how many things Flanagan and her sons have rigged up (the bed that tilts and sends its victim down a floor is particularly admirable), but as much as I like Benz I did start to tire of her looking intently at the walls looking for hidden doors and the like after a while. Perhaps letting Flanagan take a more central role and go batshit (think original Mother's Day) would have helped matters, or teasing out the mystery a touch just to give it a little more oomph might have helped.

It also seemed a bit too dark, though that might have been the screener so I can't really hold it against the film. Had I gotten my act together I would have known for sure, as the film was playing for a week at one of the Laemmle theaters (where I've seen a number of similarly independent horror films that play for a week before hitting VOD), but I suck. It's funny, I used to get annoyed when publicists would offer screeners instead of actual screenings, and would even turn down the (free, convenient) option if I knew the film would be playing theatrically. But now that such endeavors would come at the expense of spending time with my kid (or, if he was asleep, my very-close-to-beating copy of Final Fantasy XV), I pass them up in favor of the screener, which I can pause when necessary and tackle on my own schedule. It's not ideal, and I still champion theatrical viewings for those who can find the time for it, but at least I'm coming around a bit on the alternative. But man, even if it only would have been for three minutes, it woulda been nice to see my lady on the big screen again! My bad.

What say you?

*Turns out it was See No Evil 2, which helps explain why I couldn't remember it.

PLEASE, GO ON...

A Cure For Wellness (2016)

FEBRUARY 18, 2017

GENRE: MAD SCIENTIST, THRILLER
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

One of my favorite movies is Meet Joe Black, which a lot of people hated on account of it being so glacially paced, but for me I think that was part of the point of it - the film is, after all, about someone trying to make the most out of his last few days before Death (Brad Pitt!) takes him away. Director Martin Brest and his editor(s?) let everything breathe just a touch longer than necessary, making the film run three hours long (to the second!), a mostly successful way of getting Anthony Hopkins' mental state across to the audience - you too would want to hold on to everything when you knew for sure when your time was up. Long story short, I understand why that movie is as overlong as it is, but I can't for the life of me figure out why Gore Verbinski and HIS editors let A Cure For Wellness run two and a half hours long to tell its own, less moving of a story about a guy getting stuck in an asylum.

Let that runtime sink in a bit: two and a half hours long. 150 minutes. That's longer than all of this year's Best Picture nominees by a comfortable margin, even though overlong films are usually synonymous with Oscar recognition. And if I was the type of reviewer who summed up the plot, I could do so without skipping any important details and you'd be left wondering how the movie could possibly run that long. Now, I'm not saying long movies are bad (this actually runs just a bit SHORTER than two of my all time favorite films, in fact), but there has to be a justification for asking you to sit there that long, and Wellness ultimately does not provide one. It's not a terrible movie or anything, but as it dragged on and kept failing to switch into a new gear that would pay off the long wait to get there, I found myself getting more and more frustrated, and less and less concerned for the well-being of its heroes.

Like most movies that ultimately feel too long (and I should stress I knew how long it was before I bought my ticket), things start of well enough, though in retrospect perhaps our hero Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) arrives at the asylum a bit too early considering how long he'll be there before the movie ends - perhaps more time spent in New York would have sufficed, letting the buildup to his arrival breathe a bit? I swear he gets there at around the 15 minute mark, on a mission from his bosses to find Pembroke, a company partner who needs to sign off on some documents in order for a merger to go through (yep, like Meet Joe Black, it involves a merger! That's actually why it came to mind; I don't automatically associate every movie with Martin Brest's underrated classic). Pembroke went to this place in Sweden (sort of a cross between a spa and a detox center?) to get better and suddenly/mysteriously decided not to return, so Lockhart is sent to get him back and sign the papers before someone goes to jail (there's some vague corporate misconduct stuff that Verbinski seems to know no one will care about, so he pretty much skips over it). At first, the unhelpful staff gives the impression that the movie will be about his quest to find this guy, but he does like 10-15 minutes later with little fanfare, so there goes that theory. And it's not like there's any indication that this place might actually be on the up and up, so we are quickly placed into "What are they really up to?" mode and hoping the answers will be worth the wait.

Well, at 90 or even near 120 minutes, they probably would be. The reveal is actually kind of gonzo and feels like something that you might find in a Hammer movie, and few actors are better equipped to play sinister mad scientist types than Jason Isaacs, so for all its faults the movie at least ends on a high note. But since we know where Pembroke is and also that the place is not just a typical spa so quickly, there's precious little intrigue to sustain us through the film's endless series of scenes where Lockhart sneaks around, sees something creepy, and is sent back to his room. There's a mysterious female patient (Mia Goth) who is treated like a daughter by Isaacs and is also the only other patient besides Lockhart (who is confined there when he breaks his leg in a car accident as he attempts to return to his hotel on the first day) who is under sixty, it seems, so in between the more thriller-y stuff we get scenes of the two of them bonding, though thankfully the film avoids giving them an actual romance (his character is late twenties, but she's a teen). Since we know Isaacs is a villain the only real question (in general, I mean) is whether she is too, but the character isn't interesting enough to give the movie the amount of ammo it needs.

Also, not a lot really happens, making it a peculiar version of a "horror film" as it lacks any real thrills or scares despite the finale that's ripped out of any traditional B-movie. The car crash is one for the ages (and involves a deer, which I want to believe is Verbinski's way of throwing shade at The Ring Two), and folks who have an issue with dental trauma better keep their hands ready to block their ears and eyes, but with the central mystery being kind of a bust (even the specifics are kind of obvious - we know something's up with the water almost instantly, yet it takes DeHaan like two hours to come to this conclusion) the movie could have used a lot more "stuff" to jolt it back to life every now and then. Almost the entire film is from Lockhart's perspective, and I can't help that might have been a fatal decision - perhaps letting some of the side characters (such as a middle aged woman who fills Lockhart in on the asylum's past, and seems to be the only other patient besides him to mistrust the place) have their own solo adventures would have been beneficial.

One thing it never fails to deliver is a nice LOOKING film, however. Verbinski's always been dependable for creating striking images, though he seems to be losing his touch when it comes to marrying them to a compelling storyline. This is his fourth disappointing effort in a row (after Lone Ranger, Rango, and the third Pirates film), a troubling streak for a career that began so promisingly; I can't help but wonder if he needs to be reigned in a bit by his producers, not unlike Zack Snyder (who also seemed to satisfy audiences more in the earlier part of his career than as of late), as I'm sure his mammoth successes have given him final cut and less interference than he might otherwise receive on these studio efforts. The trailer spoils a number of these meticulously planned shots (the mirrored train going around the bend, the old folks doing water aerobics with the red/green balls, etc), but there are plenty of others to enjoy, and honestly it's probably the only thing that kept me going once it neared the two hour mark and I realized that there wasn't any time left for the movie to ever be more than another "A guy finds out a creepy doctor is up to no good" movie, the type of which I've seen several times before and often got me home about an hour earlier.

Oddly, one exception is Shutter Island, which ran about ten minutes shorter but had a far more engaging story (and better flashbacks - here we occasionally see Lockhart's parents, but there's precious little payoff to their implementation, which is often quite awkward). It's a movie I couldn't help thinking of anyway since DeHaan bares a slight resemblance to young Leonardo DiCaprio, but I had to laugh when I went out later and saw that Syfy was running the film as their Saturday night movie (apparently they don't have any sci-fi options?). The TV was muted (this was at a bar for a friend's birthday) and it was about halfway through the film, but I found myself more interested in what was happening than I ever managed after about 45 minutes or so of Wellness, which pretty much sums up the overall problem with it. When it comes out on Blu-ray, rent it from Redbox and watch it at 1.5x speed so you can still hear the dialogue - I suspect that it will be more satisfying as a whole. And if not, at least you'll find out in 50 minutes' less time.

What say you?

P.S. There's a flashback to 1987, focused on the stock market crash that happened that year - and a little boy is seen playing with a Robocop figure to establish the timeframe. I almost wish I could forgive the movie's faults on the strength of that alone.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Happy Birthday, HMAD!

"Well my son turned ten just the other day, he said thanks for the ball dad, come on let's play!"

Well, like Harry Chapin's poor kid, I will refuse to teach HMAD to throw a baseball, mainly because it's an internet site with no reason to know how to do that (also, I don't know how, either). But what I WILL do to celebrate the 10th birthday of this little silly site, which kicked off with Return to Horror High on February 7th, 2007, is offer one (1) lucky reader a signed copy of Horror Movie A Day: The Book!

To win, I've made it fairly easy - just comment below (no anonymous, obviously) and let me know how you first came to find the site. Was it Rob Zombie's Halloween? Open Water 2? Just this week, with Rings? Don't lie, there's no wrong answer or "I'll give it to the oldest review" kind of thinking. I have a couple of things I'll be looking for and none of them have anything to do with how long I think you've been coming here or if I think you're a die-hard reader. I'll be picking the winner on Wednesday sometime, so get those memories posted quick! Just two rules: 1. USA readers only, however if you're outside the US and want to pay the difference for the additional shipping cost, I guess I can't argue with that, and 2. If you comment and I can't find any reasonably easy way of contacting you directly, I'll have to disqualify you, so make sure your email or Twitter handle is attached to your commenting profile, whichever one you happen to use!

And to readers old and new - thank you for continuing to come here. I know I don't update as often as you OR I would like, but I do my best, and hope to continue at this or a better rate for years to come. I don't really get to review much for my other site these days so this is kind of my main outlet, and I'd like to do right by it and by the people who are still checking it out. Here's to another ten years!

PLEASE, GO ON...

Rings (2017)

FEBRUARY 3, 2017

GENRE: GHOST, SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

With the arrival of each new late-coming sequel (Blair Witch, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, etc.), I become more and more worried about the new Saw and Friday the 13th films that are coming in October. It seems our Hollywood overlords are having trouble reviving old franchises as of late (and audiences aren't fooled, either), and Rings doesn't do anything to change that course. Originally slated for late 2015, the film has been clearly reworked some over the past year and change, and now finally hits theaters as counter programming for the Super Bowl instead of making the easy money it could have made in October (Of 2015 or 2016; it was once dated for both), and even the biggest sports hater in the world will probably wish they were watching the game after about 20 minutes of this lifeless attempt at reviving a series that never should have gotten a sequel in the first place.

To its credit, it doesn't ignore the events of Ring Two - the Sissy Spacek character is a major part (though not played by Spacek, as we just see quick shots of her as a younger woman) and, as the title suggests, the "Rings" club from the same-named short film (which was a prequel to Ring Two, if you recall) makes an appearance. Considering the entirely new cast and creative team, it wouldn't be crazy to assume that this would be a kind of stand-alone entry (or pseudo-remake, even), so as a fan of continuity and the like I'll at least give them props for not doing a reset. Oddly, it might be better to go in blind, because if you know the reveals from the first two films, you'll be far ahead of our heroes for most of the runtime, so if it's been a while I'd suggest skipping the Wiki recap if I were you. It won't save the movie by any means, but at least it'll give you one less thing to roll your eyes at while silently (or not, if the theater is empty) pleading with the film to stop being so goddamn boring.

A big part of the problem is our two leads are total blank slates. They're very nice to look at, sure, but I couldn't tell you a goddamn thing about either one of them, and I just spent 100 minutes watching them make their way through a not particularly complicated movie. It's also not particularly SHORT, clocking in at around 105 minutes, so there's no reason the film couldn't have included a few basic identifying traits for the main characters. The male, Holt, might like Afghan Wigs because there's a poster of them in his room, but that could be his roommate's for all we know. And we know even less about... *consults IMDb because I literally forgot already* Julia, who is an 18 year old who isn't going to college (like Holt is) because she has to take care of her mom, a character we never see and possibly doesn't exist. Julia seemingly sleeps at Holt's, which his dad doesn't seem to mind, and when Holt goes missing she up and takes off to find him hundreds of miles away, seemingly without informing the mom she supposedly has to take care of "after what happened" (your guess is as good as mine as to what that was), nor ever calling her during the week ("SEVEN DAYS!", you know) that she's in/around Holt's college.

But this plays into a larger issue, which is that absolutely nothing in the film feels genuine in any way. It's like every character in the movie came into existence the second the cameras were turned on, giving everything a vague, cold veneer that the film is powerless to overcome. It's also just plain phony and half-assed, and I'll give some examples that may sound like nitpicking, but hear me out, there's a point. In the first 15 minutes:
- Holt and Julia agree to a 9:30 Skype (specifically Skype), and then they cut to a generic chat app and the time is 9:07 (call already seemingly far in progress).
- A character says he had to find a VCR in order to watch the cursed tape when someone gave it to him. Later, he has other VHS tapes, like Aliens and Jurassic Park, in his belongings.
- Julia enters a classroom she doesn't belong in. For no reason, she cuts across a row of seats and... stands in the opposite back corner, a move that exists only to draw attention to her.
- Holt stops answering his phone. After six days, she drives to the school - instead of asking his dad if he's heard from him, or calling the school, or anything a normal person might do.
- Someone uses a screwdriver to hook up a VCR.


Now, yes, any one of these things on their own are fine - movies are movies, this isn't the point, etc. But when you add them all together (and again, all in the first reel), it just tells the audience that this is a sloppy, very phony movie - which makes it harder to buy anything the movie wants to sell us when it really gets going. If I can't believe any of the normal, non-scary stuff, how the hell am I supposed to accept the supernatural goings-on that will occur later? Again, these aren't interesting characters - the least the movie can do is make us believe they're just regular, average kids - and you can only do that by placing them into a normal, believable world. Not one where parents don't care about their minor children sleeping together and a girl takes notice of a VCR at the flea market by studying the BACK of the damn thing (seriously, she spies it from like 10 feet away and just stares at the console's rear panel. Big fan of AV jacks, I guess).

It's possible some of this stuff made more sense or had a different context in an earlier cut, but as with Bye Bye Man, I am not going to give the movie a benefit of the doubt when they're not charging audiences any less to make up for it. However, I WILL note that lots of things in the trailer do not appear; most curious is a line from Vincent D'Onofrio explaining a mark that appears on Julia's hand - in the finished film, the translation of the mark is saved as a reveal for the film's final scene (and does not involve D'Onofrio at all). We also see Julia watching the tape under different circumstances, so I'm curious just how much of the movie was overhauled and if it was actually good at one point. Considering how slow-paced it is (not usually something you say about a re-cut movie - they tend to speed things up, trading away coherence in the process) I am going to guess this one was never in any good shape, but if I were presented with an original cut I wouldn't be opposed to seeing for myself. Funnily enough, I COULD have seen an earlier cut, on several occasions - the theater I saw the film at, which is the one closest to my house (though I usually go to one a bit further away as this one doesn't have coffee or a rewards program), is where they hold a lot of the test screenings in the area. In fact it was a bit of a running joke of how many times the film tested (sometimes paying people to do it, which isn't always the case); I dug through my emails and found at least three invites for the film dating back to its original release date of October 2015. And that's just how many times I happened to get the invite (to my old AOL account, where I signed up for one of these lists ages ago), which means there were almost certainly more.

If I had to guess, the testing audiences didn't warm to the film's back half, because that's where it starts to feel less like a new concept (which is how it starts) and more like a remake of the original. And it's a shame, too, because there are some interesting ideas floating around in that first act, such as the Rings group. Basically, Holt's professor (Johnny Galecki) is trying to prove the existence of a soul, and to do so he has his students work extra credit by first watching the tape and then assigning them "tails" (someone that they can pass the curse on to). But obviously he can't do that if no one is dying, so (we have to infer this much, the movie doesn't bother clarifying and he's written out of the narrative by the halfway point) he lets some of the kids die by purposely botching their "tail" assignments, or at least, that's how it read to me. He also has this like, club (?) for all of them? It's on the 7th floor of the college (dorm? study hall? who knows) and you need a special key to access it, and all these kids are just chilling, like it was a bar or something. I couldn't tell if they were waiting to be tails, or under observation (for the whole week?) or what, but it seemed like it'd be a bigger element going forward. Alas, details are not this movie's strong suit, so whatever its actual function was didn't matter, because the movie shoots itself in the foot, dropping all of the "Rings" stuff shortly afterward to focus on, sigh, another goddamn proper burial plot.

Yep, I don't mean to spoil anything, but I shit you not - the movie eventually becomes another attempt to stop Samara's curse by giving her a proper burial, because her body was moved (and put in a wall) for reasons the movie clunkily clarifies in its third act. I don't know how many supernatural horror movies I've seen where the climax comes down to someone prying apart a wall or floorboard and finding a skeleton or mummified corpse, but I hope that whatever that number is (let's say 30) that it never gets much higher. All it does is remind me of superior films (like the first Ring) and practically guarantee that it won't work, because the damn ghost always comes back after being "properly" disposed of anyway. Speaking of the first Ring, new director F. Javier GutiƩrrez tries to ape Gore Verbinski by drowning the film in blue, but he also lights like Peter Hyams, so get used to squinting your way through scare scenes. There's a shot late in the film where a decrepit room de-ages around Julia (broken objects repair, peeled wallpaper plasters itself back to the wall, etc.) and you can barely see the effect, which seems like a silly waste of money for a complicated CGI shot.

Regular readers of the site might be thinking that I levied a lot of these complaints at The Bye Bye Man (bland characters, phoniness, etc.), but ultimately even that one rises above this, because as bad as it was, it was at least goofy enough to give it a pulse. There aren't a lot of big horror scenes in the film (the trailer spoils the two best ones - the airplane and the hair), so you'd assume that when they DID come they'd be worth the wait, but no - they're just as indifferent as everything else, and GutiƩrrez and his writers (including Akiva goddamn Goldsman, so you know you're in trouble) can't be bothered to deliver anything even remotely as insane/memorable as the first film's horse freakout on the boat, or even the first sequel's much lambasted deer attack. Even D'Onofrio can't save it; he's by far the best thing about the movie, but he's only in two or three scenes and spends most of them just spouting exposition while sitting in a chair. Even the obligatory "Samara climbs out of the TV" bit is botched, and no one thought to have any fun with the idea of the analog-driven Samara adapting to an all-digital world. Sure, the tape spreads through Quicktimes instead of VHS tapes (there's an honest to god plot point about the file size of a copy being larger than the original), and when she climbs from the TV it's a nice big HDTV set, but it's only in the film's obligatory sequel set up (good luck with that) that they think to do anything like spread it through social media and the like.

While I was fighting to stay awake (I saw the movie at 11 AM, I should mention), I tried to think of the last movie I saw that was this uninvolving, and oddly enough I think it was Shut In, starring ex-Ring lead Naomi Watts. If The Cure for Wellness (from Gore Verbinski) is a snoozer as well, I'm going to start seriously plotting out a meta-Ring sequel where the real curse is that no one can seemingly ever live up to it when they try to go back to the horror/thriller genre (and yes, there's a "back to the well" joke to be made, but I just refuse to). I didn't love Ring Two by any means (I never felt compelled to watch it again after opening night), but at least it was just your typically underwhelming sequel, whereas this is a straight up bad movie, and a bizarre approach to trying to revive a long-dormant "franchise" to boot.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2017)

JANUARY 27, 2017

GENRE: MAD SCIENTIST, MONSTER, ZOMBIE
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

In case it never dawned on you, projected film is nothing more than a series of still images played in succession, fast enough to create the illusion of movement that you'd witness in real life, with your brain kind of filling in the missing chunks in between those frames. That same kind of idea applies to how I saw the action sequences in Resident Evil: The Final Chapter - I (usually) could tell you what happened from point A to B, but only because my brain was sorting it out through context clues. Milla Jovovich and some monster rush toward each other, and then ????? (STUFF!), and then the monster is dead, so I can safely assume Milla killed it. However, I couldn't usually tell you HOW, because Paul WS Anderson and his editor (named Doobie, and - trigger warning - a frequent collaborator of Neveldine/Taylor) often cut five or six times per second during the action scenes, and often in closeups, so my brain couldn't quite process who was hitting who and where - I just had to wait until the encounter had concluded and then use context clues to determine what happened.

It's a shame, because on a script level this is one of the better entries in the series. The story isn't too complicated, the villains are fun (Iain Glen, you have been missed, sir), and there's a pretty great final showdown between the major players that not only pays off the things set up in this movie, but the series as a whole. The action scenes, poorly edited as they may be, are varied and frequent, and the movie series has finally embraced the giant monster element from the games, pitting Alice against a giant bat for the first big sequence and some Cerebrus (basically GIANT dogs) later. It even brings back the horror element that's been largely scaled down in favor of action; there are at least three legit scare moments in the movie, plus a lot of creeping around and "I think something's watching us" kind of moments. The budget was scaled down from previous entries (with inflation factored in, it's actually the cheapest, by my math), so Anderson and crew were forced to rely on such things and save the big-scale action for highlight sections instead of throughout the movie. In a general sense, it pays off.

Plus, the aforementioned Iain Glen is a total hoot, and the best reason to see the movie. Even if you're not a fan of the series, it might be worth a look just to enjoy the sight of a gifted, theater-trained (and award-winning) actor making his way through a B-movie like this. As with the Underworld films, these UK theatre guys not only lend the proceedings a touch of class, but make the gibberish plot believable by committing 100% instead of smirking their way through it like American actors in his peer group might. He's clearly enjoying himself, and he even gets to play two roles - or, two variations of the same role. By now you should be used to the use of clones in this series, so it's not really a spoiler to say he plays both the original Isaacs and a clone who is unaware of his clone status. One is in charge of Umbrella and spends his time in a nice suit and delivering exposition, the other is out in the wild and seemingly on his way to becoming a Mad Max villain of sorts. It's the best of both worlds, and both of them get to fight Alice and spout a few applause-worthy lines (one, involving the word "trinity", is so glorious it might be the main reason I watch the movie again if I ever have the option).

But the editing! Along with that reduced budget came the fact that they shot with traditional cameras and converted it to 3D later, and apparently Anderson didn't seem to care much about people seeing it in that format (I saw it in 2D, thankfully). Whereas on the previous two films he knew to keep the action fluid and with long edits (in fact, perhaps TOO long in Afterlife's case - he nailed it with Retribution), here he dishes out the most over-edited and choppy action scenes this side of Olivier Megaton. There is a scene about halfway or so through the movie where the heroes are making their way through a giant turbine fan that's been turned off, and naturally the thing turns on before everyone is safe. But it's "warming up", making the blades turn slow enough that people can still get their way through (like they would in *a* video game, though this kind of platforming thing has never been present in a Resident Evil as far as I can recall). All well and good, but I swear to Christ, I had no idea what was happening as the sequence neared its conclusion. I couldn't even tell which character got stuck, let alone how they were eventually freed, and this wasn't the only example of such editing atrocities in the film. I mean, it's one thing to pull the "hero moves so fast the villains never know what hit them so lets disorient the audience in turn" stuff every now and then, I don't even mind that - it's another to keep us in the dark of who we're even looking at and what needs to be done for them to be safe (I THINK the girl got her bag of gear stuck on a blade, but I honestly don't know). I've seen trailers with smoother, more complete action beats.

And while I'm used to it by now, the series' penchant for abandoning its characters really hurts this time around, in that it kind of leaves the movie feeling like we missed a giant sequence. When the last one ended, Wesker and Alice stood side by side along with the latter's friends, ready to save humanity together using their combined resources. When this one starts, Alice is just under a pile of rubble, and she immediately goes off on her own looking for supplies/shelter/etc. Much later, we learn that Wesker betrayed them (again) and only brought her there to kill her, a scene that we probably should have seen, not just heard about (by the time we've probably forgotten the gap anyway). As for Jill, Ada, etc. - we just have to assume they're dead, as they're completely omitted from the film beyond the obligatory opening recap footage - no in-film mention whatsoever. Later, Alice finds (spoiler for those who didn't see the trailer) Claire, who got the same treatment along with Chris in between Afterlife and Retribution, and she gives a half-assed explanation for her survival, but doesn't mention Chris nor does Alice inquire about him. Then there's the minor issue of her surrogate daughter from the previous film, who is also never mentioned even when Alice's past and current humanity comes into question. For a series of films that are all written by the same man, it's remarkable how little he ever seems to care about the characters he created (and yes, he created them, as they rarely have anything to do with their game counterparts beyond their name). Granted, cast availability might throw a wrench into the plans, but would recasting really be an issue? Especially for this film, when it's so dark and over-edited that I couldn't tell you who I was looking at half the time anyway?

That all said, I really did enjoy it overall, at least as much as I can for these things. As I rewatched them all this past week (save for the original, which I got through a couple weeks ago - it took me this long to get to 2-5, sigh), I realized that I couldn't even rank them in any definitive way - they're all just varying shades of "OK". I know people really hate Apocalypse, but I can't see why it gets singled out - there's no discernible difference in the CGI (it's not great), the cast (Milla and... some others!), the way it translates stuff from the game (loosely!), etc. It's got some truly awful slo-mo stuff, but I can't imagine that'd be enough to sink it below the others, especially when compared to this (slo-mo > incoherent-mo). They're never great, but never terrible either - they're just kind of enjoyable in their own low-key way. I own all the Blu-rays but can't imagine a scenario I'd ever sit down and listen to the commentaries (at this juncture, I mean - back in 2005 when I had little else to do I recall going through the features on Apocalypse DVD), because I just don't get INTO them like I do for things like Halloween and Friday the 13th, where I'll devour the bonus features for even the entries I hate. It's a decent series that got a decent send-off, far as I'm concerned; if you hated the others this won't change your mind, and if you loved them... well I'm not sure what you love about them, so I couldn't tell you how you'd feel about this one.

I do know this though (minor spoiler ahead): for all the talk about this being the "Final Chapter", they don't exactly close the book on the series in any meaningful way. The last shot is literally of a monster chasing one of the heroes, so if this makes a zillion dollars you can expect Resident Evil: A New Beginning in ten months, if history repeats itself. The one bonus to Anderson introducing cloning and also leaving so many characters' fates ambiguous is that the series can conceivably run forever if they continue to be profitable, simply by rotating out the players - a concept that would be more believable if he ever gave anyone even half as much weight as Milla/Alice. It baffles me that in this MCU/Fast & Furious-heavy world that Anderson wouldn't use "The Final Chapter" to bring back as many characters as possible instead of paring it down (Alice, Claire, Isaacs, and Wesker are the only returning characters - there are no surprise appearances) and give them legitimate closure, because even if they're not exactly iconic it'd mean more when say, Leon died instead of one of the random people we just met. And maybe that's part of why I can't really get into these as much as say, the Saw series - there's an air of indifference to them. There's been a decent attempt at continuity at least in broad strokes (though they've completely abandoned Extinction's idea of the entire world being a wasteland), but no one to really get attached to besides Alice - who is a blank slate. Had this one been better directed/edited, it might have managed to be my favorite just for the sheer variety of action scenes and legitimately great final reel (well, great for this series), but thanks to Anderson's hyper-active nonsense it ends up being just another entry in this entertaining but forgettable series.

What say you?

P.S. I know I said I'd review Apocalypse and maybe do a real one for Retribution, but I'm so behind on work I can't really justify it. Long story short, Apocalypse is the least boring entry and seems to have the games at heart more than any other film in the series, but the slo-mo stuff is terrible and Mike Epps' character is annoying as all hell. As for Retribution, I kind of regret making my review a gimmick, because it's actually pretty good and a big step up from the previous one. But I still can't forgive it for finally introducing Barry and giving him so little to do (great death scene though). P.S.S. I really want to play Resident Evil 7 on PS VR but I swore not to buy any more games until I got through a good chunk of my backlog. So someone buy it FOR me. Thanks in advance!

PLEASE, GO ON...

Split (2016)

JANUARY 20, 2017

GENRE: PSYCHOLOGICAL, SURVIVAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

Following The Visit, it seems that working with the small budgets but (far as I know) creative freedom of a Blumhouse production (as opposed to expensive studio gigs where you might be at the whims of people like Will Smith) is a fine fit for M. Night Shyamalan. Split is another winner from the pairing, and continues his creative comeback after a period filled with duds, from Lady in the Water up until After Earth, which I liked for the record, but was a costly money loser, and worse - saw his name removed from the marketing because it had become such a red flag for audiences. Time will tell if he mucks it up again by getting too indulgent, but if that's the case, I'm happy I was able to see him prove he still had it in him, unlike other genre directors who flame out and seemingly never find their groove again, even temporarily.

Split sees him trying something new: containment. It's not as claustrophobic as something like 10 Cloverfield Lane, because we occasionally leave to spend time with a psychiatrist played by the great Betty Buckley, and a few flashbacks to the childhood of Casey, the character played by Anya Taylor-Joy, but he gets to show off precious little of his beloved Philadelphia, and sets 75% of the movie in one of two rooms. Yet, it never gets visually dull - his directorial prowess has never been questionable (it's his screenwriting that sinks him - like Rob Zombie, his lesser efforts probably would have improved if he had a writing partner), and if there ARE any doubters they should be silenced after seeing the film, as he never seems to settle into standard ways of filming these small rooms. David "Panic Room" Fincher and Vincenzo "Cube" Natali would be proud, and I couldn't help but wonder if, after (quite skillfully) dealing with the confines of found footage in Visit, he was eager to get his Spielberg/Hitchcock on again and frame things impressively without having to worry about the camera being a character.

But even if he locked a tripod down in a corner and took a break, the film would still be engaging thanks to James McAvoy, who is given the role of a lifetime with Kevin, who has Dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder - I'm not clued into the psychiatric world enough to know why this changed but I'll assume someone took offense to the old term, as they always do). Kevin has 23 personalities, and McAvoy is able to make each of the ones he shows (I think we only see eight of them throughout the film) a complete character, and while he's usually aided by wardrobe changes, he is able to sell a change occurring with simple gestures and expressions. Night uses the camera wonderfully during these moments, angling things ever so slightly to make McAvoy even appear larger/smaller as necessary. It's the most impressive of its type I've seen since John Lithgow in Raising Cain, and in some ways even more so since he has more roles to play and (minor spoiler) at one point cycles through several in one go. I fully expect that he'll be passed over by the Academy, but if he doesn't win the Saturn Award (since they DO take such films seriously), it'd be a damn crime.

Like Cain (De Palma being on the mind a lot here, thanks to Buckley and showy camera moves), he also has to toe the line between being a hero and a villain, as some identities are good-natured and seemingly want to help the three girls, but he's also the guy holding them hostage in the first place. And we don't know exactly what he has planned for them, but we can be pretty sure they won't like it and it will be another one of his identities doing it. There's a lot going on during any given encounter due to this setup, and I like that Casey is smart enough to understand this early on, and plan her moves carefully. The movie thankfully doesn't waste time on her trying to escape, because we know she won't (the other two girls she's with aren't as intelligent, so we get those minor chase scenes to pepper a little action throughout the film), and it's a delight watching her take on different approaches with each identity as she starts to get a better handle on who is who. Given that the film suggests such a disorder is the direct result of abuse, and both characters were abused as children (Casey's flashbacks spell out the nature of her own trauma, and it's fairly grim stuff for a PG-13 movie), the movie could have gone for broke and triggered her own full blown disorder for a battle of dissociative wits, but thankfully it sticks to just "Casey is smart and thinks things through rather than act impulsively".

That's not to say the movie doesn't go nutty in other areas, however. This being an M. Night joint, it'd be foolish to go in thinking that there wouldn't be a surprise or two. As the billboard tells us, he has 23 personalities and the 24th is about to be unleashed, so a good chunk of the mystery is finding out the exact nature of this 24th personality and how it will differ from the others if and when it appears. I wouldn't dare answer that question for you, but I will say that you should probably see the movie sooner than later, because unlike back in the days of Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, we have the internet now, and people seem hellbent on making sure they spoil the film's surprises (one of which has been floating around since September, though MOST people who saw the film then have been cool about keeping it to themselves). At any rate, the answer is a satisfying one.

Unfortunately, not ALL of the film's final scenes are as satisfying. Without getting into spoilers, Casey's arc feels like it's missing a final beat, and I'm baffled why Night chose to end her part of the story the way he did. Not that every little thing needs to be tidied up and closed off, but it's almost like they lopped out her final scene to save it for later, as if Split 2 would be about her instead of McAvoy's character (I'm not saying there will/could/should be a sequel, just saying that I would assume if the money men demanded a followup, it would seem like he'd be the one to follow - same as the Friday the 13th sequels follow Jason instead of the Final Girl). And the final shot is a great moment on its own, but wasn't wholly necessary in a film that's already a bit too long; it's JUST under two hours, and possibly could have been nipped and tucked in a few spots to get it down some. As much as the last shot put a smile on my face in the moment, overall and probably down the road, I think I'd rather that time was spent giving Casey some more closure.

You might be wondering if this is a horror movie, and no, it's not really, but it inches so damn close to that territory I figure it's OK to talk about here. The D.I.D. stuff is unpredictable enough to make it tense as all hell (though it's also funny at times - it's kind of great how a moment that plays as a really freaky scare in the trailer is actually the setup for a legitimately hilarious non sequitur), and with four females being menaced by a very messed up individual in a Blumhouse movie rated PG-13 for violence I don't think it's really a spoiler to say not everyone makes it out alive, but if you go in expecting a horror film (even by M. Night standards, who usually kind of plays in on the borders of horror instead of diving right in) you might walk out disappointed. But if you're a fan of his you should probably know not to expect full-blown horror movie stuff, and you should also join me in thinking this is easily his best film in years (yes, better than The Visit in my opinion, and I liked that one a lot). Can he make it a hat trick with his next one? Let us just forget that unfortunate mid-to-late '00s period? I hope so.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Bye Bye Man (2017)

JANUARY 13, 2017

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

Had I gone to a Thursday night showing of The Bye Bye Man, I probably would have seen it with more people, but I likely would have missed out on what became the only memorable part of what was a Friday morning viewing with three other sad bastards. For those uninitiated to the Bye Bye Man's whims, one of his calling cards is to drop a coin near an intended victim, for reasons that will never be known to us. As such things go, it ranks somewhere between the keys jingling in Venom and Shocker's limp, i.e. it's kind of lame, but it paid off about halfway through the movie, when one of the other people there (so, 25% of the crowd) moved his coat or something and a coin fell out, rattling on the floor and making me laugh out loud at what I might have thought was a William Castle-esque gag if I thought for one second there would be that much of a spark to this movie.

You know that great Key & Peele skit about Gremlins 2, where a guy goes around the room asking for random ideas and demands they all go into the movie? (The final "all of that is in the movie" joke might work even better on someone who hadn't seen Gremlins 2, rather than someone like me who loved it - but it's still hilarious.) It seems like this thing was written in a similar manner, with a bunch of people just throwing out ideas for what might be cool in a horror movie (A boogeyman! A giant dog! ...uh, coins!), but without a genius like Joe Dante to make something memorable out of all the seemingly ill-fitting elements. Add in the fact that the three leads are among the least interesting in modern horror history (I watched Friday the 13th Part 7 again yesterday, and even those generic assholes were slightly more appealing) and that none of the movies plot threads ever really pay off, and you have an early frontrunner for what I hope will be the low point for big-screen horror this year.

To be fair re: plot threads, the movie was cut from an R to a PG-13, though it still runs 93 minutes (well past the minimum allowance) and includes a couple scenes that have neither scares nor plot points (including one where a character goes to see a florist who doesn't know anything), so my finely-tuned sense for these things tells me that the original cut wouldn't have helped much, if at all. A lack of gore wasn't the movie's problem (ironically, this is the same issue I take with F13 7), and if they were just trying to cut it down to get people in and out of there (aka the Dimension maneuver), there was still plenty they could have chucked. I could still be wrong, and if an extended cut comes along I'll be happy to apologize if so, but THIS VERSION is the one they're asking people to pay to see, so I can't let them off the hook on the small chance it might have been more satisfying at one point.

A big part of the problem is that it's got all these specific things (like the aforementioned coins) but zero explanation for their presence. Now, the lack of exposition isn't a bad thing as a rule - I obviously have no problem with it in Halloween - but you have to keep things simple if you're going to go the vague route. You can't just have a ghost train, and a giant demon dog, and all these other very specific, would-be iconic things without even the slightest indication of what they mean or represent. Yes, Halloween itself doesn't explain why he's chasing Laurie, but he's a blank slate anyway. It'd be like if the Shape was, I dunno, swinging a yo-yo around and leaving a piece of cake on each victim's corpse or something. You can have a cool little tic that isn't explained, but Bye Bye Man clearly has this giant backstory, while the film gives zero context for anything we see. It's not creepy or offbeat, it's just frustrating - we hear the sound of a coin drop every day, so we need to know what the significance of THIS coin is in order for it to provide the desired effect. It'd be like if Leprechaun didn't explain that he had a thing about dirty shoes and yet kept in all the scenes where he acts upon that handicap

But even if we had all that motivation and gap-filling, we'd still have to deal with our bland heroes, whose names I couldn't even keep straight while I was watching the movie. There's a guy, his girlfriend, and his best friend (who is maybe sleeping with the girlfriend; there's a lot of weird moments between the two of them before Bye Bye Man even shows up and makes it worse, but it's never clarified - shocking, right?), and they've just rented an off-campus house, which comes with all the furniture but it's all been placed in the basement for reasons unknown. Why would someone move a bed down two flights of stairs (one tiny and shown to be dangerous - there's no payoff for it, naturally)? The previous owners didn't clean it up or anything, so the whole thing is, I guess, just an excuse to set a scene in the creepy basement that we rarely see again. Bye Bye Man's history doesn't even have anything to do with the house, best as I can tell, so it's just a lot of cumbersome plotting for no real reason. Anyway, as the movie proceeds we don't really learn much about them; the hero lost his parents at an early age and the best friend was the only one that was there for him (his older brother, another character we see a few times, apparently wasn't there for him?), and the girl... uh, gets a cold. Seriously. She spends the whole movie sniffling. She likes lemon in her tea, and I think that's about as much as we learn about her.

And it's a shame, because it actually starts off really strong, with a '60s set flashback showing a man (Leigh Whannell in suburban dad mode!) blowing away his family and then some neighbors while asking them if they said the name to anyone. Since we bought a ticket and know the plot we can assume what name he is referring to, but for someone going in blind this would be an even more effective sequence, as you'd be just as confused as the people he is killing (instead of seeing it from his perspective and knowing that he's killing them to prevent more people from dying). That said, it's still a pretty chilling sequence either way, and buys the film more time than it deserves; it wasn't until (sigh) a seance sequence later on that I realized the opener's goodwill had died off and I was starting to get fairly annoyed by the damn movie. Every now and then there is another moment that feels inspired, like a bit where two characters both see the other as someone else that they're afraid of, but the movie always botches it (in this case, once one finally attacks the other, it's not clear when or even IF the hallucination goes away with it).

The older characters fare slightly better, because they at least bring along baggage/good memories of their past glories to distract us, unlike the lesser known heroes who do nothing to make us remember them. Whannell pops up again in one other scene later, a flashback narrated by, of all people, Faye Dunaway, who I can only assume happened to be in someone's social circle and they called in a favor, because she rarely does things like this and I can't imagine why she'd break tradition for this particular film. Fittingly for a movie that seemingly can't tell the difference between what we should know and what we don't care about, she merely explains why she (Whannell's character's wife) is still alive, because she didn't ever hear the name. So they introduce a character for the sole purpose of explaining to us why she wasn't dead, wasting five minutes that could have been applied elsewhere, but left in the movie because it means another good name for the credit block. Carrie-Anne Moss gets slightly better treatment as the late-arriving detective who inexplicably lets our hero go after - this is amazing - he is seen brandishing a hammer and chasing a screaming woman into the path of a train (a real one, not a ghost one). He manages to pull this off by convincing her that he simply can't tell her what's 'going on' because she'd be dead too, something this veteran officer of the law buys with zero evidence. To be fair, he offers a decent analogy of her lying to her kids that her day was fine when she really saw a dead person, saying it's the same sort of thing that he is hiding from her to protect her, but, you know - witnesses, an actual dead girl as opposed to a theoretical one, etc.

Moss is hardly the only character that doesn't act like a human being, however. I was quite delighted with the librarian who helps our hero find some background info on Whannell's character, who was working on a Bye Bye Man story when he went on his killing spree. Not only is she the most actively interested librarian in history, she later calls the kid on his cell (he's got her number programmed in!) and tells him she wants to meet up, after which we pan down and see that she's killed two people (her family, we can assume, but as we haven't met them or even knew they existed until this moment, and all we see are their motionless legs, it's not even clear if it's like, her husband and a kid, two kids, a kid and the babysitter, a husband and a mistress... you get the idea. Then later, our hero is driving along (listening to "Bye Bye Love", because the movie hasn't made you roll your eyes enough) when he gets distracted and ends up running her over - because she was apparently on her way to kill him by walking down the middle of the street? And why did she kill her kids (?) anyway when she already knew the whole thing about it? Or did she, like the hero does at a key moment, while knowing that they're not supposed to say the name out loud, say it anyway and then cover their mouth like it's Jim Carrey in Liar Liar?

This is such a bad movie, guys.

What say you?

P.S. If you absolutely must watch the goddamn thing, you will get to hear the lamest kids' joke in history, courtesy of the hero's niece. It's almost endearing.

PLEASE, GO ON...

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