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Film Review: Crawl

“Grab Your Families, Your Loved Ones, And Get Out. We Won’t Be Able To Come For You…”

With a related trailer which highlights Sam Raimi as a “producer” on Evil Dead and Alexandre Aja as “director” of The Hills Have Eyes, it’s fair to say that whilst such claims from the spin merchants of Crawl are indeed factually accurate, it also reinstates how fundamentally messed up the genre of horror has become thanks to the way in which every classic horror movie has been chopped up and churned out thanks to the wonderful notion of remakes and spin-offs in recent years. With Raimi of course being the mastermind and director of the original, and better, The Evil Dead in 1981and producer on the 2013 Fede Álvarez directed remake, a film of which I can admit to actually enjoying, to say that Aja is best known for his work on the rehash of The Hills Have Eyes in 2006 is generally rather aggravating, when the mighty Wes Craven, director of the 1977 grindhouse original classic, seems to be the subject of a Stalinesque mind-wipe towards younger audiences who may not even be aware of Craven or his impact on the genre of horror. Moan aside, Aja and Raimi this week team up for a rather familiar B-movie creature-feature in the form of Crawl, an overly generic work of nonsense which in some ways is quite enjoyable due to the sheer fact that it’s the type of movie which seems to be released at least thirty years too late.

With a very basic, genre-literate set-up, Crawl sees Kaya Scodelario (Extremely Wicked…) as Haley, a swimming obsessed student athlete who stupidly returns to her hometown in the heart of Florida in order to check on the welfare of her father after a Category five hurricane begins to make its’ way towards the mainland. Upon arriving at her deserted childhood home, Haley finds father Dave, as played by Barry Pepper (Saving Private Ryan), unconscious within the crawl space of their home for no immediate apparent reason until soon discovering the amidst decaying childhood homes, a ridiculously overblown natural threat and unnecessary daddy issues, ravenous alligators have decided to take over the house and are happy to eat anything that gets in their way. With Aja beginning his career with the enjoyably nonsensical, Switchblade Romance, and making his way into Hollywood with unnecessary remakes, Crawl does seem like an attempt to appease as mass an audience as possible, and whilst the exploitation violence within the movie is highly enjoyable in places, the screenplay isn’t exactly one to be desired as it attempts to blend into the carnage meaningless narrative tangents such as reserved family issues without any real point to it whatsoever. When it comes to a film such as Crawl, the violence and the silliness should always be the primary focus and be capped off within a harmless eighty minutes, but with Aja’s latest so predictable and lifeless, the lack of threat and lack of bite, pun intended, means Crawl is a glorified bargain bucket B-movie which just happens to be allowed on the big screen for no real apparent reason whatsoever.

Overall Score: 5/10

Film Review: Annabelle Comes Home

“Everything You See In Here Is Either Haunted, Cursed, Or Has Been Used In Some Kind Of Ritualistic Practice. Nothing’s A Toy…”

Following on from the most anti-horror horror movie of the year so far in the form of the excellent and magnificently barmy, Midsommar, your local cinema screen this week is once again reunited with the more mainstream, financially friendly sight of the Conjuring universe, with everyone’s favourite and overtly nightmarishly designed porcelain doll gracing the big screen once again just in time for the summer holidays. With the tangential Annabelle series beginning particularly sloppy and then improving rather nicely for 2017’s nicely worked, Annabelle: Creation, the financial success of both ultimately results in yet another very familiar threequel in the form of Annabelle Comes Home, the seventh installment in Warner Bros’ horror series banker which sees returning screenwriter, Gary Dauberman, bumped up to directorial duties in his big screen debut for a movie which is the definition of a very safe pair of cow-poking and slightly creepy, fog covered hands.

Whilst the leading antagonistic figure of “Annabelle” itself is fundamentally creepy on first glance, conveying to the rules of horror by inverting objects which are meant to bring joy and happiness, the sheer amazement that only one, rather unkempt doll has successfully landed a trilogy of spin-off movies is rather impressive in its’ own right, and whilst Creation was the first movie aside from the central Conjuring pictures to really have its’ own voice, Dauberman’s movie does annoyingly take a slight step back, offering less of an enjoyable cliche and more of a semi-talented, copy and pasted template with only minor delights. Of the more positive elements, the cinematography and set design is actually pretty darn neat, with nice inventive set pieces, including one referenced in the movie’s trailer involving a multi-colour night light, offering a certain level of creepiness, something of which can be somewhat lacking from the weakest of the series’ offerings such as The Nun and The Curse of La Llorona, and with yet another standout performance from Mckenna Grace (I, Tonya) in the film’s leading role, Annabelle Comes Home is not exactly the worst horror genre film, it just happens to be one which screams “PLAY IT SAFE.”

Overall Score: 5/10

Film Review: Midsommar

“It’s Sort Of A Crazy Festival. It Only Happens Every Ninety Years. Special Ceremonies And Drinking And Dressing Up…”

After a variety of thought provoking and acclaimed independent short films, director Ari Aster burst into the spotlight for audiences and critics alike last year thanks to the release of Hereditary, the spine-tingling work of desolate dread which will forever remain as one of the most terrifying experiences I have had to endure within the confines of the cinema during my life so far. As per the remit of any good filmmaker, Aster’s decision to not milk the praised poured upon him for too long results in his swift return in the form of Midsommar, a film of which Aster himself proclaims as his first “true” horror movie after declaring Hereditary nothing more than a “family drama”, albeit the most unhinged and depressing cinematic depiction of such to ever have graced this good earth, and whilst Aster’s latest does indeed obey many of the rules laid down within the confines of such a genre, Midsommar is not your average, or even mainstream, horror flick, a disturbing, surrealist and surprisingly darkly comic folk drama which continues the many thematic qualities used in Aster’s works as it brings to light notions of grief, isolation and of course, ideology and religion, for a two and a half hour marathon of madness which successfully rubber stamps Aster as one of the most masterful and original horror filmmakers working in cinema today.

Firstly, if you head into Midsommar believing that what you are going to get is simply Hereditary volume two, you will undoubtedly walk away highly disappointed, and whilst Aster’s movie begins in familiar fashion as we are introduced to Florence Pugh’s (Fighting With My Family) grieving and emotionally unstable Dani, the opening, dread-filled act is the only slice of downright terror the movie feels obligated to offer. If Hereditary could fall into the category of domesticated drama then Midsommar is essentially a two hour plus break-up movie, one which allows the audience to follow Dani, her absent boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor – Free Fire) and Will Poulter’s Mark to the very sunny, Northern area of Hårga, Sweden in order to take part in area’s midsommar celebrations as requested by Vilhelm Blomgren’s Pelle, who returns to his isolated homeland. Whilst genre fans nowadays are well versed in the way of how films with this kind of set-up ultimately pan out, the familiarities with the likes of Robin Hardy’s 1973 horror classic, The Wicker Man, and to an extent, Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, are easy enough to see, but with an extended runtime and a overarching sense of head tilting madness all the way through, Aster’s latest actually bears more of a raging similarity to  Luca Guadagnino’s outstanding remake of Suspiria, particularly in terms of style and pacing, but with Aster also adding a surprising touch of black comedy throughout, Midsommar is a more impressive beast the longer you think about it. Whilst not as damn right horrifying as Hereditary, Aster’s second big screen feature is an impressively un-mainstream genre delight, a superbly written, expertly acted, cult flick with jaw-dropping exploitation violence which leaves you both startled and grinning as you attempt to make sense of how exactly Midsommar should make you feel.

Overall Score: 8/10

Film Review: Child’s Play

“At Kaslan We Believe That Happiness Is About More Than Entertainment. It’s About Being Known, Understood, Loved…”

Whilst sniffy critics in the past have balked at the idea of “classic” horror movies being brought back to the big screen in either a spin-off or complete remake capacity, with the most pointless and offensively bad cases come the turn of the century undoubtedly being the likes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and A Nightmare on Elm Street, it’s fair to say that 1988’s Child’s Play is a movie which isn’t exactly held in the same esteem as classic works from the likes of Wes Craven or Tobe Hooper, hence an almost absence of complaint following this week’s release of the similar titled remake/reboot. Directed by Norwegian director, Lars Klevberg, in his big screen directorial debut, Child’s Play couldn’t come at a more ironic time, arriving side-by-side with Disney’s Toy Story 4, yet obviously not the type of film to take your small children, and with a particularly impressive cast including Aubrey Plaza (Ingrid Goes West, Legion) and Tyree Henry (Widows), the latest reincarnation of the kill-crazy toy is actually a rather highly enjoyable, dare I say it, guilty pleasure.

With central idea of Child’s Play essentially being a Goosebumps style, late-night nightmare with R-rated violence, the many sequels which followed the 1988 original didn’t exactly manage to set the world on fire, with the series sort of matching the Puppet Master franchise for baffling levels of endurance, but with a improved financial backing and the likes of Plaza, Henry and of course Mark Hamill (Star Wars) as the voice of Chucky himself added into proceedings, there is no doubting the ambition of the movie to try and break into the mainstream sector once again after falling by the wayside and on straight-to-video. With juicy moments of exploitation violence, a justifiably naff script and enough tonal irregularities to make your head pop, Klevberg’s movie follows on from the likes of Brightburn only recently by being a movie which knows both its’ limitations and weaknesses and plays heavily to both, resulting in having just enough quality to appease hardcore horror fans and lay audience members alike, particularly thanks to the new design of Chucky which manages to tap into contemporary concerns about the growing rate of technology. Hereditary it most definitely is not, but if you’re after cheap, Friday night horror violence, then Child’s Play circa 2019 is indeed the movie for you.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: Brightburn

“You Are Different. After Your Dad And I Got Married We Prayed For A Baby For So Long. One Night, Someone Listened…”

Sold as the movie which shows what would happen if the mighty Superman went bad, Brightburn is the latest cinematic baby from Guardians of the Galaxy director, James Gunn, who returns to the genre of horror in a production capacity once again after the horrendously violent and ideas-laden, The Belko Experiment from 2016Directed by the relatively unknown, David Yarovesky, and featuring a screenplay from Mark and Brian Gunn, the cousin and brother of James, Brightburn is a rare cinematic case of a movie which knows the boundaries of its’ central idea and simply runs with it for just long enough to stretch out an entire feature film, a very knowing and impressively gruesome B-movie horror which in some ways, fits the ilk of late 1970’s horror genre classics as it arrives, shows its’ hand and then gleefully leaves, all within the refreshing space of just over ninety minutes.   

Set within the titular town of Brightburn, Kansas, Yarovesky’s movie begins with a blistering pace, introducing both Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games) and David Denman (Logan Lucky) as loving married couple, Tori and Kyle Breyer, whose wish for a child of their own is soon granted upon them when an alien spacecraft crash lands into their nearby woods carrying what seems to be a male infant who they readily take in as their own. Cue a twelve year time-jump, and such an infant has now grown into the form of Jackson A. Dunn’s Brandon, an intelligent, lonesome outsider who not only seems to have taken fashion advice from both Damien and Danny Torrence from The Omen and The Shining respectively, but also soon realises that he may have a bigger, and more violent, purpose on Earth, contrary to the attempts by his parents to keep him as human as possible. With a satisfyingly nasty streak and bearing a similar sort of nihilism seen within Gunn’s previous R-rated project, The Belko Experiment, Brightburn may lack any form of tangible substance, but what it lacks in depth it more than makes up for in good old fashioned genre madness, and whilst Yarovesky’s movie won’t linger for long in the memory, the impressive horror elements and a sharp technical nuance mean that the American’s big screen directorial debut is fun whilst it lasts but nothing more.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: Ma

“What You Did To Me, It Never Goes Away…”

With Blumhouse Productions essentially proclaiming themselves as the second reincarnation of Hammer Horror Studios, the likes of the excellent, Get Out, and the financially successful, Happy Death Day, have allowed the company to pretty much make anything they want with a guaranteed box office reward. Enter Ma, a completely barmy, over-the-top stalker horror which takes hints from pretty much every single B-movie ever, one which sees Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water, Instant Family) as the titular mother figure, Sue Ann, a lonely veterinary technician who soon begins a middling friendship with town newcomer, Maggie Thompson, as played by rising star, Diane Silvers,(Booksmart) and her own freshly found group of friends who quickly become attracted to Sue Ann’s willingness to both provide an abundance of alcohol and a safe place to party. Directed by the steady hand of Tate Taylor, a filmmaker who reunites with Spencer after their work together on the Academy Award winning, The Help, Ma is a solid and well made addition into the Blumhouse repertoire which just happens to have a particularly talented actress in the lead role of a genuinely unnerving and creepy genuine psychopath.

Bearing a very similar narrative to that of Greta earlier this year, a stalker movie which too featured a prominent and well regarded actor/actress in the lead role of a movie which was undoubtedly too schlocky and mad for mainstream audiences, Ma basically swaps Isabelle Huppert for Spencer and Chloe Grace Moretz for Silvers whilst adding a slightly more audience-friendly filmic texture. Whilst the movie never really evokes any sense of longing dread or threat to our laddish, alcohol and sex obsessed leading group of rebellious teenages, Ma instead balances nicely the absurdity of its’ narrative with a hefty streak of black comedy as you giggle your way through a ninety minute picture which allows Spencer to not only chew the scenery, but devour it. With the most menacing on-screen haircut since Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men and a personality which mixes Annie Wilkes from Misery with Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Spencer is undoubtedly the star turn within the movie, and with a couple of truly nasty, sadistic and memorable set pieces, Ma is not exactly groundbreaking, but with enough positive elements to make genre fans happy, the latest Blumhouse chapter is cheap, giggle-inducing fun.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: High Life

“We Were Scum, Trash, Refuse That Didn’t Fit Into The System, Until Someone Had The Bright Idea Of Recycling Us To Serve Science…”

Moving into the world of English language movies for the first time at the fresh age of seventy three, French filmmaker, Claire Denis (Let the Sunshine In) and long-term collaborator, Jean-Pol Fargeau, bend the minds of audiences across the globe with High Life, a mesmerising, often beautiful, art-house influenced science fiction nightmare which mixes the psychological impact of isolation seen in the likes of Solaris and Moon, with a truly stunning design and technical nuance, one clearly influenced by the likes of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Nolan’s own space travel masterpiece, Interstellar. Set, in true genre fashion, during a dystopian future world in which the Earth is seemingly struggling from a disturbing lack of resources, High Life follows, in nonlinear fashion, Robert Pattinson’s (Twilight) Monte, a convicted murderer who along with other troubled felons, are sent out into the far reaches of space within the confines of a claustrophobic and self-sustaining spacecraft and towards a far-away black hole in order to attempt to examine and potentially extract the energy within in order to aid their fellow humans back on Earth.

With the nonlinear fashion of the narrative allowing the tale to unravel through being watched rather than being explained, Denis’ movie begins in an almost Silent Running esque manner, presenting Pattinson’s shaved-headed convict all alone in space with the responsibility of not only maintaining his own life through the care of his spacecraft, one which includes a recycling based garden and a computer program which requires daily updates in order to prevent complete destruction, but of a young child too, one born of space and one whose parentage isn’t entirely clear until the drama moves forward. With excellent supporting performances from the likes of previous Denis collaborator, Juliette Binoche (Ghost in the Shell) as a cracked scientist hell bent on perfecting the art of artificial insemination, and a rather placid, understated one from André Benjamin (Revolver) as a convict turned pacifist, High Life moves slowly but does so in a way to ensure that every detail has both meaning and impact, with particular set pieces bound to either make you look away in disgust or remain jaw-dropped at just how surreal the story ultimately plays out. With Pattinson once again proving how fine an actor he has become after choosing projects away from the limelight in the ilk of Cosmopolis and Good Time, Denis’ first foray into the English language is by no means perfect, but boy is it utterly unforgettable.

Overall Score: 8/10

Film Review: The Curse of La Llorona

“Have They Heard Her Crying? Have They Felt The Sting Of Her Tears? They Will, And She Will Come For Them…”

Winning the award for most unpronounceable title of the year so far, The Conjuring universe returns once again to the big screen like a distressed, lost puppy eager for ticket sales with The Curse of La Llorona, a ridiculously silly and scare-free cinematic cliche which attempts to build on the Mexican folklore of the same nameProduced by franchise stalwart, James Wan, and directed by American filmmaker, Michael Chaves, in his big screen debut after a succession of short films, La Llorona sees the usually reliable Linda Cardellini (Green Book) as Mexican-born social care worker, Anna, who after investigating the disappearance of a past client’s two young children, falls under the murderous spell of the titular “weeping woman”, a CGI heavy, poorly designed spectre who soon takes a liking to her two young children still reeling from the death of their father. Whilst audiences and critics alike are now totally clued up in regards to what to expect from a franchise as unreliable and uninspiring as the one in which La Llorona sits, one has to take some form of nostalgia by remembering just how darn good both The Conjuring and The Conjuring Two actually were, but with the likes of Annabelle and The Nun clearly showing how such a series may have stretched a point slightly too far, Chaves’ debut unsurprisingly nestles nicely with the latter as it fails to ignite any sense of intrigue whatsoever.

Beginning in familiar horror movie fashion by attempting to rationalise the decision behind the main antagonist’s desire for death, La Llorona soons falls into the trap of offering up cliche after cliche as the primary threat is harnessed through endless jump scares, a tactic of which doesn’t exactly pay off as such well versed genre tropes come across as neither surprising or in any way scary, resulting in heavy sighs every time the sound system in the cinema gets a good old test run as we are mistreated to cranked up violins or the endless wailing of our titular ghostie. With the film falling into the Sinister trap by showing way too much way too soon in regards to the evil at the heart of the drama come the hour mark, the film also soon loses all sense of originality completely, resorting to repetitive, dull and thoroughly uninteresting set pieces which all seem to be designed in order to justify the ninety minute runtime, but with no sense of threat or dread at all as it plays towards a very middling and family friendly conclusion, the scariest part of The Curse of La Llorona is that such a film was actually made in the first place.

Overall Score: 4/10

Film Review: Pet Sematary

“Sometimes Dead Is Better…”

Acting as the most recent entry into the Stephen King revival era which has been embraced gleefully both on the big screen and the small thanks to the success of the likes of It, Mr. Mercedes and Netflix’s Gerald’s Game, Pet Sematary is the latest contemporary adaptation of one of the American writer’s most well-known novels from 1983, acting as a completely fresh adaptation after the rather lukewarm reception given to the 1989 and original film version which on retrospect, hasn’t exactly aged at all well. Directed by the film-making duo of Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, whose previous work includes the little-seen horror flick, Starry Eyes, as well as credits on the television version of Scream, Pet Sematary sees Jason Clarke (First Man) as Louis Creed, a well-respected and straight-thinking university doctor who after moving his family to a remote woodland house on the outskirts of Ludlow, Maine, soon begins to experience a wide range of supernatural and nightmarish encounters, all of which seem to stem from the discovery of the local titular graveyard, a particularly powerful area which seems to be much much more than a quaint location for the local deceased bunny rabbit.

With King’s original novel undeniably one of his most nihilistic and terrifying tales to date, Kölsch and Widmyer’s movie does impressively manage to transfer the overarching sense of dread onto the big screen for pretty much the majority of the film’s one hundred minute run-time, and with the added boost of a particularly haunting musical score from horror auteur, Christopher Young (Hellraiser, Sinister) and enough creepy fog and pitch black cinematography to make David Fincher’s Seven look like something from CBeebies, it’s fair to say that in terms of atmospheric setting, Pet Sematary circa 2018 doesn’t just tick the box for the horror genre, it absolutely smothers it. With a superbly crafted cast which features a quartet of impressive performances including John Lithgow (Dexter) as the wise and elderly neighbour, Jud Crandall, and Amy Seimetz (Upstream Color) as Louis’ wife, Rachel Creed, the movie also benefits from the decision made by both screenwriters, Jeff Buhler and Matt Greenberg, to alter the central death at the heart of the story, a bold choice which is understandable in the way it makes complete cinematic sense whilst offering the chance for young Jeté Laurence to absolute oodles of fun with her role as the Creed’s young daughter. Whilst some differences to the novel do feel slightly jarring, including a shock-tastic ending which doesn’t carry the same impact as the book’s own conclusion, and the lack of real depth ultimately resulting in the film nowhere near as rewarding as the book, Pet Sematary doesn’t hold back on the sheer nastiness of the source material, and with a heavy dedication to King’s own written word, is a movie which is up there with the much better examples of what a Stephen King adaptation should ultimately look like.

Overall Score: 7/10

Film Review: Us

“They Look Exactly Like Us. They Think Like Us. They Know Where We Are. We Need To Move And Keep Moving. They Won’t Stop Until They Kill Us…”

With the past two years boosting Jordan Peele into the cinematic stratosphere, the success of his 2017 excellent directorial debut, Get Out, a subsequent Academy Award win, and having a major hand in Spike Lee’s equally superb, BlackKklansman, last year means that the American is on what’s commonly referred to as a freakin’ good roll. With a reinvention of The Twilight Zone set to arrive on the small screen at the beginning of April, first comes Us, Peele’s second venture into the world of horror which very much like his critically acclaimed debut, takes the bold decision to weave in and out of varying genres, this time ranging from home invasion thrillers to paranoid conspiracies with a touch of the dark humour which made Get Out so frivolously entertaining. Reuniting both Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke after their success together on Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, Peele’s movie sees the Wilson family head to a secluded beach house on the coastline of Santa Cruz, California, a trip which brings back haunting memories to Nyong’o’s Adelaide after a horrifying incident during her youth. With Adelaide making her concerns known to Duke’s Gabriel during the first night of their stay, the family suddenly fall under siege by four intruders who, in typical horror movie fashion, seem to have more in common with them then first meets the eye, and after discovering the life and death situation they now find themselves in, the Wilson family spend the rest of their interrupted holiday attempting to make it out alive.

With Peele undoubtedly both healthily cineliterate and more importantly, a gigantic horror movie geek, the many successes of Us depend on you actively registering yourself accordingly into the film’s tone, one which sort of crosses the boundary between horror and thriller but in a similar vein to Get Out, isn’t terrifying in the way of say, Hereditary or The Witch, and instead is more an actively action packed popcorn movie in the same way that A Quiet Place falls more into the monster movie bracket than a straightforward horror. With this in mind, once the relatively straightforward set-up in which the background, key characters and beautiful setting are all aligned into place, the moment we are introduced to the overly ripe doppelgänger version of the Wilson family is when the action truly heats up, providing the audience with a home invasion set piece which rides a fine line between absurdist silliness and creepy psychological horror like a jumped-up hybrid of The Strangers and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, with the latter clearly being referenced due to the uncanny resemblance between the screams made within Peele’s movie and the alien duplicates from Philip Kaufman’s 1978 remake starring Donald Sutherland. With Peele not afraid in any shape or form whatsoever to bludgeon the audience with overly graphic levels of violence, Us also benefits from the slasher type, B-movie esque traditions of people being killed in very nasty ways indeed, and with a middle act full with clear nods to The Shining and a hint of Adam Wingard’s You’re Next, the opening hour is undoubtedly a horror movie fan’s wet dream.

With the doppelgänger equivalents of the main cast offering the chance for everyone to have oodles of fun as they attempt to outshine each other in the kooky department, it’s fair to say that each of the core members of the Wilson family all have moments to show off their talents, resulting in side characters such as Elizabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale) sort of being left aside for the role of easily pruned cannon fodder without any real element of depth. With Nyong’o given the most work to as she walks away winning the award for the year’s best hair, her completely twisted performance is superbly entertaining, where even with a rather jarring choice to play her doppelgänger equivalent with a similar oxygen starved tone to that of Eddie Redmayne in Jupiter Ascending, still manages to convince you entirely that although both characters may indeed look the same, they are different entities entirely. Supported by a soon-to-be iconic horror genre score by long term Peele partner, Michael Abels, the soundtrack blends jukebox hits with strange, hypnotic remixes including a hauntingly effective version of “I Got 5 on It” by American hip hop duo, Luniz, and whilst at times the central narrative seems to be putting together almost too many ideas and themes regarding race, religion and identity, Peele’s latest is a movie which is still rattling around my brain, and for a movie which is made with this much perfection and care, it’s fair to say that Jordan Peele is quickly becoming the most interesting horror auteur of the modern age.

 Overall Score: 8/10