“Welcome To A New World Of Gods And Monsters…”
Adding a new layer to the ongoing genre of Universal Horror, a cinematic legacy which began all the way back in the 1920’s. the newest blockbuster franchise comes in the form of the so-called “Dark Universe”, a directed step into another legion of remakes and re-imaginings which begins this week with The Mummy and is set to continue into the future with fresh interpretations of classic monster movies which are reported to include the likes of Van Helsing, Frankenstein’s Monster and of course, Dracula. Taking the time away from beating the heck out of people in Jack Reacher and flying super speedy jet planes in the upcoming Top Gun sequel, Tom Cruise leads the way as the flagship star of the franchise’s beginnings in the latest incarnation of The Mummy, a well-known and well-versed adventure tale, with arguably the most popular representation being the Stephen Sommers led take in 1999 which featured a clean shaven Brendan Fraser and a pre-Daniel Craig infused Rachel Weisz. With Alex Kurtzman on directorial duty, a filmmaker with a background in the likes of movies such as Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness and Mission: Impossible III, the latest incarnation of The Mummy is unfortunately a generic, overblown snooze-fest, ultimately resulting in a movie which begins the Dark Universe franchise in a rather mediocre manner to say the least.
With a narrative which is more than familiar in terms of the overall set-up of the titular bandaged antagonist, The Mummy suffers too from a wild scope in tonal bipolar, changing from B-Movie horror to cringe-inducing comedy in between an array of soulless set pieces which either consist of endless CGI hollowness or people wildly screaming whilst being shot at with both never actually managing to induce a sense of threat into the proceedings. At the heart of the action, the duo star power of both Tom Cruise and Russel Crowe never really have anything juicy to work with either, and although Crowe’s character reveal was quite charming in a in-joke, canon kind of way, Cruise’s overly cocky and quite annoying leading character is at its’ best a poor depiction of Brendan Fraser. Similarly, although Boutella has all the hallmarks of a beautifully seductive Egyptian princess, her campy leading villain is ultimately a dead rubber alongside a long list of supporting characters who are either there for cannon fodder or for cranking the creaky narrative into place. The Mummy isn’t exactly terrible, it just reeks of laziness, and for a movie which is meant to propel a new franchise into some sort of success, Kurtzman’s movie doesn’t do the job effectively enough to wonder where it ultimately goes next.
Overall Score: 5/10
“It’s Upsetting, I Understand, But Father Says We Have To Survive…”
Listen closely. A spooky house. An abundance of creaky floorboards. A creepy landlord. Cheap rent. If ever there was a recipe for a good old fashioned Doctor Who episode, “Knock Knock”, written by British playwright and lead writer and creator of BBC’s Doctor Foster, Mike Bartlett, plays between the lines of horror and fantasy in a way in which the show knows how to do best and whilst once again this week’s episode isn’t exactly one of the more memorable contemporary Who episodes, it does manage to continue the solid start to a season which is determined to play it reasonably straight and offer light-hearted escapism rather than the mind-bending narratives previous stories have suffered from. Adding to the episode’s lucid, creepy charm, Hercule Poirot himself, David Suchet, is arguably one of the most appealing elements of the story, portraying the eerie landlord of the overwhelmingly sinister building in which Bill and her fellow student acquaintances are more than happy enough to move into after numerous attempts of finding their own “dream” home, and whilst Suchet’s character isn’t prone to fits of murderous rampages, he does manage to portray the spookiest use of a tuning fork in recent memory.
Whilst the narrative does become rather too PG rated come the conclusion of the episode, with it having more of an effective pay-off to see the unfortunate victims of the house being well and truly dead and buried, as cold as that ultimately sounds, and the appearance of the main alien species being slightly underwhelming considering the gothic-based nature the episode attempts to convey, “Knock Knock” is an entertaining episode which unfortunately for the forty minutes which precedes it has a five minute conclusion which is slightly more interesting and compelling, with the vault in which the Doctor has been tasked with protecting, a plot strand which has been the through-line for the early episodes of the season, offering bite-sized clues for who indeed is the lucky guest with a penchant for classical piano and a hunger for food with a Mexican infusion. Keep up the good work Doctor Who, you are doing a good grand job so far.
Overall Score: 8/10
“Statistically You’re More Likely To Die In A Hospital Than Anywhere Else…”
Directed by the one-two duo of Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski, filmmakers who are primarily known for being primary cogs in the wheel of Astron-6, a Canadian based production company renowned for creating primarily low-budget, retro-centred, independent movies which tend to be based around the genre of black comedy horrors, with perhaps its’ biggest release to date being 2011’s Fathers Day, a film based upon the vengeance fuelled hunt for a sadistic rapist and murderer, The Void, starring a relatively unknown cast including Aaron Poole and Daniel Fathers alongside the cult figure of Twin Peaks favourite, Kenneth Welsh, is an all-knowing and all-loving B-Movie splatter-fest which takes riffs from a wide spectrum of famous horror and monster movies and throws together them all together in a 90 minute bundle of surrealism and ropy, old-fashioned special effects which are as charming as they are downright peculiar. Whilst the narrative structure holding the movie together doesn’t entirely work, with a concluding act in which aims particularly high but doesn’t in the end hold together too well, The Void is a solid enough fan-fare which will impress the likes of horror genre geeks across the globe.
After coming across an injured outsider from the idyllic and close-knit neighbourhood of which Aaron Poole’s Daniel Carter is the local and well-known face of policing, The Void primarily takes place within the confines of the local hospital of which Kenneth Welsh’s eerie Dr. Powell is the leading figurehead alongside Carter’s ex-partner Kathleen Munroe and the inexperienced, rookie figure of Ellen Wong’s Kim. After an array of events which include the appearance of a Wicker Man-esque cult, a Hellraiser inflicted monster marathon and a finale which is as baffling as it is bold, The Void struggles to contain its’ excitement throughout the entire length of its’ runtime, with the first act managing to have an effective mix of intrigue and suspense which runs parallel to a underlying thread of black humour which is brought on primarily by the retro design of the creatures which infest the movie primarily within a second act which does unfortunately being to lose steam come the hour mark. Independent and full of interesting elements, The Void may not be the most cinematic of releases this year, but for what it’s worth, it’s pretty darn fun.
Overall Score: 6/10
“I Keep Thinking About This Story. There’s This Video That Kills You. Seven Days After You Watch It…”
Blah, blah, blah. Whilst there is nothing new in the notion of American remakes, the category in which really grinds my gears is the one filled to the rim with English-speaking “re-imaginings” of foreign language horror movies, with absolute classics in the form of A Tale of Two Sisters, Let The Right One In and Ju-on: The Grudge all being mashed up and reproduced in the flight of gaining a quick yet tainted blood-stained buck on the account of the butchery which tends to happen when foreign movies are translated onto an audience which is primarily English speaking. Of the many horror franchises which has roots well and truly set in the minds of more intelligent filmmakers, Rings, directed by Spanish filmmaker F. Javier Gutiérrez, is yet another entry into the Ringu canon which began all the way back in 1998 with Hideo Nakata’s terrifying cinematic take on the Koji Suzuki novel of the same name, and whilst the third American entry seems to begin with an element of interest, Rings unfortunately, yet unsurprisingly, ends up being yet another wasted opportunity, with it not only coming across as incredibly offensive to horror fans across the world, effectively spits on the shadow of its’ former self with its’ sheer and utter dreadfulness.
With a leading star who carries as much charisma and interest as an ASDA bag for life, Rings begins with a narrative which looks as if it is set to offer some new light into the world of spooky water-covered teenagers with long black hair by delving into a somewhat underground network of shady college preps who view the infamous killer video tape as a reason to get up in the morning, using the threat of Samara as a messed up type of adrenaline rush alongside a basis for Johnny Galecki’s character’s thesis on the mystery of her existence. Whilst this interesting notion covers roughly the first fifteen minutes of the movie, the following 90 minutes is essentially a cheap re-telling of a story in which every single person in the cinematic world is now bored to death with, trading real elements of threat and suspense with cheesy dialogue and awful jump scares which rely on the power of the cinema’s sound system in order to actually come across as worthwhile. News alert; they don’t. Ending on a supposed twist which offers up the idea that the franchise is set to continue into the future, Rings is the type of cinematic face-palm which you really struggle to understand its’ existence. If you’re thinking of buying it on DVD, don’t.
Overall Score: 3/10
“We Do Not Have The Right To Take Innocent Human Lives..!”
Written by Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn and directed by Greg McLean, the menacing mind behind the spine-tingling and wholly gruelling Wolf Creek, The Belko Experiment is the type of B-Movie which relies on an incredibly niche audience, one who doesn’t entirely rely on the thrill of advertisement to venture out and see a movie and one which revels in the sight of movies which attempt to be slightly different from the inevitable and often mind-bending levels of high-profile generic garbage which are released simply with an economic opportunity at the forefront of its’ mind and ironically, the same type of releases which more than often end up being a complete pile of crap. I’m looking at you Furious 8. With The Belko Experiment therefore, from the singular, quickfire trailer which I observed in the cinema a few weeks back, I knew from the outset that a cagey, ultra-violent affair was afoot, and with the successful duo of both Gunn and McLean at its’ core, what could possibly go wrong?
Whilst the central narrative at the core of The Belko Experiment is one of which cinematic audiences are more than familiar with, with Gunn taking leads from a wide range of culty sci-fi classics such as Battle Royale and Cube, McLean’s directorial lead results in a picture which although begins in a spine-tingling and intoxicating manner, one which revels in a winning mix of dark comic humour with Gunn’s penchant for quick, snappy dialogue, ultimately does begin to completely lose steam come the hour mark due to the simply ultra-violent levels of bloodshed which instead of coming across as enjoyable B-Movie splatter, tarnishes the latter end of the movie with a sense of bad taste, a notion which is particularly hard to construct from a self-proclaimed lover of all things horror such as myself. Whilst endless shots of combustible heads and cold-blooded murder is of course something which is ripe in many gore-filled movies nowadays, the violence within The Belko Experiment seems so off-key with the middling tone of the movie that this particular element of the movie ended up seeming inherently rank and unnecessary. High-Rise meets The Hunger Games/Battle Royale, The Belko Experiment may be a mis-judged pile of tastelessness, but it too was a movie in which I was never bored and a film which effectively passed the time thanks primarily to the involvement of James Gunn.
Overall Score: 6/10
“We’re Looking At The First Proof Of Life Beyond Earth…”
Battling head-to-head this year with Alien: Covenant for the most obvious rip off of the original Ridley Scott classic, Alien (1978), Child 44 director Daniel Espinosa returns this week with Life, a sloppily directed and face-palm inducingly stupid science fiction movie which steals so many cues from previous and inherently better movies that I began to lose count just over the halfway mark. With an impressive cast, featuring the likes of the always superb Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds, Life suffers from a fundamental flaw of failing to be something it really isn’t, with its’ utter silliness and complete lack of plausibility failing to stack up to the movie-maker’s obvious intentions, resulting in a sometimes painful experience which exposes its’ audience to a rough reek of sanctimony, particularly in a final act in which the film loses all sense of credibility due to wacky direction and a element of deafening inevitability. In a month in which Get Out reset the bar in regards to the power of contemporary horror movies, Life is unfortunately the type of film which just really lets the rest of the team down.
Whilst the film does boast an impressive leading alien species in the form of Calvin, a terrifyingly murderous martian which in a similar vein to the Alien franchise’s Xenomorph’s, feeds and grows at the rate of knots, Life doesn’t entirely put the leading foes’ effective features to good use, primarily due to a narrative which conflicts with the intellect of its’ supposed lead characters who throughout the movie are incredibly prone to making the most obviously stupid decisions in order to crank the plot into a dramatic submission. Whilst the death of an early character is strikingly shocking in terms of both its’ timing and the manner in which we are introduced to the power of Calvin the killer martian, the movie slowly loses its’ element of suspense and threat, resulting in moments of utter tedium when there should have been particles of strong horror which I personally was looking forward to after being warned of within the opening BBFC classification. A messy sci-fi which weakens as it progresses, Life is surprisingly uninspiring and mediocre. Also, what is it with films using defibrillators in the wrong way? YOU CAN’T SHOCK A FLAT-LINE. Peace.
Overall Score: 4/10
“I Want Your Eyes, Man, I Want Those Things You See Through…”
Following on from the complete and utter nonsense spouted from the mouth of Samuel L. Jackson this month regarding the use of British black actors in lead roles within predominantly American based cinematic projects, first-time director Jordan Peele attempts to divert attention from such utter drivel this week by treating us to the release of Get Out, a film of which Mr. Jackson’s ill-judged comments were heavily directed towards. If being judged entirely on the merit of its’ trailers, Peele’s directorial debut presented itself as an entirely bonkers and mouthwateringly interesting horror, one which seemed to come across as the most surreal and OTT horror movie of the past few years. Starring Daniel Kaluuya in the leading role, an actor arguably best known for his work on Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror and Denis Villeneuve’s excellent Sicario in 2015, Get Out is as wacky and relentless as it’s many formats of advertisement made it out to be, a brilliantly shocking and wholly entertaining work of genre-twisting mayhem which makes you jump, laugh and squelch at the utter ripeness of its’ undeniable lunacy.
Unnerved by the potential racial tensions of meeting his girlfriend’s family for the first time, Kaluuya’s Chris is swiftly placed at the heart of a Stepford Wives-esque community who seem a tad bit too interested in his own individual well-being and presence amidst a minority of fellow black residents who seem weirder and weirder with every passing glance. What follows for the majority of the movie is a hypnotic, both metaphorical and literal, tale of Twilight Zone magnitude weirdness which evokes a wide range of classic horror tales from John Carpenter’s Halloween to the more recent splatter-fest in the form of Adam Wingard’s You’re Next. Mixing in a variety of effectively timed jump-scares amidst an underlying element of rib-tickling comedy, Peele’s debut is an outstanding addition to a supposedly tired format, with ripe as rainbow performances form most of its’ cast evoking a chilling sensibility which arches towards a Wicker Man-esque narrative, Get Out is the type of movie destined for classic cult status. The best horror movie of the year so far and by a distance one of the most interesting of recent years, Get Out is the type of movie fans of classic horror movies pray and hope for.
Overall Score: 8/10
“I’m Lost. I Can’t Tell Whether Or Not I’m Going Crazy…”
Whilst many will link the complex aura of Kristen Stewart almost automatically to the Twilight franchise, her reputation as one of Hollywood’s most interesting actors has increased delightfully over the course of the past few years, with her desire to work primarily away from the heavy headlines of big budgeted productions ultimately resulting in a change of perception from the moody teen vampire star to a truly remarkable and reliable screen presence. Continuing on from 2014’s critically acclaimed Clouds of Sils Maria, Stewart reunites with director Olivier Assayas this week in Personal Shopper, a bone-chillingly creepy ghost story which although is undeniably original in execution, provides enough classic gothic horror motifs to appreciate the cine-literate nature of Assaya’s direction which harks back to everything from The Haunting to a Mulholland Drive-esque air of ambiguity throughout its’ more than appreciative runtime of 105 minutes. If it’s cheap jump scares you’re after, go watch Paranormal Activity, Personal Shopper is a marvellous platform for Stewart to work her unappreciated magic in a manner which is calculated with an utmost efficiency from its’ impressive director.
After the tragic loss of her twin brother, Kristen Stewart’s Maureen, a self-proclaimed medium, capable of sensing and communicating with the afterlife, attempts to reconnect with her recently deceased twin in an attempt to seek closure and continue with her life in Paris where working as a personal shopper for Nora von Waldstätten’s high-profile yet entirely egotistic fashion model, Kyra, is a financial necessity rather than a enjoyable pastime. After embracing the existence of an unknown spirit in her lost brother’s previous home, Maureen becomes transfixed with the thrill of the unknown, resulting in a supposed game of cat and mouse between her world and the spirit world, concluding with dire and unexpected consequences. Featuring perhaps two of the most unnerving, bone-tingling scenes of recent years, Personal Shopper is a wildly subversive thriller which leaves the audience to fill in the blanks in a manner which totally understands and respects its’ intended admirers. With Stewart in the leading role, her performance is both utterly mesmerising and entirely convincing, creating an air of tension in certain scenes which in the hands of others would have been completely lifeless and forgettable, particularly a long drawn-out scene in which our leading heroine communicates with her unknown admirer via smartphone. Between herself and director Assayas, Personal Shopper is another winning formula for the duo and is indeed one of the more interesting movies of the year so far.
Overall Score: 8/10
“Do You Know What The Cure For The Human Condition Is? Disease. Because That’s The Only Way One Could Hope For A Cure…”
Rather annoyingly, the use of the term “visionary” is something of which is pushed around so often in the current cinematic climate that to be regarded as such is somewhat of a negative down-stroke. With the likes of Zack Snyder and now Gore Verbinski proclaiming themselves as visionaries of modern cinema, directors who have released such “classics” such as Sucker Punch and Mouse Hunt respectively, the term has now officially become defunct and saved only for those who are deserved of the term, you know, like directors who have actually made films of some worth. Anyhow, Verbinski returns this year with the 18 rated A Cure For Wellness, a film which harks back to everything from The Ninth Configuration to Lars von Trier’s Riget, and a picture which can only be regarded as one of the most boring, misjudged and overlong works of horror I can remember within the remits of recent history. Whilst many have condoned A Cure For Wellness as simply nothing more than a Shutter Island rip-off, Verbinski’s latest makes Scorsese’s OTT two hours of mania look like a modern masterpiece, with it more likely to send you into a deep coma of confusion than inflict any real tangible sense of threat throughout a barnstorming length of two and a half hours.
After dropping a job-losing clunker and subsequently threatened with criminal prosecution, egotistic Wall Street flunky Lockhart, played by The Place Beyond the Pines’ Dane DeHaan, is sent to a mysterious health care centre in the heart of the Swiss Alps in order to retrieve a AWOL financial executive who has supposedly regressed into a complete and utter basket case and refuses to return to the US of A in order to complete a huge financial deal. Cue creepy looking patients, a mindless and ridiculously overcooked narrative and a concluding feeling of watching a movie which not only could lose at least an hour of its’ running time but one in which nothing actually happens, A Cure for Wellness suffers primarily from a runtime which is unbearable to say the least, and although Verbinski is renowned for an array of miscalculated movie lengths, with Pirates of the Caribbean 3 being a prime example, A Cure for Wellness is his pièce de résistance in terms of runtime malpractice. Whilst Jason Isaacs does do the best with what he’s given in the cliched “foreign stranger” role, the movie can’t escape the problems of its’ silliness, particularly within scenes of unnecessary violence including a cheesy R-rated dentist appointment and an attempted rape scene which borders on the outskirts of being a utter cringe-inflicted misstep. If you wish to see the type of movie A Cure for Wellness is so obviously attempting to be, seek out something like Shutter Island or The Shining instead, relieving you of the utter tedium of delving into a horror which is neither horrific or interesting. A cure for wellness? A cure for sleep deprivation.
Overall Score: 3/10
“Let Us Show Them What We Can Do. Let Us Show Them How Powerful We Can Be…”
If there is one thing to be said about M. Night Shyamalan’s career in the business of movie-making so far, to say it was one of the most diverse and critically haphazard back catalogues of all time wouldn’t exactly be a raging overstatement. Whilst films such as The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable continue to be Shyamalan’s support beam for his seemingly imperishable reputation, people tend to forget the cinematic bombs such as After Earth, The Last Airbender and Lady in the Water, films which not only are regarded as utter, utter stinkers but films of which Shyamalan tends not to remind people of their existence in fear of not actually being allowed to be behind the camera ever again in Hollywood. With Split, Shyamalan seems to be on similar and overtly familiar territory, with a creepy, psychological premise at the core of the film’s screenplay and a final twist which is both surprising and overtly on-the-nose in terms of its’ utter silliness but one which too will leave the lay cinematic audience scratching their heads.
Featuring a scenery chewing central performance from James McAvoy, one which echoes the full-blown madness of his role in the black-hole darkness of Filth, Shyamalan’s latest is undeniably a welcome return to some sort of form, with the obvious b-movie silliness actually resorting in a movie which is much more fun in terms of its’ exaggerated ripeness than one might have first expected, due mainly to the headline performance of McAvoy, whilst the go-to actress for creepy leading ladies in recent times, Anya Taylor-Joy, continues to impress after continuing on from her stand-out roles in both The Witch and Morgan. Of course, now the un-embargoed reveal of the very final act of Split is one of which will baffle those unaware of Shyamalan’s previous work, yet for those privy to a particular early Shyamalan picture, the concluding seconds bring with it a surprising sense of wanting to pat Shyamalan on the back for having the audacity to attempt it, let alone actually film it.