“We Should Have Gone To Vegas…”
Based upon British author Adam Nevill’s novel of the same name, the Andy Serkis produced The Ritual might go unnoticed within your respective multiplex this week amidst snow-obsessed serial killers and the latest big-screen Lego animation, and whilst black comedy horror is sometimes hard to get spot on, the likes of Dog Soldiers and Shaun of the Dead prove that when done effectively, such a genre is hard to top in terms of entertainment value, and whilst The Ritual isn’t exactly a movie rooted with jaw-dropping levels of originality, director David Bruckner has executed a movie which does manage to tick the entertainment box rather extravagantly, and with a central four man show including the likes of Rafe Spall at the heart of the action, Bruckner’s latest is a movie bursting with cine-literate genre threads and snigger-inducing, quip-laden dialogue which helps twists the narrative through both horror and comedy ridiculously smoothly through a beautifully harmless ninety minute B-movie feast.
Evoking a wide range of classic horror releases, The Ritual nods its’ twisted head primarily through a Blair Witch style setting into the Pagan influences of Anthony Shaffer’s The Wicker Man and through once again into the creature feature elements of The Descent, and whilst it was entertaining to mentally jot down the movies imbedded within the film’s narrative, Bruckner’s movie does hold enough strength to be classed as a movie on its’ own right, particularly with the four key characters at the heart of the movie each having their own individual characteristics to be much more than just horror movie cannon fodder. With director David Bruckner having past experience in low-key horror releases before, including the “Amateur Night” segment of the highly enjoyable horror anthology, V/H/S, The Ritual does manage its’ horror elements incredibly well, particularly in the first two-thirds of the movie when the film’s leading threat is seeped in ambiguity, and whilst the final act is incredibly ludicrous and ultimately predictable, The Ritual is a highly entertaining piece of popcorn horror cinema which revels in the chance to not take itself seriously whatsoever.
Overall Score: 7/10
“Okay, Now’s The Point When You Say It’s All A Joke…”
Remake. Reimagining. Reboot. Whatever. Of all the many psychological horror one-off’s in the world, Joel Schumacher’s 1990 cult flick, Flatliners, is indeed a movie devoid of all reasoning for such a continuation, and whilst the original had interesting ideas and a youthful, enthusiastic cast including the likes of Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts and Kevin Bacon, the jury still remains out on why exactly a sequel is needed at all. With The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo director Niels Arden Oplev helming the similarly titled sequel this week, which from trailers alone, comes across as the bare-bones, cheap money cash-in many would expect it to be, at least there is some reason to be slightly excited, particularly with Oplev helming the likes of Mr. Robot and the somewhat mediocre, if stylish Colin Farrell starring, Dead Man Down since his success with the first of the Swedish-based Millennium series. Whilst it’s almost lazy to tarnish Oplev’s latest with all the obvious cliched quips, it is startling how much Flatliners is completely dead on arrival, with the latest Hollywood sequel lacking both pulse and heart as it only manages to succeed in making the original look like a forgotten cinematic classic.
Using the narrative of the first film to almost pinpoint exactness albeit for minor, lacklustre tweaks, Flatlines suffers fundamentally from the age old issue with sequels with it being a film which doesn’t attempt to build on the successes of its’ predecessor but simply decides to rehash the exact same ideas, and whilst there is an idea at the heart of Schumacher’s original movie which could be made into a thrilling exercise of science fiction, screenwriter Ben Ripley resorts to creating a sequel which attempts to be more Final Destination-esque in tone than the Black Mirror style of story the underlying narrative brings to mind. Whilst Ellen Page tries her best in the leading role, her untimely conclusion creates a vacuum of dullness in the film’s second half, one which utilises tiresome jump scares aplenty and hopeless horror to carry the story to its’ overstayed conclusion, and without a sense of threat and the element of mystery to hold the audience’s attention until the very end, Oplev’s movie is unfortunately a remake than simply cannot be revived no matter how much adrenaline charged substances can be shoved into its’ veins.
Overall Score: 3/10
“You Give, And You Give, And You Give. It’s Just Never Enough…”
Encapsulating in human form the very definition of divisive, Darren Aronofsky for me is the idealistic, brave and shit-hot filmmaker needed within the midst of summer blockbusters and endless unwarranted sequels in the current climate of cinema, and whilst many understandably lift their nose at the thought of anything with the Brooklyn born movie-maker’s recognisable touch, there is an unparalleled level of talent within a man who in my eyes rarely puts a foot wrong. Whether it be the depraved, nihilistic portrayal of addiction within Requiem for a Dream, the depiction of regret and sorrow within The Wrestler, or indeed the Argento inspired ripeness of Black Swan, Aronofsky holds no standards for a crowd-pleasing cop-outs and that alone has resulted in widespread appeal for his movies, particularly mother!, Aronofsky’s latest feature which for all its’ lack of publicity and reportedly inflammatory subject matter still manages to secure a wide release across the UK. Challenging, subversive, oppressive and surreal, Aronofsky’s latest transcends the realm of cinema itself and leaves you in a state of prolonged shock as soon as the final credits roll, and whilst many are guaranteed to loathe the sadistic and ripe arty nature of the film’s final product, mother! is an experience of an ilk similar to the likes of Funny Games and Kill List by being a film so terribly haunting and tough, the execution of such simply has to be rapturously applauded.
Set wholly within the confines of the winding home of Jennifer Lawrence’s “mother” and Javier Bardem’s writer’s block ridden “him”, Aronofsky’s narrative twists between home invasion horror, jet-black comedy, Lynch-style surrealism and a Dogville-style societal commentary, and whilst the underlying story is undoubtedly based upon writings drawn from Christianity and the sacred texts within the Bible, the twisted nature of Aronofsky’s storytelling offers much more than just one simple way to manoeuver through the ambiguity and the three-act structure, with each act after the next increasing in tension and shock value as the movie progresses through to its’ ultimate conclusion. With the camera solely fixed on the subjective view of Lawrence, with all but a few minor shots either directly focusing on her face or over her shoulder, the Oscar winning actresses performance is absolutely mesmerising, conveying a rafter of facial expressions and emotions as the narrative forces her to compliment the downward spiral of horror which transcends upon the screen and a performance which evoked the spirit of Nicole Kidman in Lars Von Trier’s Dogville and Mia Farrow’s iconic role in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, a movie of which directly influences mother! in it’s rollercoaster ride of a final act, one which comes extremely close to dive bombing the movie altogether in its’ sheer jaw-dropping extravagance.
With Bardem on usual form as the somewhat ciphered, unknown quantity, and both Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer reminding everyone of their raw and unquestionable talent, Aronofsky throws the remainder of his cast around and around in order to suit his narrative endgame, with jarring inclusions from the likes of Domhnall Gleeson and Kristen Wiig seeming so surreal it almost cripples the way in which you as a viewer should be embracing the movie, particularly in regard to its’ ever-wandering tone. If you head to in to a screening of mother! wanting a jump-scare ridden horror, you are bound to leave extremely disappointed, and whilst there is undoubtedly elements of genre-literate exploitation aplenty, with the film evoking everything from the likes of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me in terms of its’ hateful depiction of the human existence to the social commentary extremity evident within Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, Aronofsky’s latest is not a film to be enjoyed, instead it is the type of movie you digest, mull over and decide to what to make of it after three glasses of whisky and a trip to a puppy farm to combat the oppressive shock your mind is layered in after exiting the auditorium. mother! gave me nightmares, and not many films manage to bury that deep within the confines of my psyche but it goes to show how much of an astonishing, messed-up cinematic achievement Aronofsky has managed to create in a cinematic environment when risks are so rarely eaten up.
Overall Score: 9/10
“You’ll Float Too…”
Following in the footsteps of The Dark Tower earlier this year, the release of It is of course yet another cinematic adaptation of a novel from horror aficionado Stephen King and similarly is a story of which I have read from top to bottom, a particular strain when considering its’ mammoth 1400 plus page count, and whilst many regard the 1990 miniseries starring Tim Curry with high esteem, there is no doubting its’ staggered weariness since its’ release, particularly in regards to the cheap effects and corny dialogue which encompassed much of television serials for that particular period in time. With Mama director Andy Muschietti steadying the ship and King’s blessings showered over its’ production, the time for a contemporary adaptation of arguably King’s most iconic novel has been highly anticipated since the first murmurings of its’ release were afoot, and with the film following the natural course of a plain sailing narrative by focusing primarily on the story of the children and leaving the elder’s tales until the sequel, It has the capacity to be up there with the best King adaptations to date. With a script which is as faithful to the source material as perhaps practically possible, Muschetti has effectively managed to craft a crowd-pleasing modern day horror classic, one which combines the fearlessness of youth with rib-tickling comedy and of course, the underlying element of utmost terror, one which is amalgamated within the form of a simply terrifying incarnation of King’s most disturbing creation thus far.
Switching the 1950’s era of the novel to the late 1980’s, a period of time consisting of cinemas showing A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 and sounds of The Cult and The Cure, It begins in the horrific, iconic fashion of the source material, using the death of Georgie Denbrough as effective characterisation for both brother Bill and Bill Skarsgård’s portrayal of Pennywise, and whilst the death of a minor is always difficult to portray upon the big screen, Muschietti’s decision to act strictly within the confines of the film’s highly deserved 15 rating is both shocking and ballsy, but too a decision which ultimately benefits the sadistic and murderous nature of the film’s titular villain, and with Skarsgård’s portrayal of Pennywise carrying the fearful threat which made the character so powerful within the novel, each and every time his character appears on-screen either in clown form or the many other disguises depicted, the fundamental uncertainty of clowns which I believe resonates in almost everyone is absolutely and undeniably terrifying. With minimalistic, subverted facial twitches, surrealist voice cues and the bonus of added digital effects, the world has finally found the definitive portrayal of Pennywise, and although Tim Curry’s performance will always be admired by many of a certain ilk, Skarsgård’s interpretation is the character I totally envisioned when reading the novel and from a person who tends not to fall under the spell of jump scares, Skarsgård’s Pennywise managed to both fill me with terror and make me check my pants after a collection of effectively maneuvered horror set pieces.
In regards to both members and enemies of the Losers Club, casting director Rich Delia is arguably the real hero of the movie, accumulating an ensemble cast of primarily youth-inflicted, un-established talent which transcribes on-screen as pretty much perfect in terms of each respective character’s transition from paper to screen, and whilst the depth of characterisation prevalent in the novel was always impossible to fit into a two hour movie, Muschietti manages to direct each individual with enough vigour and charm to establish themselves as wholly believable and empathetic. Whether it be the sadistic parenting of both Beverly Marsh and lead bully Henry Bowers or the overbearing figure of Eddie Kaspbrak’s anxious mother, the development of the characters has the desired effect whenever they are placed in a position of peril, and even though from reading the novel I was aware of where each of the character’s narrative threads was heading, the channeling of the brilliantly constructed cast makes the horror elements much more effective. In a sentence, you’ll scare because you care. Whilst the threat of Pennywise does lesser slightly come the concluding battle between forces both good and evil in the surroundings of Derry’s less than attractive sewering system and the CGI construction of particular monsters not being as effective as the titular leading character, Muschietti’s movie is a masterclass of how to transition a story from page to screen, and whilst It is only part one of the story to come, the culmination of a superbly intertwined genre-swapping narrative, a perfectly moulded cast and an unparallelled faithfulness to the novel, Muschietti’s film is not only a marvel of modern horror cinema, but it redefines how Hollywood should be treating its’ horror-loving audience. See you in 27 years.
Overall Score: 9/10
“Forgive Me, Father, For I Am About To Sin…”
Of all the contemporary horror franchises currently still running, The Conjuring universe is one which although isn’t as groundbreaking as many believe it is within the horror genre, still manages to succeed in some regard, primarily because of how much fun they are, with there always being enough effective jump-scares and spooky children to please the most mediocre of horror fans even when the plot lines are so strikingly familiar to horror enthusiasts. Whilst the cattle-prod approach of jump scare cinema isn’t at all what I deem as ingredients for a decent horror movie, the trope is becoming so well-worn in the current cinematic climate that to see horror films take any other approach is somewhat of a miracle, and whilst Annabelle: Creation isn’t exactly breaking the mould of what we have come to expect from the James Wan-led staple, the addition of Lights Out director David F. Sandberg alongside some enjoyably camp set pieces, the prequel/sequel to 2014’s Annabelle is good enough to warrant its’ existence, even when the narrative swings and overall themes don’t hold the tension and fear factor you expect from a classic horror.
With Sandberg in charge after his high-profile success with Lights Out, Creation is a movie which focuses extensively on the quintessential notion that darkness and the absence of light results completely in absorbing the audience into a state of fear, and whilst the spooky factor begins well for the first half of the movie, as soon as the movie shows it’s hand and reveals the rather clunky demonic presence at the heart of the movie, the tension does inevitably fall apart. With endless shots of lightbulbs either exploding or magically decreasing in strength, Sandberg’s abnormal obsession with such basic horror tropes does become rather grating come the ramped-up final act, yet for the first hour or so, the haunted house formula and multiple usage of camera angles which focus on either ambiguous presences or the rounded, creepy face of the titular porcelain doll are solid enough to keep the interest held, even when questionable decisions from our leading characters puts such comforts at some sort of risk. Creation isn’t a masterpiece, but I can safely say I was never bored and for the time it was on screen, Sandberg’s big budget debut passed the time nicely.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Your Mum Was Tough At First. And Then We Had Our First Kiss, And I Understood…”
Whilst not the most delightful of subject matters, the notion of cannibalism has been rife within horror cinema ever since the exploitation days of the mid-to-late 20th century when films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust highlighted the cinematic pleasure of watching controversial subject matter erupt on the big screen and blow raspberries at many who believed such stories simply could not be classed as any form of legitimate entertainment. Whilst the days of video nasties have thankfully been and gone, the idea of cannibalism still remains to this day, and with the release of Raw, a French-Belgian production directed by Julia Ducournau, cannibalism has never been presented so ripe or ridiculously enjoyable, with the movie blending seamlessly elements of comedy, romance and shock-tastic body horror, culminating in an experience which is not only effective in its’ sheer willingness to exploit the squeamish nature of its’ audience but one which lives long in the memory or quite possibly, your nightmares.
Dropped off by her parents in order to start her education at veterinary school, dedicated vegetarian, Justine (Garance Marillier) is swiftly integrated into the dedicated rituals of the school’s “elders”, of which her sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf) is already an integral part of. After being forced to surrender her will and consume a raw rabbit kidney as part of the school’s initiation, Justine begins to experience a dramatic change in both body and mind, resulting in a realisation regarding not only herself but others around her. Whilst the shock-tactic set pieces within the movie are the elements which are bound to either disgust or delight the movie’s audience, the underlying black comedy within the both the narrative and direction place Raw in completely its’ own category, and whilst the film obviously owes a debt to the jet-black seriousness of We Are What We Are and its’ subsequent American remake, traits of the likes of The Neon Demon, Let the Right One In and even Black Swan are all visible in the movie’s genetic makeup even when it is undoubtedly an original release in its’ own right.
In the leading role, Garance Marillier is absolutely superb in attempting to portray a conflicted youth struggling to contain her inevitable and violent change, and with the aid of some juicy and flawless practical effects and brilliant sound design, particular set pieces including a nightmarish desire for scratching and a shaving incident gone terribly wrong, are as wonderful in their sheer execution as they are joyously terrible to observe. Not for a long time has a film been so outlandish in its’ sense of exploitation greatness that I have resorted to covering my eyes in fear of scaring my mind and although some may even regard such sequences as overtly stupid and seemingly searching for the cheapest of thrills, my response to such was one of utmost bliss even when admiring it through partially closed fingers. If exploitation horror is simply what you want from a particular movie, Raw is a much bigger and better beast than simply just that, and when contemplating the likes of The Handmaiden and Elle, Ducournau’s big-screen debut continues to prove that foreign language exploits are sometimes leagues above the likes of their English-speaking counterparts, particularly when it comes to horror.
Overall Score: 8/10
“You Can’t Trust Anyone But Family…”
Learning his cinematic craft on the set of not one, nor two but three Terrence Malick productions including the staggeringly beautiful The Tree of Life, American filmmaker Trey Edward Shults follows on from his critically acclaimed debut, Krisha, this week with It Comes at Night, a psychological horror movie which features The Gift’s Joel Edgerton in the leading role and a movie which seems to have somewhat drifted under the propaganda radar, resulting in the first time in a while in which I head into a movie having no idea or preconceptions about what I am about to witness on-screen. Whether this is an element which ultimately damages or aids a particular release, there is a sense of thrilling ambiguity being unaware of a film’s direction, particularly in regards to a horror movie, and what we have with It Comes at Night is a staggeringly bleak, yet wholly effective white-knuckle thriller, one which uses its’ minimalist surroundings to outstanding use and a movie which perfectly showcases the acting talents of one Joel Edgerton, an actor who seems to have found his perfect hunting ground in order to grind out the best he has to offer upon the big screen.
Set in the aftermath of an unknown, ambiguous, worldwide pandemic, It Comes at Night focuses primarily on Edgerton’s Paul, the husband and father figure of a survivalist family destined to keep safe in the midst of the darkened wilderness who are suddenly forced to surrender their safety for the greater good when they come across another trio of survivors who too are desperate for survival. With a narrative edge as bleak and nihilistic as films such as The Road and even at times, The Mist, It Comes at Night is a effective mix of psychological and body horror, one which echoes a wide range of previous films from 28 Days Later to last year’s The Girl With All the Gifts, particularly in regards to its’ underlying notion of disease and contagion, and with cinematography which makes the likes of Seven look like a Disney movie, the jet black colour pallet adds to the ghostly air of uncertainty which embraces the viewer and leaves the audience with a sense of never really knowing where the tension is directly heading. Whilst the violence and dastardly dark plot turns result in the movie not exactly being for all audiences, for someone who loved the likes of The Witch and The Neon Demon recently, It Comes at Night is independent horror at it’s most effective.
Overall Score: 8/10
“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.