“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.
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.