“When I Was A Kid, There Was A Place, A Dark Place. They Closed It Down, And Let It Rot. But The Things That Live There, They Come Back…”
With Hollywood at a particular period in cinematic history where every single word written by the steady hand of Stephen King is set for some form of live action adaptation, with the release of Pet Sematary and It: Chapter Two alone this year resulting in very successful box office returns, the release of Doctor Sleep this week reminds that the best King adaptation in the form of Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece, The Shining, has yet to be truly tested even after nearly forty years. With King’s original novel undoubtedly one of his most iconic and well regarded by literary readers, the fear of any sequel to the tale of the Torrance’s and the Overlook Hotel were first raised when Doctor Sleep was published in 2013, and whilst King’s novel passed the time nicely during my university years with some interesting ideas and charming call backs to its’ predecessor, the narrative never held the same sense of supernatural wonder that the 1977 original novel had in spades. Cue the big screen adaptation therefore, one directed by the overly impressive skills of horror aficionado, Mike Flanagan, the mind behind both Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House series and of course, Stephen King’s own, Gerald’s Game, and what we have is a movie which succeeds in paying both homage to Kubrick’s classic horror and staying as faithful to the novel of Doctor Sleep as humanly practicable, a decision which ultimately simultaneously both hinders and supports Flanagan’s latest big screen project.
With Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining only carrying a slight sense of faithfulness to the source material in the first place, Flanagan’s movie directly follows events which take place in the 1980 horror classic after a decision was made that most people heading into Doctor Sleep would have probably seen Kubrick’s portrayal of events rather than read the original text, and with a central narrative which follows a now alcoholic and middle-aged Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) and his discovery of both others who “shine” and Rebecca Ferguson’s (Mission Impossible: Fallout) band of vampire-esque killers who feed off the “steam” of those inflicted with the power of the shining, Flanagan’s movie for those who would not have read the novel is a substantial diversion from the confines of the Overlook Hotel. Blending mystery, scenes of downright horrific violence and a really beautiful genre aesthetic, Doctor Sleep does have elements of real intrigue, even for someone who has read the source material, but at a staggering two and a half hours, the movie doesn’t half drag at times, particularly when we are exposed to utterly blasphemic reconstructions of scenes from Kubrick’s original movie and a tendency to focus on particular characters who suffer from a unhealthy balance of being both uninteresting and underwritten. The Shining it is not, but as a direct adaptation of a middling King novel, Flanagan’s movie is good enough but fails to ignite the sense of haunting wonder its’ predecessor continues to evoke even after nearly forty years.
Overall Score: 6/10
“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
“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 name. Produced 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
“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
“Miles Isn’t Like Other Kids. His Intelligence Is Off The Charts. I Don’t Have An Exact Score, But It’ll Be Very High…”
Following on from The Hole in the Ground this month by being yet another horror movie fascinated with the eeriness of creepy children, The Prodigy, is the third big screen release from American filmmaker, Nicholas McCarthy, who returns to cinemas after the horror one-two of The Pact and At the Devil’s Door. Featuring a screenplay from Jeff Buhler, a writer behind both the upcoming Pet Sematary and Nicolas Pesce’s remake of The Grudge due to be released in 2020, The Prodigy sees Taylor Schilling (Orange is the New Black) as Sarah Blume, a middle class wife and mother to Jackson Robert Scott’s (It – Chapter One) Miles, a talented and extraordinarily smart eight year old boy who soon begins to show violent tendencies and strange desires, resulting in Sarah attempting to find a cure or a reason for her son’s sudden change in temperament and spirit which may or may not have anything to do with the death of a local deranged serial killer. Blending a narrative mix of The Omen and Lynne Ramsay’s excellent, We Need To Talk About Kevin, The Prodigy is a film which has an awful amount of interesting ideas but slightly fails as a whole due to cliche after cliche and an overarching sense that we’ve definitely seen this all before.
Beginning in a very interesting fashion as we open up with a The Texas Chainsaw Massacre-esque prisoner escape as we cut back and forth between the discovery and subsequent death of Paul Fauteux’s Ted Bundy inspired mass murderer and the birth of Miles, the opening act shifts through eight years of early life development as we see the heterochromia laden offspring of Schilling’s Sarah progress from eerily silent baby to first school genius. With Scott making waves as the softly spoken Georgie in Andy Muschietti’s outstanding It from 2017, McCarthy clearly sees The Prodigy as his own re-imagining of The Omen, with Scott’s bowl shaped haircut and sudden behavioural changes making me sort of hoping someone would have checked the back of his neck to see if both the numbers 666 and a copyright symbol were burned into it. Whilst the film lacks in abundance any sort of originality, the tonal shifts between knowing horror and cattle-prod jump scares are actually rather well done, with one dream sequence in particular managing to make me shout a rather expletive heavy sentence loud enough for the entire cinema to hear, and whilst McCarthy’s latest is neither terrifying or memorable, for the time it was on, it did the job and left without harming anyone whatsoever.
Overall Score: 5/10
“You Know What They Say. If An Exorcism Isn’t Completed, Evil Will Find A New Vessel…”
With the horror genre in general throughout 2018 managing to have one its’ most successful years in recent history, with the past twelve months offering up a wide range of interesting, superbly entertaining and, particularly in the case of Hereditary, unrelentingly nightmarish new examples of the well-trodden format, it seems both an oddity and a shame to leave the year on such a false note with The Possession of Hannah Grace, an ideas-based horror flick which fails to hit the heavy heights of its’ similarly genred pals and fall instead more into the here-we-go-again cattle-prod cinema audiences more than ever are getting more and more accustomed to. Directed by Dutch filmmaker, Diederik Van Rooijen, and based on a script from Brian Sieve, whose previous credits include the television adaptation of Scream and um, the awkward one-two of Boogeyman 2 and 3, The Possession of Hannah Grace, originally entitled Cadaver, follows Shay Mitchell (Pretty Little Liars) as Megan Reed, a grieving ex-cop and recovering alcoholic who takes the thankless role of a night shift morgue worker who swiftly comes across the battered corpse of young Hannah Grace, a seemingly innocent murder victim found hacked and burnt to death on the streets of Boston with a mysterious past regarding her involvement in a devilish exorcism attempt gone horribly wrong.
Opening with the titular exorcism attempt, Van Rooijen’s movie immediately lays down the movie’s wildly chaotic cinematic cards, with the overblown, nonsensical and rather quite silly introduction resulting in one particular laugh out loud moment of unintentional absurdity which begins the failed attempt of the film to hold down a central feeling of dramatic pull which every single effective horror piece fundamentally needs to get spot on. With low budget violence, creaky digital effects and an over reliance on Ringu inspired creepy dead girl gurns, the movie’s eighty minute runtime after the initial opening set piece circles in a Groundhog Day esque roundabout as we see our leading lady attempt to get to the bottom of mysterious doings within the morgue, including not-so-secure security doors and the miraculous recovery of wounds on the body of the recently obtained, Hannah Grace. Whilst there is undoubtedly an interesting and spooky idea at the heart of the movie regarding isolation of our leading heroine within a surgically clean open-aired basement with dodgy light installation, the movie unfortunately falls into the same traps many small release American horrors do by resorting to predictable jump scares and particularly dodgy character deaths to one dimensional side characters with as much substance and personality as a freshly made cadaver, but with a committed central performance from Mitchell and rather swift runtime, Rooijen’s big time debut is undoubtedly weak and iffy, but not as awful as it could have been.
Overall Score: 4/10
“I Fear That The Only Way To Stop Those Possessed By The Spirits Of The Book Is Through The Act Of… Bodily Dismemberment…”
Whilst most people on Halloween will either take their children out trickle treating in the hope of gathering an excessive and overly unhealthy cauldron of sweets or skip to the nearest pub on the lookout for a pint of Hobgoblin or any other seasonally styled alcoholic beverage, thank Satan himself that neither of those two options are available when a film such as Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead comes back into cinemas, a familiar feeling following on from last year when audiences across the country were treated to Stanley Kubrick’s similarly masterful, The Shining, in what for many was probably the first time seeing such a film on the big screen. Released in 1981 on a shoestring budget and quickly being stamped as part of the collective list of “video nasty’s” due to its’ staggeringly over the top levels of violence, The Evil Dead remains to this day the go-to horror cult classic, a film which manages to blend the genres of horror and jet-black comedy with utmost ease and one which solidified a blossoming bromance between director and actor, Bruce Campbell, whose cameo appearances in the many Raimi-led features since comes down to the excellence of a film which even after repeat viewings is downright outrageous and shockingly entertaining.
Whilst the notion of the “cabin in the woods” horror narrative strand today seems overly tiresome and horrendously cliched, the influence of The Evil Dead on the likes of Drew Goddard’s Cabin in the Woods and even at a stretch, Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, simply reinforces the powerful and nightmarish vision which was encapsulated by Raimi and his cast of unknown, bit-part actors back at the beginning of the 1980’s, and whilst the likes of The Last House on the Left previously offered horror audiences arguably the starkest vision of the genre at the time, Raimi’s vision was built on a mix of laugh-out-loud gross humour and extremely surrealist imagery involving simple but effective special effects and a whole lot of ruby red fake blood. Whilst parts of the movie still remain controversial to this day, particularly the infamous woodland tree scene, which even in the realm of the twenty first century still feels slightly misjudged, the bizarre soundtrack and maniacal camera work still has the desired effect it first had when watching The Evil Dead in my youth, and with the brilliance of hindsight, without Raimi’s most iconic feature there would have been potentially no Spider-Man, the film which arguably brought the superhero cinematic universe into the crazed franchise it is today, so when you buy your ticket to watch one of the greatest horror movies of all time on the big screen once again, remember, Avengers: Infinity War exists because of it. Sort of.
Overall Score: 9/10
“The Abbey Has A Long History. Not All Good…”
Presenting itself as the fifth entry in the surprisingly successful The Conjuring franchise which began in 2013 with James Wan’s ferociously entertaining opening chapter, The Nun, directed by British filmmaker, Corin Hardy, takes the franchise back even further into the past as we see Taissa Farmiga’s (American Horror Story) Sister Irene venture into Romania circa 1952 alongside Demián Bichir’s (The Hateful Eight) Father Burke in order to investigate the recent suicide of a nun from the local abbey. With an abundance of torrid genre conventions and cliches, laughable special effects and a tiresome reliance on boring, repetitive jump scares, Hardy’s addition to The Conjuring franchise is undoubtedly the weakest entry yet, a movie which fails to ignite the interest which its’ predecessors carried in spades thanks to a complete ignorance of movie-making fundamentals including a paper thin plot and borderline insulting levels of characterisation which results in The Nun being a painful and overly ridiculous supernatural horror which jerks at the chance to create something special with what is undoubtedly a horrifying and spooky titular character.
With Hardy’s only previous cinematic endeavour so far being 2015’s The Hallow, a trashy, supernatural horror B-movie, its’ no real surprise that The Nun covers similar ground, with an over-inflated mist budget and creepy religious landmarks setting the stage up with open arms for a movie which you are praying (no pun intended) makes the most of its’ many fundamentally spooky elements. Unfortunately, with an utterly dire script by horror aficionado Gary Dauberman (It) where plot is overshadowed by dour set pieces in which scares are few and even jump-scares are awfully timed, Hardy fails to grab the attention of even the most lenient of horror audiences, and with the added impotence of some overly hokey performances by the likes of Jonas Bloquet (Elle) as “Frenchie” a try-hard, mopey local who deserves to die the moment the audience lays eyes on him, The Nun becomes more of a laugh out loud comedy as it claws its’ way towards a finish line which crow-bars its’ very faint relation to the wider The Conjuring universe. With Taissa Farmiga following in the footsteps of her sister (The Conjuring’s Vera Farmiga) by undoubtedly being the best part of the film, The Nun isn’t entirely woeful, it’s just a movie in which its’ trailer is a much scarier and tighter work of horror than the full feature.
Overall Score: 4/10
“For Those Who Hear The Three Bell, Accept His Invitation…”
Based upon the infamous fictional, supernatural figure which began life as an internet meme created by Eric Knudsen back in 2009, Slender Man, directed by French filmmaker, Sylvain White, brings the character to life upon the big screen after time well spent within both the video game format and inspired-by low-budget movies including Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story in 2015 in which Doug Jones of Pan’s Labyrinth fame portrayed a character with familiar lanky body features. With a focus on attempting to mould the titular character into a somewhat cranky and generic storytelling facade with a staggeringly obvious point of reference being strangely aimed at Ringu and the subsequent American remake, The Ring, Slender Man is a complete and utter failure of horror cinema, a movie which seems to not bother at all in adding believable characters and instead uses the film’s youthful cast as cardboard cut-outs in order for the action to instead focus more so on baffling imagery and ridiculously over-cooked jump scares which all take place upon a colour palette which was so unbelievably dark that I had to check whether there was enough room in the film’s budget for the lighting department. As you may be able to tell, Slender Man is utter pants.
After a group of young friends decide to summon the mythical man himself, a character designed in the film as a somewhat CGI hybrid of The Silence from Doctor Who and a wooden artist manikin, it comes at no surprise whatsoever that the quartet of buzz-induced younglings begin to experience strange, nightmarish visions of the suit-wearing being of whom they attempted to contact in the first place. Cue meaningless cattle-prod scares, awful dialogue and wacky dream sequences, White’s movie tries to blend the youthful sensibility of a film such as It with a much darker, ice-cold tone, but with a complete absence of empathy for the leading cast who conform unsurprisingly to the a-typical horror movie cannon fodder, the audience spends ninety minutes anticipating the arrival of the titular villain but quickly become bored to death due to a complete lack of threat and belief in anything which happens on screen. With a concluding act which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, the film ends leaving an awfully scented taste in the mouth regarding what might have been for the film in the hands of better filmmakers, and even with the use of Funkadelic’s brilliant “Maggot Brain” on the soundtrack, Slender Man is the worst type of horror movie possible, a generic, wasteful, and utterly bland sludge-fest with very little redeeming features worthy of anyone’s time.
Overall Score: 3/10
“I Just Don’t Want To Put Any More Stress On My Family…”
Within the pantheon of modern-day horror cinema releases, only a few since the turn of the twenty first century have truly managed to encompass the sense of true terror that only the best examples of the genre always create, and with the overly worn out “cattle-prod” franchises still continuing to be admired by particular audiences who believe horror cinema simply relies on cheap jump scares, the rare chance a particular filmmaker comes along and offers something fresh to the genre is one that should always be admired and supported. Step forward director Ari Aster, a young American filmmaker whose debut feature, Hereditary, conforms to a style of horror cinema which is as tantalising to see explored within a mainstream setting as it is genuinely unsettling and and down-right evil, a film which wears its’ obvious inspirations on its’ sleeve but still manages to feel both unique and original, and one with a particular ominous and uncomfortable tone which for some, may seem just too much to handle. With superb performances from its’ central familial quartet, staggeringly unsettling imagery and set pieces which verge on the edge of full-throttle nightmare, Aster’s big-screen breakthrough is not only a perfectly constructed movie but a masterful example of the horror genre at its’ most inventive and gut-wrenching.
Beginning in a familiar, ghost story-esque setting, the death of the Graham family matriarch brings with it supernatural stirrings, unravelled secrets and a claustrophobic sense of death’s presence remaining within the confines of an Amytiville-inspired household, complete with creaky doors, unkempt attic’s and tree house which emits a seething, blood-red shadow whenever occupied. With Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense) as Annie, the grieving mother of two whose skills as a miniaturist artist seem to help her cope with the sudden loss of her secretive mother, her newly found role as head of the family brings with it startling realisations about the previous pastimes of her mother as she finds solace in the hands of Ann Dowd’s Joan, a similarly grieving mother figure who attempts to aid Annie through her struggles. With the screenplay beginning with a contemplation on the effect of death and the psychological power it can evoke within the human spirit in a very Don’t Look Now thematic sensibility, the early ghostly imagery lays a solid foundation of skin-crawling creepiness which echoes the oddity of Personal Shopper and the horror-realism of Robert Eggers’ The Witch, and with the first act fixed on developing the destructive nature of a family teetering on the edge of collapse, the cold and brooding tone of the first hour is well executed, even when at times the editing pace holds particular camera shots for just a few seconds too long.
After a powerful and stunningly played midway twist, one which leaves you in a gasping and spell-binding state of shock for pretty much the remainder of the movie, the increasing sense of dread which occurs as the direction of the action switches from ghostly chiller to full-on, teeth-rattling nightmare is simply unbearable at times in the best way horror-movie way possible, and with a staggeringly uncertain plot direction, the tension which transpires from a culmination of eerie soundtrack and imagery leaves you constantly on edge as you attempt to piece together and understand where the plot is ultimately heading. Whilst the movie does cave in at times to generic conventions which weaken its’ claim as “The Exorcist of the twentieth century”, particularly in its’ use of the tried and tested depiction of seances, the final act of Hereditary offers one of the most genuinely unnerving and oppressive works of cinema I have ever seen, and with a final twisty resolution which obviously picks at the likes of The Wicker Man and Ben Wheatley’s Kill List, Ari Aster’s stunning and deliciously twisted debut is a dark and twisted assault on the senses, a horror movie for genuine horror fans and a movie which features one of the most iconic leading genre performances by Toni Collette in years. Dread it, run from it, Hereditary still arrives and stamps its’ mark as the horror movie to experience this year.