Posts Tagged ‘horror’

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As a person, I love Rob Zombie.

As an artist, I appreciate his aesthetic.

As a director, Rob Zombie is a mixed bag trying to make an impact on the industry.

With his movies, I feel like a heroin addict chasing the dragon. It’s been more than 10 years since Rob Zombie’s best and only good movie, The Devil’s Rejects. I remember watching it in theaters when I was in high school, and I can’t tell you how many times I have watched it since. The Devil’s Rejects was fun, funny, and violent with a purpose. For the last decade, it feels like Rob Zombie has been trying to re-capture that magic. While Rob Zombie and John Carpenter have buried the hatchet regarding the recent “feud” regarding Zombie’s Halloween remakes, I agree with Carpenter’s sentiments—those movies were uninspired and unnecessary. I had no idea Rob Zombie’s Halloween II even existed.

After the success of The Devil’s Rejects, Rob Zombie was a hired gun on those Halloween remakes. It failed miserably, but Zombie still has talent as a director. In order to make his fucked-up vision a reality, I believe it needs to be an original Rob Zombie creation. Lords of Salem had promise as a story written by Rob Zombie, but it was so dreadfully boring and bogged down with exposition.

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When I heard about the premise of 31, I admit to being excited. The only thing I knew was the very basic ideathat some sadistic clowns kidnap a group of people and play a game to kill them one-by-one. Simple enough to catch my attention. Unfortunately, Rob Zombie doesn’t capitalize on the promise of that premise because the set-up is convoluted and full of tired old horror cliches.

Essentially, this movie feels like The Purge: Circus Clowns. Throw in a bit of the campy nature of the “stalkers” from The Running Man, and then you have the end result of 31. There are elements here that could have and should have made this an entertaining gore show. It’s pure speculation, but I imagine Rob Zombie’s decision to crowdfund this project impacted the bottom-line and his ability to translate this vision to film. But maybe that’s just an excuse that I’m making for him.

By setting the movie in the mid-70’s, Rob Zombie immediately gives 31 the same exact vibe of House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects. That was not a wise decision, in my opinion. I understand if that was out of necessity to make the film cheaper, but it only comes across like Rob Zombie going to the ol’ familiar well yet again. I’ve had enough of this style—I wanted something new.

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My expectations for 31 weren’t unreasonable. Is an original horror movie too much to ask?

I have no explanation for the goofy self-imposed rules of the game that restrict the movie’s creativity. Case in point: the captured group of traveling carnies has to survive 12 hours in this compound against these killer clowns from nowhere. Do you know what movie franchise also has a 12-hour time frame of trying to survive a murder romp? The Purge! It’s the foundation of the whole franchise.

It’s a moronic decision that helps the audience continue to draw lines to other, better movies.

There’s also no reason for Malcolm McDowell to be in this movie other than the fact that he’s Malcolm McDowell. That’s enough of a reason most of the time. In 31, Malcolm McDowell (as Father Murder) is dressed up like a tranny with a powdered wig and makeup as if he is a British aristocrat. Along with Sister Serpent (played by Jane Carr) and Sister Dragon (Judy Geeson), the audience is led to believe that these three family members play the annual game of 31 where they employ sadistic clowns to murder the captives while they gamble on the odds and what happens.

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None of that makes any fucking sense, but I could have still forgiven 31 if the movie delivered its share of gruesome deaths and campy horror. Why couldn’t the set-up be simplified to a mysterious haunted house that pops up and opens the night before Halloween for a freak show of horrors? Since it’s Devil’s Night, the haunted house only invites 31 people and then they play their game.

A haunted house is fertile ground for weird, crazy shit to happen in a horror movie. Funhouse mirrors, strobing black lights, confusing mazes, and so many more opportunities to scare the audience. With the approach Rob Zombie actually employs, this movie comes across as a bad survival-horror video game. When the captured group of carnies wake up inside the game, they’re separated and each person is given some type of weapon—table leg, baseball bat, crowbar, and so on.

Despite dedicating a significant portion of the movie on these carnies, I had no emotional investment in any of them. Kevin Jackson played Levon, Meg Foster played Venus, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs played Panda, Jeff Daniel Phillips played Roscoe, and Sheri Moon Zombie played Charly. Many will have an issue with Sheri Moon’s casting, but she is a serviceable actress in a horror movie.

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In 31, she’s miscast as the main character, but I had several more important issues with this movie. Personally, I find it hard to blame Rob Zombie for wanting to put his wife in everything. However, an easy potential improvement would’ve been to make her play the character of Venus.

While the acting left a lot to be desired, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs’s portrayal of Panda was probably the biggest offense. The Jamaican accent that Hilton-Jacobs utilizes is horrendous. It’s a worthy entry in the Pantheon of Shitty Movie Accents. I wanted Panda dead as soon as I heard that accent.

Among the captured carnies, Jeff Daniel Phillips is the most likeable character—no surprise since he’s also the best actor out of the bunch. Roscoe was deserving of a substantially larger role, but the actor did an impressive job with the material. Count his relegation as another missed opportunity.

In comparison to the charisma-free victims, the clowns infuse some amusement at various points. In 31, these clowns are called The Heads: Sick-Head, Psycho-Head, Schizo-Head, Death-Head, Sex-Head, and Doom-Head. Stupid names aside, the clowns are differing degrees of fun.

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For a bizarre reason, the first clown to enter the game is Sick-Head (played admirably by Pancho Moler), who is a midget dressed up like a tiny little Hispanic Hitler clown—complete with a giant swastika on his chest. Psycho-Head and Schizo-Head are chainsaw-wielding clown brothers. Death and Sex feel like a dumb tacked-on BDSM duo, but I was dumbfounded to discover that the voice of Tommy Pickles from Rugrats (Elizabeth Daily) played Sex-Head. This could be seen as an insult, but I just assumed it was an old, washed-up porn star when I heard her childish voice.

Without question, Richard Brake was the shining beacon of joy as Doom-Head. I was always creeped out whenever his ugly mug graced the screen. There’s a scene where Doom-Head is fucking a whore from behind while watching Nosferatu. I don’t think Richard Brake has an ounce of fat on him so he looks like a skeleton with skin tightly stretched over the bones. His silhouette is haunting.

Doom-Head delivers an intense, menacing monologue to open the movie. That introduction was the most memorable part of the movie, but 31 failed to capitalize on that momentum. The action doesn’t pick back up until the audience is re-introduced to Doom-Head much later. After watching this performance, I want to travel to the alternate universe where Richard Brake is playing The Joker.

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I wanted to love this movie. After watching 31, it was hard to find aspects to even like—let alone love. Although this was a massive disappointment and wasted opportunity, I’m still trying to mine the movie for positives. It hurts me to say such bad things about one of my favorite entertainers.

If you only look at the editing and transitions, 31 seems like a severe regression as a movie for Rob Zombie. I know he’s a capable director, but those freeze frames and fades were the hallmarks of an amateur filmmaker. Baffling decisions were abound in this movie.

But yet, Rob Zombie still had an ace up his sleeve. We’re talking about a movie that focuses on sadistic killer clowns that doesn’t use Rob Zombie’s best clown. Where the fuck was Captain Spaulding?

Even if you keep literally everything else the same, including Captain Spaulding could have increased the overall rating of the movie by 2 stars for me. I demand more Sid Haig in my life. Since 31 chronologically took place before the settings of House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects, it was possible to make this a prequel of sorts to show what Captain Spaulding was up to before connecting with the Firefly Family. Captain Spaulding would’ve wiped his ass with both of groups of these sorry sacks of shit (carnies and clowns) before eating bucket of fried chicken and tutti-fuckin-fruity ice cream.

“What’s the matter, kid?

Don’t ya like clowns? Why? Don’t we make ya laugh? Aren’t we fuckin’ funny? You best come up with an answer. Cuz I’m gonna come back here and check on you and your momma, and if you ain’t got a reason why you hate clowns, I’m gonna kill your whole fucking family.” — Captain Spaulding

Despite being disappointed with the way 31 turned out, I’m not ready to give up chasing the dragon yet. The Devil’s Rejects represents the best of contemporary horror movies while 31 is an example of the genre’s worst offerings. I’m willing to give Rob Zombie movies one more chance.

If another fatally flawed film is exposed, then I’ll have to cut him off forever.

stutter

1.5 out of 5 stars

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Don’t Breathe is almost awesome. Almost. It doesn’t quite hit that perfect mark.

Despite its flaws, Don’t Breathe still reigns supreme over every other current box office offering. Don’t spend your money on anything else in theaters right now. Granted, September is such a shitty month for new releases, but this movie is a tense, somewhat mysterious nail-biter.

I don’t know if I would necessarily label Don’t Breathe as a horror movie, but it is an effective thriller with common horror elements. If you categorize it in the horror genre, then Don’t Breathe is one of the best horror movies over the past few years. This film is substantially better than the creative but uneven It Follows as well as the unimaginably boring and overhyped The Babadook. While Don’t Breathe serves up its fair share of chilling scenarios, this movie doesn’t take itself too seriously.

It’s a difficult balancing act. At times, Don’t Breathe even borders on intensely creepy. However, there were also a few over-the-top goofy moments to instill fun. I wanted more of that batshit crazy feeling from someone like Sam Raimi—who was actually a producer on this movie.

Don’t Breathe is the rare type that manages to be simultaneously entertaining and frustrating.

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This movie opens with one of my biggest pet peeves: a flash-forward to later in the film.  This scene shows The Blind Man (played perfectly by Stephen Lang) dragging a blonde girl down the street. For anyone with a brain, too much information is revealed in that quick span. I found myself impatiently waiting for the movie to catch up to that moment, which only happens somewhere in the third act. You cheapen the journey when you advertise the destination at the very beginning.

Who do that?  It adds nothing and makes no narrative sense.

In the most basic terms, that weird storytelling crutch immediately lets the audience know The Blind Man isn’t really the sympathetic victim you might expect from someone who is the target of a robbery. Although people have relentlessly bitched about The Blind Man’s actions and motivations, I’m completely fine with moral ambiguity. I don’t need a good person to root for in a movie.

Just let me discover the characters as the events unfold.

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Rocky, Alex, and Money are the three teenagers who have turned to robbing homes to make enough money to hopefully leave Detroit. I can certainly understand why everyone would want to leave that shithole. Detroit actually serves as a phenomenal backdrop for a horror movie with numerous neighborhoods completely abandoned. Since Alex uses the keys from his dad’s security company, these ne’er-do-wells never use a gun because there are no people in the house when they execute the robbery. Alex is played admirably by Dylan Minnette—who always looks familiar, but you can never quite put your finger on where or why you remember him. Money is your standard, cookie-cutter thug and Daniel Zovatto plays him in  forgettable fashion. Cornrows always look ridiculous on white people. The best out of this funky bunch is Rocky—played by Jane Levy, who more people should know from the underrated and criminally short-lived network TV comedy Suburgatory.

The entire reason these teenagers target The Blind Man is because his daughter was run over by a wealthy woman. He was awarded a $300,000 settlement that’s likely still in his house. This is probably the point where you should start to feel bad for The Blind Man, but that sympathy already started eroding a bit after seeing him drag a blonde girl down the street in the opening. Naturally, everything is not quite as it seems once the teenagers break into the Blind Man’s house.

To this movie’s credit, the twists and turns keep the story moving while making the audience creep closer and closer to the edge of their seats. When The Blind Man’s sinister intentions are revealed, Don’t Breathe takes a real dark turn. Even though he’s an Army veteran who just lost his daughter, The Blind Man is a bad guy. Bad guys do bad things. No one should be surprised when that happens.

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I’m carefully trying not to spoil Don’t Breathe, but I think the success of this movie is in the discussion afterwards. Horror movies don’t often generate conversations, but it’s hard not to talk about the third act of Don’t Breathe. Unfortunately, the movie suffers from the absolute inability of the writers (director Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues) to end the story. I counted six different conclusions included in the filming that they could have reasonably settled on to just finish the fucking movie.

Don’t Breathe mercifully ends with a disappointing standard horror cliché. In between the regrettably bad beginning and sloppy endings, there is an incredibly engaging and entertaining thriller. Although I set the bar high because it has a promising premise, this is easily a more memorable movie than the overwhelming majority of garbage shown in theaters this summer.

I cannot guarantee everyone will enjoy Don’t Breathe. But I can guarantee you won’t look at turkey or even be able to think of Thanksgiving the same ever again.

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4 out of 5 stars

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Do not accept The Invitation.

Ignore the misdirection from critics, this is not an enjoyable experience.

In fact, I would nominate this as one of the worst dinner experiences captured on film.

The Invitation is a bizarre, boring mess developed from disjointed parts.

Within the first 5 minutes, there’s a casual mercy-killing of a coyote by someone with a tire iron after they accidentally hit it with their car on the way to a dinner party. That’s the type of movie you are in store for with The Invitation. A group of friends is gathering together in the Hollywood Hills for a dinner party hosted by Eden (played by Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband, David (played by Michiel Huisman). Eden is the ex-wife of Will (played by Logan Marshall-Green), and they separated after their child died a couple years ago. This party is the first time these friends have seen each other in more than 2 years. Even with that excuse, none of these people seemed like actual friends.

I praised Goodbye World because that movie brought together a cast of characters and managed to make them feel like they had authentic interactions. In The Invitation, no one seems like they want to be at this dinner party. I don’t blame them, I wouldn’t have wanted to be there either. Despite several openings, everyone decides to stay and suffer through the unwavering awkwardness.

Tammy Blanchard

The obvious elephant in the room this whole time is the death of Will and Eden’s son, Ty. Eden appears to have moved on with the help of David and a spiritual help group called “The Invitation.” Will is visibly still suffering and the movie shows flashbacks to their once loving, wholesome lives when their son was alive. At the dinner party, the tension between Eden and Will is clear and they blow up during an argument in front of everyone. I would have quickly gotten the hell out of there. However, Eden and David make things even more awkward by showing a video of someone dying by assisted suicide with the help of “The Invitation.” Needless to say, their sales pitch was not effective.

Although I was intrigued by the mystery of the setup, that momentum was not maintained.

I almost fell asleep thanks to glacial pacing and heavy reliance on flat dialogue between fake friends. While the intention may have been to build tension, I was bored by the whole sequence of events because it felt telegraphed and removed any hint of mystery. You know exactly where this movie is going, which makes the destination extremely disappointing when they finally arrive there.

The Invitation is interminably dull and not deserving of its self-imposed “thriller” label.

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Logan Marshall-Green is Tom Hardy’s doppelganger. He makes a lot of shocked faces with various expressions of dismay in this movie. Alas, he is Not Tom Hardy. Michiel Huisman is easily most known as Daario Naharis from Game of Thrones. I don’t recognize Tammy Blanchard from anything, but she has a face that perfectly portrays crazy—which was used beautifully in this movie.

No amount of great acting could have saved The Invitation. Not Tom Hardy acted his poor little heart out. But it still didn’t change the fact that he’s Not Tom Hardy. Daario is basically Daario. He is a suave character with mysterious intentions. The psychological chess match between Daario and Not Tom Hardy is the only interesting, ongoing dynamic, and they didn’t know each other before the party.

Daario and Not Tom Hardy

Clocking in at 1 hour and 40 minutes, the Invitation is a painful watch. I wanted to abort this movie after the first act. Why is this highly rated? While this is a polished effort from Karyn Kusama, the writing from Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi was not up to par with Kusama’s directing ability.

As a result, the Invitation is like an evening with an ether rag over your face.

Don’t be fooled by the buzz, this is not a good movie. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.

Bewildered

2 out of 5 stars

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For months now, I have been eagerly anticipating watching Green Room.

However, that anticipation turned to dread when I heard the awful news about Anton Yelchin.

I wish I had the opportunity to watch Green Room without the knowledge of his death in my head. It was inescapable—it was always on my mind whenever he was on the screen. Although I’m profoundly sad that I won’t get to see any more Anton Yelchin performances, this movie will forever serve as a superb reminder of his supreme talent. Anton was just one of many reasons to love this movie.

Anton Yelchin

Green Room is about a punk rock group called “The Ain’t Rights” who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. In particular, Anton Yelchin’s character (Pat) sees something he shouldn’t have seen in the green room of a neo-Nazi skinhead bar. It takes a little while to arrive at that point, but the story explodes from there. In the first act, there’s a strong sense of foreboding and impending doom.

The group has their backs against the wall as they are trapped in the green room while both parties try to determine what to do. One of the best lines in the movie comes from Macon Blair’s character, Gabe, “We’re not keeping you here, you’re just staying.” Gabe is the right-hand man of neo-Nazi leader Darcy who is played by Patrick Stewart. It is very clear who is in charge of this situation.

The other members of “The Ain’t Rights” are played by Alia Shawkat (Sam), Joe Cole (Reece), and Callum Turner (Tiger). You probably recognize Alia Shawkat as Maeby from Arrested Development and Joe Cole as John Shelby from Peaky Blinders. I had no idea who the hell Callum Turner was before this movie, but Turner joins Shawkat and Cole with impressive performances in their supporting roles. Writer/Director Jeremy Saulnier makes “The Ain’t Rights” a believable punk rock group.

The Ain't Rights

One of the hallmarks of Saulnier is his ability to create and capture gritty realism.

In that respect, Green Room is no different than Blue Ruin—Saulnier’s previous film. The violence is real and visceral. At one point, it is literally hard to stomach. Using the actual neo-Nazi movement in the Pacific Northwest as the backdrop only makes this movie feel more authentic.

Personally, I am a big fan of Jeremy Saulnier’s style. Although the story isn’t spectacular, Green Room is a claustrophobic thriller. While I was watching this movie, I couldn’t help but imagine myself in the same scenario. What would you do? Everyone wants to picture themselves as Rambo mowing through the bad guys. But the reality is that this group has nowhere to go. The odds are stacked against them.

Even if they manage to make it out of the green room alive, then they have to find a way out of the club. If they can escape the club alive, then they have to traverse the woods and find a way back to civilization from the middle of nowhere. There are no cops coming to save you.

Everyone’s fight-or-flight instincts are put to the ultimate test in this movie.

Green Room is incredibly bleak but unbelievably tense. I wish there was more of an entertaining element to mix up the dreary drama like some dark humor or an over-the-top performance from Patrick Stewart. But that’s just my desire for cinematic moments. Instead, Saulnier’s intention seems to be making unbelievably believable movies—as if he’s filming real life. His success is undeniable.

The evil in this movie is palpable. The force of their will feels unrelenting. As Patrick Stewart’s character (Darcy, leader of the neo-Nazis) says, “It’s not a party. It’ s a movement.” These villains are menacing in pursuit of their goal, but utterly practical in their determination to wipe out the opposition.

Patrick Stewart

This movie will continue to stick in my mind for several reasons. While Anton Yelchin will have further appearances in movies released after his death, Green Room is a fitting goodbye to such a talented young actor. You can see the promise Yelchin held through his performance as Pat. It was heartbreaking to see the fear in his eyes and to hear his voice crack while trying to handle the overwhelming pressure. Hopefully, people will eventually find this gem and enjoy Green Room as much as I did.

I hated to see this movie come to an end. I just wanted the ride to continue.

Ride

4.5 out of 5 stars

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Circle is the perfect movie to encapsulate this election season. Mind you, this movie has nothing to do with politics. But it is all about backstabbing and xenophobia. This is you, America.

Circle starts with 50 people who wake up in a mysterious dark room in two lines of a circle around a large black dome with strange red lights on the floor. Whenever someone tries to move from their circle or touch someone else, a warning alarm beeps. Heed the warning or suffer the consequences. If you step outside of your circle, the dome emits a bolt of energy and you are instantly dead.

The use of sound is an astounding addition to the movie. Pay attention to those cues.

Slowly, people start to wake up, but they have no recollection of what happened. Some people are frantic and find out one misstep (off your circle) is fatal. Regardless the method, someone must die every two minutes. A countdown signals the impending doom before the dome kills someone.

Circle completely fucks with your mind, but in a consensual manner.

Although the complete picture is still blurry, the pieces of the puzzle start to come together within the first 15 minutes. Everyone starts to remember that ships appeared in the sky and abducted people from the streets—referred to as a “giant space vacuum.” No one saw aliens or can recall anything else though. Everything just went dark and then they woke up in the ship. As this group of strangers tries to understand what happened, people are dying every two minutes. It is insanely tense.

Strangers

The veil of mystery is pulled back a bit when the people discover they are the ones who are determining who dies. Every person has an implant in their hand that enables them to vote for who will be executed. But you can only see who you are voting for—giving the appearance of anonymity.

Chaos explodes and everything descends into madness when people find out they have the power. Cliques emerge quickly and the initial strategy is to execute the elderly first in order to buy time. I’m not spoiling anything because this is the simple setup that’s outlined in the opening.

If this isn’t enough to hook you into watching, then perhaps you may be swayed by the fact that Circle is currently streaming on Netflix. I have watched this movie several times already and enjoyed it equally each time. This is unadulterated entertainment deserving of your eyeballs.

It is also a thought experiment to imagine how you would act and react in this situation.

The directions traveled in this movie are handled magnificently with a deft hand by writers-directors Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione. This is exactly how I think this would unravel in real life with everything descending into madness and manipulation. What would you do to try to save yourself? Is it even possible to save yourself? Would you give up in the face of these overwhelming odds?

As you can imagine, everything is on the table for judgment. Moral superiority becomes a recurring theme as people try to do anything they can to gain the high ground. Surprisingly, Circle has more layers than you might expect from a sci-fi thriller because it’s not afraid to deal with the human emotions involved in this mindfuck. People would panic, become paranoid, and act selfish.

Ultimately, this is a process of elimination with one potential survivor.

Reaction

In an attempt to avoid any personal associations, most people don’t divulge their names. Some have names, which includes the character who is essentially the audience’s perspective—Eric, played by Michael Nardelli. Most characters are stereotypes or stand-ins representing certain groups. These people are given names like The Pregnant Girl, The Little Girl, The Soldier, The Athiest, The One-Armed Man, The Cancer Survivor, The Rich Man, The Asian Kid, The African American Man, The Hispanic Man, The Lesbian, The Lawyer, The Doctor, The Deacon, The College Guy, The Tattooed Man, The Bearded Man, and much more. As Jack Horner said in Boogie Nights, “Those are some great names!”

While the writing is the star of this movie, the ensemble cast is shockingly good with a few notable performances. Although half of the fun might come from watching the events unfold, Circle goes down smooth on a second viewing. With a seemingly low budget, simple story, and understated effects, Circle could conceivably be a play. The unique narrative is the heart of this movie.

Perhaps the most vital aspect of Circle is that it establishes the stakes early and often.

The collective decisions of these people determine their own fates.

In a few months, people in American will pretend that their votes are important. In our reality, it doesn’t make a difference. Our choice is an illusion because it’s a decision between two options that are actually the same. But choice is a principal plot point of Circle. How deep does your self-preservation run? The fight-or-flight instincts play out in fascinating ways in this story. I’m not saying that I would welcome our alien overlords and this high-stakes game of Survivor. However, it would be a nice change to live in a world (even if it’s a sci-fi dystopia) where one vote equals one vote.

Circle: where your vote actually matters!

It is a superb study of human nature.

Wake Up

4 out of 5 stars

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10 Cloverfield Lane is a well-acted, tense thriller that unravels to reveal a true piece of shit.

My gripe is not with John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, or John Gallagher Jr.—the acting elevates the writing and makes this movie worth watching. If you enjoy the craft of acting, then you’re nearly guaranteed to be deeply engaged with these characters. However, the whole house of cards comes tumbling down during the odd, stilted third act that culminates with a ridiculous finale.

In hindsight, where 10 Cloverfield Lane really lost me was the name.

I am jealous of those who can watch 10 Cloverfield Lane as a standalone movie. To be clear, 10 Cloverfield Lane is not a standalone movie. Leading up to the release, J.J. Abrams said 10 Cloverfield Lane is a “blood relative” to Cloverfield—intentionally teasing a directly shared universe.

Cloverfield was and still is a very divisive movie. Most people hated the shaky camera and found footage gimmick. But I think it worked beautifully in the context of a monster destroying a major city. As an admitted fan of creature features, Cloverfield delivered a unique, enthralling adventure with a distinct creature wreaking havoc on New York City. While 10 Cloverfield Lane builds tension in a similar but different manner, the anticipation does not crescendo to a satisfactory conclusion.

When you slap Cloverfield on the title of your movie, you’re establishing a certain set of expectations. Of course, J.J. Abrams isn’t one for delivering on expectations. Everything the man has done is all setup and zero resolution. Without spoiling anything (yet), 10 Cloverfield Lane is right in line with the Abrams brand. I don’t mean to give J.J. too much responsibility since he was only the producer of Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane, but you can see the sequences that bear his direct influence.

Before I unload my personal problems with this movie, let me talk about the good things.

Howard Angry

There are plenty of good things about 10 Cloverfield Lane. John Goodman is legitimately great and he puts on a magnificent display as Howard—a doomsday prepper with deep paranoia and a potentially dark history. His character is enigmatic. You’re never quite sure what he’s doing or what motivates his actions. Howard’s doomsday bunker is a sizeable underground fortress that ends up providing shelter for Howard, Michelle (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and Emmett (played by John Gallagher Jr.)—although Emmett helped build the bunker, he was not an intended guest. After a car wreck under mysterious circumstances, Michelle woke up to find herself shackled in the bunker with no memory of what happened. As the audience, you have to put the pieces together as the events unfold.

I was captivated whenever John Goodman was on the screen. Howard isn’t exactly a likeable character, but there is an undeniable charm. You just have to ignore the gruff exterior and creepy, controlling personality. Mary Elizabeth Winstead holds her own as Michelle against Goodman’s gregarious presence. The relationship between Howard and Michelle is bizarre from the beginning. That absence of an explanation is a recurring theme in 10 Cloverfield Lane—and the Abrams brand, in general.

Don’t expect any explanations from this shared universe. You will only disappoint yourself.

You can expect some spoilers while I explain my contempt for this shameful marketing ploy.

Spoilers galore.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  Now enjoy some Good(man) dancing.

Good(man) Dancing

I was sold a false bill of goods. 10 Cloverfield Lane is all misdirection.

The setup is so enjoyable, which makes this so ultimately unsatisfying. The concept of a restricted narrative in an underground bunker is an interesting hook. With 10 Cloverfield Lane as the title, the most tantalizing hook for me was how this connects with Cloverfield.

Surprise: there is no direct correlation. Fucking “blood relative” of Cloverfield, my ass.

Cloverfield had no business being so incredibly entertaining. I think we can thank Matt Reeves for that. Maybe I love it a little too much because it was also my introduction to T.J. Miller and Lizzy Caplan. There were genuinely great, memorable moments in Cloverfield—in fact, innovative with that horrific night vision chase scene in the subway tunnels. The end wasn’t exactly gratifying, but I have come to terms with that. In time, I’ve almost appreciated the absence of explanation in that movie.

I cannot appreciate or mildly tolerate the intentional lie of titling this movie 10 Cloverfield Lane.

Initially, this movie started out as The Cellar. Dying a slow death in development hell, J.J. Abrams rescued the movie by slapping Cloverfield on the name to manufacture mystery. Fans of Cloverfield have been feverishly waiting for a sequel. It’s an embarrassing slap in the face to loosely tie this in with Cloverfield when it doesn’t really have any vital connection to the original movie.

Personally, this attempt to generate interest among a group of dedicated fans gloriously backfired because there is no connection—no Cloverfield monster or human-sized parasites. Not even a reference to the event. If a giant fucking monster destroyed New York City, I want to know how that would change the way people lived their lives. The largest city in the U.S. was attacked by a massive creature. In order to stop the devastation, the HAMMERDOWN protocol was initiated to bomb the monster into oblivion. During the credits, there was also a line suggesting the creature still survived.

iPhone

Since the events aren’t referenced, I’m not sure whether 10 Cloverfield Lane takes place before, during, or after Cloverfield. Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character owned the newest iPhone, which suggests this takes place after Cloverfield. If this indeed takes place after a monster destroyed New York City, then Howard isn’t a conspiracy nut for building a doomsday bunker. Cloverfield certainly invoked the emotion of the 9/11 and that aftermath has impacted our reality so it was ripe for exploration.

Not referencing or including the events of Cloverfield in 10 Cloverfield Lane is a stupefying decision.

None of this feels natural. This is very obviously two separate movies glued together.

You can tell what parts remained from The Cellar, and those original sequences are enthralling. When Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character finally escapes, the science-fiction elements felt so fabricated and out of leftfield. Instead of using the ready-made human-sized parasites from Cloverfield, there’s a mechanical worm-dog and some sort of weird flying creature with other similar types of ships.

It’s fucking aliens?! Aliens. Fucking hokey CGI bullshit. Some television shows have better effects.

The official story from Cloverfield was that the monster was awoken from the deep sea by a fallen satellite, which you get a glimpse of at the end of the movie. It wasn’t an alien monster—it was already here hidden in the ocean. Now, I guess it has been changed to an alien. Maybe this is a part of a coordinated alien attack. You still don’t know after this movie and you will never know.

It is an empty promise.

The most emphatic connection within 10 Cloverfield Lane is the reveal that Howard worked on satellites. If you happen to be familiar with the Cloverfield ARG (alternate reality game), you might recognize an envelope with the logo of Bold Futura—Howard’s employer, which is tied to a company involved in the events of Cloverfield. It’s not only disgraceful as false advertising. It is a disservice to this movie.

Cast

When you name the movie 10 Cloverfield Lane, you immediately add the expectation of science-fiction elements. Therefore, the payoff is not even a surprise. Instead, it feels fake and contrived. You can sense that it was tacked on purely to give it the illusion of a connection to Cloverfield—simply because there is a monster. The final shot shows the house’s mailbox (revealing the address), which is utterly pointless. None of these decisions make any rational sense and have no practical justification.

Rumors of a Twilight Zone-esque anthology series have already started swirling.

Fantastic, an anthology would allow J.J. Abrams to continue posing questions without any answers. I have had enough with the absence of explanation here. It’s not enough to have an interesting setup.

J.J. Abrams is a marketing maven. Nothing more, nothing less.

It’s impossible to judge 10 Cloverfield Lane as a standalone movie, but I sincerely wish I could manage to appreciate it by itself. Dan Trachtenberg showed impeccable vision in his directorial debut. The parts from The Cellar were worthy of 4-star consideration, but I cannot ignore nor forgive that awful ending.

Quite literally, this movie deserved a better treatment.

I wish the Cloverfield monster would just swallow this movie whole.

Cloverfield Monster

2 out of 5 stars

Poster

Every year, you can count on a horror movie being released that’s sold as completely different than anything you’ve ever seen before. A veritable game-changer! In the last few years, The Babadook and It Follows have had that praised heaped on them. Those movies weren’t unique and neither is The Witch. If we’re looking for a common denominator, these are all well-made horror movies that have a little more thought than the standard slasher-style fare of gore porn that’s preferred these days.

When the quality of movies released in theaters is so shockingly poor early in the year, a cinematic movie like The Witch is the beneficiary of a lot of bored film critics. While there are some memorable moments, The Witch fails to distinguish itself as anything special. If you have a hatred for period pieces, then stay far away from this movie because the story is set in 1630’s New England. The language is very hard to understand, which would be easily fixed with some subtitles to help follow along. When a slow, plodding movie like this is so reliant on the story, the dialogue needs to be accessible.

Jesus Family Dinner

What also made it worse for me was the horrible audience in the theater. As the movie started, two fucking idiots bumble in trying to find their seats (I am spoiled and only go where they have assigned recliners) while audibly talking. Several people had to tell them to shut up. The opening of this movie is crucial to the story because The Witch is about a family who is banished from their Puritan community. Since those two fucksticks decided to arrive as the movie was starting, I’m not entirely clear why the family was banished. I assumed it was “sin…sin…something or other.” Investigating further after watching The Witch, they didn’t specifically describe why they were forced to leave—instead citing the father’s “prideful conceit” so I suppose it was a sin of sorts. I was incredibly confused.

But really, you don’t need to know why the family is exiled. I guess that’s why writer/director Robert Eggers intentionally made it vague. In a sense, it allows the audience to place their own assumptions as to what is going on with this family. The father, William, is played by Ralph Ineson, and his wife, Katherine, is played by Kate Dickie—who should be familiar to Game of Thrones fans as Aunt Lysa. Kate Dickie is playing a comparable character in The Witch as Katherine with an equal blend of crazy, creepy, and cruel. The supporting cast of children are suitable for their roles. Harvey Scrimshaw plays Caleb, Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson play twins Mercy and Jonas, and an unidentified baby plays Samuel.

The true star and focus of this movie is Anya Taylor-Joy as the daughter, Thomasin.

Anya Taylor-Joy

The Witch revolves around this family with five children trying to survive in the wilderness while spooky shit goes on around them. In the 17th century, they must not have known yet that weirdness always happens in the woods. This movie builds tension at a glacial pace—keeping you waiting for more elements of the supernatural and/or black magic. You should focus on this movie as a family drama rather than a horror movie. If you expect blood and guts, you will be sorely disappointed.

The less you know about The Witch beforehand, the more you will probably like it. The twists and turns the movie takes into the bizarre seem like they would only satisfy the first time. Even that’s not a guarantee you’ll enjoy the direction this movie travels. It’s a slow psychological mystery.

Between the language barrier and odd unraveling of the story, I’m surprised many people like this movie. However, that might be the result of critics eager to praise a movie early in the year. Right now, it’s scoring only 52% with the audience on Rotten Tomatoes—as opposed to an 89% among critics. The Witch is not an entertaining movie by any means, but I can appreciate the effort and expertise put into making this film. I’m hoping for better subject-matter in Robert Eggers’ next endeavor.

It’s just unfortunate that The Witch is as dry and cold as a witch’s tit.

Black Philip

2.5 out of 5 stars