Leave it to a comedian to make one of the scariest movies in recent memory. Jordan Peele moves into writing and directing with this offbeat comedy, a fresh and fiendishly smart story with engaging characters and provocative themes. It's a combination of a knowing issue-based drama, lively romantic comedy and unhinged horror that hits all of its targets with precision. And it keeps us gleefully entertained with its escalating terror.
The story centres on Chris (Sicario's Daniel Kaluuya), whose girlfriend Rose (Girls' Allison Williams) invites him home for a weekend to meet her parents Missy and Dean (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford). Rose assures Chris that they're so liberal that they won't mind at all that he's black. But things don't feel quite right from the start. For one thing, there are two creepy servants (Betty Gabriel and Marcus Henderson) who seem to be lurking everywhere. And Rose's brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) revels in stirring up problems. As things get increasingly freaky, Chris calls his best friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery), an airport security officer back in New York, for advice. Then things take an even more bizarre turn when Missy and Dean's friends arrive for an annual party.
Peele begins to play with the audience right from the start, using Michael Abels' disorienting music and Toby Oliver's quirky camerawork to maximum effect. Often this involves pushing us far too close to a character whose behaviour is just a bit off. Every moment is undercut with humour, including awkward moments and snappy gags that serve as a relief valve even as they set us up for something scary. It's such clever filmmaking that we have little choice but to sit back and enjoy the ride. And woven through all of this is an inventive and lacerating exploration of attitudes toward race in American society.
Continue reading: Get Out Review
After a few badly received sci-fi blockbusters, M. Night Shyamalan returned to his earthier style of filmmaking with 2015's The Visit and now this edgy psychological horror romp. It's a genuinely freaky movie, packed with unsettling touches and wonderfully intense performances. And yet there's a nagging sense that the filmmaker is using a very real mental health issue for cheap thrills. Dissociative identity disorder, also known as split personality, is genuinely devastating, but here it's played for blackly comical chills.
The man suffering from this condition is Kevin (James McAvoy), and he has 23 identities battling for supremacy inside him. The ringleader is Dennis, a psychopath who is working in league with fellow alter-ego Patricia to kidnap three young women, the abused outcast Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) and two classmates (Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula). As these teens try to use his personalities against each other to escape, Kevin is also attending sessions with his psychiatrist Dr Fletcher (Betty Buckley), an expert on his condition. And she has no idea what he's actually up to. Or that all of his personalities are terrified of a menacing identity they call the Beast.
Shyamalan is an expert at dropping clues into each scene, packing the dialog with innuendo and encouraging the actors into giving performances that suggest at unexpected connections and histories. As the film progresses, both Kevin and Casey reveal the most telling details of their grim pasts, allowing Shyamalan to gleefully crank up the tension. And the result is enjoyably creepy, keeping the audience off-balance with a plot that's impossible to predict and plenty of shocking mayhem along the way. At the centre, the audience is able to identify with Taylor-Joy's thoughtful Casey, a girl who has survived a nasty childhood and is determined to get out of this situation before it turns even more horrific.
Continue reading: Split Review
Josh Welsh, Brian Grazer, Stephanie Allain , Jason Blum - 2016 Los Angeles Film Festival - 'Lowriders' at ArcLight Cinemas - Arrivals at ArcLight Cinemas’ Cinerama Dome, Los Angeles Film Festival - Hollywood, California, United States - Wednesday 1st June 2016
Jason Blum - CinemaCon Bi Screen Achievement Awards held at Caesars Palace Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nv on April 14, 2016 at Caesars Palace - Las Vegas, Nevada, United States - Thursday 14th April 2016
Jason Blum, Marc Smerling, Andrew Jarecki , Guest - 2015 Creative Arts Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater- Press Room at Microsoft Theater, Emmy Awards - Los Angeles, California, United States - Saturday 12th September 2015
While it's great to see M. Night Shyamalan return to the twisty horror genre, his use of found-footage leaves the film feeling like a decent premise with nowhere to go. Presented as a documentary made by a teenager, the movie is relentlessly uninteresting, only watchable because of a few mild jolts and a blackly comical freakishness. Otherwise, the characters are too thinly drawn, and the story too gimmicky.
It opens as a single mother (Kathryn Hahn) reconnects with her parents on Facebook after 15 years estrangement. Instead of going home to see them herself, she books a holiday with her new boyfriend and sends her teen kids, cynical Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and clownish Tyler (Ed Oxenbould), to stay with Nana and Pop-pop (Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie). But as Becca and Tyler videotape the experience, they begin to worry about their grandparents' sanity. Maybe it's just old age, or perhaps they are "sundowners", pensioners who go a bit mad at nighttime. And as things get progressively bizarre, both of them begin to worry that perhaps there's something locked in the basement that Nana and Pop-pop don't want them to see.
Everything on-screen is shot on cameras supposedly wielded by Becca and Tyler, although several scenes are implausible or frankly impossible. Shyamalan does a nice job creating a creepy vibe, then throws things suddenly into the frame to make the audience jump. But there isn't a single moment of proper suspense, mainly because it's all played for laughs: as if senile old people are hilarious. Until they become menacing, of course. Shyamalan pushes this idea with a very heavy hand, attempting to manipulate the audience's response by slowly dribbling out revelations that aren't particularly clever or surprising. And through it all, there's the nagging sense that nothing about the script holds water, starting with a mother's willingness to send her kids on their own to stay with parents she has avoided for a decade and a half.
Continue reading: The Visit Review
What was it about Sinister that needed to be explored?
When the horror thriller Sinister proved to be a hit, producer Jason Blum (who is also behind the Insidious films) obviously thought a sequel was needed. "I really think the key to making a good sequel is to get the people who were involved in the original," he says, explaining his decision to go back to original screenwriters Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill. "If there's any theme of Sinister, to me it's taking a common crisis and escalating the crisis by putting it in a supernatural circumstance."
The children go all out to spook the grown-ups in Sinister II
Cargill adds that "everyone has a very different idea of what a Sinister movie is," says Cargill. "Is it the kill films? Is it Bughuul? Is it the kids?" As he and Derrickson pondered this, the one thing they agreed on was the need to bring back the hapless deputy played by James Ransone.
As the ghoul from the 2012 horror hit stalks a new family, this sequel's sharply well-crafted set-up leaves the hackneyed conclusion feeling very disappointing. Up until the trite horror finale, the film is a terrific mix of complex characters and twisted relationships, with a palpable sense of underlying menace. But instead of grappling with the ramifications of the human drama, the screenwriters opt for simplistic violence instead.
The dorky deputy (James Ransone) from the first film has left the force but is still determined to stop the horror from happening again. Then he arrives at the "infected" farmhouse and finds single mother Courtney (Shannyn Sossamon) hiding out there with her feuding pre-teen sons Dylan and Zach (played by real-life siblings Robert Daniel and Dartanian Sloan). And her abusive husband Clint (Lea Coco) wants custody. But the boys have already been contacted by the creepy gang of ghost kids who have horrifically murdered their families and documented this in home movies that they show to Dylan each night. To appease the boogeyman, Dylan needs to do the same, and if he can't, they might be able to use Zach.
Frankly, Clint is a much scarier monster than the sinister spirit lurking in seemingly every dark corner in this movie. And Zach has learned from his dad how to be a seriously cruel bully. Director Ciaran Foy generates intensity in both the real-world and supernatural elements of this story, inventively creating visually stylish freak-out moments that have genuine peril attached. In this situation, the actors create strikingly authentic characters, from Ransone's likeably goofy deputy to Sossamon's steely, tenacious mother hen. And the Sloan brothers add a superb sense of sibling tension, mingling anger and frustration with real emotion. So when things begin to snap between all of them, the film becomes genuinely heart-stopping. Then the ghosts take over and it's not quite so thrilling.
Continue reading: Sinister 2 Review
Marketed as a horror-thriller, this sharply well-made film is actually a bleak drama with a strong message about bullying. Actor turned writer-director Joel Edgerton creates a vividly creepy atmosphere as he digs into the perceptions and motivations of three central characters, and he finds plenty of opportunity to unnerve the audience in the process. There are a few big jolts, but it's the unsettling themes that freak us out.
There has clearly already been quite a lot of trauma in the marriage between Simon and Robyn (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall), so much so that they've packed up their home in Chicago and moved to Los Angeles to start over. As they're settling into their stunning new home in the hills, Simon runs into his old school friend Gordon (Edgerton), who seems to appear out of nowhere, worming his way into their life with a series of thoughtful gifts. But Simon doesn't want to reconnect with Gordon, whom he always thought was a weirdo, which Robyn thinks is rather cruel. She reluctantly agrees with Simon that they break contact with Gordon, due to pressures at work and in their attempts to start a family. But things immediately turn very nasty. And Robyn realises that there's more to Simon and Gordon's past than either is letting on.
With a pungent sense of foreboding, the film is instantly riveting, mainly because it resembles movies like Fatal Attraction. So we brace ourselves for that bunny-boiling moment, and as a writer, director and actor, Edgerton plays with us mercilessly, dropping all kinds of hints and revelations about the reality beneath the surface of these characters. But instead of turning into a crazed, violent thriller, the film instead takes a much more internalised approach, generating suspense from the implications of what is happening. Essentially, it works because it forces us to understand even the darkest motivations of the characters.
Continue reading: The Gift Review
Without a single moment of originality, this found-footage horror movie really deserves to be the last one ever made. Combining elements of Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity with the cliches of 1980s teen slasher movies, the film is technically well-made and at least has a bright young cast. But by adding nothing new to the genre, it's unable to muster up more than one scary moment.
It all takes place in a high school 20 years after Charlie (Jesse Cross) died during a stage production of a creepy play called The Gallows. Now the drama teacher (played by cowriter-director Travis Cluff) has convinced the school board to let him restage the play, and he has cast popular jock Reese (Reese Mishler) in the lead role opposite drama queen Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown). But the nervous Reese secretly has a crush on Pfeifer, and his camera-carrying best pal Ryan (Ryan Shoos) says he needs to sabotage the play so he doesn't embarrass himself on opening night. So Reese, Ryan and Ryan's girlfriend Cass (Cassidy Gifford) sneak into the theatre one night planning to trash the sets. But Pfeifer turns up as well, and suddenly they find themselves locked in, menaced by some sort of unseen force that seems intent on strangling them one by one.
Since the young actors are using their own names, they're essentially playing themselves. And the script offers very little help for them to create properly dramatic characters, never giving even a glimpse beneath the surface. Instead, it's just a case of watching through Ryan's camera as these four intriguing teens run around acting self-involved and clueless, kind of like real teens. As in all of these movies, there is inexplicably no phone signal and the camera magically continues shooting even after the battery should have died. It's also structured as several long, dull sequences in the dark punctuated by moments of inexplicable chaos.
Continue reading: The Gallows Review
Instead of wrapping up a trilogy, writer-turned-director Leigh Whannell launches a new horror franchise with a movie that's scary even if it's not particularly original. Its trump card is a strong central performance from the wonderful Lin Shaye, who plays out a sort of origin story (although they could still go back further) for her memorable character from the first two movies.
She's Elise, a medium in touch with the spirits of the dead, and as this story starts she's closed down her practice for good. Then the bright teenager Quinn (Sophie Scott) shows up, desperate to speak to her recently deceased mother while she makes important decisions as high school comes to an end. But Quinn has inadvertently made contact with a much more malevolent spirit in her apartment building, and when her father (Dermot Mulroney) realises that her life is in danger, he convinces Elise to help. Meanwhile, Quinn's little brother Alex (Tate Berney) gets in touch with Spectral Sightings internet ghostbusters Tucker and Specs (Angus Sampson and Whannell), who are about to see their first real ghost.
The film looks terrific, from the everyday creep-outs in the creeky old houses and apartments to the much darker atmosphere of "the further", which Elise has to enter in order to rescue Quinn from "the man who can't breathe" (Michael Reid MacKay), a seriously gruesome spirit who isn't content just haunting the living: he wants them to join him. Shaye delivers a performance that's unusually complex for this genre, as Elise struggles to balance her past and present with a flood of emotions, a reluctant determination to help and a generous sense of prickly humour. Mulroney also adds some weight as a concerned single dad at the end of his tether. And Scott has a promising charisma in the opening scenes, less so when the plot reduces her to a scream queen.
Continue reading: Insidious: Chapter 3 Review
Layers of real life and movie history combine cleverly in this postmodern horror film, which just might be too knowing for its own good. But at least it's an unusual approach to the genre, offering a twisted retelling of a legend while aiming for some emotional resonance along with the usual violent nastiness. It's also directed with an unusually artful eye by first-time filmmaker Alfonso Gomez-Rejon.
It was a series of unsolved murders in a small town on the Texas-Arkansas border in 1946 that inspired the 1976 movie of the same name, which screens here annually on Halloween. But this year, the screening is accompanied by a copycat murder, which escalates into a full-on rampage. Everything seems to centre around Jami (Addison Timlin), a teenager whose boyfriend was the first victim. After her parents died, she was raised by her straight-talking grandmother (Veronica Cartwright), who continually urges her to take charge of her life. So with the local cops unable to solve the case, Jami teams up with the local library archive clerk Nick (Travis Tope) to get the whole history of these past events. Meanwhile, a Texas Ranger (Anthony Anderson) arrives to head up the official investigation.
Screenwriter Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa gleefully blends fact, fiction and the movies together into a heady mixture of horror movie cliches and shockingly realistic grisliness. In other words, this is both a fictional sequel and a playful true-life drama at the same time, which makes it feel eerily like the Scream franchise. Although this film never becomes a pastiche, and the characters are so likeable that we genuinely root for them to survive the killing spree. Timlin brings the right amount of plucky stubbornness to her role, even if it's unlikely that a witness-victim would be quite so gung-ho about doing her own police work. And there are nice turns from veterans like Cartwright, Ed Lautner (as a stubborn cop) and the late Edward Herrmann (as a nutty preacher) to add some weight.
Continue reading: The Town That Dreaded Sundown Review
A cheesy TV movie ramped up with language and violence, this sudsy thriller is far more fun to watch than it should be. With its tepid spin on the plot of Fatal Attraction, the film strains to be a bunny-boiler, but entertains the audience because it's so preposterous that not a single moment is remotely believable. And since the cast refuses to play it straight, camping it up while smirking at the camera, it's enjoyable in all the wrong ways.
Jennifer Lopez stars as Claire, a high school teacher who has recently split from her husband Garrett (John Corbett) and is still getting used to life on her own with teen son Kevin (Ian Nelson). Then the astoundingly hunky 19-year-old Noah (played by 27-year-old Ryan Guzman) moves in next door with his invalid uncle (Jack Wallace) after his parents die in a fiery car crash. Super friendly, Noah quickly begins to help Kevin stand up to the school bullies and pursue the hot girl (Lexi Atkins). But Noah also begins to flirt relentlessly with Claire, and in a moment of neediness she gives in. While she sees this as a mildly transgressive restorative fling, Noah thinks it's true love, and pursues her tenaciously. And when Claire begins to trying to patch things up with Garrett, Noah takes Kevin out for a bit of gun practice.
Despite a tendency to drift into grisly violence, there's nothing edgy here. It's a swirling storm of innuendo and suggestion, with a strong sense of menace that never quite convinces us, even with a couple of gruesome plot points. This may be because the camera clearly loves Lopez so much that we know she's never in danger.
Continue reading: The Boy Next Door Review
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