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
It's hard to think of another film that leaves us quite so out of breath. Adapting his short film, first-time feature filmmaker Damien Chazelle grabs hold of the audience and never lets up, pounding us into submission with an exhilarating pace, blistering performances and never-flagging energy levels. It's an astonishing movie that reminds us of the visceral power of cinema in a story about the tenacity required to make it to the top.
At the centre of the storm is Andrew (Miles Teller), an aspiring drummer who is attending New York's most prestigious and cutthroat conservatory. His goal is to get into the elite jazz band led by Professor Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), whose brutal reputation is well-earned. A demanding, often cruel teacher, he belittles students with vein-popping diatribes. And he seems to have an extra well of bile just for Andrew, who is willing to put up with anything to be in his band. The question is whether Fletcher is trying to break him or push him to achieve even more. If Andrew hopes to survive, he might not be able to maintain a relationship with his new girlfriend Nicole (Melissa Benoist). But maybe it's worth the pain.
This is the blackest comedy imaginable, so harsh that our only response is to laugh bitterly at every hideous insult Fletcher heaps on his young musicians. Chazelle directs the film with such a brisk pace that it sometimes feels difficult to hang on for the ride, and even though some of the plot turns feel rather contrived, it's moving so quickly that we don't have time to worry about that. The entire film charges forward with the rhythms and energy of a powerful jazz riff, and even though it's often terrifying the ride is so much fun that we don't want it to end.
Continue reading: Whiplash Review
Sarah Snook, Michael Spierig, Jason Blum, Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater - Photographs of the American actor Ethan Hawke along with actress Sarah Snook as they attended the actors hand and footprints Ceremony which was held at the TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX in Los Angeles, California, United States - Thursday 8th January 2015
After last year's break-out hit thriller, writer-director James DeMonaco is back with the flip-side of the story, which jettisons the irony and and thematic subtlety in favour of in-your-face brutality. This time the account of a night of lawful violence is told from the opposite perspective, poor people who are targeted by sadistic rich people who are trying to cleanse their souls with a bit of grisly murder.
It's set one year later, in 2023 Los Angeles as the annual 12-hour Purge is about to begin. The idea is to cleanse society of its violent urges, but this has turned into an all-out war between heavily armed militias hired by the wealthy to capture poor people for their own homicidal entertainment. As an underground activist (Michael K. Williams) calls for a grassroots uprising, the waitress Eva (Carmen Ejogo) is just trying to get through the night alive with her teen daughter Cali (Zoe Soul). When they're attacked, an unnamed stranger (Frank Grillo) comes to their rescue, and they're soon joined by a couple (Zach Gilford and Keile Sanchez) whose car picked the wrong time and place to break down. Together, these five attempt to escape pursuit by two vicious gangs: lowlife mercenaries looking for fresh blood to sell to wealthy clients and a high-tech army bent on all-out massacre.
It's deeply contrived that these two gangs are deliberately, tenaciously and seemingly supernaturally pursuing these five people, but DeMonaco never flinches, so the audience just has to go with it. Much of the movie consists of massive nighttime street battles, but there are some more deranged interludes that hold the attention much better. At one point, they take refuge in the downtown home of one of Eva's colleagues (Justina Machado), a drunken party that is clearly spiralling out of control even before they arrived. A little later, they are dragged right into a variation on The Hunger Games. And while four of our heroes are running for their lives, Grillo's character has something more violent in mind: he's seeking revenge against the drunk driver who killed his son.
Continue reading: The Purge: Anarchy Review
After his assuredly traditional The Conjuring, director James Wan bounces back with a more playful horror movie that subverts cliches rather than revelling in them. Like 2011's Chapter 1, this sequel allows Wan and screenwriter Whannell to merrily reinterpret the story with events that take place before, after and even right in the middle of that first film. And they are clearly having a lot of fun in the process, which keeps us both entertained and frightened.
It picks up right where we left off: with their son Dalton (Simpkins) rescued, Josh and Renai (Wilson and Byrne) take their three kids and flee to stay with Josh's mother Lorraine (Hershey). But of course, the ghostly nastiness follows them, and extremely creepy things start happening all over again. Now Lorraine realises that this has something to do with an event from Josh's childhood, so she calls in an old family friend (Coulter) to help. But ace ghostbuster Elise (Shaye) isn't readily available this time, so they have to make due with her always-distracted sidekicks (Whannell and Sampson).
As before, Wan deploys every standard haunted house gimmick in the book, filling the screen with freak-out apparitions, scary noises, slamming doors and screaming babies. He also uses plenty of movie trickery to disorient us, including a jarring musical score and suggestive visuals. Meanwhile, Whannell is digging around in the original movie's plot for things he can play with, redefining events with clever revelations while adding a whole new underlying story to the saga. And the film continually shifts tonally, so we never know what to expect in the next scene.
Continue reading: Insidious: Chapter 2 Review
A home-invasion thriller with a twist, this fiercely clever film is both thought-provoking and terrifying, mixing a Twilight Zone sense of morality with skilfully developed menace and genuinely horrific violence. It also boasts a cast that is terrific at keeping us guessing, shading their characters in such a way that, even if we know who's supposed to be the good and bad guys, we keep wondering if we've got it right.
The story takes place in 2022 America, which has solved its economic woes with Purge Night, a free-for-all in which people have 12 hours to commit any crime, including murder, to cleanse the streets and vent their frustration. The goal is to eliminate poverty and unemployment by killing off all the homeless and jobless people. And it's worked a charm, especially for security system salesman James (Hawke), who locks down inside his palatial home with wife Mary (Headey), rebellious teen daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and shy gadget-whiz son Charlie (Burkholder). But two interlopers get into the house: Zoey's shady older boyfriend Henry (Oller) and a terrified stranger (Hodge) running from an angry mob of tenacious masked anarchists.
As the night progresses, James and Mary's world is ripped apart piece by piece, descending into a state of primal protectiveness that's eerily believable. If it's either kill or be killed, what would you do? Hawke and Headey are terrific as parents pushed to the brink, and sometimes over it, while Kane and Burkholder find surprising moments of their own. And as the smiling gang leader, Wakefield is seriously unsettling. So even if some of the plot's twists and turns are a bit predictable, the actors and filmmaker DeMonaco do a great job at delving beneath the surface to keep us squirming in our seats at both the nasty possibilities and some rather awful grisliness.
Continue reading: The Purge Review
Rob Zombie has matured as a filmmaker, as witnessed by this well-structured horror shocker, which plays with both historical events and familiar movie imagery to keep us unnerved even if it's ultimately rather silly. Best of all is the way he remembers the value of schlock both to entertain and to gross us out. And it's his old-style touches that make the film much scarier than the usual shock-and-go horror movies.
The story draws on the 17th century Salem Witch Trials, at which women were brutally executed for suspicion of witchcraft. In present day Salem, free-spirited DJ Heidi (Moon Zombie) receives a mysterious record from an unknown band called The Lords, and when she plays it people start behaving strangely. Historical expert Francis (Davison) takes an interest in the record due to its odd tones, but he begins to worry that something nasty might be afoot. Indeed, Heidi starts having freaky dreams and visions. And it becomes apparent that she's the fulfilment of a dark prophesy involving the spawn of Satan himself.
Moon Zombie is terrific as the confused heroine who thinks what's happening is related to her recent decision to give up hard drugs. But of course, we know better. And we also know that she certainly should not trust the three cackling sisters (Geeson, Quinn and Wallace) who live downstairs. In addition, we see flashback scenes from 1696 in which a preacher takes on a coven of naked witches who dance around a bonfire led by their witchy leader (Foster). Yes, Zombie packs the movie with nutty ceremonies, grisly apparitions and naked, blood-soaked women.
Continue reading: The Lords of Salem Review
There's a nasty edge to this horror film that makes it much creepier than most, which gives Hawke the chance to give an unnervingly haunted performance. As the script reveals its hideous secrets, the filmmakers really make our skin crawl. Although it's not easy to figure out what the point is, since the whole film seems to be merely an exercise in scaring the audience.
It's all based in true crime, as author Ellison (Hawke) drags his wife Tracy (Rylance) and kids to a new town so he can investigate another unsolved murder. What he hasn't told Tracy is that they're living in the crime scene, an unusually dark house that has a box of home movies in the attic that reveal a much more gruesome horror than Ellison was expecting. The killings at hand turn out to be part of a string of hideous murders that seem to have a supernatural twist.
Indeed, this film takes a very bleak trip into the darkest recesses of the imagination: the deaths on these home movies are so hideous that we can barely watch them. But then, this also means that the film is more unnerving than nine out of 10 horror movies. And Hawke is a solid central character we can identify with, as he's unable to stop digging into the story, looking further into these murders and watching every last home movie even though he knows he should really stop. He gives Ellison an earthy honesty that carries us along with him, even when some standard movie characters pop up, including an angry sheriff (Thompson), his dopey deputy (Ransone) and an expert professor (D'Onofrio).
Continue reading: Sinister Review