Tag Archives: Horror

Brawl in Cell Block 99

Film Score: 5 out of 5 (Classic)

Synopsis: Following a botched drug deal, former mechanic and boxer turned drug runner Bradley Thomas (Vince Vaughn) lands in jail and must fight to survive. Brawl in Cell Block 99 misdirects expectations until erupting into a hyper violent tale akin to 1970’s exploitation films seared by a John Carpenter-esque synth score. After watching the film, I never want to be in a confined space near Vince Vaughn.

Director S.Craig Zahler has sprinkled the grit of Westerns onto New York City. Absent are the desert plains and cannibals of Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk, but the brooding and savagery remain. Litter, the modern day tumbleweed, rustles across the street in an early scene as Bradley waits to drive home when two gang bangers stop alongside him. The two sides silently weigh each other up with the focus of duellists as silence fills the inner-city ghost town.

 

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Bradley squares up

Bradley is an old gunslinger reincarnated. He quietly lives as a mechanic yet is cloaked in an enigmatic past and bristles with restrained violence, symbolised by the distinguishing tattooed crucifix atop his head. Zahler’s use of perspective causes Vince Vaughn’s physicality to fill every scene. Bradley keeps a facade of control but is most interesting when tottering between calm and his inner rage such as angrily throwing his former locker keys. I was unable to consistently watch True Detective’s second season, but in glimpsed snippets Vince Vaughn’s character of mobster Frank Seymon was arresting. The season and Vaughn were not well praised, but in Brawl in Cell Block 99 Vaughn proves that he can embody an antihero. Vaughn channels into Bradley a quiet seriousness dovetailed by the deadpan delivery I loved in Dodgeball. The mix adds an intense urge to cower and laugh in Bradley’s presence, especially in one scene where he calmly commands another prisoner to; ‘ talk proper, or get raped’. To tread such a role and remain engaging is not a second chance for Vaughn, but a public reminder of his acting prowess. Physically, Vaughn fits the role of Bradley. His stature imposes on the screen like Richard Kiel’s Jaws in James Bond. Unlike most actors where disbelief in what they have done settles in after the film, I willingly accept that Vince Vaughn can break another’s limbs with the effort most men place in opening unyielding jars.

Jennifer Carpenter, of Dexter and White Chicks fame, excels as Lauren, Bradley’s wife. Carpenter has always been lithe but in Brawl in Cell Block 99 she is painfully thin, with sinew bunching at her shoulders. Like Vaughn, Carpenter’s physicality attests to her character, her struggle overcoming the loss of their child and remaining sober. Lauren can be vulnerable but matches Bradley’s strength with a toughness which flares in the film.

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The rift between Bradley and Lauren

The relationship between Bradley and Lauren is told through the space of a scene. The initial rift between them is literally present as the visible gap between the two characters in their living room. This emptiness returned when Lauren, alone in their bedroom, clearly fears for Bradley’s safety. For a film mainly staged in the cramped confines of prison, Brawl in Cell Block 99 uses space to great effect. Wide camera angles accentuate Bradley’s menacing build and strength, while the camera switches focus from intimate close ups to distant shots mirroring Bradley’s emotional state. The technique is simple and effective. When Bradley finally arrives in cell block 99, the camera retreats towards the ceiling. Taking on a bird’s eye view, the camera observes Bradley now powerless and small in the darkened cell.

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Bradley isolated

Once Bradley is incarcerated his reality warps into a brutal exploitation film. Brief segments of the outside world are divorced from Bradley’s new reality, hued by a glacial blue filter. Red Leaf’s prison guards clad in jet black uniforms, lead by surly Warden Tuggs (Don Johnson), ape the military police in Escape From New York March accompanied by a pulsating electronic score. A collection of old stone passageways, inhuman cells and forbidden torture devices, Red Leaf is a monster’s lair rather than a prison. Brawl in Cell Block 99 takes on the tone of a horror film upon arrival to Red Leaf. Time in Red Leaf becomes marked by the humming of caged bulbs while both prisoner and guard become increasingly violent.  Despite its delightful twists Brawl in Cell Block 99 feels real thanks to a great plot by S.Craig Zahler and even better casting. The minor roles, especially Fred Melamed as eloquently passive aggressive requisitions officer Mr. Irving, enliven Brawl in Cell Block 99, adding both humanity and comedy to a brutal tale.

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Bradley meets the guards of Red Leaf

Brawl in Cell Block 99 is a masterful prison story flitting between the grind house tropes of horror, violence and revenge with consistent performances. Tragically for the film’s setting, Brawl in Cell Block 99 has been locked away. Receiving no presence in U.K. cinemas despite rave reviews at the Venice film festival, the film is exiled to the iTunes video store. The price to rent Brawl in Cell Block 99 was reasonable. I did enjoy being able to repeat my viewing over the 48 hour activation period and analyse scenes. However as I said in my Christopher Nolan and Netflix piece here, digital release will unlikely match the public attention cinematic distribution brings. After all, adverts online are useful but nothing matches a physical poster on the street, or a sign at the cinema. In the wake of a summer box office draught, Brawl in Cell Block 99 is the type of film that needs to be shown in cinemas right now.

By Saul Shimmin

P.S: R&B band the O’Jays performed an excellent song for Brawl in Cell Block 99, composed by the polymath himself S.Craig Zahler. The song can be listened to here.

For the trailer, see below:

 

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1922

Film Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)

Synopsis: Proud Nebraskan farmer Wilf James (Thomas Jane) is a man threatened by the modernity beyond his farm. When wife Arlette (Molly Parker) threatens to sell her share of the land and drag Wilf and their son Henry (Dylan Schmid) into the roaring 1920’s, Wilf murders her. Wilf’s sin taints him and everything he crosses as 1922 becomes a chilling ghost story.

October inaugurates my favourite time of year in England. A state of purgatory settles over the land, stalling the seasons between autumn and winter. Breath becomes visible and cold, tree trunks turn black from the rain and your day begins and ends in darkness. Surrounded by nature’s slow decay and enduring days that are never far from nightfall, it is easy to begin seeing specters reflected in window panes and faces lurking between branches. In 1922, Netflix has created a film befitting the Halloween season.

1922 harks back to the moral parable underneath the older style of ghost stories by M.R.  James and H.P. Lovecraft. I grew up on M.R. James’ cautionary tales of academics stumbling across hidden artifacts and whose curiosity incurs the wrath of supernatural forces. It is a style of story which seemed no longer wanted on the big screen or the small screen. Being a strange folk, we English used to tell ghost stories at Christmas Eve. The BBC upheld the tradition in the 1970’s and briefly in the 2000’s with A Ghost Story for Christmas. Yet like wraiths and ghouls, ghost stories vanished once again.  Hopefully, 1922 will mark a renaissance of ghost story adaptations based on crumbling morality and existential dread, rather than a paranormal sequence of jumps, bumps, and knocks on doors.

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Wilf, unable to escape his crimes

The slow canter of 1922’s plot renders the Jameses into a very human family. Wilf and Arlette are not simply a bickering couple but polar opposites trapped together. Strutting squarely across the land and tanned brown like a roasted turkey, Wilf embodies the land. Arlette, draped in a modern dress and sporting a flapper haircut, yearns to escape to the city. From the couple’s quiet staring contests, to the camera lurking behind Wilf’s shoulder when they talk, enmity oozes between the two characters. Shortly before the murder, Arlette drops her shield of bitterness and regrets her life choices which landed her with Wilf. Henry, like many children in a dysfunctional family is caught between husband and wife, with shot and counter-shot at the dinner table obscuring Henry against the outline of Wilf or Arlette. Once the deed is done, 1922 crumbles Wilf’s life away with dashes of dark humour nodding to his tragic fate while Thomas Jane’s narration prevents the plot from petering out.

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The unloving couple, Wilf and Arlette.

Cinematographer Ben Richardson’s short snaps of detail add a sense of brooding to 1922. Eyes wander between Wilf and Artlette as they talk or observe each other from afar. Objects and locations across the farm flash before the screen while Wilf diligently plans his wife’s execution like harvesting another bushel of the corn we see shadowed against the dawn. Richardson uses suggestion to convey a Hitchockian level of detail, with snippets of the house’s increasing dilapidation reflecting Wilf’s own mental strain and guilt. Overall 1922 is visually stunning. The plains of Nebraska are swathed in colour with pearl white banks of snow clashing against the crayola yellow of a neighbour’s house. The richness of Richardson’s work is complimented by the taught plucking of violin strings in Mike Patton’s score, which will prickle goosebumps as Wilf becomes haunted by his guilt and something else.

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A murder in the planning.

Having given a good performance in The Mist which I reviewed here, it is in Thomas Jane’s third appearance in a Stephen King film that he really shines. Affecting both the mannerisms and accent of a contemporary Nebraskan farmer, Jane is unrecognisable as Wilf. Jane speaks more through the roll of his green eyes than his lips like many hard men found on the plains. Despite all that Wilf does he remains a sympathetic character, a man who desperately clings to the life he knows, even when there is no reason to carry on. Again Jane’s narration of events helps to maintain sympathy as Wilf suffers a litany of misfortune. Molly Parker gives a great but sadly brief performance as Arlette. Following her work in 1922 and another Netflix production, Small Crimesshe will hopefully soon receive larger roles. Dylan Schmid is a delightful surprise as Henry James, balancing the conflict and guilt he feels over his mother’s death with the angst and rebelliousness of a young man.

For a spooky tale in time for Halloween, 1922 is a great addition to Netflix’s repertoire. Compared to Netflix’s previous adaptation of Gerald’s Game1922 does not scare as strongly but retains the eeriness of Stephen King’s stories.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

 

Gerald’s Game

Film Score: 3 out of 5 (Good)

Synopsis: Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, kind hearted Jessie Burlingame (Carla Gugino)  and her older husband, Gerald (Bruce Greenwood), retreat to their isolated holiday home on the Alabama coast. A sudden heart attack leaves Gerald dead on the floor and Jessie cuffed to the bed with no escape.

Released nine months apart, Gerald’s Game and Split tread across the same tropes. There is the terror of dying trapped in a locked room with a monster prowling just beyond. Against such fatalistic backdrops, women confront and use their past trauma of abuse to become stronger. Split is a thriller with dashes of horror, while Gerald’s Game is a pure horror film that uses the simple scene of a single inescapable room. Gerald’s Game is scarier, but Split is the better film.

Trapped in her bedroom, it is the monsters Jessie conjures up which frighten the audience. Gerald soon rises from the tiled floor. Back from the dead and full of venom towards his wife, Gerald constantly criticises Jessie, goading her to give up and maliciously articulating her death. Yet Gerald is a mere imp compared to the ‘Moon Man’, a pale deformed wraith appearing in the dead of night. Personifying death, Carel Struycken is far from the gentle giant he plays in Twin Peaks. Struycken is a Nosferatu figure that caused me to stop the film repeatedly when his misshapen face emerged on the screen. Director Mike Flanagan uses the Moon Man to great effect. The monster appears like the twins from The Shining, sparsely present on the edges of the frame and far away down corridors until it finally invades the screen.

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 Channeling Stanley Kubrik, The Moon Man observes Jessie from down the corridor

The bravest, and most unnerving part of Gerald’s Game was its commitment to showing Jessie’s abuse as a child. Naturally, the scene of abuse is not outrightly explicit, but there pervades a disgustingly churning level of detail. Most films, Split included, build up to the abuse through suggestion and then cease. By committing to the scene, Gerald’s Game reinforces that these acts can unfortunately be committed by anyone, not simply the opportunistic stranger. The film also layers an inkling of mystery about who the abuser is, with Jessie obtusely referring to the perpetrator. Flashbacks to Jessie’s childhood maintain the ambiguity until it is too late. I am surprised that another scene in Gerald’s Game instead of the abuse has garnered public attention.

Overall, Gerald’s Game lets Carla Gugino shine. As an actress who I have often seen in minor roles and cameos, it is nice to see Gugino’s character change from a timid wife into a strong woman. Bruce Greenwood is good as the infuriating Gerald but Struycken is the stronger villain. A physical actor, Struckyen’s use of body language provides an ethereal sense of menace as he observes Jessie and waits to snatch her away.

Sadly, the ending sours Gerald’s Game. Continuing ten minutes after a fitting cliffhanger, the story delves into an epilogue that turns Gerald’s Game into a made for T.V8. film. Yet at other points Gerald’s Game has the feel of a television film. The humour, dark or otherwise, which I expect from Stephen King films flared intermittently, while both Gerald and Jessie were quite flat characters. Occasionally I was simply watching a bad situation suffered by another, rather than willing for Jessie to live.

The drawbacks of Gerald’s Game probably stem from the source material. Prolific authors do have hidden masterpieces but I was unaware of the Stephen King novel. Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard did their best adapting the story to film and watching Gerald’s Game on Netflix did hamper its delivery. Being a coward, I paused the film when the tension rose too much during my first viewing. My cowardliness does underline something ignored by Netflix, that the public still perceive the service as ersatz television. Despite watching on a laptop I still leave the room and return to films, Netflix originals or otherwise, like a television. Netflix’s approach to its original films does not help the public’s perception. Only Okja received an advertising campaign nearing the attention afforded to a film created by the traditional film companies. Instead Netflix originals appear on the site, just like another television series. If Netflix wants to ‘disrupt’ the film industry, it needs to treat its original films like films.

I will try not to pause next time.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

Mother!

 

Film Score: 3.5 out of 5 (Good)

Synopsis: Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) and him, a famous poet (Javier Bardem) live in seclusion at their country home until a stranger, simply called man (Ed Harris) arrives. Mother! twists biblical allegories into a horrifying condemnation of religion and humanity.

Mother! is an ordeal to watch. Following a viewing of the film last week, I remained slumped in my seat once the credits began, drained and disgusted by what had unfolded. The closest work to Mother! that I have experienced is F.Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Reaching the novel’s conclusion, I felt so enraged at the characters that I began to hate the story itself, and that was the point. Fitzgerald wanted the reader to hate the people and the system that Great Gatsby focused upon. Mother! like The Great Gatsby, is a statement spread through shock. Mother! evokes such a visceral emotional reaction that the disgust it gleefully creates reflects towards the film itself. A week after viewing, I am not eager to ever see Mother! again.

Director and writer Darren Aronofsky’s surrealist style takes a harrowingly Hitchcockian turn in Mother!  When the film begins, the world of Mother! is two steps away from reality. An appearance of normalcy exists but a strangeness is always present. The house appears modern but every implement from the refrigerator to mother’s medication are approaching one hundred years old. Before the walls begin to bleed, Aronofsky flags that nothing is right in Mother! The camera nauseatingly spins between rooms and strangers gaze at mother like fixated alligators sizing up their prey. A menace looms over mother but it is never quantified, letting imagination shape the abstract threat and causing Mother! to become deeply terrifying. Nearing the film’s final act I averted my gaze when mother was alone in a room and slices of white noise began to play.

The dutiful and besotted mother rebuilds the house and tends to her husband, him, played by Javier Bardem, an actor known for playing villains since his role as Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men. Although not a traditional villain, ‘him’ is Bardem at his most unsettling. Complacent towards his wife, he deflects mother’s questions about the strangers arriving at their home. Bardem reveals no emotions despite mother’s despair, suggesting that he has orchestrated these events while Aronofsky’s focus on Bardem in these scenes morphs him into a devilish figure.

Jennifer Lawrence is commendable as mother but the role stops being a performance and becomes a feat of endurance in the second act. Similar to Leonardo Dicaprio’s role as Hugh Glass in The Revenant, character development is replaced by a series of ordeals which mother goes through. Personally, the real star of Mother! was Michelle Pfeiffer as the ‘woman’, the wife of man, played by Ed Harris. Appearing unexpectedly, Pfeiffer relishes in woman’s Eve-esque demeanour of temptation and manipulation as she toys with mother through feigned warmth and outright prying. Domhnall Gleeson alongside his brother Brian Gleeson both have a brief but memorable role as the two sons of man. Domhnall dominates the screen during his appearance as the black sheep of the family, incarnating the biblical character his role is based on.

Mother! is an ordeal to watch, and that is both its strength and weakness. Over halfway into the film my tolerance was completely spent. Persistence and my wristwatch is what got me through the remaining fifty minutes while others in the screen quietly departed. Cinema can and should push viewers, but personally Aronofsky overran my limit in terms of length, not content. Enough had happened by over halfway that I was ready for the ending to arrive. Mother! shares the same problem as A Ghost Story albeit more pronounced. Both films, ensconced by the themes they pursue, are addled with moments of dead time where little, if anything, makes sense. Mother! is more afflicted by this problem, at times feeling like a student theatre play plugging holes in the plot with provocation.

Mother! will be picked apart in the ensuing decades by film student and film critic alike, it is a rewarding film but often not an enjoyable one.

If I had to recommend one film in cinemas currently, it would still be Blade Runner 2049.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

 

 

The Mist (Black and White Director’s Cut)

Film Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)

Synopsis: Based on the Stephen King novella of the same name, the town of Bridgton, Maine becomes shrouded in a deadly mist, teeming with creatures from the dark corners of another dimension.  Local painter, David Drayton (Thomas Jane), alongside his son, Billy (Nathan Gamble), and their neighbour, Brent Norton (Andre Braugher), become trapped along with many others in the local grocery store as the mist descends upon the town. Protected from the Lovecraftian horrors outside, the movie’s true monster becomes human nature once the vestiges of society melt away.

Despite being director Frank Darabont’s third adaptation of a Stephen King novel following The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, Dimension Films opposed releasing The Mist in black and white. Fortunately, Darabont was able to include his preferred black and white cut as an extra when The Mist was transferred to DVD. Having been in London last week, I stumbled across a showing of The Mist in black and white at the B.F.I. as part of its ongoing Stephen King season. Admittedly, I am not a horror fan by nature as stated in my review for IT, but Darabont’s past work persuaded me to watch the film.

The absence of colour exudes an unsettling sense of illusion, symbolising how the town is in limbo between established reality and a different dimension altogether. Drenched in black and white, the mist becomes alive, developing into a grainy wall like background noise in a bad photograph. The mist watches the trapped townsfolk through the plate glass storefront, as they too observe the fog keeping them captive. When the camera does stare into the mist, the film sheds away any sound, plunging you into an isolating snowdrift and trapping you with the townspeople.  The choice to remove colour nods to Darabont drawing from horror and sci-fi films he watched in the 1960s. The night scenes in particular mirror the eeriness of George. A. Romero’s Night of The Living Dead from 1968.

Watching The Mist in 2017, the film is an indirect prelude to Darabont’s work on The Walking Dead. Three actors in The Mist have major roles in The Walking Dead and both stories pit ordinary people against a ubiquitous and unknown apocalyptic event. Once disbelief and shock ebbs away the two stories are an account of human nature separated from the old world. Darabont split from AMC after The Walking Dead‘s first season, but in The Mist he perceives humanity’s base nature through a dark lens. Darabont’s views are personified by Ollie Weeks, the bespectacled and softly spoken assistant store manager portrayed by British actor Toby Jones. Jones has been a favourite of mine since playing a coroner in my childhood guilty pleasure, the television show Midsomer Murders. Weeks, appearing initially as a downtrodden and outright boring man changes character as The Mist progresses. He bravely aids David Drayton while cynically narrating about human weaknesses as others around them crumble.

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Toby Jones as unlikely hero Ollie Weeks on the left. To the right is Jeffrey DeMunn, better known as Dale in The Walking Dead, as local citizen Dan Miller.

Both Stephen King and Darabont understand that believable characters are a mix of good casting and great writing. That blend is evident in The Mist. Having never seen the film beforehand, it was surprising to recognise many of the actors from major films or television shows. The actors excel in roles reflecting the types of real people found in small communities, from the excessively proud mechanic Jim (William Sadler) to local eccentric Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden). The Mist often diverts away from David Drayton and observes other characters interacting with each other; humorously at first until their personalities divide reflecting the mounting division and savagery across the makeshift community. The only recent film to delve into the politics of crisis was Alien: Covenant, which did a comparable job of showing power shift between survivors. The Mist‘s account of human nature transforms the film into a supernatural equivalent of Lord of The Flies. The only flat character was the neighbour, Brent Norton, depicted by Andre Braugher, famous for his role as Captain Raymond Holt in Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It was disappointing to see Braugher’s clear acting prowess be undervalued yet again by  playing another straight character.

The creatures of The Mist do have a certain creepiness. The monochrome effect of the black and white cut makes the monsters appear like B Movie abominations, ready to lurch from the screen at you. The lack of colour does rejuvenate CGI animations that are now ten years old. Returning to the more recent Stephen King film IT, the personal difference between simple scares and real horror is when something leaves a deep seated unease after watching. The Mist sometimes scares but deeply disturbs by thrusting rational people into an unending and unwinnable disaster. The Mist’s proposition and its conclusion are rare in cinema, because even in apocalyptic films like Mad Max, goodness and hope prevails. The Mist follows The Road in battling against our human need for optimism by asking;

‘What could be done if the end truly means the end?’

The Mist hints at how deliciously darker The Walking Dead could have been under Darabont’s continued direction, but for his acrimonious split with AMC. In likelihood, The Walking Dead would have delved further into grittier overtones rather than becoming a sequence of similar obstacles with predictable outcomes.

Thomas Jane is in another adaptation of a Stephen King novella this year called 1922 which is being released on Netflix next month.

If you have yet to see The Mist, do watch it in black and white. If you have already seen it in colour, give the director’s cut a try. Unfortunately, no trailer exists for the black and white’s directors cut. Below is the standard trailer for The Mist, along with Frank Darabont’s introduction to the black and white version, which will hopefully persuade you to choose his cut over the colour version.

By Saul Shimmin

The Mist trailer:

 

Introduction to the black and white cut by Frank Darabont:

 

IT: Review

Film Score: 3 out of 5 (Good)

Synopsis:  ‘I want to take an American town and have the whole thing be haunted’.

The New England town of Derry, Maine is the product of King’s idea above.  Beset by the malevolent and unknown presence which appears as Pennywise the Clown, the thing also known as ‘IT’ hangs over Derry, taking the townsfolk and in particular the children as its prey. Set in 1988 and 1989, unpopular teen Bill Denbrough ( Jaeden Lieberher) and his gang of outcasts, known as the losers club, hunt down Pennywise after the monster kills Bill’s younger brother George (Jackson Robert Scott). Despite being labelled as a Horror film, IT is a Gothic coming of age adventure, laden with scares and set in the 1980s. The film succeeds and unsettles in conveying that Derry itself is  haunted. Occasionally, IT’s environment shows Pennywise’s presence permeating the fabric of Derry, as though the town was built by him as a lure for his prey. IT is both scary and enjoyable, but never quite haunts as unequal character development and spotty CGI detract from an otherwise good film.

Beginning with his breakout novel Carrie in 1974, Stephen King has remained relevant to pop culture for over 40 years. Celebrating his 70th birthday this year, King’s influence has been celebrated by a season at the B.F.I of films based on his novels.Having been in London this past weekend I was able to see Director Frank Darabont’s black and white version of The Mist which I will review here.  An extra birthday surprise for King has to be IT, finally adapted for the big screen following an earlier made for TV film in the 1990’s starring Tim Curry as the infamous Pennywise.

Horror was not a genre that I enjoyed but became coerced into when I was younger. My flatmates during the first year of University were avid Horror fans and would drag me to watch whatever was new and scary on Netflix. The peer pressure eventually caused me to watch Sinister with my hands over my eyes when it first showed in cinemas. Four years on and somewhat desensitised to Horror films, I found myself growing increasingly anxious last Wednesday night as I waited for IT to begin upon realising that I was alone in a 150 man screen of a very quiet multiplex cinema. Fortunately, two men and a couple appeared just before the advertisements ended. The isolated disquiet I experienced before the film began was a prelude for the fears that IT at times conveys very well; the sense felt during childhood of facing an abstract irrational fear alone.

Children in Horror films can be a medium back to youthful irrational fears, or a lure for the parental impulse to protect the innocent trapped in a dark world, which was captured brilliantly by Night of the Hunter. Certain characters among Bill and his fellow outcasts, such as Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), are given enough time for the audience to share their fears. Unbeknown to each character, Pennywise corners them in a moment of calm. Although Pennywise never appears initially, the camera observes the children from his perspective. Director Andy Muschietti mimics the revolutionary cinematography by Sam Raimi in The Evil Dead of placing the camera at high or low angles to conjure up the ethereal presence of Pennywise while the children seem so vulnerable, adding to the shock when Pennywise finally pounces. Pennywise’s masochism with the children is palpably disturbing, especially with main character Bill. He entices Bill with an apparition of George, manipulated by Pennywise like a sock puppet, while observing Bill silently above the water’s surface.

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(Pennywise, A.K.A ‘IT’ stalking George)

A lack of exposition coupled with bad C.G.I made the fears of other members in the losers club feel flimsy. The disconnect with the other children is because Horror is subjective. When we are children we have irrational fears which ebb away into a visceral fear of the grotesque symbolised by the body horror films like Hostel and Saw.  Now in my twenties, the irrational fears of childhood have transformed into a fear of the irrational itself, a fear of the unpredictable acts of violence which can happen to anyone. It is that sense of unease when I am staying at my parent’s house in the country and knowing that anyone could come calling at this isolated place in the middle of the night. Tales which scare me now are films like Strangers and even The Zodiac that cause me to close my door tightly and lock it. Now that my fears are more material since becoming an adult, some of the children’s abstract terrors were transparent, causing sections of  IT to rely on jumps and loud noises to scare.

Bill Skarsgård sizzles as the titular ‘IT’. Tim Curry’s earlier depiction of Pennywise is a pantomime performance of dark humour expected from an evil clown. Skarsgård’s Pennywise is humourous but beastly, interacting with the children like a ruthless predator, slinking and surging at them or growling lowly as he taunts them. Skarsgärd’s depiction belies the monstrous nature of ‘IT’, underscored by Pennywise’s disproportionate limbs, red cats eyes and tufts of hair atop a bulging head.

Beyond the horror, IT is at its most enjoyable when the film focuses on the children. The losers club may have reached the age of hilariously lewd jokes delivered by thickly bespectacled Richie Tozler (Finn Wolfhard), but there remains an innocence about the kids. The way they behave with each other, from writing love notes to calling a bike ‘Silver’ after The Lone Ranger’s horse harks back to the 1950s where the novel IT is set. Watching the children interact with each other as they grow up over the formative and horrific summer of 1989 was heartwarming and the actors playing the losers are bound to do well in their profession. Finn Wolfhard is great as comedic relief Richie Tozler, who is a starkly different character than Wolfhard’s breakout role as Mike Wheeler in Stranger Things. 

IT is the Stephen King adaptation fans have been waiting for. The film is still out now across cinemas and is well worth watching.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

Bone Tomahawk

Movie Score: 5 out of 5 (Classic)

Cast: Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Richard Jenkins, Lili Simmons, Matthew Fox, & David Arquette.

Director: S. Craig Zahler

Synopsis: A stranger wanders into a small, western town. His suspicious actions draw the attention of  the town sheriff, Hunt (Kurt Russell), who wounds the man when he tries to run away from an interrogation. That night, Samantha (Lili Simmons), the town’s stand-in doctor, tends to the man’s injury at the jail as Hunt’s deputy stands guard. The next morning, a townsman alerts Hunt that savages kidnapped Samantha, the deputy, and the stranger, which prompts a rescue mission. A four-man search party forms and they set-out after the savages. A lot of fun, death, and fear ensues.

I realize my synopsis might make Bone Tomahawk sound like a rip-off of John Wayne’s 1956 classic, The Searchers, but trusts me, Bone Tomahawk surpasses its predecessor. I think my favorite part of the film is its realness. The movie’s actors skillfully embody the frailty of human life on the west. When the savages attack the town, none of the townspeople run scared or act crazy. Through their actions, the audience can see that such awful occurrences are not uncommon. Also, none of the characters are normal western “heroes” who can shoot from the hip and hit a running man at 100 yards. Each man shoots how a normal, somewhat-skilled cowboy would shoot.

Bone Tomahawk‘s greatest deviation from The Searchers though is its gradual descent from a western film into a horror one.  One of the first indications of such a transition begins with the Zahler’s decision to limit his shots to medium and close-up shots of the search party. At first, this limitation annoyed me because I wanted to see the grand landscapes that often paint western films. However, as Zahler restricts his shots, the audience loses more and more knowledge of what actions occurred outside of the frame, creating a sense of unease. Zahler compounds this feeling by electing not to add a score or soundtrack to the film. Breathing, crickets, and the wind are the only sounds the audience hears, which increased my fear because I felt so alone and lost while watching this movie. Normally, a movie’s score indicates when something is about to happen. Most horror movies have a soundtrack and when it stops, it is hinting that something is about to occur. Bone Tomahawk provided no such signposts leaving me on edge for most of the film.

Zahler also wrote the film and followed a tried and true formula. Place your characters in a bad situation and then make it worse. He did a fantastic job executing this strategy because with each passing moment, the search party fell into deeper and deeper peril. The reason I enjoyed this facet of the movie is because Zahler created believable reasons for each calamity to occur. My favorite was a brief moment of anger from Samantha’s husband, Arthur (Patrick Wilson), one of the four members of the search party. Mr. Brooder, another searcher, made a quip about Samantha that related to an earlier scene. Arthur responds negatively to the joke, punching Brooder. While his punch landed solidly on Brooder’s jaw, Arthur’s broke leg, in splints, lands unevenly on a rock causing the bone to break the skin. This injury forces Arthur to stay behind as the rest of the party carry’s on with its search.

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Despite all these great facets, the moment that pushed Bone Tomahawk from an excellent film to a classic occurred later in the film when the savages overpower the search party and take them captive. The savages, who are also cannibals, lock the survivors into a cage and take out the previously captured deputy. Up to this point in the film, most violence acts were not shown but only heard. In what was the most grisly scene I’ve ever seen in my life, the savages take the deputy out of his cage, scalp him, shove his scalp in his mouth, take a tomahawk to his genitals, and then devour him. Zahler’s relative restraint in violence up to that point, combined with the high morality of the sheriff and his cohort (except for Brooder at times), the scene was unsettling to the extreme and made hope unreachable for the heroes.

Target Audience: Adults only.

For trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham

Life

Life is another addition to the sci-fi, creature feature/suspense category. The film begins with with a team aboard the International Space Station waiting to receive a probe carrying sediment samples from Mars. The team soon discovers that the samples carry a dormant, single-cell life form, the first life to be discovered outside of Earth. After introducing the cell to different environments, the team’s lead scientist, Hugh (Ariyon Bakare) awakens the cell and begins to nurture it. After accidentally frightening the alien, known as Calvin, enters survival mode and death ensues.

Movie Score: 2.5 out of 5 (Average) 

 

–Spoilers Ahead–

While Life‘s special effects were breathtaking and often horrifying, I believe the movie’s screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (the duo behind the fantastic films Zombieland and Deadpool) missed an opportunity to delve deeper into the dark recesses of humanity. They touched upon certain aspects of our existence: humans feelings of hatred, procreation, love, and unquestioning duty to protect one another. They even rationalized Calvin’s quest to massacre the crew as a survival-of-the-fittest reaction. However, they failed to appropriately address the humans’ survival instinct, leaving a rich topic untouched.

The writers’ first mistake was failing to provide themselves with the right characters to correctly portray life and enter the complex waters of humans’ animalistic survival-instincts. The International Space Station’s crew consisted of a bunch of overly rational, “good people.” CDC doctor, Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), who lived and died by her adherence to the code of her employer, pilot-come-physician, David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) who wanted to remain on the ISS and away from Earth, Sho Muraki (Hiroyuki Sananda) who’s wife just had a baby (that’s all we learn about Sho), the scientist Hugh Darry who loved other creatures (he was a good guy with an optimistic outlook despite being a paraplegic), the Russian who was kind, Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya), and Ryan Reynolds’ character Rory Adams who mostly acted like Ryan Reynolds. The writers created no gray characters, people who were willing to put their survival before their crew-mates. I realize there might be one or two “good” people on a crew of six, but lacking at least one selfish guy/gal, who is willing to sacrifice others to escape Calvin, is not only unrealistic, but boring.

Despite eventually realizing they needed to kill Calvin to survive, the crew always seemed to do so without any ethical conundrums. The closest the astronauts came to a dilemma occurred when Calvin first turned hostile in the lab. Despite some self-sacrifices by members of the crew to save the others, I never believed their acts of “love.” Their uniform kindness made them unbelievable as characters because humans are not so pure. We are sinful creatures at heart.

The writers should have created a greedy, evil, sinful character to match Calvin’s ferocity, to overturn all the “goodness” and “humanity” on the International Space Station. For a moment, I thought Sho was going to be that character, but the script never clarified if his attempt to reach the lifeboat was an act of selfishness or stupidity.

In sum,  Life failed to showcase humanity’s darkside, the side that executed the Holocaust, the side that commits terrorism on a daily basis, the side that massacred Native Americans at Wounded Knee. Instead, every crew member lived by their code, played nice, and died nice.

This is not to say the movie didn’t have its moments. In actuality, I enjoyed many parts of the film. I truly relished how Reese and Wernick overturned many of the monster genre’s conventions. For example, they didn’t allow the crew’s minority members to die first. Though the movie’s finish wasn’t unexpected, they managed to add a pleasant twist and resist the happy ending trope. Also, some of the crew’s deaths were quite imaginative, and I dug seeing Calvin’s motivation for murder (survival) grow .

By Hagood Grantham

For the trailer, see below:

It Comes At Night -Teaser

Outlook: Spine chillingly good

Director: Trey Edward Shults

Cast: Joel Edgerton, Riley Keough, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr.

In the wake of The VVitch and The Blackcoat’s Daughter, A24 has been developing a fine pedigree in the horror genre. It Comes At Night looks to be the darkest horror film produced by A24 so far.

The film’s premise is that two families, escaping an unknown menace ravaging America, find refuge together in an isolated hut. Yet the threat outside their shelter is quickly overshadowed by the enmity and paranoia which develops between them all.

It Comes At Night is directed and written by Trey Edward Shults, a rising director who gained critical acclaim for his debut film Krisha, about an estranged woman trying to reconnect with her family. Brandishing a larger budget for his second film, Shults has crafted a post-apocalyptic horror which borrows heavily from The Road, which is one of my favourite films. From the teaser trailer alone, both films explore the themes of family, love, and survival in a brooding and eerie post-apocalyptic setting where danger is everywhere. One scene in the teaser trailer, where the camera silently pans down a dimly corridor adorned by family photos, is reminiscent of the cannibal’s house in The Road.

Unlike The Road, where the apocalypse is caused by an unknown cataclysm, It Comes At Night suggests an unknown, but palpable force is sweeping across the world. Horror films have been using the trope of an unseen menace since The Blair Witch Project,  to create the monster in the audience’s own imagination.

Horror based on suggestion is effective but also destructive. The trope creates a subjective expectation of what the menace is, which often surpasses the final reveal and renders a film anti-climatic. The better horror films which rely on suggestion conclude without any revelation. Paranormal Activity did an excellent job in crafting the house’s dark presence without divulging anything at the film’s end.

It Comes At Night bears the challenge of delivering upon the threat outside, without the revelation being disappointing or jarring with plot’s slow-paced tension. Regardless, I am excited to see this film on release, and from the trailer alone, Trey Edward Shults has the potential to be a great director.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

Alien Covenant- Teaser

Outlook- Promising, but there are doubts

Director: Ridley Scott

Cast: Katherine Waterston, James Franco, Danny McBride, Michael Fassbender, Billy Crudup and others.

Prometheus was the first draft of a film, rather than the complete tale. It tried to explain the background to Alien, while exploring the premise of human life as an accident, devoid of intelligent design. The film was ambitious but relied on inferences and assumptions to cover up gaping holes in the story. To audiences who had not seen Alien or who were not fans of Scott’s work, Prometheus was incoherent. Ridley Scott is a talented director who can muster another  masterpiece equalling his earlier films. Following the teaser trailer which came out a few months ago, Alien: Covenant will be another classic film crafted by Scott’s hands.

20th Century Fox has just released the official trailer for  Alien: Covenant. Visually, the film is a gorgeous blend of CGI, practical effects, set-pieces, and on-location filming. The cut between the Covenant gliding across the stars to their landing on their new home was breathtaking. The trailer follows the transition of a great horror film, from cautious optimism to increasing terror. Scott has perfected the ambience for this film.

Alien: Covenant boasts a great cast overall, and their respective characters have been developed through the ominously titled The Last Supper prologue for Alien: Covenant. The scene itself presents the traits of the main characters very effectively through snippets of dialogue, and imparts a real sense of comradeship, excitement, and trepidation as the Covenant’s crew embarks on the landmark colonisation of a distant planet.

I would recommend watching The Last Supper prologue before watching the Alien: Covenant trailer.

 

While watching the full Alien: Covenant trailer, I occasionally noticed the same incoherence that afflicted Prometheus. The trailer reveals multiple threats to the Covenant’s crew, a hooded-figure, an airborne virus, and strangely enough two different types of alien. The alien in the later scenes of the trailer is the classic xenomorph we know and love, but halfway through, one of the covenant’s crew is gored by an anaemic and wiry variant. Hopefully Scott has returned to Alien’s template of a monster film in space, instead of building an overly complicated plot like Prometheus.

I still have issues with Katherine Waterston as the lead character, Daniels. Alien and Prometheus centred upon a strong female lead, and so far I have only seen Katherine Waterston playing helpless and unsympathetic characters. Scott has stated that casting is the pivotal part of his film-making process, but Waterston still comes across as wet, which disappoints me because in Inherent Vice, she tantalised us with glimpses of potential.

Having watched the trailer a few times, here are a few things I have noticed so far:

1.36: The dog-tag in the Alien ship definitely belongs to Elizabeth Shaw, the sole human survivor of Prometheus, as the Weyland corporation logo is present.

1.56: The hooded figure, seen in the teaser trailer and who does not belong to the Covenant crew, heads towards an engineer settlement, surrounded by dead xenomorphs and maybe even dead engineers. From the number of bodies which fill this large landscape shot, it looks the engineers made one last stand against the xenomorphs.

If you are a fan of Ridley Scott’s work, check out our 4th wall post, Ridley Scott and the value of life: part one . This is the first piece in a miniseries exploring Alien, Blade Runner and Prometheus.

Let us know if you spot any more secrets in the new trailer!

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below: