Tag Archives: Horror

“Leatherface”

MATT: 1 STAR


MATT SAYS:

“Leatherface” is a deeply unpleasant movie. I know, I know: horror movies are supposed to be unpleasant. But on a spectrum of horror films, this one leans in the direction of very, very unpleasant. And it’s also no fun.

This is at least the second time that someone has tried to tell the origin story of the titular character, who debuted in Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” The first one was 2006’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning,” a film that I remember seeing but don’t remember disliking as much as I hated this one. The difference, I guess, is that Hooper was involved with executive producing “Leatherface,” whereas he had no involvement in the other film. But so what?

In “Leatherface,” we are introduced to the character as a child, when his murderous family, the Sawyer clan (led by his mother Verna (Lili Taylor)) is celebrating his birthday with, well, murder. After the family kills the wrong person, young Leather is taken away from his family to be put in a juvenile detention facility full of other murderous youth. In a shocking (not) turn of events, the boy escapes with a group of other demented killers for a blood-soaked road trip, eventually making his way back to his family home in Texas.

There’s not much to like here. Lots of gore but nothing unique or inventive. And for a film promising to tell us how Leatherface came to be, we get very little insight into his character and what motivates him. In fact, when he does begin killing it actually doesn’t feel true: in other words, nothing that came before Leather’s first kill explained how he got there (other than his family ties).

Yuck. “Leatherface” is no fun at all.

“Jigsaw”

MATT: 2 STARS


MATT SAYS:

After a several-year hiatus, John Kramer (Tobin Bell), a/k/a the Jigsaw Killer (from the “Saw” series), is back. Or is he?

“Jigsaw” opens with a brand new “game,” one that bears all of the hallmarks of a classic Jigsaw killing, being played. It’s up to Detectives Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) and Hunt (Clé Bennett) to figure out who is behind the most recent series of deaths – is it Kramer, who has been dead 10 years, or is it a copycat?

For gorehounds and horror fans, the most interesting part of the “Saw” movies has always been the clever traps: the reverse bear trap, the pit of used, dirty syringes, the pendulum. I’m sorry to say that the new traps concocted by the killer in “Jigsaw”are more than a little lackluster, lacking in imagination. Are the diabolical minds behind the series tapped out, or was this newest attempt to revive a once-successful franchise doomed from the beginning? It’s hard to say. The actors do a respectable enough job of it, but even after the big reveal (the other trademark of the series), I found myself underwhelmed by the “been there, done that” ending.

One more thing: as the Geico commercial posits, characters in horror movies aren’t known for making good decisions. But these particular characters are among the very worst. Scene after scene, they make choices that defy explanation. So… very… frustrating.

If you love these movies, this one’s worth a rental. Otherwise, skip it.

“Happy Death Day”

MATT: 3 STARS


MATT SAYS:

The new horror Meister, producer Jason Blum (“The Purge,” “Paranormal Activity”) is back with “Happy Death Day,” an absurdly simple but appealing concept-driven movie.

It’s mean sorority girl Tree Gelbman’s (Jessica Rothe) birthday. Before the day is over, she’s going to be murdered. And then she wakes up, and it’s the morning of the same day. And once again, the killer is going to come for her. And now she has to figure out who it is that’s killing her and stop the murderer before it’s too late. It’s “Edge of Tomorrow” (or “Live, Die, Repeat” depending on who you ask) again, except this time it’s set in the world of slasher films.

Tree makes stupid decisions. As an easy victim-turned final girl, she has time to learn from her mistakes. Not all of her bad choices can be explained away by horror tropes, however, and some plot points are just a little too hard for the audience to swallow, death after death. At times it’s frustrating and there’s not a whole lot to it, but as a horror concept, it works just well enough to warrant a mild recommendation.

“Annabelle: Creation”

MATT: 4.5 STARS


MATT SAYS:

“Annabelle: Creation” is a relentlessly scary movie. The film creates a sustained sense of dread that, once it starts, does not let up for almost all of its 109 minutes of running time. It’s a near-perfect horror film and the best one I’ve seen in years.

In this prequel to both “Annabelle” and “The Conjuring,” Esther (Miranda Otto) and Samuel (Anthony LaPaglia) Mullins are a middle-aged couple grieving the loss of their young daughter, Annabelle. In order to fill their empty house, the Mullinses invite Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) and her charges, six teen and pre-teen orphan girls, to live with them. But the presence of the girls has awakened an evil presence in the house, something that lives in a doll once owned by Annabelle.

In “Annabelle: Creation”, director David F. Sandberg (“Lights Out”) and producers James Wan (“Saw,” “The Conjuring”) and Peter Safran (“Annabelle,” “The Belko Experiment”) display a keen understanding of horror that most strive for but few achieve. The pacing is deliberate but never slow. The set design is incredibly well-conceived; the Mullinses house has the sort of architectural features that are perfectly integrated into the plot. Set pieces are created and props are placed that you just know will figure into the story later, and they do. The sound design integrates creaks, scrapes, and distant tinkling of bells, framed against the deafening silence of a big, isolated country house to ramp up the dread. And director Sandberg once again (as he did in “Lights Out”) makes expert use of light and dark — and more particularly, the terrifying dark that is just outside of that ring of light.

I didn’t care much for the first “Annabelle” and I was underwhelmed by “The Conjuring 2.” Unlike those two films, “Annabelle: Creation” is not a shameless cash-grab in an attempt to wring every possible cent from the new horror franchise. It is a movie that displays the sort of deft talent and fluency in the language of horror that make this movie perfect both for casual thrill-seekers and true fans of the genre.

 

 

 

“Hush”

MATT: 4 STARS


MATT SAYS:

Maddie (Kate Siegel) is a writer who lives in a cabin in the woods. Having recently broken up with a longtime boyfriend, Maddie seeks the peace and solitude offered by the cabin. But it is this isolation that has made Maddie a target of a man in a mask (John Gallagher Jr.), who has come to kill her. The man takes his time toying with Maddie and stalking her, playing on her fears. The man takes his time in prolonging her fear of being stalked, taking full advantage of Maddie’s disability: as the man knows, Maddie is deaf.

“Hush” is a well-constructed slasher film of the home invasion variety. Writer / director Mike Flanagan (“Oculus”, “Absentia”) and his co-writer Siegel feed our universal fear of being attacked in our homes. As the classic final girl, Maddie is forced to use her wits to out-think the man, playing out each possible scenario and its flaws in her mind before choosing one. She makes bad and good ones, all the while frustrating the audience and forcing us to evaluate each of the options: if we were in Maddie’s shoes, what would we do?

The film is paced well, never outstaying its welcome. Unlike other recent films in the genre, it doesn’t heavily rely on jump scares, instead using light and darkness, and an economy of horrifying acts and gore, to its advantage. This movie has a remarkable sense of place, using the layout of Maddie’s home and its geography to maximum effect. The suspense and terror is organic and realistic, and the score is understated but effective.

If you’re looking for a good scare this October from a movie you can watch instantly on Netflix, right now, “Hush” is an excellent option.


Louisa was unavailable for review.

“Blair Witch”

MATT: 2.5 STARS


MATT SAYS:

“Blair Witch” is yet another unnecessary “requel” that neither improves on its predecessor or presents any meaningful justification for its existence. It’s not exactly bad, but it’s also hard to understand why the people involved with making it felt that it was worth doing.

The Blair Witch Project” took the world by storm in 1999. It’s still respected as one of the top horror films of all time, and for good reason: many people remember it fondly for having scared the wits out of them when they first saw the film, and its found-footage style has inspired scads of imitators. Through the haze of memory, most people don’t remember that “The Blair Witch Project” was 85% repetitive and sort of boring, with the only real scares coming at the climax, with that end scene. But oh, what an ending scene that was. It’s still by far one of the scariest sequences ever committed to film, and for that reason the movie stays in our collective consciousness.

Which is apparently why some folks thought a sequel, set 15 years later, would be a good idea. This version of the story comes from genre darling filmmakers Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett (“You’re Next” and “The Guest“) but lacks the usual flair or originality that I’ve come to expect from them.

Although the film does reference its predecessor, “Blair Witch” really does feel like a remake that does the same thing as the first movie, only with updated technology (smaller cameras, a drone, GPS locators, etc.) that, while cool, does really nothing to measurably advance the story. The sequel hook is that in this film, James (James Allen McCune) is the younger sibling of Heather Donahue — one of the trio that went missing in the first movie — and he incredibly believes that she may somehow still be alive (!!!) and organizes a group to go and try to find her. That premise is so farfetched that it puts an initial taint on the “Blair Witch”, but that alone would not have been insurmountable if the update was good enough to stand on its own.

The key problem here is that since the original movie was released, so many found footage films have been made that retelling the same story with new and different characters is no longer going to be good enough. While the technical specifications (video quality and sound design) are markedly better in this version, there really isn’t much else to differentiate this one from its predecessor. . . that is, until the final scene.

But whereas the first film benefits from a lean approach that does maximizes its scares with a short ending scene that is legitimately terrifying because of what you don’t see, “Blair Witch” takes the opposite approach; its final scene is about four times as long and it shows you everything. Drawing things out like that takes away a lot of the dread factor, and being shown the source of the thing that goes bump in the night is ultimately unsatisfying.

“Blair Witch” isn’t terrible, but it’s not going to re-invent the genre, either.


Louisa was unavailable for review.

“Lights Out”

MATT:  3.5 STARS


MATT SAYS:

I made fun of “Lights Out” after seeing the trailer because — at least according to the way they were marketing it — they might as well have called it “Jump Scare: The Movie.” Because that’s all it looks to be, based on the marketing campaign.

Here is yet another example of a film almost ruined by the trailer. In the case of “Lights Out”, that was true in not just one but two different ways. First, it really WAS nothing but a series of jump scares (of course accompanied by the jarring soundtrack), one after the other. Second, they semi-spoiled a lot of the really cool stuff. And there really is quite a bit of cool stuff happening in this movie.

Having gotten its start as a short film, the monster in “Lights Out” is pretty original: Diana is a tortured soul that has extreme sensitivity to light and can only thrive (and be seen) in semi-darkness. They make good use of this motif throughout with a variety of creative uses of light and darkness that amp up the creep factor. Unlike the folks that marketed the film, I won’t spoil it for you. It’s not a by-the-numbers creature feature that wrote itself; there’s actually some creativity that went into making this picture.

The actors range from pretty decent (Maria Bello, Teresa Palmer and Alexander DiPersia) to not half bad (Billy Burke) to borderline over-the-top (Gabriel Bateman). The script is pretty good, too, with the characters interacting with one another in believable ways in a variety of situations that are mostly plausible. I was pleasantly surprised.

While standing alone, this is strictly a three-star movie, the pic gets bonus points for creativity with a unique concept.


Louisa was unavailable for review.

“The Purge: Election Year”

MATT:  4 STARS


MATT SAYS:

Whereas most franchises are characterized by sequels that degrade in quality over time, “The Purge” is one that continues to improve. The first movie was a good premise in search of a story. The second in the series, “The Purge: Anarchy” was a marked improvement, and “The Purge: Election Year” is clearly the best one yet.

In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, the concept behind these movies is simple: the government of America fell after mass unrest and crime eventually led to revolution, and out of the rubble a new party rose. They call themselves “The New Founding Fathers” party and they have discovered a way to dramatically decrease crime and placate the populace: for one 12 hour time span each year, all crime — including murder — is legal. This annual bloodbath is known as (wait for it) “the Purge.”

In this newest installment, the annual Purge has been in place for two decades. When she was younger, Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) was forced to watch as her entire family was murdered in front of her during the Purge. Having survived the horrors of the Purge, the Senator is running for President on an anti-Purge platform that is gaining popularity. Threatened by Senator Mitchell, the New Founding Fathers use the Purge as an opportunity to wipe out their competition by sending a squad of assassins to hunt her down. Protected only by her head of security, Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo, reprising his role from “The Purge: Anarchy”), the Senator must go on the run to survive the night.

In “The Purge: Election Year,” the annual bloodbath is used as a platform to talk about the growing tension between the haves and the have-nots. Because they lack the financial means to protect themselves, the poor are disproportionately victimized during the Purge. In this world, legalized murder is a way for the wealthy and political elite to ensure a placated populace and control the poor. When the victimized start to realize that they are pawns in a game played by the privileged, they start to fight back… by any means necessary.

The elite in this world are typified by ultra-conservative hypocrites who are quick to subvert religion and re-shape their displayed and false piety to advance their own agenda. Murder tourism is encouraged, and the powerful are quick to espouse the wisdom of permissive gun laws. Sound familiar at all?

My chief criticism of the movie is that it got perhaps a little too heavy-handed in its messaging at times, and the horror aspects of the story suffered as a result. At times, the film more closely resembles an action movie than a horror flick, which is a little disappointing for a franchise that excels in displaying inventive — if horrific — kills. Those kills are the moments that stay with you the longest and the ones that keep you up at night. The imagery that we do get is powerful, but it becomes increasingly scarce as the movie progresses.

While it’s not a perfect movie, “The Purge: Election Year” is that rare horror movie that is both entertaining and has something interesting to say. Whether or not you agree with its politics, it’s an interesting vehicle to use for a message that has resonance in our current culture. I just fear that the message will be lost on most.


Louisa was unavailable for review.

“The Witch”

MATT:  3.5 STARS


MATT SAYS:

The last several years have brought some innovative new films that have set the horror world on fire. In 2012 it was “The Cabin in the Woods.” Last year it was “It Follows.” And this year, we get “The Witch,” a buzzy picture that made huge waves at Sundance and has intrigued audiences.

As a horror fan, I HAD to see this movie. I was hoping to love it, but I didn’t. Not that there aren’t plenty of things to like about it; there are.

While the story, relying heavily on the occult and supernatural, isn’t entirely new (“The Wicker Man,” “Kill List,” and “The House of the Devil” come readily to mind as comparisons), the setting of the movie isn’t one I’ve seen before in a genre film. “The Witch” takes place in the New England of the Puritans, when agrarian lives were focused almost entirely on religion and living a godly life. The manner of speech is decidedly old English, and the manner of both dress and address highly formal. North America was still untamed; the existence of demons, devils, spirits and witches was an accepted fact, and belief in supernatural evil was part and parcel of believing in the divine. That hexes, witchcraft and wizardry exist in this world is taken for granted, and the family that forms the center of this story struggles with doubt and belief that the evil might live among them.

“The Witch” is not your traditional horror movie. It’s a slow burn – mostly dialogue-driven interspersed with only occasional imagery that is highly disturbing and effective at creating an overall feeling of dread. Grey hues and darkness are used to maximum effect here – this is a world that is always in twilight and that the sun seems to never touch. Very little seems to thrive in this environment except darkness.

Yet for all of the things there are to like about the movie, it just never seemed to quite hit that point of true terror. The best horror movies are ones that stick with you, where there are scenes that you just can’t forget (no matter how hard you try). These are the movies that keep you up at night, the films touch that primal bit of fear within you, the ones that get your adrenaline flowing. If you saw “The Blair Witch Project” back in 1999, you were probably bored for 85% of the film. But then, that final scene. Who could forget that? Unfortunately, there’s nothing like that here (apart from maybe an early scene in the witch’s cottage that was really more shocking than terrifying).

If you’re looking for an atmospheric, intelligent, and interesting genre movie, “The Witch” is a good choice. If, however, you’re looking for a good scare, “The Witch” won’t give it to you.


Louisa was unavailable for review.

 

“Carnage Park”

LOUISA:   4 STARS      MATT: 4.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

This badass genre film is one part crime caper plus one part survivalist horror with a big helping of bloody goodness mixed in for good measure. This is one damn intense thriller of a movie from young filmmaker Mickey Keating, obviously a huge film fan himself (we all know movie fans often make the best movies). I have no problem proclaiming Keating as one of the most skilled indie filmmakers working today: I can only imagine what he could do with a big budget.

An obvious homage to low budget grindhouse flicks from the 1970s, this movie is undeniably cool. At first I was concerned it was going to be another Tarantino ripoff but it’s not. It’s filled with spectacular visual tributes to splatter cinema of the past but manages to feel fresh and vibrant and new.

Before you dismiss “Carnage Park” as all style over substance, I can assure you it’s not. The meticulous period detail really works with the story of innocents let loose in the remote desert to be hunted by a maniacal psychopath. The actors are thoughtfully cast and all of them, down to the minor supporting players (which includes James Landry Hebert, Michael Villar, and Alan Ruck), give fresh, raw performances. Ashley Bell and the always fantastic Pat Healy are standouts as the predator and prey. The storyline may be a basic one, but they manage to make and keep it exciting.

While Keating certainly has a knack for splashy visuals, there’s no denying he also has an insane eye for detail — matched only by his skill at building seat-squirming, armrest-gripping tension for his audience. I think he will only improve as he continues to work and grow as a filmmaker (his direction isn’t completely perfect: the experimental-style black and white inverted shots in this film may look cool but serve no real purpose).

Despite the minor faults, this is what indie film is all about. And Keating is one of the most exciting voices I’ve seen in recent cinema.

MATT SAYS:

“Carnage Park” is ferocious display of talent by its young writer-director Mickey Keating. The movie begins as a rather run-of-the-mill heist movie (with a quick homage to Quentin Tarantino) and quickly becomes something else entirely when it descends into straight-up horror.

Supported by a strong cast with serious indie credentials (including standouts Ashley Bell and Pat Healy), “Carnage Park” effectively uses its 1970’s setting in the sparsely-populated California desert to maximum effect. Out here, the land is dry, the elements are harsh, and the locals aren’t exactly friendly. These people are either desperate from their circumstances, crazy from the heat, or simply insane from the recent war in Vietnam. Pitting a resourceful protagonist against a brutally clever and evil killer is a classic horror formula that works well in the right hands. And director Keating definitely knows what he is doing here.

Keating is fluent in the language of film and horror; he knows his movies, and it shows. A soundtrack that is alternately disturbing and jarring accompanies a story that marries together “First Blood” with “My Bloody Valentine,” with a healthy helping of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “House of 1000 Corpses” thrown in to boot. The real-time events are quickly interspersed with unsettling images that are effective in ratcheting up the tension and suspense.

While it won’t be a game-changer for horror like previous Sundance horror standouts “Saw” and “The Blair Witch Project,” this skillfully-crafted movie should be one of the most talked-about genre movies of the year. I can’t wait to see what Keating does next.