Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

With the emergence of escape room experiences in 2007 and their rising popularity among the worldwide populace (hell, I have a sister who does them all the time with her boyfriend), it was probably inevitable that a film would be made based on them. Especially seeing as the concept isn’t exactly owned by any particular company or anything. Of course, a film like this would also be compared to the Saw films and Cube (the former I never liked, the latter I only heard of today). Are the comparisons valid? And is the film any good on its own?

Escape Room follows three individuals–quiet physics student Zoey, stock boy Ben, high-powered stockbroker Jason–as they are joined by three others–Army veteran Amanda, trucker Mike, and escape-room nut Danny–after being invited to attend a special escape room experience with a cash prize of ten-thousand dollars. Problem is, the escape rooms are designed to be able to actually kill people, and it will push the participants to the brink physically and mentally. And not all of them will make it out alive.

For starters, this film is very well-done visually. Every set is made to look as real as possible. Also, boxes are present throughout the film, reinforcing the film’s theme. The escape rooms themselves are very clever in their layout and their traps. The latter two, by the way, are where the film’s tension comes from, and the tension is strong. You’re always wondering, where the next trap will be triggered, what will it lead to. And when it does show, whoo-boy is it hard to look away while the characters try to save themselves and move onto the next room. Add a decent focus on showing who these characters are and how the rooms challenge them, and it’s easy to get drawn in.

Plus, no torture porn! I hated the first Saw film because I saw no point in all that excessive gore and torture, and haven’t seen the sequels because of it. Glad to see they didn’t go that route with Escape Room, though they easily could’ve.

The film does have a couple issues. While the characters are given enough time to develop on screen, the reveals of their traumatic pasts is told more than shown. And while telling might work in a novel, in a film it’s better to show. I also would’ve liked Nik Dodani’s character Danny to be given more screen time (though that might be because I saw myself and people I know in him). And the final scene of the movie does feel like it was tacked on with the hopes of generating a sequel (which I could see happening if the film does well, though the team behind it would have to really work to make the sequel as good or as tense as the original). You could’ve easily ended the film one scene before and with a slight tweak made it a perfect storybook ending.

But all in all, if you want a film involving puzzles and life-or-death situations but you prefer tension, character development and storytelling over gore and torture porn, this might be the film for you. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m going to give Escape Room a solid 4. Leave the kids at home* and get ready for an armrest-clenching thriller.

*Seriously, leave the kids at home. One woman in the row behind me brought her four year old son and I heard him whispering (and possibly crying in fear) more than once during the film. Lady, what are you doing bringing a four year old to a PG-13 film that’s just a bit of blood and a few swear words short of an R rating? You want him to grow up traumatized? Either get a babysitter or wait six months for the film to hit DVD! You’ll survive if you don’t see the film because you have a kid who takes priority!

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As you know, I’m a bit of an enthusiast when it comes to Lizzie Borden, the woman who allegedly murdered her stepmother and father, in that order, was acquitted at trial due to prosecutorial bungling as well as societal attitudes about women at the time, and who allegedly haunts the house where those same murders happened. I’ve stayed overnight at the Borden House, now a bed and breakfast; I’ve read a book or two about it, including See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt; and I’ve watched more than a few adaptations about the murders, including the famous 1975 TV movie The Legend of Lizzie Borden.

So when I heard a new movie was being made on Lizzie and the murders, I was intrigued. It had some big names attached, including Chloe Sevigny and Kristen Stewart. And the trailer made it seem like this was going to be a really tense thriller film. I was willing to see it in theaters, but the film was only given a limited theatrical run and it wasn’t playing anywhere near me (or in Ohio, as far as I can tell). So when my library’s copy came in for me today, I actually rushed over to pick it up with the goal to watch it tonight.

I can see why this was given a limited release.

Lizzie retells the story of Lizzie Borden and the 1892 murders of her parents, using the theory that Lizzie and the maid Bridget “Maggie” Sullivan were lovers and committed the murders after Mr. Borden discovered their affair. That’s the plot in a nutshell.

I’m not sure what exactly the filmmakers were going for, because this was nothing like the trailer. For the most part, the film goes at a slow crawl, making it feel like three hours rather than an hour and forty-five minutes. Everything takes it time, which in what is supposed to be a tense murder thriller can really take you out of the story. And you know how people accuse Kristen Stewart of having no emotional range in her films? Weirdly enough, it seems reversed here: Stewart has some emotional range, and everyone else seems like they only know how to mimic emotion, rather than show it!

On top of that, Lizzie didn’t include some things that one might expect from any story on Lizzie Borden. The turbulent relationship between Lizzie and her stepmother is glossed over; Lizzie is shown suffering from seizures, which is something I don’t remember ever hearing about her; elder sister Emma Borden is barely in the film; and a few other things beside.

Oh, and there’s this thing with the soundtrack. Namely, it doesn’t show up that much, and when it does it disappears really quickly. There’s one scene where you’d expect lots of soft music to highlight the emotion of the scene, only for it to cut in and out every three seconds. Um, why?

Was there anything about this film that I liked? Well, the attention to detail is decent when it comes to clothes and furnishings. The house’s first floor is laid out like the real house in Fall River, Massachusetts, which I approve of. And the development of the relationship between Lizzie and Bridget is given the time and development needed to really make you believe in it. And there are some real talents in this film, including Jeff Perry, Denis O’Hare, and Fiona Shaw.

But other than that, Lizzie was really not worth the wait. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving this film a 2. If you want a Lizzie Borden film that keeps the tension up even though you already know how it ends, I recommend 1975’s The Legend of Lizzie Borden, starring the incomparable Elizabeth Montgomery in the titular role. Fun fact, Montgomery found out Lizzie was her sixth cousin once removed after completing the film. Imagine if she’d known that when she was playing the character!

Now if only I could see  productions of Fall River Legend, the ballet based on the murders, and the rock musical Lizzie. Yes, those exist, and I want to see them live. Someone pleeeeeease make those happen for me!

When trailers for Bird Box first hit the net, people were immediately intrigued. Not only because Sandra Bullock was in it, but the film, like A Quiet Place, drew its tension and challenge through avoiding a monster by denying an important sense or human function. I was also intrigued when it was pointed out to me that the film shares similarities with a story I wrote (not enough to get lawsuit thankfully). So this evening, I sat down and checked it out.

Based on the novel by Josh Malerman, Bird Box follows Mallory, a woman with two young children who is trying to get to a compound downriver while she and the children is blindfolded. The story then switches to five years previously, when a pregnant Mallory becomes trapped inside a large house after invisible monsters start causing anyone who gazes upon them to either commit suicide or try to make other people look at them. Switching between past and present, the movie follows Mallory’s journey of survival, both then and now, as she tries to keep those close to her alive.

This was a really good horror film. It takes a simple concept and executes it very well, creating this gripping tension. Even when characters are indoors, there’s this feeling of dread as you see them struggle with their various survival needs–food and water, two very pregnant women, anyone outside might be dangerous, etc.–and the possibility of having to expose themselves to the outside. In those moments, you see these characters really having to work to keep themselves alive, using everything in their environments to both get around and keep themselves from seeing something they shouldn’t. It really makes you believe in the scenario occurring, and that these would be the steps people would take if such a situation would occur.

I also liked how the movie handles the monsters. You never see them, you only see their effects on the environment and anyone who sees them, and that adds this powerful sense of mystery to them, compounding the terror they create.

And for those wondering, Sandra Bullock in the lead was awesome. I mean, all of the principal cast is really good, but especially Bullock. You really do see this woman who has grown up being very guarded and afraid of bonds with people new to her having to really change herself in order to adjust to the situation she’s in. Yeah, at times she does seem a little emotionless, but I think that is just her character trying to stay guarded. I know some people have said that annoyed them or made it harder to sympathize with the character, and I have a feeling that’s going to be a point of contention though with a lot of people. Hopefully the debates stay civil, especially online.

I also liked John Malkovich as Douglas, a character whose survival drive at times makes him gravitate between asshole and murderer. Yeah, I hated the character, but God was it hard to look away whenever he was on the screen. And he does a great impression of Donald Trump at a rally during one scene. That alone is worth checking out the film.

If there was anything I didn’t like, it was that a few characters didn’t get more screen time. You have Sarah freaking Paulson and BD Wong in this film, but their roles were relatively small, and that’s just a damn shame (though since they were both on American Horror Story: Apocalypse, that might have had something to do with it). And Lil Rei Howery as Charlie, a grocery store employee and aspiring author writing a novel about the end of the world (a man after my own heart) should’ve been given more screen time. He stole the show every time he was on screen. I wish that guy could have his own film.

All in all, Bird Box is a tense apocalyptic thriller with great characters and an engrossing story. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving the film a 4.5. Go in, and go in with eyes wide open. You’ll see how beautiful it is.

If you’ve been with me a while, you remember a few years ago I read this awesome horror manga called Uzumaki by Junji Ito (and if you don’t or weren’t around then, here’s the link) Since then I managed to get my hands on the movie adaptation of Uzumaki (you can read that review here), read plenty more of his works (his stories can be hit or miss, but generally I like them), and watched a couple episodes of an anime adaptation of his various short stories (which, by the way, sucked. I didn’t even bother to review it, it was sooo bad). And most recently, Ito’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was released in the United States, along with eight previously untranslated short stories, six of which are interconnected. All in one big volume.

How could I not read and review that?

Obviously Frankenstein is based on Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, the tale of one scientist’s journey to create a living being through science and the disastrous series of events that follows, along with elements from some of the movie adaptations out there.* And honestly, Ito’s art is perfect for this story. I’ve heard he spends upwards of ten hours on illustrating a single page or frame, using ink and shadow, as well as his disinterest in making his art pretty or visually appealing in the normal sense of the phrase. I mean, look at the reveal of the Monster.

Um, yikes!

Seriously, this guy has to do more Gothic horror. His style is a natural for it. And it’s a natural fit here, really allowing you to feel the horror that early audiences felt of the original novel, especially in bringing the monster to life. There’s also some decent changes from the original text in order to make the story more compelling for the style of manga, such as when it comes to the creation of the Monster’s Bride.

Still, there are some things that could’ve been improved. A couple of Ito’s changes do make the story a bit slower near the end, and the translated text might be a little too close to the actual novel for a modern audience (if I wanted old-timey speak like that, I’d read Lovecraft). And honestly, I would’ve liked to see Ito take more liberties with the story, make it his own. His stories can be really unnerving, and I’d love to see him bring more of his style to the Frankenstein story.

The short stories added to bulk up the book (because of course they are) are decent, for the most part. Six of them follow Toru Oshikiri, a teenager living in a giant mansion by himself who starts to have a strange series of experiences, gradually leading to him making a shocking discovery about his home. Some of these stories work really well, but sometimes the build-up in them seems to lead to a letdown.

The real problems though are the unconnected stories. They don’t really add anything, and one of them is definitely from the bottom of Ito’s portfolio.

By itself, I give Ito’s adaptation of Frankenstein a 4 out of 5. If you want a really creepy visual adaptation of the original Frankenstein story, this is definitely worth a read. With the addition of the other stories, I’d give it a 3.5. Not what I’d recommend for anyone coming to Ito’s work for the first time (for that, I’d point to Uzumaki or his collection Shiver, which came out in December 2017), but for anyone familiar with his work already, this collection is probably worth checking out.

Speaking of which, Ito’s got another collection, Smashed, coming out in April. I might have to check that one out and give that a review as well. Hopefully his stories Hellstar Remina and The Bully are included. I hear those are reeeeally freaky.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. If I don’t post anything within the next couple of days, then I’d like to wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year. May Cthulhu bless us, every one (because of course I would go there). Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*Highly recommend the 1994 adaptation with Kenneth Branagh. It’s not just the most faithful adaptation of the original novel, it’s got the best “bringing-the-monster-to-life” scene I’ve ever seen.

I heard about this film a few months ago, and thought the trailer looked promising. Even when the reviews came in and said the film was terrible (one review I saw called it a “soulless possession flick”), I was still interested. So today I got in the car and went to see it, thinking it would either be as terrible as advertised, or I might like it more than others had.

Well, you can’t live on caviar alone, can you?

The Possession of Hannah Grace follows Megan, a former cop and recovering addict who gets a job on the night shift at a hospital morgue. On her second night, a body gets dropped off with extensive damage, the result of a botched exorcism, and immediately weird things start happening around Megan. Machines won’t work, someone breaks into the morgue, and the body seems to change in very odd ways. Soon Megan realizes the corpse, the human formerly known as Hannah Grace, may be more than just a dead body. It may be the vessel for something much worse.

This film was rife with problems. I mean, it had a great set, and the actors put their all into their roles. Shay Mitchell as Megan does a great job as vulnerable, and it was a nice surprise seeing Stana Katic from Castle as Megan’s friend/AA sponsor (I miss that show sometimes). And there are a couple of good jump scares here and there, plus some pretty brutal death scenes. There’s a good horror film trying to break out of here.

The problem is, it’s just not scary. It starts off showing Hannah Grace’s failed exorcism and how she dies, and that takes out much of the mystery and suspense of the film. I feel if the film had been given a different name and the knowledge that Hannah’s botched exorcism until two-thirds through the film as a twist reveal, it would’ve been more effective. As it is though, we know too much, and see where it’s going much too soon. That wouldn’t be a problem (that’s usually how films in the Conjuring series or some of Blumhouse’s films operate, and those are often very good), but the lack of atmosphere and the poor attempts at jump scares don’t do the film any favors.

Also, the ending gave me so many questions. Not the good kind of questions, like the ones that make you return to the film to look for Easter eggs or hidden meanings. The kind that make you scratch your head and wonder what the filmmakers were thinking when they made these decisions. I won’t say what they were in case you don’t want to be spoiled, but let’s just say they left me a little disappointed, and I’d be more than happy to vent in the comments.

And oh my God, you can hear every breath Megan makes! And while that’s normal for characters in a scary movie to breathe hard, here it’s just distracting for some reason.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving The Possession of Hannah Grace a 1.5. It’s a crappy possession film that’s trying to market itself as a B-grade popcorn muncher but not doing any of the work to get that distinction.

On the bright side, based on the ticket sales for this film, we won’t have to worry about a sequel or prequel. That’s something to be thankful for.

You know, sometimes you come across movies in the weirdest ways. Sometimes they’re just on while flipping channels, or someone makes a reference to it and you want to know the interest. I heard about Down a Dark Hall because I heard AnnaSophia Robb (aka the kid from Because of Winn-Dixie) was in it. I remember she used to slay in anything I saw her in (especially The Reaping, another horror film she was in), and the fact that this was a horror film got me interested. I asked my local library to order it, they said yes, and I picked it up this weekend, not sure what I was going to get but looking forward to finding out.

This turned out to be a decent example of modern Gothic horror.

Based on the Gothic YA novel by Lois Duncan, Down a Dark Hall follows Kit, a troubled teenager whose mother sends her to an elite academy with the hopes of straightening her out. There with only four other similarly-troubled girls, Kit finds that the school’s very unique and focused program starts to have results. Weird results. Results that devolve into obsession, addiction, neurosis and trauma. On top of that, Kit has been seeing things in the hallways and in the dark. Faces, people, movement. All this collides to lead Kit to a terrifying realization about the school, and what its staff is doing to the students.

For starters, the actors in this film all do a very good job in their roles. AnnaSophia Robb as Kit slays again, inhabiting this very angry girl who slowly finds herself actually liking the school and then distrusting it as things get weird like a second skin or as if she’s done this a hundred times before. The same goes for Victoria Moroles as Veronica, who hides her own tragedies in a badass attitude. And Uma Thurman does a great job as the aristocratic and charismatic Madame Duret.

The film’s story is also very compelling. It checks all four of the boxes I mention in my article on Gothic fiction, all in a very pretty set, and you definitely find yourself caught up in the mystery of the story. Some of the most disturbing moments of the film are when you see these girls falling under the spell of the school, becoming obsessed with math or music or painting or whatever and how badly it affects them. And the special effects aren’t half bad either, more subtle than garish or distracting.

However, the film isn’t without its issues. I never felt very scared, and there wasn’t much of an atmosphere or sense of threat. Outside of the moments of obsession, that is. In addition, a few things in the film felt a little extraneous. There was a certain bald-headed and scarred ghost that really didn’t serve any purpose beyond a few extra scares, and the romantic tension between Kit and her music teacher was inserted, but nothing was really done with it. Seriously, the question of how to portray those relationships in fiction aside, either use it or cut it out and just show them as close student and teacher!

Finally, I also thought that the ending was wrapped up in too sweet a bow and maybe a few minutes too long. In some ways, it felt a little too hopeful compared to the rest of the film, which jars the viewer and takes away from the experience.

Still, Down a Dark Hall was a good Gothic horror film. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 3.8. It’s no Kill Creek (which I highly recommend by the way, check out my review as to why), but if you turn off the lights in your living room and put this on the Blu-Ray player, you probably won’t regret it. Check it out and see for yourself.

At the beginning of American Horror Story‘s ambitious eighth season, Apocalypse, I said that the first episode was a dark and violent good start to the series, and I was looking forward to the next nine episodes. Well, last night was the season finale, and I just finished the episode a little while ago. So what did I think of Apocalypse as a whole?

I have a feeling that this season is going to be very divisive among a lot of fans, but overall most people, including myself, will walk away satisfied by it.

While the first two episodes follow a group of survivors when they come into contact with Antichrist Michael Langdon, the rest of the season switches to a new focus, one-half biopic of Michael’s life and how he became the instigator of a nuclear holocaust, the other half about the efforts by his enemies, most notably the witches of Coven, to stop him from ending the world. And while structurally this form of storytelling can be a little jarring, it’s very effective here. It’s hard to look away as you watch Langdon realize his destiny and as you watch the witches try to grapple with the monumental task of saving humanity. The best way to describe it may be hypnotic, which I’m sure both Langdon and the witches would be glad to hear, as well as cinematic.

As for the scares, most center around Michael and what he sets into motion once we get into the biopic section of the season. While I would’ve enjoyed seeing scares from more quarters, what I saw was absolutely beautiful. Seeing Michael being so evil is chilling. And speaking of Michael, his actor, Cody Fern, was phenomenal, at times menacing and then at others very emotional and vulnerable. I hope he comes back for Season 9 (more on that below). I also liked the character of Mallory and her actress Billie Lourd. You could see the toll of all the events on the character, and the love she felt for the people she cared about.

Cody Fern as Antichrist Michael Langdon was excellent. I hope he returns for the next season.

And by the way, seeing so many actors and characters from previous seasons, especially the guest appearances, was such a treat. Every familiar face was like seeing an old friend. An old friend you never want to hang out with because they might be the cause of your death, but still an old friend.

That said, there were problems with the season. For one, the disjointed storytelling won’t work for everyone.. There’s also the fact that for a lot of people, Apocalypse usually means big battles, big power plays, big deaths. Just everything is world-sized, but at times the events of the story aren’t as big as one would expect. That’s understandable, as this is a cable TV show and not a Marvel movie, but for some fans, it might be a disappointment that things don’t measure up to the name Apocalypse.

I don’t feel that way, I thought they told a great story. But for some fans, this might be the thing they take issue with for this season.

But the thing I did dislike was that Michael Langdon wasn’t the greatest Antichrist I’ve ever come across (and I’ve come across a few in my time. Not all of them fictional). Yeah, he’s bloodthirsty and dangerous, but he’s very indecisive. He needs someone to hold his hand and point the way most of the time, and for an Antichrist, I expect a bit more independence. I don’t know, maybe that’s just my quirk, but I’m sure other people will gripe about that as well.

And as for the season finale, I’ve heard a lot of diverse opinions on it. Personally, I liked how it ended. Sure, the final episode wasn’t what I expected, but I felt like they gave a decent resolution to the story, and the ending did set up not only possible future storylines, but reminded us of something very important: that the horror lives on, even after the story ends. For me, that’s enough to satisfy me.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving American Horror Story: Apocalypse a 4.3 out of 5. It’s not the best season or my favorite season of the series (my vote on both counts still goes to Hotel), but it is an engaging season with memorable characters and character appearances that will satisfy most fans. On most counts, I’d say the ambitions of the writers and showrunners were met. Take a look, and hope you’re lucky enough to survive.

So what can we expect for Season Nine? Well, a lot of fans have been asking for Urban Legends, or Cruise, or a continuation of Apocalypse (which could happen). I’m all for those ideas, as well as maybe Orphanage or Academy. I’d also like to write for those ideas, as well as for the return of Lady Gaga to the show. And maybe something from the Cthulhu Mythos? They haven’t mined that goldmine yet.

Better cross my fingers and pay attention to the news as the season continues on, shouldn’t I?

Until next time, pleasant nightmares my Followers of Fear!