Posts Tagged ‘films’

 

 

Hereditary was one of the scariest films of 2018. It’s considered so unnerving and terrifying, watching it a second time is considered by some to be a masochistic act (believe me, I was called that when I watched it again a month or two ago). So when we all heard director Ari Aster was following it up barely a year later with Midsommar, horror fans everywhere get excited. We were even willing to forgive him diving back into the evil cult trope just because he did so well with it in Hereditary. With the bar set high, I went to the theater today to see if this follow up could measure up to its predecessor.

Midsommar follows Dani, a young woman who, after suffering a family tragedy, joins her boyfriend and his friends on a trip to Sweden for a summer solstice festival held in the childhood home of one of the friends. While at first things seem innocent enough–minus a bit of drug use, of course–it soon becomes clear that these rituals and celebrations have a dark side to them. And not everyone will survive the nine-day festival.

I can say this movie is weird and fucked up. But not in a good way.

Obviously, this movie’s going to be compared a lot with Hereditary. But you know why that film worked? Because everything in it, from the painful breakdown of the family to the supernatural occurrences–felt like one big domino effect or Rube Goldberg machine. And in the end, it turned out to be that way. And it was done by looking into every situation where horror could be derived and then exploiting it to its most effective length. There’s none of that here. It felt like Aster just took one of the most prominent factors in Hereditary–the cult aspect–and extended it with psychedelic imagery and as much weird stuff as possible, though with barely any rhyme or reason, let alone with a Rube Goldberg-like exactness.

Even worse, it wasn’t scary. Actually, at times it feels kind of comical. One guy in the theater laughed at out at one point, and I couldn’t blame him. What happened was ridiculous.

And the majority of the characters are flat as rocks. You can sum most of them up with a single sentence, and it’ll encompass all of them completely and succinctly. You have the horndog who’s pissed he’ not having sex every other minute; you have the scholar who only cares about the research; you have the boyfriend who clearly isn’t happy but is guilted into the relationship; and you have the friend who invited everyone and is obviously hiding a lot.

Oh, and there’s something involving disabled villagers which just…didn’t sit right with me. I won’t go into spoilers, but I’m troubled by it, and let’s leave it at that (if you know what I’m talking about, let me know if you were troubled as well in the comments below).

Was there anything good in this film? Well, there’s some beautiful cinematography, shots that take weird angles or go on for minutes at a time. The psychedelic imagery, at times, is pretty cool. There are moments where flowers seem to breathe, which is visually stunning. And Dani is not only a fully realized character, but one whose battle with anxiety and depression come across as very genuine. You really see this woman who has been beaten down by life, and is just trying to find some joy and happiness while on this trip. It’s really heartbreaking.

But on the whole, Midsommar feels like a promise broken after the gem that is Hereditary. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving the film a 2. If you really want to watch this one, I’d wait until it’s on DVD or streaming. Either that, or watch either Wicker Man movie, because they deal with similar concepts. Or The Apostle or The Ritual on Netflix, because they have similar concepts as well and are done soooo much better.

Either way, Ari Aster will have to do a lot better with his next film to regain our trust.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Hopefully the next review I do is for something that really hits it out of the park. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

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One of these days I’m going to get my own Annabelle doll. Not a Raggedy Ann like the real Annabelle doll, and certainly not the actual cursed doll (there’s not enough room in my home for two powerful demonic entities). No, I mean I’m going to get one of the collectible dolls based on the one in these movies. That would be a great addition to my ever-growing doll collection.

Also, did I mention I plan to name a major character in my project for National Novel Writing Month after this doll? Well, now I did.

Annabelle Comes Home follows Judy Warren, Ed and Lorraine’s young daughter; Mary Ellen, Judy’s babysitter; and Daniela, Mary Ellen’s best friend. Judy’s home alone one night, and Mary Ellen’s sitting, which Daniela, who is grieving the loss of her father, uses as an excuse to come over and explore the Warrens’ haunted collection of dangerous objects to try to contact her father. However, she lets Annabelle out of her case by accident, and the doll awakens all the evil in the collection, trapping the girls in the house for the most fateful night of their lives.

From a storytelling perspective, Annabelle 3 was decent. Nothing extraordinary, but it does a good job. The writers give Judy Warren her first major role in the series as a girl trying to come to terms with her parents’ work as well as her own paranormal gifts, and Daniela is given some depth as more than the rebellious friend who’s just looking for something fun to do (aka look through a collection of cursed possessions). There are some really tense moments, and the practical effects allow for some creepy and creative visuals.

And I loved Bob, the sweet boy-next-door interested in Mary Ellen and who goes by the nickname “Bob’s Got Balls.” He gets caught up in the horror and ends up stealing the show at times. Can we get a movie around him trying to be a cross between the Warrens and van Helsing? Maybe with Judy as his sidekick? You can make a whole series of horror/action films out of those two!

Sadly, I had a few issues with Annabelle Comes Home. The biggest is that, after seven (eight including La Llorona) films, the jumpscares in the Conjuring Universe are getting old. We know what to expect, and it’s getting repetitive. After one particular jumpscare, people started laughing in the theater! I’ve been saying since The Nun, they need to done down on the jumpscares and try to switch things up. If the series is to continue past The Conjuring 3 next year, it may need to try some new things or all the projects in development are going to get shelved (and there are a few of those).

I also had issues with one of the spirits featured in the film (who I’ve heard might be the villain in The Conjuring 3). It was animated with a lot of CGI, which was not that scary. In fact, the first time we see it looked kind of ridiculous. Look, I know CGI was probably easier to create it, but there were twenty different ways to make that thing scary, and I would’ve liked to see them.

And finally, there’s the friendly ghost in the film (yeah, there’s one). Given how little it was in the film, was it even necessary to include it? You could’ve given it one more minute of screen time, made the appearance worth it.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Annabelle Comes Home a 3. Not the best of the franchise, but not the worst. Fans of the franchise will love it, but others may need something with a bit more meat to it, if you get my meaning. But hey, at least it’s not The Curse of La Llorona. Anyway, let’s hope next year’s Conjuring 3 does better.

Let me preface this review with a disclaimer: I’ve never been a fan of the Child’s Play franchise. I saw the original Child’s Play when I was too old to be scared of Chucky, and I never bothered to see any of the sequels. So I was not among the many people who raged at the thought of a redesigned Chucky, a new origin story for the character, or the concept of a reboot in general. However, I knew that there was a good chance this would fall under horror remakes we all wish we could forget would ever make. So I braced myself, bought a ticket, and went in.

Child’s Play follows Andi, a young deaf boy with trouble making friends. His mom finds him a used Buddi doll, a cross between your Alexa smart product and the worst of the uncanny valley, as an early birthday present. Unfortunately, neither of them realize that this particular doll was sabotaged by a disgruntled factory worker, and has all the limiters taken off. The result is a psychopathic stalker unhealthily obsessed with a little boy. And he’ll stop at nothing to make sure his best buddy stays his best buddy. Especially when he gains access to the network.

Okay, first off, I’m just going to say it. In what world does ANYBODY want THAT version of Chucky in their home? Give the original design its due, at least it looks somewhat adorable, something your child would want to play with. Take it from the guy who has a doll collection and his favorite is kind of creepy, this doll looks too creepy for the average family, let alone something people would allow into their home and pretend is their best buddy while at the same time handing control over their home devices.

There’s this thing called the suspension of disbelief. Don’t go too far with it, or nobody will believe your story.

Yeah, I wouldn’t trust this with my devices. Why would anyone?

And now that that’s out of the way, let’s just say it. Even if you can forgive all the changes from the source material, the Child’s Play remake is not very good. For one thing, it’s predictable. We’ve seen this story, the doll that comes to life and becomes too attached to its owner, again and again. Beyond adding the element of a doll connected to the cloud and the Wi-Fi and everything else, there’s nothing new to add. If you have a checklist for this kind of trope about what to expect, you can check every single one off and rate it as average at best.

I also disagreed with some plot choices. The worst was with Andi’s mom, played by Aubrey Plaza. She seems caring, but at the same time she’s like, “I could care less and want to go back to being a carefree teenager.” And then, in a scene where Andi displays some behavior that seems disturbing, she instead…takes him to work? How about a hospital to get his head looked at?

Oh, and talk about a waste of Mark Hamill. I totally forgot that was Luke Skywalker/arguable one of the best Jokers ever playing Chucky. The robotic voice mutes the actor’s distinct voice, making you forget who’s behind the character.

Was there anything good about this film? Well, the cast is okay. They’re not trying very hard, but they convince me anyway. Some of the sweeter, more heartfelt moments are decent at giving you the feels. And some of the moments of horror and dark humor are enough to terrify and gross you out. Especially with one scene in the basement.

But all in all, the Child’s Play reboot is a sad attempt at revitalizing a slasher franchise. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 1.8. Even if it somehow is a success at the box office (which, with a ten million dollars budget, could be done in a few weeks), it might not get a sequel just based on how bad it is. Only go if you don’t mind wasting two hours of your life.

Thank God it wasn’t a bad Friday the 13th reboot. Can you imagine how disappointing it would be if that happened? Oh wait, that did happen! And it’s still a shitty piece of filmmaking courtesy of Michael Bay’s toilet. That’s right, I found another opportunity to trash the Friday the 13th reboot! And I’ll keep trashing it until a better (or worse) Friday the 13th film is released, mark my words!

Their only relation is a Japanese influence. Nevertheless, it has to be used here.

Yes, that’s right. It’s only seven days till Rose is out. And ooh boy, am I getting all sorts of excited and nervous! This past week has been a flurry of emails regarding the novel. I’ve been emailing my publisher; my publisher has been emailing me; I’ve been emailing websites and bookstores; they’ve been emailing back. Plus a ton of final edits, planning for parties with coworkers and family members and friends, and a couple of anxiety attacks.

But as of right now, it looks like Rose will still be coming out on time next week, with the advanced copies being sent out on Monday most likely. And for those of you who don’t know, Rose is my first novel published with an actual publishing press. Castrum Press is set to release it on June 21st, 2019. Assuming I don’t do something to fuck it up between now and then (always a possibility).

As for what the book’s about, here’s a description:

When Rose Taggert wakes up in a greenhouse, the past two years missing from her memory, she has no idea what is in store for her. Her body changes, transfigured into a new, plant-like form by Paris Kuyper, a student and her self-proclaimed lover who used an ancient family grimoire to save Rose’s life. While Rose is at first willing to trust Paris and work with him to recover her memories and the supposed love they shared, it soon becomes clear her lover is not all he seems. In a short time, she decides to put love and memories aside in favor of survival.

But a rose may be defenseless when a storm surrounds it. And Rose may only be able to stand for so long against the forces swirling around her.

I really hope you’ll check out the book when it comes out next week. And if you do, please consider posting a review after you read it. It’s not necessary, but it would really help me out in the long run if you did.

And in the meantime, I hope to have more news about Rose in the future. Cover art should be finalized and sent to me at some point this weekend, and as soon as I get it–assuming I’m not fast asleep when I receive it–I’ll post that everywhere once I get it. And if I can arrange it, I’ll have preorder links up as well. And if any other developments come up, I’ll make sure to let you know.

Well, that’s all for now. It’s Friday night, so I’m making dinner, cracking open the beers, and relaxing with a couple of good movies. Until next time–which might even be tonight, for all I know–pleasant nightmares, my Followers of Fear!

Since the very first trailer, I’ve been excited for this film. I mean, a horror film led by the phenomenal Octavia Spencer? That should be amazing! And even though I was enjoying myself this past weekend in various locales associated with spirits (more on that in other posts), Ma was never far from my mind. And since I’m still on vacation, I thought I’d go see an afternoon matinee.

Ma follows a group of teens, including new girl Maggie, as they wrangle a veterinary technician named Sue Ann Ellington (aka Ma), into buying them booze. Sue Ann later entices them into partying with her in her basement, and soon her place becomes the place to be. However, Sue Ann starts to exhibit some strange behavior, and it becomes clear that she has a history, one involving the parents of some of the kids. And she’s still upset about it.

There are two things about this film that stand out to me. The first is Octavia Spencer’s performance. She does crazy so well, it’s terrifying. I’m no psychologist, but I’m pretty sure the character of Sue Ann displayed traits of both borderline personality disorder and Munchausen’s by proxy, and it’s convincing. The second is the storytelling, a slow-burn of a story showing a woman twisted by her past out for revenge after several years of keeping most of that anger under wraps. It’s not done with big scares or a tense atmosphere, but small things that eventually grow into a freaky finale.

The one gripe I have–and this is a gripe shared by other critics of the film–is that it could’ve gone farther. Tate Taylor, the director, feels like he’s not willing to lean into the concept and portray more violent or disturbing acts on the part of Sue Ann. I mean, there are definitely some things she does that are chilling, no doubt, but a few more would’ve only helped the film. Certainly the low kill count will trouble some horror fans.

Still, I can see some sequel or prequel potential in Ma. The film sprinkled enough things into it and had an ending that might be conducive for further films. And if done right, Sue Ann Ellington–aka Ma–might join the ranks of great horror villains like Michael Myers, Freddy Kreuger, and my boy Jason Voorhees.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Ma an even 4. If you prefer subtle horror with a focus on storytelling and a compelling villain, this may be the horror film for you. Grab a drink, and check it out.

And while I have your attention, this is another reminder that you have till Friday to sign up to be an advanced reader for Rose, my upcoming fantasy-horror novel from Castrum Press. The story follows a young woman who starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). Anyone interested should send me an email at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com. All I ask is you read the book and consider posting a review after the release. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.

What if the Superman origin story had a dark, horror-movie style twist? That’s the conceit of Brightburn, a movie produced by the director of the Guardians of the Galaxy films and the upcoming Suicide Squad film, written by his brothers Mark and Brian, and directed by David Yarovesky, who directed the pretty-good horror film The Hive. And from the trailers, it looked like it could be really good, or just plain bad. Either way, I put my butt in the seat and waited to see how it would go.

Brightburn follows the Breyers family, consisting of farmer Kyle, wife and artist Tori, and adopted son Brandon. Around his twelfth birthday, Brandon starts exhibiting supernatural powers and psychopathic behaviors. When he starts to hurt classmates and people around town start dying or going missing, Tori and Kyle reveal to their son his extraterrestrial origins, and he reveals to them his dark purpose in coming to Earth.

*sigh* You know, I can forgive them for copying Superman’s basic power-set in this film. I can also forgive them for not mentioning him at all (probably did that out of legal reasons). But I can’t forgive them for making a bad film that puts all its best bits in the trailers!

I kid you not, everything that was supposed to make this film exciting and scary was revealed in the trailer. The woman who got glass in her eye, the guy in the car seeing Brandon flying on the road, the girl’s hand getting broken, the plane crash. Those should’ve been surprises, but we all saw them in the trailers, and that takes out all of the suspense and horror of the actual movie. Except for a few moments, I watched the film thinking to myself, “That’s predictable. That’s predictable. Oh, how could I have not seen that coming? Oh wait, I did! In the previews!”

What do you have left when you take all those elements out? Just your below-average evil child horror film, like Prodigy from earlier this year (which I didn’t review because it was so much like every other evil child film out there). Parents get a kid, usually not their own. Kid grows up mostly fine, but then starts exhibiting scary behavior. Kid turns out to be evil, either because they were born seriously messed up or because of some supernatural reason, one parent ends up dead, the other either successfully kills the kid or is killed while trying because a bystander was nearby and didn’t know the truth.

Seen it. Done it. Took it to dinner. Had a good time afterwards. Ordered them an Uber. Point is, done to death.

There were only two things I liked about Brightburn. One was the mask the kid Brandon wore, which looks like a crocheted cross between an insect head and Cthulhu’s face. The other is Elizabeth Banks as mother Tori. You really see her love for this strange boy, and how much she tries to hold onto that little boy despite all he’s done.

But other than that, Brightburn is sadly unoriginal despite marketing itself as original. And I’m convinced the filmmakers knew that, and that’s why they put all the highlights in the trailers, to get butts in seats. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving this one a 1.5. Avoid, unless you like wasting two hours of your time. I hope to God I never write anything as unoriginal as this.

Speaking of which, I’m still looking for advanced readers for my upcoming fantasy-horror novel from Castrum Press, Rose. The story follows a young woman who turns into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). Anyone who’s interested should send me an email at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com before June 7th. All I ask is that you read the book and then consider posting a review after release. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

The other day I watched the movie As Above, So Below (which I highly recommend, by the way. Underrated horror movie). For those of you who haven’t seen it, As Above, So Below is a found footage film that follows an archaeologist and her crew into the bowels of the Paris catacombs to find a mythical treasure. As they make their way down, however, they end up finding a passage that leads straight into Hell. And Hell in this movie isn’t a fiery pit. It’s so much, much more.

As well as terrifying me again and making me remember why I liked this film to begin with, As Above, So Below also made me consider that our portrayal of Hell has changed immensely over the years. If you look throughout the media we create, you’re going to find more than just the traditional fire-and-brimstone images of Hell, but as many as there are writers out there looking for unique twists on old concepts and stories. And that in and of itself is pretty interesting. I mean, how many different versions are there? And why are they showing up so much, especially today?

Well, Hell has always been a concept in human theology. While some early religions–Mesopotamian, Greek, and traditional Judaism–have a general afterlife for all the dead, usually a gloomy place with maybe some nicer perks for those who behaved themselves in life, others had very defined afterlives for sinners and saints. Hinduism and Buddhism have multiple afterlives where various treatments or punishments may be applied to your soul prior to reincarnation. The ancient Egyptians were the earliest to use a lake of fire. The Ainu of Japan, meanwhile, saw Hell as a wet place underground, and the Serer people of Senegal saw Hell as rejection by ancestor spirits, forcing you to become a wandering ghost.

And that’s just a small survey of the various kinds of Hell in religious beliefs.*

The most iconic version, of course, is the underground lake of fire ruled over by Satan from mainstream Christianity, which was adapted from the Egyptian concept and then spread as Christianity took root in the Roman Empire and then was spread by missionaries. But even that has had variations over the years. Some have involved just a cave full of flames, while others have involved individual sections where demons perform different punishments in cauldrons full of boiling water and fire. Some involved a dumb, animalistic Satan, and others portray him as a calculating, powerful evil.

In the Renaissance, we received some of our most famous variations of Hell. Dante Alighieri wrote Inferno, where he travels with the spirit of the poet Virgil through Hell’s nine circles, with each circle containing different punishments for different sins. John Milton featured a Hell featuring a great castle, Pandemonium, created by Satan and the fallen angels to be their seat of power in Hell.

Lucifer’s version of Hell, featuring customized punishments for every person there. It’s a great and adaptable concept.

Further variations have appeared since those landmark works. Jean-Paul Sartre’s famous play, No Exit, describes Hell as other people. Luis Brunel further took this theme along in his movie The Exterminating Angel, where guests at a dinner party hate each other but are unable to leave. Stephen King has defined Hell has endless repetition, and has added that to many of his stories. Some creators have shown Hell as a city or a distorted version of our own world. The Hellraiser movies have shown Hell as a place mixing BDSM with your own sins and life choices. As Above, So Below portrays Hell as a series of tunnels in the Paris catacombs that configures itself, adding elements and figures to fully terrify and punish any who are forced to enter it, going so far to become an alchemical/spiritual puzzle to test the main characters. And increasingly, we see Hell as setting itself up for each individual sinner. The TV show Lucifer utilizes this very effectively, especially in Season 3’s episode “Off the Record,” in which a man is forced to replay the last two years of his life over and over in Hell, because his obsession with the titular character caused him to commit murder.**

But what does all this really mean? Well, at the heart of all these portrayals is the idea of torment. Whether you realize or not you’re in it, Hell is meant to fill you with despair. That may be through pain, psychological torture, or terror. It can vary depending on the needs of the storyteller or the person being tormented, but the point is, it can change for any purpose. And that is why we’re seeing so many variations of Hell in our media.

And I’m sure with the passage of time, we’ll see even more portrayals, matching new ideas and situations we face in our lives, giving us all new reasons to be afraid. I find that kind of exciting. Hell, don’t you?

What are some versions of Hell you’ve come across or created? Why do you think it was so effective or terrible?

*There are also faiths that don’t have any belief or reject beliefs about a punishment-themed afterlife, but I think we’ll skip over those for this article.

**By the way, so excited for Lucifer season 4! Thank you Netflix, for saving one of the best shows on TV right now. I’m working my way through rewatching the show and can’t wait to see what’s been served up. #LuciferSaved