Posts Tagged ‘Stranger Things’

Saturday night usually means popcorn and a movie for me. This evening I decided to check out the new Netflix movie Malevolent. I figured it would be a good way to round out a day busy with cleaning, grocery shopping, home decor projects, and sacrificing teenagers* to an ancient deity so I could set in motion a series of terrifying events unlike the world has ever seen before this October.

Malevolent is set in 1986 Scotland and follows Angela, a university student who, along with her brother, fakes being a medium in order to make money for her brother’s debts. When they get called to an old manor that was the sight of several grisly murders however, they start finding that the afterlife they’d conned people over is very much alive, and can be very…well, malevolent.

This film’s got a decent, if rather overcrowded, first half. It sets up Angela’s worries about her life and her mental health, due to her mother committing suicide. It shows her brother Jackson as an opportunistic asshole who’s willing to take advantage of anyone just to pay off his loan sharks. And it sets up a decent Gothic location for the main action of the film. There’s also some good jump scares and a creepy atmosphere at times during this half. The best part is probably during the initial walkthrough of the house, when Angela is starting to realize this house may really be haunted. It’s visually powerful and puts you on edge.

However, the second half has a lot of problems. For one thing, it feels pretty rushed. Usually there’s a slow build up to the climax, but in this film it just goes from zero to sixty, and not in a good way. If they maybe added twenty minutes to half an hour more, I wouldn’t feel so whiplashed. Also, the tone during the second half is a little inconsistent. Like it can’t decide if it wants to be a Gothic ghost story or a thriller story about serial killers. Along with a twist introduced in the last twenty minutes that seems more shoved in than clever, it just takes me really out of the film.

Also, why was this film set in the 1980s? I know that’s like the popular trend these days, to put your story in the 1980s, but there’s no reason at all to do it in this film like in Stranger Things or another 80s-set show or movie. You could do this in the present, and you’d get the same effect. In fact, I think it might be better if it were set in the present. It would feel less gimmicky if they used GoPros instead of big, bulky video cameras.

Overall, Malevolent can’t capitalize on the interesting setup it promises. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m going to give this film a 2.5. Frankly Followers of Fear, there are better Netflix horror films to peruse. I suggest you go and find some if you want some pleasant nightmares.

*Don’t worry, the teenagers were unharmed. The sacrifices were symbolic. The deity, however, was very much real. I’ve got a bandage on my left thumb as proof.

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Whenever you hear a movie getting a ton of hype, especially a horror movie, you tend to be a bit skeptical. And when you hear that Platinum Dunes, Michael Bay’s production company for horror movies, is involved, you’re even more skeptical. I mean, have you seen Ouija? Or that crappy, way-too-sexual middle finger to a franchise that was the Friday the 13th reboot (I’m sorry, but I’ll never forgive Michael Bay for that film. Did not understand what made Jason Voorhees or the Friday the 13th films great at all).

I’m glad to report that this film was not only very good, but actually scared me a bit. And I credit that to how much its director, John Krasinski, who also starred in the film with his real-life wife Emily Blunt and co-wrote the script (rather than a certain director who thinks explosions, boobs, and unsteady camera movements make good cinema).

A Quiet Place follows a family–a father (Krasinski), a mother (Blunt), their deaf daughter (actually deaf actress Millicent Simmonds), and hearing son (Noah Jupe)–living in the first years of a post-apocalyptic world where a predatory race of creatures that hunt through sound have exterminated most of the human race. The family tries to survive each day without making a sound, speaking only with sign language and going to extreme lengths to muffle or suppress every noise (which makes you very aware of how much noise we make in our everyday lives). Which is getting more and more complicated because the mother is heavily pregnant (you can understand why that might be an issue). The film chronicles one particularly nasty night, when the mother goes into labor, and what happens afterwards.

This film is a great horror film. For one thing, the emphasis on sound in this film, both in terms of the lack of ordinary sounds like speech, electronics, and whatnot, the sounds we do hear, from nature to the monsters’ roars and growls, to the music, help to create this creepy, unearthly atmosphere. This helps in suspenseful moments, where characters have to be very careful not to make a sound or they’ll get killed, as it heightens the terror you feel. Hell, I was afraid to make a sound during those moments, and I was in the audience! Coupled with a some well-timed jump scares, you get a really scary film.

I also really liked the monsters in this film. Even in broad daylight, the monsters aren’t very easy to make out through most of the film, keeping them mysterious and making their deadliness all the scarier. And when we finally do see them, they are still really terrifying to look at, even if they may look like the monsters from a certain popular science-fiction/horror franchise (those who’ve seen the movie know what I’m talking about). And I love how not much about the monsters is revealed in the film. You learn enough to understand how they hunt and why they’ve been so successful in hunting down humanity, but you never really learn where they came from or how they appeared on Earth. And that, like the Xenomorphs from the Alien franchise before Prometheus, just makes them all the scarier.

But the best part of this film are the relationships between the family members. With little to no spoken dialogue, you really get to see how this life has been wearing on them, how little mistakes and arguments, along with the constant need for survival, have given each character their own struggles and fears, and how all that creates tensions between them. Seeing them work together, fight, and try to overcome this life is not only enthralling, but contains a great metaphor for the struggles of a family–any family–during difficult times.

That all being said, the lack of sound and action at times does make it hard to stay invested or pay attention to the story. I also thought that the ending could’ve been darker, which would’ve made it a much more memorable and powerful film. At least in my mind.

All in all, I’m giving A Quiet Place a 4.3 out of 5. This is a scary film that will draw you in not just with its premise and atmosphere, but with its intelligence and depth. Take a look and see why silence is truly golden.

Veronica dropped onto Netflix back at the tail end of February. A Spanish film directed by Paco Plaza, best known for the critically acclaimed REC films, it quickly gained a reputation as “the scariest film on Netflix.” I try not to pay attention to that sort of hype, but any film that was getting that sort of recognition is likely going to make it onto my watchlist. Last night I watched it, and I would’ve reviewed it right then and there, but it was late, so I went to bed. And then today I had a busy morning and early afternoon. So I hope you don’t mind that I’m getting this post out so late.

Based on actual events,* the film follows Veronica, a Spanish schoolgirl living in Madrid in 1991. Since her father’s untimely passing, her mother has been working long hours at a restaurant/bar, leaving Veronica to care for her younger siblings. One day, Veronica and a couple of classmates bring out a Ouija board so that Veronica can contact her father’s spirit. Instead she contacts a dark entity that seems intent on not only haunting/killing Veronica, but her younger siblings as well.

While I won’t say this is the scariest film on Netflix (Lord knows I haven’t seen enough of their selection to say that), it is a damn good scary movie.

While the film is filled with the normal tropes of many possession movies–things moving on their own, scary invisible or shadowy entities, people acting totally creepy uner the influence of the evil spirit–they’re done so well that you forget that you’ve seen these tropes before. The actors all do a very decent job, especially newcomer Sandra Escacena as Veronica, who really makes you believe she’s this character and sympathize with her troubles. I also seriously loved Sister Death, a blind, elderly nun who helps Veronica realize what she has to do to fight the spirit after her (because of course there’s going to be a nun who gives advice). For an old blind woman, she’s a bit of a badass, and was never dull when she was on screen.

But on top of that, the film doesn’t go overboard with the fact that it’s a period film. Most properties taking place in popular recent decades do everything in their power to remind you that they take place in that decade. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing and is sometimes part of the charm (see Stranger Things or Ready Player One), it’s kind of refreshing to see a film that’s more focused on its story than on its culturally-popular decade.

There are a couple of things that take away from the film. For one thing, there are trippier moments in the film, like a scene where Veronica is running across the print of a page from an occult magazine on the way to her mother’s restaurant, that feel rather unnecessary and add nothing to the film. On top of that, for being the titular character, Veronica isn’t the most developed character. Yeah, she’s a responsible teenager taking care of her younger siblings and misses her father, but those are just character tropes. They don’t make Veronica herself memorable like Carrie on prom night was memorable, or how Annabelle the doll is memorable without being anything more than a creepy, possessed doll. In the end, I’m going to remember the film more than I remember the actual character the film is named after.

And as I said, this film is filled with a lot of familiar tropes. And while I’m fine with that, I know there are a lot of other horror fans who won’t care for that, no matter how well done they are.

But all in all, Veronica is a definitely a new gem in the horror film genre. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving this film a 4.5. Head to Netflix, turn it on, and get ready for an experience you won’t be able to look away from.

*No seriously, something did happen. Apparently in 1992 a bunch of Spanish schoolgirls did use a Ouija board, only to have the ceremony interrupted. One of the girls later died because of a mysterious illness, which some have suggested might’ve been due to demonic possession. So while we’re not exactly sure what happened, there’s enough there that this film has more of a claim to the “based on actual events” tagline than Texas Chainsaw Massacre ever did.

My boy, HP Lovecraft

So today as I was heating up dinner, a thought passed through my head that sometimes passes through there (along with, “Oh, that would make a great story,” “I’m hungry,” and “These miserable mortals must be destroyed! Rise up and cleanse the Earth of them!”). The thought was, “I wish there were more HP Lovecraft adaptations. He’s got a lot of material to work from.” This thought was followed, rather unexpectedly, by “Why wasn’t there an HP Lovecraft cinematic universe? You’d think it’d be perfect for film studios. The stories literally take place a multiverse, possibly the very first multiverse!”

Now, if you’re wondering who HP Lovecraft is, you’re not alone. He’s criminally under-known (a word I just made, so copyright). What’s important to know is that he was a writer from the early half of the 20th century who wrote horror stories based around powerful cosmic entities and truths from beyond the stars whose exposure to humans can cause insanity, destruction and death. This is called cosmic horror, and Lovecraft practically invented it. And while you might’ve never heard of HP Lovecraft or cosmic horror (though I talk about him often enough on this blog), you’ve probably seen the wide results of his influence. Ever wonder where the ideas for the Demogorgon or the Shadow Monster and the Upside-Down from Stranger Things come from? Those all are at least partly inspired by Lovecraft’s creations. The weirder, more interdimensional aspects of the works of Stephen King, such as the last two-hundred pages of It or the Dark Tower series? Lovecraft helped inspire them, especially his Dream Cycle stories in relation to the Dark Tower books. And that thing with a mouth full of teeth coming out of my hotel room toilet? That’s actually a demon crocodile, where the hell did that come from?

Point is, Lovecraft has influenced a lot of horror fiction, and even some things not normally considered horror, such as Marvel comics villains. Now excuse me, I’ve got to take care of that demon crocodile.

Still here? Good. Well, you’d think that with such a bibliography and legacy, you’d think Lovecraft would have several adaptations, right? Maybe even a cinematic universe, considering he has one of the earliest multiverses in fiction? Wrong, actually. There are actually only a handful of direct HP Lovecraft adaptations, the most well-known being Re-Animator, and the story that’s based on is kind of in its own separate mini-universe (kind of like Deadpool in the X-Men movies). But wait. If his ideas and the works they influence are so ubiquitous that we’re getting major Netflix shows and box-office record-breaking movies based on them, why aren’t his works being made into more movies? And why isn’t there a cinematic universe, when there’s a gold mine right there for it?

Thank Lovecraft for this guy.

Well, there are a few reasons for that. One of the reasons is that movie adaptations, and especially cinematic universes, are made from properties that filmmakers feel will make them money (now there¬†kind of’s an evil god to rival Cthulhu, am I right?). In the past, movies based off of HP Lovecraft stories have only done moderately well at the box office, mostly as cheesy B-movies, and that’s on a good day. Even Re-Animator only earned around two-million, and its budget was just about half that. So if a major film studio were to make a major adaptation of a Lovecraft story, they’d have to believe that a Lovecraft story could bring in a major profit. And if past adaptations are any indication, it’s not a risk studios are willing to make (let alone a cinematic universe*).

Another issue is that, to be frank, Lovecraft stories don’t always translate very well to cinema. They’re often centered around one person’s experience, and the events surrounding that person aren’t always told in a structure that lends well to movie storytelling. Hell, some of them don’t even work with literature storytelling (*cough* Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath *cough*).¬† If you were to adapt some of these stories, you’d have to do a lot of work just to make some of them look good as a screenplay. And even when doing comic book adaptations sometimes involves tweaking entire story arcs just because of copyrights and other aspects, not everyone is willing to do that.

And finally, HP Lovecraft is under-known. Well-known properties, even if there’s no reason to think they’ll be money-makers, are more likely to be adapted than something that few people have heard of. William Shakespeare movies usually don’t make tons of money unless major stars are attached to it, but some of his plays are so well-known and loved that they have multiple adaptations and there’s a good chance more will come in the future (I’d like a Titus Andronicus adaptation, please). But if a work is lesser known, or its appeal is too esoteric, it’s likelihood to get adapted is pretty low.

And all these factors are in the way of more Lovecraft adaptations.

Great adaptation of Lovecraft’s best-known story, The Call of Cthulhu.

Still, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been Lovecraft adaptations in recent years. And not all of them have been cheesy B-films. The HP Lovecraft Historical Society (yes, that’s a thing) has previously made great adaptations of The Call of Cthulhu (which I own and reviewed HERE) and The Whisperer in Darkness that were made to look like they were filmed in Lovecraft’s time. Guillermo del Toro nearly made a big-budget adaptation of At the Mountain of Madness, one of Lovecraft’s better-known works, and there’s a chance he may try to make it again someday. And with Lovecraft’s appeal staying steady and possibly even growing, there’s a chance other studios, including independent ones, will make their own adaptations. One article I read even said that a lot of international indie studios are not only making Lovecraft films, but showing them at film studios.

And even if Lovecraft films aren’t being directly adapted, as I’ve said, his ideas are appearing all over the place. I’ve already mentioned the works of Stephen King and Stranger Things, and those are only the tip of a large iceberg. The Hellboy films all feature Lovecraftian monsters, as do a number of major video games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Bloodborne. And I recently saw a film heavily influenced by Lovecraft called The Void, and while I had some issues with it, it definitely had its points, including great atmosphere and practical effects. Stuff like this will only keep Lovecraft in the public consciousness and maybe someday lead to further adaptations of his work.

So maybe HP Lovecraft won’t have a cinematic universe anytime soon. But he’s clearly got staying power, and that means there’s always a chance we could see more films by him as time goes by. Some of them may even come from major studios and perhaps even be great successes. As nearly everyone says, you never know what the future holds. Maybe even an adaptation of Shunned House? Please?

What do you think of HP Lovecraft adaptations? What would you like to see adapted? Let’s discuss.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. The demon crocodile (whom I’ve named Alathla) and I are off to cause terror in a major metropolis area. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*Though from what I hear, cinematic universes are on the way out the door, thanks to the massive mistakes studios like WB and Universal have made with the DCEU and Dark Universes. So…never mind?

I’ve literally been waiting seven years for this movie, since I first heard rumors of a remake. I got hopeful when Cary Fukunaga was brought on board to direct and when he started casting, felt my spirits plummet when he left, felt concern when Andy Muschetti replaced him (I did not care for his film Mama), felt a little hopeful again when I saw the first photos of Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise, and felt really hopeful and excited when the first trailer came out. I waited for months and months, possibly building the film up more in my head than I should. When the time came, I invited friends to come see It with me. And finally, the day came. I showed up early to make sure my friends and I got good seats. And then the show began.

I can say with zero hesitation that this is the It film we deserve.

So if you’ve been living under a rock since 1986, It is a Stephen King novel about a small town haunted by a monster that takes the form of a clown, and the seven brave souls who fight it, first as children and later as adults. There was a TV miniseries done back in the 1990’s that was absolutely terrible (how do you take a King novel and put it on ABC primetime? That’s like trying to take a rabid wolf and pretend it’s a puppy dog!), and now we have a feature film, focusing on the children’s portion of the story. And it tops the miniseries in every way possible.

Now, I’m not going to say this is the scariest film I’ve seen. I actually found Annabelle: Creation to be much scarier in terms of jump scares and atmosphere than It was. However, that doesn’t mean It‘s not a scary film. It did have some scares. The problem is, I’m so well-versed with the source material, I could guess where they would do jump scares or anything like that, and it’s difficult to get scared when you know what’s likely to happen next. However, there were a lot of other people who found the film terrifying, so one should consider my reaction an outsider.

And I did get scared at points. More on that below.

My ticket.

I also liked how this was a much more faithful adaptation. Besides taking place in the 1980’s rather than in the 1950’s, this movie sticks pretty closely to the novel. But more than that, it sticks to the spirit of the story, delving into the darkness the TV miniseries couldn’t because of the channel it was on. The film’s not afraid to go as dark as possible (without risking the R rating, of course), showing actual lost limbs and hinting at sexual abuse, among other things.

But while the film is more faithful to the book, that’s not to say there’s no deviation beyond a change in decade, and this is where the story gets scary for me. Especially during the final third of the film, they change a few things in order to make the story flow better, and I think that’s when I find the film not only the scariest, but the most effective. Not only that, but the film uses Dutch angles, lighting and music quite effectively to emphasize dark or creepy or weird scenes, highlighting the strangeness and horror of the story. Whoever had the bright idea for that knew what they were doing.

The film also had its funny moments, and they weren’t distracting at all. I like it when a horror film is able to do that.

I also loved the actors. Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise the Dancing Clown kicks Tim Curry to the curb! Whereas Curry played the character much more comically, here Pennywise is creepy as It should be. Not only is Pennywise’s whole look here freaky as hell, but paired with Bill Skarsgard mastery of a menacing manner, and a slight lisp, and you can’t helped but be freaked by Pennywise. Even when he’s dancing (and yes, Pennywise actually dances in this film, something we haven’t seen in the book or the miniseries), he’s scary. Best Pennywise ever, and I want to dress up as him for Halloween, if not this year then the next.

Me being silly after the film with friends.

 

The kids are also great. Every single one of them is masterful in making you believe they are these characters, who are given time to grow and develop throughout the film’s two-hour run time. My personal favorite was probably Beverly, played by Sophia Lillis. She was such a great character, one of the strongest of the Losers Club but also one of the most vulnerable due to her home situation, and I loved that about her (as well as how kick-ass she can get). I also liked Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things fame, who captured Richie Tozier’s dirty mouth and stupid humor just perfectly. And Jack Dylan Glazer did a great job of capturing Eddie as a hypochondriac who grows into a much braver child. And oh God, Nicholas Hamilton as Henry Bowers was such a scary guy!

Honestly, the whole cast was great, and I could go on with how much I loved them.

My Losers Club for the day. Thanks guys!

There were a couple of things I didn’t like, sadly. For one, the CGI was actually more distracting than scary, and a few more practical effects might’ve been better. I also thought that the filmmakers could’ve pushed the envelope in the third act at a part where the characters are trying to find Pennywise, though as it is that part is very good. And finally, I thought one scene would’ve been better with dramatic music than a song by The Cure (I know this takes place in the 1980’s, but do we really need a montage?).

All in all though, I’m very glad we got the version of It that we did. Faithful, well-told, heartfelt, with great characters and wonderful scares. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Andy Muschetti’s 2017 adaptation a 4. Go check it out, start floating down here, and pray the sequel is just as good.