Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Lights Out (2016)


Genre: Supernatural
Director: David F. Sandberg
Availability: In Theaters

One of the greatest failings of any story is laziness.

In horror movies we rely on the fact that a big part of fear comes from what we don't know - The Big Unknown - it looms over us and the shadow that it casts is wide and dark. The journey that we go on to unearth the How and Why is just as important as the jump scares and the creepy imagery. Granted, this is a horror movie and not a murder mystery, I get that, but there's still an art to gradually unveiling relevant information instead of, oh say, discovering a box full of photos, recordings (that happens to play at the perfect spot when you press play) and confidential case files in literally the first place that you look. It's lazy storytelling and it's unforgivable.

And it wasn't the only instance of such a sin in Lights Out. What was the "experimental treatment" and are we going to talk about the fact that she can "get inside your mind"? No. We're just supposed to take these things at face value and continue to scream at the obscene amount of jump scares?

These glaring issues aside, Lights Out was a more competent horror movie than many. Its concept was unique, the jump scares were effective, and the ending was bold. It will most certainly be touted as one of the best of 2016 by critics, no doubt. I had fun watching it but I fear that it will prove itself to be a forgettable movie. It lacked a memorable journey and its atmosphere was generic. Even the title - Lights Out - I keep wanting to call it Don't Turn Out The Lights, or Lights Off, or That movie about the light switch.

3 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Best New Horror on Netflix

To date I've watched roughly 1,040 horror movies. I often struggle with finding a new horror movie to watch that I'm excited about or that even looks halfway decent. I imagine I'm not the only one with this struggle, whether it's because you've seen all of the horror movies ever, or because you think every horror movie that pops up on Netflix looks stupid and you've been burned too many times to keep taking chances. In any case, I've put together a small list of new horror on Netflix (or horror that's new to Netflix) that I think is worth a watch.

Top 10

The Girl in the Photographs (2016)

A fun slasher with a mix of mystery and "art". It'll keep you guessing until all your guesses start to get brutally murdered and then you're left with a killer of an ending.

Hush (2016)

The premise is simple. Killer shows up to girl's remotely located house and plays cat and mouse with her. But there's nothing simple about the execution, which is truly inspired. If you want an intense, straightforward horror movie, look no further.

Kristy (2015)

Another excellent cat and mouse horror movie. There are multiple, very brutal killers and one, terrified girl that they've set their sights on. She has to start getting inventive if she wants to live because no one who will try to help her will live to tell the tale. The ending has a nice little twist as well.

Final Girl (2015)

One of the greatest pleasures of horror movies for me is the moment when the Final Girl stops being the victim and starts kicking some ass. In the case of the movie Final Girl, our FG is never the victim, instead she is raised to kick the asses of the Killers who create the Final Girl. It's a refreshing take on the genre with some awesome fight scenes in the third act.

Curse of Chucky (2013)

Forget the campy Chucky movies we all grew up with - they've got their time and place sure, but it's not when you're craving something scary. Curse of Chucky however is putting some weight behind the franchise with its new polished, scary, and yes, serious take on the infamous killer doll. Surprisingly good.

The Hallow (2015)

The Hallow, not to be confused with The Hollow, which were both released in 2015 and have similar looking covers. One is very good, the other is very not. The Hallow is what happens when you move to a foreign country and don't listen to the locals about staying out of the cursed woods. The creatures are terrifying and the action is intense. You may never go into nature again (it belongs to them).

#Horror (2015)

#Horror isn't for everyone. It's kind of like being in a casino targeted at teenage girls. But I loved how weird it was - I'd never seen anything like it. And teenage girls are terrifying, even when they aren't trying to kill people. It's a pretty surreal watch so strap in for a WTF kind of night.

We Are Still Here (2015)

We Are Still Here is kind of an throwback to the late '70s slow burns paired with an early '80s paranormal creature feature. Everything about this movie feels like it belongs in another time, which makes for a strange and unique movie experience.

They Look Like People (2015)

A creepy slow burn that is surprisingly funny when it's not busy screwing with your mind. I love it when low budget indies score terrific actors and a great script. I take a chance on a lot of crap that I regret, but when it pays off with a gem it really reinvigorates my love of small horror flicks. You are a mountain...

The Invitation (2015)

Perhaps qualified more as a psychological thriller than a horror movie, but I'm still going to throw this one in here because it's really damn good and it ends pretty bloody. Another film that subtly builds the dread, making for an uneasy watch that will keep you wondering what the hell is really going on. The final scene is a brilliant addition to an already solid piece. Good stuff.

~

No, I didn't forget The Babadook. The Babadook can bite me.

There's a ton more great horror on Netflix worth checking out. Just because you've never heard of it before or the cover looks silly doesn't mean it won't be great. Sometimes you have to take a chance in order to find those hidden gems, so don't be afraid to dig for them!

Frightful watching!

~H

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Neon Demon (2016)


Genre: Psychological
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Availability: Still in Theaters

"Beauty isn't everything. It's the only thing."

And while director Nicolas Winding Refn worked on establishing deeper meanings in the subtext to his gorgeously surreal frames, that sentence could probably be applied to The Neon Demon as well. The movie doesn't work as a statement on Hollywood or Beauty or Female Expectation or Jealousy or Envy or Power or Innocence or Corruption - all themes which are explored and dissected. Instead it works as a powerhouse of beauty. Every scene is a surreal, extraordinary photograph that whispers to you, seducing your senses. The horror movie aspect comes in rivulets. A little here - some blood licking, a cougar in the room, a sexual predator / A little there - a scene with a dead body that will make you OMG. Until the finale of course, that just rides the horror wave to crazy town, while looking posh in heels all the way.

Now that I've told you what it is (and isn't), let me tell you that I absolutely loved it. I'm not above a pointless yet pretty movie that shocks me with its brazen gross out factors. It dazzled me, like a pretty face, I couldn't help but stare and smile and think to myself, I want that. And who knows, maybe that was the point all along.

4 out of 5 stars

The Conjuring 2 (2016)


Genre: Ghosts; Supernatural
Director: James Wan
Availability: Still in Theaters

When I saw The Conjuring in theaters back in 2013 it scared the shit out of me. I sat there with my knees tucked up to my chin, leaning into the side of my best friend, and screaming so loudly at the jump scares that I started to become embarrassed. Three years and multiple viewings later it still scares me silly. But as much as I love The Conjuring I don't want to watch it again under the guise of another name, such as, oh I don't know, The Conjuring 2.

And when I say it's the same movie I exaggerate. It is of course an entirely different movie. They both just happen to share: an old dingy house, young jovial kids, a stressed out but loving mom, spooky things that start to happen to one kid while she's sleeping in bed, then everyone's a target and they all start sleeping in the living room together, then someone gets possessed, the Warrens come along and offer them kindness and neighborly normalcy while sympathizing and being helpful, a kid hides in the wall, they find a creepy spinning toy that plays music, there's pale gangly ghosties with terrible skin and dark eyes, there's the mystery of discovering what actually happened, there's the misleading answer, the evil things follow the Warrens back home, the kids go stay in a different place while the house gets cleaned, everyone is saved by love. If my life shared that many qualities with someone else's life they'd put us on Unsolved Mysteries and we'd be famous.

I guess my expectations were too high in that I wanted like, some new ideas in a new movie.

Griping aside, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are as delightful as ever as the loving, supernaturally inclined husband and wife team. And there's some really great, creepy imagery throughout that has stayed with me. It's not a bad movie, it's actually a good movie, and for many fans it will be just as good as or even better than the first (so say some critics). But I remain disappointed and will pout about it for a little while longer.

2 out of 5 stars

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Witch (2016)


Genre: Witches
Director: Robert Eggers
Availability: Still in theaters

In the past, horror movies seemed marked by the decade they were made. When having a conversation about genre and appeal, many can state that they're drawn to a certain period of time which is reflective of the style of movie they tend to like. The gore and camp of the '80s. The psychological and Gothic horror of the '60s. The science fiction horror of the '50s. The teen screams of the '90s. The story-driven slow burners of the '70s. And it's this latter one that The Witch so harkens back to. Dripping with atmosphere, tension and dread, The Witch is a movie out of time, belonging stylistically in the past and thematically in the present, it is not only a complex piece of cinema for today's horror genre, but an important one.

The Witch never tries to be something its not. Instead its understated in almost every way. A sexuality runs through the veins of it without being salacious. There's a sense of impending doom in almost every scene, every wide angled shot that lords over the family, hovering with menace but never shouting in your face for a cheap jump scare. There is some blood and violence but it feels as necessary and natural as the violence of nature itself. And then there's the hysteria, which is the true terror of The Witch.

In a time where the whisper of witchcraft was enough to hang innocent young women, a family is struggling with loss, isolation, and starvation, and the only thing holding the threads of their humanity together is their fervent beliefs. Their damnation is real because they believe it to be, and so do you, and you fear for them. They pray with power, with urgency, with conviction. And any misstep in their day, in their manner, in their speech, is enough to offend God and shake their entire foundation of existence. And so after tragedy befalls them again, and again, there is a whisper of witchcraft in the form of a child's malicious musings, and it's enough to damn them all.

Stylistically The Witch is brilliant. Wide shots of the forest and of the family in prayer build the importance of both elements, while narrow shots of suffering and suspicion add to the claustrophobia that surrounds them as they are trapped by their own inability to survive. The music here is full of strings and vocal crescendos that was so prevalent in the Italian giallo horror of the '70s. This method of music has a way of filling a scene so completely with dread that it's a relief when the inevitable terrible thing that follows finally happens.

There is a strong theme of female empowerment that seems to supersede its witchcraft origin, and that is of a young girl slowly owning her womanhood and realizing there's a power and freedom that she may seize if only she has the will to. The father, who starts out tall and strong with a ruling fist and a voice like velvety gravel, slowly loses both his authority over his children and the love of his wife. The women here rule. With their grief, with their manipulation, with their disobedience, and finally with the sheer magnitude of their will. Breaking every shackle imposed upon them. Even with the small twin siblings, the boy twin seems as dull as background furniture as the girl twin sends chills up our spines with her taunts and her creepy nursery rhymes. It is only Caleb, the eldest boy, who is strong and good even though he is damned by his nature.

The entire cast here is outstanding. Performances that are so good you feel like you're catching a glimpse of the past, as it happened. The set, as simple as it is, is soaked in despair with mud and failing crops and the dark, looming wood that surrounds them. It is a movie that makes you wonder why genre movies aren't ever (or extremely rarely) nominated for the prestigious awards. It is that good.

Oh God my Lord I now begin. Oh help me and I'll leave my sin.
For I repent and thou shall be. Thru evil I will turn to thee.
Whom ever shall destroy my faith. For I repent and thou shall be.
Oh God my Lord I now begin. Oh help me and I'll leave my sin.
For I repent and thou shall be.
Thru evil I will turn to thee.

bah bah bah

5 out of 5 stars

Cabin Fever (2016)


Genre: Virus
Director: Travis Zariwny
Availability: VOD

Remakes. For good or evil they are as popular as ever. Sometimes we luck out and get a great re-imagining, like Evil Dead or Fright Night. Other times we end up with absolute garbage, like The Omen, or The Fog. And then there's the remakes that just seem completely pointless, they aren't good, they aren't bad, they aren't a new vision, and especially in Cabin Fever's case, they aren't a new voice. They just exist because. Because, Cabin Fever 4: Outbreak, fell through and so a remake was the next best thing.

But they couldn't even be bothered to write a new script, so they used Eli Roth's original script. Seriously. They used the same script. Well, a trimmed down 92 page version of the 134 page original script. Which makes sense because the one thing that made the remake different from the original is that it was lacking any sense of humor. Gone is the bizarre scene at the local store with the weird kid doing karate moves. Roth's original was not only gory and terrifying but it had an odd sense of humor to its characters, "the local color" as you will. There was also a tenderness to the romance angle, a very real sense of fear and doom with the virus angle, and a heart-wrenching feel to the abandonment and killing of friends scenes. The remake is just as gory with some solid young actors filling the spots but the spirit of the original is not there. It feels soulless. A resurrected, walking dead version of a classic, iconic movie.

And what's with The Shining nod at the beginning? (The Shining theme song plays briefly as the camera follows the car from above winding around the side of the mountain.) Maybe if the whole movie was peppered with classic movie fodder it would have made a kind of sense but just the one scene? Ugh, stop it. You're not some meta movie, you're a shameless unoriginal remake that is doing nothing for the genre aside from filling a slot on the metaphorical shelf.

Give me another cheesy Cabin Fever sequel any day of the week. I mean, did you see Patient Zero? That fight scene on the beach at the end... good stuff.

2 out of 5 stars

Hidden (2015)


Genre: Apocalyptic
Director: Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer (The Duffer Brothers)
Availability: VOD

The horror movie title "Hidden" is one of those unfortunate choices that may lead to serious confusion when trying to hunt down the right horror movie. Because there's also a 2005 Hidden; a 2009 Hidden; a 20011 Hidden; and now a 2015 Hidden. (Much like there's about 6 horror movies called House.) Any alternative title would've worked here and it always makes me wonder when this happens if the people who made this movie are aware that the horror genre is inundated with their generic title choice already. Do these people watch horror movies or do they just not care? Luckily the title is the worst part of the movie because The Duffer Brothers' Hidden was absolutely terrific.

The majority of the movie takes place in a dark, underground fallout shelter. Its claustrophobic atmosphere and poor visibility adds to the tension that builds around the small family worrying about starvation, dehydration, and being discovered by "the breathers". For much of the movie we're unsure what happened that led this family to take refuge in the shelter, and why after all this time they still feel like they can't leave it. They're terrified of the things that roam the surface hunting them and they struggle to stay quiet, stay calm, and live day to day. Eventually though, as all things in horror movies tend to do, things go south. It's then that we learn about what happened on the surface, who the breathers are, and then... holy shit.  The last ten minutes of the movie I just did not see coming. As a seasoned horror movie aficionado it's hard to pull the wool over eyes that have seen over 1,000 horror movies, so I applaud any movie that takes an unexpected path.

Actress Emily Alyn Lind, who plays the daughter, reminded me so much of a young Dakota Fanning. There's a maturity and intelligence to her girlishness, as well as this beautifully open vulnerability and fear. She was a joy to watch. And Alexander SkarsgĂ„rd was as tall and as mesmerizing as always.

Let's petition that this movie's title be changed to The Breathers and then all will be well in the world of horror.

4 out of 5 stars