Hereditary

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I hate The Conjuring Universe – insipid tired jump scares disguising themselves as real horror, homogenizing what I love and doing a massive disservice to the genre by flooding the market with these bland-fests that mold and shape the public perception of horror until even these cold serves of mediocrity seem good to them.  In this list I include the Annabelle series, the Saw movies, The Nun, The Crooked Man, Lights Out and of course, The Conjuring movies themselves – well acted and well made but wet squibs all the same.

After last years epic horror resurgence with Get Out, It, The Black Coats Daughter, Happy Death Day and mother! we finally were seeing a full range of different and intriguing horrors; luckily 2018 is shaping up to be just as good, starting with the excellent A Quiet Place and now Hereditary.

Annie, (Toni Collette) has just lost her mother after a long battle with illness during which time they mostly mended the huge rift between them, though with some understandable trepidation on Annie’s part.  We meet her family – meek and accommodating dad Steve (Gabriel Byrne, pulling a sharp turn on barely contained worry), teenage son Peter (Alex Wolff) and the possibly ‘on the spectrum’ though never discussed disquieting younger daughter Charlie (a remarkable Milly Shapiro).

The scenes of family life are deliberately slow and studied, with themes of grief, guilt, and family history exposed in the minutiae.

Annie is an artist who recreates scenes and moments from her life in miniature tableaus to be displayed in a distant gallery, far removed from their seemingly idyllic life in the countryside. Details are eked out over phone calls from the gallery gently and then increasingly more insistent about when they will receive their next installation from her, from the scenes Annie chooses to depict in her artwork, the half conversations between husband and wife, the obvious unease son Peter feels around his mother – a symptom of his feeling unwanted and resented by her, the care and concessions the family makes for Charlie’s obvious challenges.

Suddenly a further tragedy occurs and it is one of the most shocking things I’ve seen in cinema. It is a catalyst for the second part of the film where things get a lot more unpleasant, terrifying and anxiety-inducing, until it culminates in a truly heart-stopping finale that leaves you reeling in your seat as the credits roll.

There are some horrific scenes here; acts and incidences that you want to recoil from because they are so damn raw and gut wrenching, but that’s the point, and I celebrate the achievement. The script explores the damaging effects of a lack of communication, family secrets and things passed down you cannot escape from, mental health and its implications on those who surround the sufferer, and grief and how destructive it can be.

The performances are all perfect, from the always-excellent Ann Dowd as friend Joan, to the main cast. Alex Wolff is quietly devastating as poor Peter – his face conveys so much and this is a truly committed and outstanding performance I did not see coming from the Jumanji 2017 star. Toni Collette manages to surpass even my high expectations, she is always amazing but her work here is superlative; almost too real, watching her feels like voyeurism, she’s that good.

The cinematography is clever, the sets exquisitely detailed, the direction so much more assured than you would ever hope to see in a debut.

Writer/Director Ari Aster said he wanted to make a film that would “upset people on a very deep level, to traumatize them”, the way horror used to give us actual nightmares not just a few polite jumps before sending us back to our lives, and that is what horror has been needing.

Horror should not be about being liked, it should be about making something that will last. I see horrors because they are one of the only genres that effect you long after the movie is over, and I have despaired of this quality for many years now, watching complacent horror after complacent horror in which only a handful really want to make an impact on your life and the genre as a whole.

I’m trilled to say that Hereditary succeeds in its goal to present something not just scary, but truly horrifying.

See it but be warned – you may not be the same afterwards.

 

 

8.5/10

Hereditary Trailer

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A Quiet Place

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After months of teaser trailers that had piqued my interest to an ‘I must see this movie’ level of anticipation, I rushed out to see the first advance screening at my local cinema; enticing my friend Shellie who is the same as me when it comes to a fun night out – always up for it!

I knew that the essential plot of this film concerned itself with a country bumpkin family terrorized by something or someone who is drawn by sound, hence the title of the film. The only way to survive is with silence. I wondered how this would play out in a cinema full of popcorn eating teenagers, the cynical youth of today who have grown surrounded by explicit, instantly gratifying horror films; fed a steady diet of jump scares. The best horror relies heavily on atmosphere but the fact that this film would be so dependent on silence/sound/ambience made it something easy to ruin. I took my seat with trepidation.

But, I am happy to say, my fears were unfounded.

Beginning with a shocking tragedy that took my breath away, this film announces in its opening minutes that it will pull no punches.

Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe are the Abbotts, surviving and thriving after a cataclysmic alien event that (as gleaned from the many abandoned newspapers and scrapbooks laying about the town and their home) released blind creatures on the earth that hunt with sound; and its this family who we spend our time with.

Each character has their own cross to bear, their own weakness or situation to overcome, and each character is explored and understood. This fleshing out of personalities is essential in good horror and why so many fail to raise the pulse – if I don’t care about them or cant relate to them then I don’t really care if they die.

With half the cast rounded out by children the stakes are all that much higher and you can’t help but worry about them every time they are not under the watchful eye of their vigilant parents.

The attention to detail in this film is impeccable, from the carefully laid sand trail leading to town for quiet steps, to the fire lit up at night reflected back at them from points across the mountain as other families light up to let them know they are not alone; from the warning lights strung throughout the field to alert incoming family to danger at home, to the woolen monopoly pieces and soft fabric plates with no cutlery.

The acting is all well above average with Blunt and Simmonds particularly effecting. The direction by Krasinski himself is spare and resourceful – every shot is important and there is no fat to trim on either the script or the film itself, he makes every shot count.

There is emotion here too; with more than one scene causing me to well up which is a rare thing in horror.

The creatures are barely glimpsed at first and as the movie progresses we are indulged with more and more of a look-see until they are finally unveiled in all their glory. They are unlike anything seen before, alien without feeling too science fiction, horror without feeling like something that couldn’t actually exist – well done.

But oh god the tension! This film was almost unbearably tense at times, I nearly wanted to cheat and get my phone out to see who survives, but I’m mighty glad I didn’t as watching it unfold was a heart-pounding, seat-gripping pleasure.

This is frightening, intelligent, moving, fascinating and chock full of anxiety inducing dread.

The years best horror so far by a landslide.

 

9/10

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a quiet place trailer 

 

My Top Ten Feminist Horror Films

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A lot of people find it hard to see how a person can be both a feminist and a horror fan, pointing to the countless nudity and violence against women that exists in horror. For me, violence against women is a fact of the world we live in, women are more likely to be victims of violence than men and to expect horror to shy away from that fact and show a different truth seems unfair and naive. Unbalanced female nudity is something that unfortunately plagues all film genres and absolutely makes me livid – see the recently released Blade Runner 2049 for one of the most recent and heinous examples of this practice. It is something that is certainly not unique to the horror genre.

What is unique is the high number of films featuring women in leading roles, women being heroes, women being resourceful and fighting and surviving. Women defeating a seemingly unbeatable foe and doing it using their own wiles and ingenuity.

Here’s to celebrating women in horror!

 

  1. Ginger Snaps, 2000

 

Coming of age is hard and fraught with a whole slew of adolescent angsty issues that make all those raging hormones go into hyperdrive and cause even the smallest moment of humiliation or self-doubt become an all-consuming tragedy. This is the macrocosm that is high school; and here, with two goth sisters struggling to embrace their outcast status, it is even harder when one of them is bitten by a werewolf and begins to transform into something much scarier than an adult. The analogies are pretty thick here – puberty changes you into a hairy aggressive beast just like the werewolf, she is bitten and begins transforming on the day she starts her period, which happens to be on a full moon. This is a rite-of-passage film told from a female perspective which is something not seen as frequently, it also explores the relationship between sisters and having to make decisions and choices as a woman rather than a girl.

Modest, interesting and fresh.

 Ginger Snaps Trailer

 

9. The Slumber Party Massacre, 1982

 

Those slasher movies of the ‘80s were full of buxom beauties lining up to be slayed, usually after finally succumbing to sex (as we all know that’s the root of all evil!) Slumber Party Massacre, despite its lurid title, made up for some of this by creating a world where the young ladies have to work together with their combined ingenuity leading to the eventual, inevitable, killing of the killer. Interesting that the murderer uses a very phallic drill to kill his victims, interesting that the girls discuss sport and friendship and school, not just boys as most films believe is the sole pre-occupation of women. The nudity is to be taken as satire, the film a comment on the ‘male gaze’ of Hollywood.

However you choose to interpret this film it is a neat little slasher written and directed by women (Amy Jones and Rita Mae Brown).

 

The Slumber Party Massacre Trailer 

 

  1. Carrie, 1976

 

Another film that equates puberty and menstruation with female empowerment; Carrie starts right off the bat with THAT shower scene and never lets up with the torment and bullying of Carrie White, whose only crime it appears is having an evangelistic fanatical mother and those strange telekinetic powers that awaken with her first period. Its not all about uterus’s and cycles in the female world but lets face it, they take up a lot of our time and their concern is a part of our lives for up to 50 years so they have a role in feminist horror.

What’s great here is not just the gradual taking back of her own identity but also the courage to stand up to her terrifying mother and actually allow someone (Tommy) into her circle that up until now has only been a hiding place for one, the quiet growth in Sissy Spacek’s performance is quite remarkable. It’s also notable that Tommy is allowed to be a more human character than expected – he doesn’t want to take her out but he is a decent man and wants to help right a wrong, in the end his kindness wins through and he connects with her in a lovely way. The final reel and its many heart-wrenching and violent scenes are all the more powerful for having hoped so much for Carrie. Stephen King says this story is ultimately telling what men fear about women’s sexuality, but in the film the men are mostly impotent and it’s a few of her fellow women who want to destroy her. Not every woman is a feminist.

 

Carrie Trailer 

 

  1. The Descent, 2005

 

There are two different versions of this film – the original UK version and the slicker Hollywood version – please watch the UK version, the ending changes the whole movie in a way that gives the film much more value and context then assumed. This is the story of a group of long term female friends who go away for a cave jumping bonding weekend and discover that all is not safe once you get beneath the surface, in more ways than one.

The women here are able to interact with dialogue that feels real and intimate, they have an ease that tells of their many years of friendship, and you believe their connections from the get go. This is a story told from a female perspective and the quality of their support of each other through trauma, how they each deal with what happens without resorting to excessive stereotyping is commendable.

The horror is also exceptional – visceral and nasty and undeserved , its shocking and very well done.

That ending though…

 The Descent Trailer

 

  1. Rosemary’s Baby, 1968

 

Rosemary (played by Mia Farrow) and her husband move into a New York apartment with a very dark history, and it seems the devil has her earmarked for a ‘special’ task. Made in the ‘60s by Roman Polanski, the art direction and set design, the acting, and the dialogue reeking of traditional gender roles are very much a product of its time. On the surface a meek housewife seems an odd choice for a feminist horror but in her struggle for autonomy over her own body and destiny we see the bigger picture of how women have struggled for the same things universally. To see the awakening of confidence and surety in her is one of many pleasures to be gained from this masterpiece of cinema. Its also one of the best films to represent how friends rally when one of their own is unwell or in danger – the party scene displaying how Rosemary does not exist in a vacuum but has those who care about her outside the small cast of principles, something many horrors neglect to show. Rosemary is feminine, questioning, tenacious and ultimately, brave. She will do what she has to do to help her child, and motherhood with its many strengths is not something usually explored within horror – Rosemary’s Baby is one of a kind.

 Rosemary’s Baby Trailer

 

  1. Spring, 2014

 

This is a film that’s hard to explain. In the explaining it sounds ridiculous and a very different film then the one we are eventually gifted. This looks like one of those ‘arty’ atmospheric horrors except its not, not really – it is beautiful to observe but at its heart is about a blue collar guy who travels abroad and falls for a girl who may actually be an ancient beast that requires devouring humans to survive.

Just your average rom-com with a horror twist!

She is a compelling personality. This is a woman who is not looking to ‘settle down’, is comfortable with how she lives and doesn’t need a man to ‘fix;’ or ‘rescue’ her. When she finds herself falling for him she questions whether this is something she actually wants, whether this person is worth giving up the life she has enjoyed thus far. To see a female character treated in this way is a breath of fresh air, the equality making this film and their romance all the better for it. The horror is just an added bonus.

 Spring Trailer

 

  1. The Lords of Salem, 2012

 

Rob Zombie’s ode to witches is the tale of a female radio DJ who is slowly possessed after listening to a rock album mysteriously delivered to her in the mail. She chooses to play it over the airways and sets in motion the rise of the devil in Salem and re-awakens an ancient coven of witches. What sounds absurd is in actuality effective and creepy, the supernatural woven into the reality in such a way that finds the audience accepting more. This film is shot almost completely from the perspective of the main character (Heidi, played by Sheri Moon Zombie) which allows the audience to fully accept the possession storyline. The feminism comes from seeing a film completely from a female perspective and not needing to validate or undermine her experiences by diluting them with a male viewpoint – interesting and cool. The witches are not silly, over the top creations but seemingly realistic portrayals of those women demonized by the historic Salem Witch Trails. To even touch on how women were pilloried and murdered for perceived religious offenses in those times holds great responsibility for the film-maker, and Rob Zombie does a very respectable job here. Please also note the huge amount of threatening phallic symbolism – I do not believe in feminism as a dividing force amongst the genders but a unifying one, however the amount of ‘penis’ on display is interesting.

 The Lords Of Salem Trailer

 

  1. Black Christmas, 1974

 

The first slasher film, this Canadian classic about a group of sorority girls tormented by a killer in their attic is a brilliant horror film and one of my favorites, it is inventive, funny and creepy as hell.

It is also strongly feminist.

The main characters are obviously all female, what’s intriguing, especially for a slasher, is that all the characters are clearly delineated, nuanced and complex. These are real women with people who care for them, with lives that stretch before the film began; they are the closest to real people I’ve seen in a slasher horror, particularly as women are often reduced to eye candy in these types of films while the male characters are allowed to be ‘courageous’ or ‘smart’.

The final girl trope was not as relevant here as it has been in other horrors, because all the women get to be as well rounded as only she usually is.

No-one here is all bad or all good, just very very human.

It was also supremely brave of the film-makers to give the main protagonist an abortion storyline for which she is not vilified, particularly in light of abortion having only been legal for one year when this film came out.

Black Christmas Trailer 

 

  1. You’re Next, 2011

A horror comedy about home invasion that features a kick ass performance by Sharni Vinson takes my number one spot by a whisker. The family that are victims of said invasion are dysfunctional and vaguely unpleasant, the deaths savage and wince-inducing; and though I had some reservations about the tone of this film, I had no such issues with this character. She is a splendid creation and elevates the entire movie to the next level.

Sharni Vinsom (Home and Away) plays Erin, the tag along girl friend of one of the family members, her quiet beginnings belying her ultimate survival skills.

She is always believable, she is always cool, and she gets to keep her Australian accent.

You’re Next Trailer

 

  1. Hush, 2016

 

Mike Flanagan’s ‘Hush’ stars Kate Siegel as deaf-mute author Maddie who must defend her home against a knife-wielding stranger known only as ‘the man’ (John Gallagher Jr).

Starting with the fact that we have a resilient independent female living alone and supporting herself; she also displays strong friend and family bonds, her own needs/goals/future and is a complete person outside of the bonds of any relationship with a male character. She defends herself not only using the weapons she can fashion from household items but mainly with her own intelligence and forethought. Her projections as much a product of her work as an author as they are a product of her quick thinking. She is a fully realized female character who is allowed to be both feminine and also to exist outside of her femininity – something that is rarely seen in film.

It passes the Bechdel test with flying colours and is also, in my humble opinion, an awesome thrill ride of a movie – go watch it now!

 Hush Trailer

 

There are a lot of things I enjoy about horrors – the roller coaster ride, the reflection of current fears and events, the good vs evil basis of them all, but my favorite thing is the way a strong female protagonist (or two) has become the norm. Sure there are usually a bevy of barely dressed nymphomaniacs as well, but they are nearly always matched by an equally morally-bankrupt male counterpart (unlike a lot of other genres) and they usually both meet the same fate. Horrors allow women to be strong, fully realised characters who do not exist purely to fawn over the male lead or move the plot along, these characters have lives that extend beyond the film and horror does not demand that they lose their feminism in order to be a tough kick ass character.

‘These films reminded me of this unique quality in horror and for that I am grateful. 

 

The Open House

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I have a confession to make. Often before watching a new movie I will look it up on IMDB, read a review or two (particularly from audience members) and that usually gives me a small heads up about the quality of product I am about to watch.

Generally it doesn’t dissuade me from watching something (unless they mention graphic things I don’t want to ever see such as the baby rape scene in ‘A Serbian Film’ or the real life animal killings in ‘Cannibal Holocaust’) but sometimes I may choose to defer viewing something that’s maybe not as well liked until a time when it is not the only film I will watch that night, when I can perhaps have time for a ‘palate cleanser’ as it were.

When it came to this film, which was recommended by the lovely RJ, I found it on Netflix, was happy with the look of the film and the synopsis, encouraged by the actors in it and so headed on over to IMDB to check its score – 4.4/10.

Now that really was discouraging.

Nevertheless, my friends opinions are worth more to me than that and I have noticed that a lot of IMDB ratings seem to be heavily influenced by political agendas and assumptions, so it seemed best to just give it try and form my own opinion.

I’m glad to say that IMDB was wrong, because this movie was a solid horror.

What follows will likely be my most divisive and disliked review but like all my reviews, I stand by it.

Written and Directed by Suzanne Coote and Matt Angel, this film charts the story of Logan (the impressive Dylan Minnette) and his mother Naomi (tough but vulnerable Piercey Dalton) as they are forced to downsize after the tragic death of his beloved father. With bills and pressure mounting, Naomi accepts her sister’s offer to relocate to her holiday house in the scenic countryside of Big Bear Mountain. The catch is that sis is in the process of selling it and therefore they must vacate it every Sunday to allow for an open house to take place, attracting possible buyers. Resentfully and with seemingly no other choice, Logan packs up his life and future plans and moves to the mountains to grieve and move on with his mother.

The tension between mother and son is certainly played well here, you can see how each is in their own bubble of pain and communication is strained or unpleasant, though she tries to ‘brave face’ through it.

The house is large and country-fied, the surrounds an icy wilderness for him to continue his track training – a solo activity now that his father has gone.

The closest neighbor, Martha (a convincing Patricia Bethune) is oddly prying and intrusive – all long looks and confusing questions. What does she know?

The local shopkeeper (a refreshing Sharif Atkins) is over-friendly and interested in Naomi.

Within the house strange things start happening – a boiler shuts itself off mid-shower, phones go missing, things move about the house, and it seems there is something supernatural going on. They cant get enough sleep and things just feel wrong, not to mention the weeks punctuated by the persistent and rude real estate agents insisting on that open house every weekend, making the whole thing feel even more unsettled and temporary.

Mother and son struggle within their own grief, occasionally lashing out at each other but never quite mining that deep well of anger just below the surface until one giant blow out occurs and its as hurtful and scathing on either side as any real fight within family usually is. It’s totally believable and in some ways hard to watch as they tear strips off each other.

The police are called after it seems maybe someone in the town is messing with Logan and Naomi, but they aren’t much help and kind Chris the shopkeeper agrees to spend the night and keep them safe. During the night Logan hears something and gets up to investigate, and this is where things turn nasty and scary and riveting. So I’ll leave this review here.

Suffice to say I didn’t expect any of the things that happened to happen. I didn’t expect such a cruel and bleak dénouement. I didn’t expect to not know how it was going to end. And I certainly didn’t expect it to push as far away from audience expectations as it did.

After the viewing I went back to IMDB and checked those reviews; it seems it is this ending that people hated so much. All the one star reviews baying for their money back because they didn’t get the answers they felt they were owed, because this film dared to buck the conventions and give something that is a lot more frightening then knowing all the whys – telling the audience that there ARE no whys.

This is what’s actually scary – nameless, faceless, emotionless, random death. And I believe that’s why people railed against this movie, because not only is it a character study in which the action is subdued and not as hectic as the modern horror fan has come to expect, but mainly because no one really wants to think about reality; they want a thrill ride, and this movie refuses to offer that.

 

It’s currently sitting on 3.3/10 on IMDB.

I give it 8/10.

 

Annabelle: Creation

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I was really looking forward to this movie; enough so that I sprung for a gold class ticket with the reclining chairs and food service etc.

I’d read good reviews and heard good things, there were strong assurances that it was not as bad as the first film; though lets be honest no studio horror SHOULD be as bad as the disneyfied crapfest that was the first Annabelle.

Toy maker Samuel (Anthony LaPaglia – serviceable) and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto – not given much to work with) lose their daughter Bee in a tragic accident and bring her soul back to inhabit his freshly made Annabelle doll. Of course the spirit turns out to be malevolent and so they seal the doll away in a locked room where it is later discovered by a wandering troupe of orphans and their governess nun who had just relocated to the toymakers soon-to-be-overcome-with-evil house. The main two orphans, Janice played by (Talitha Bateman) and Linda (Lulu Wilson) are most likable kids and you can’t help but be invested in their welfare once creepy things start happening around the home.

The lack of coherency and plot is already making this review difficult to write. You see they set up the rules and then they proceeded to break them, not to serve the plot but to serve their ideas of what they wanted it to be so that they could shoehorn in some sort of half-baked connection to the rest of ‘The Conjuring’ universe and in particular the upcoming ‘The Nun’.

These characters are merely pawns that they can push around the story and manipulate to make the film go in the direction they wish it to.

Don’t like that Annabelle can only exist in one entity at a time? Just ignore that and change your mind midway through the movie so that suddenly she can be in three places at once even though it no longer follows the rules that were set up earlier; who cares right?

Its an obvious ploy to drum up interest in their next big ‘horror’ franchise, I may even suggest that’s its not that big a stretch to assume this film exists perhaps merely to serve that purpose.

This films insistence on not following its own rules at every turn is a bitter pill of apathy that this reviewer found tough to swallow.

AC was directed by David F. Sandberg, whose last film was ‘Lights Out’ (Lights Out review), another problematic horror that I found emblematic of the issues horror has today. Here he has made yet another cynical cash grab of the worse kind; and it is impossible, for me at least, to enjoy and be creeped out by a film that makes literally no sense. Of course it was produced by James Wan – the mans name is basically synonymous with mediocrity.

The disdain that they express for the audience in the lack of coherence is palpable, the fact that they don’t care at all about whether or not you can follow the plot or that it even makes sense just so long as the money keeps rolling in is disgraceful, and the fact that a lot of audiences lapped this up says a lot about the lack of good horror available on the big screen today (with of course the very notable exceptions of ‘It’ and ‘Get Out’ and, to a lesser degree ‘Happy Death Day’). 

Plot holes abound, and make the thin threads of plot held together solely by holes that was the screenplay for ‘Don’t Breathe’, seem almost forgivable in comparison to how badly AC cheats its audience. My disappointment has led me to anger, and though my loathing of this film is likely an overblown reaction I cant help but feel angry at it.

It did the things that I find most unforgivable in a film – assume the audience will just accept and not question such a contradictory plot which is either arrogance or a lack of care for the audience, and to make money off a genre that I have enjoyed all my life without any desire to advance or contribute to it.

The two young orphans (Wilson and Bateman) are remarkably good actors; they deserved much better than this.

 

4/10

 

Annabelle: Creation trailer

 

Best Films of 2017

  1. It

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Happily succeeds in every genre – horror, drama, comedy, coming of age; this adaption of the Stephen King masterpiece about the power of friendship overcoming great ancient evil is quite an achievement. It broke box office records around the globe and was a juggernaut upon its release, which was richly deserved. Jam packed with nods to the book, contextualised characters, heartfelt moments, 80s nostalgia, a true sense of actual danger and enough horror to keep horror fans happy; Bill Skarsgards Pennywise is a deliciously wicked creation. Beautiful music, amazing performances (all of those kids are just wow!) and a truly Spielbergian sense of wonder in the script and direction – perfection for me.

IT trailer

 

  1. War on everyone

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Really not for everyone and probably downright offensive to some, this was balls to the wall action and a slow burn character piece with a very black sense of humour. Gutsy stuff. I also love Michael Pena – hilarious! And Alexander Skarsgard – sexy and talented!

War on Everyone trailer

 

 

  1. Logan

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The comic hero story given a burnt out and brutal Western edge, this is the film that had to end Logans run – and what a unique and honest farewell they give him.

 

Logan Trailer

 

  1. Wind River

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Downbeat and as cold as the landscapes its set in, this story of the insidious erasing of (female) Native Americans in the US is as heartbreaking as the central murder mystery they explore. Jeremy Renner and Ashley Olsen give great performances here too.

Wind River trailer

 

5.     Brigsby Bear

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Sweet but not saccharine, cute but still real, with enough edge to make it ok to love this movie about a grown man who still worships the bear tv show he grew up watching whilst shut in the house his kidnapper parents kept him in. My kind of ‘feel good’ movie.

brigsby bear trailer

 

 

6. Patticake$

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I loved the music and the brave work by lead actress Danielle McDonald (Australian) in this story about a New Jersey girl with big rap dreams. Way more real and heartfelt than 8 Mile.

 

Patticake$ trailer

 

 

7. Get Out

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I love my horror movies with a side of social conscience and this ‘re-packaging white privilege as a horror’ is funny, clever and cool. I wasn’t as keen on the ending as I wanted to be but this was one memorable movie.

  1. Get Out trailer  

 

 

  1. 8. Manchester by the Sea

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If you’ve seen it you know the scene that left everyone just broken. A story of regret and the aftermath of a devastating mistake.

 

Manchester by the sea trailer

 

  1. Jungle

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Daniel Radcliffe acts his ass off in this true story about survival while lost in the Amazon. Visceral and edge of the seat moments await..

Jungle trailer

 

  1. A Monster Calls

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Debatably a kids movie, I found parts of this frustrating until I go to the end when it all came together beautifully and I was left crying my eyes out and wanting to watch Liam Neeson as that giant helpful tree all over again.

a monster calls trailer

 

11. Wonder Woman

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Not perfect but I gotta give props to a film that allows a woman to be front and centre in her own action superhero movie. She is allowed to be vulnerable, brave, challenged, despairing and kick some butt too.

Wonder Woman trailer

 

12. The Blackcoats Daughter

FEBRUARYA creepy as hell horror movie about possession with two discordant storylines seemingly happening in unison until you realise the truth of the timeline at the denouement, which is chilling and unforgettable. On the surface a very scary movie but the real story of loneliness and the lengths people will go to in an effort to not feel it is what makes this a stand out. Sad, bleak and very frightening.

The Blackcoats Daughter Trailer

 

13. Personal Shopper

personal-shopper-kristen-stewart-2Sometimes confusing and sometimes contemplative, I nevertheless enjoyed watching Kristen Stewart wander about Paris buying things and coming to terms with the loss of her brother. Quietly creepy on occasion too.

personal shopper trailer

 

14. The Beguiled

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Darkly feminist, daring in its choice to not paint the female stars as heroes but as flawed humans making difficult choices. Kidman, Dunst and Farrel are all standouts in this tale of a civil war deserter seeking refuge at an all-female southern boarding school. The sexual tension is palpable.

the beguiled trailer

 

15. A Ghost Story

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Yes it features Rooney Mara eating a pie for an unbearable 8 minutes but it also shows grief from a perspective I’ve never seen before – the pain of a ghost watching the world move on without him. The last hour is almost too sad.

a ghost story trailer

 

16. The Lost City of Z

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The true story of those brave explorers who just went off into the world to map it for future generations. Charlie Hunnam is totally committed and it shows in every expression – how much this passion and drive costs him is fascinating. And Robert Pattinson is his usual brilliant self.

 

 

the lost city of Z trailer

 

17. Alien Covenant

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A much better and tighter movie than Prometheus, this one was closer in feel to the first Alien – real horror and a strong female lead. I enjoyed the heck out of it.

 

alien covenant trailer

18. American Made

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Tom Cruise leaves behind his occasionally smarmy persona and just uses his natural cockiness to best effect in this true story of greed and ambition in the American 80s. Totally had me hook, line and sinker; and biting my nails!

American Made trailer

 

19. A Cure For Wellness

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Looking like an art-house film, telling a strange little story of the search for youth and health, I enjoyed the unpredictability of the script and the ambiguousness of the characters; not to mention that breathtaking cinematography.

a cure for wellness trailer

 

20. Before I fall

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A pleasant surprise in a film that initially seemed to be about shallow party girls reliving the same night over and over again but proved to be much more. I found this one actually touching and effective.

before I fall trailer

 

21. Thor: Ragnarok

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The perfect antidote to all these comic book films that take themselves far too seriously- Thor cuts his hair and discovers his hotness, the jokes are knee slappngly good and Cate Blanchet is powerful and cool – loved it.

Thor: Ragnarok trailer

 

22. The Mountain Between Us

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A tonal surprise for me, did not go the way I thought it would and did not shy away from the real life dangers of being stuck in the middle of a snowy wilderness after your plane crashes. In the end it seemed to be about something else entirely.

the mountain between us trailer

 

23. mother!

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Initially I gave this a 6 and said I never wanted to see it again, but having read several articles I now understand what the director (Aronofsky) was trying to say and the message is actually a vital one. Be warned – this is harrowing, stressful stuff and I suggest you read a review or two first – with spoilers, or it may prove to be too hard to watch. This film upset me so much and I never want to watch it again, it was also brilliant.

mother! trailer

 

Biggest Disappointments –

 

The Mummy

Baby Driver

BladeRunner 2049

American Assassin

Justice League

Annabelle: Creations

 

IT

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The terror began with a boat made from a sheet of paper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.

This is the tale of It, the first big screen adaption of the Stephen King bestseller of the same name; and that opening sequence is so iconic now that it has been swallowed into our collective subconscious like an urban legend.

This film has had a hard 7-year road to get to our cinemas, and that road has been littered with replaced directors, and actors tasked with playing the title character. It arrives on our screens with the weight of expectation and trepidation on the part of its many many loyal readers who have been waiting with eager baited breath to finally see what they have anticipated ever since first discovering the sublime book, and pinning their hopes on a faithful adaption.

So was the wait worth it?

First a quick summary of the films plot – For centuries the town of Derry has been home to Pennywise, a monstrous creature who can become your greatest fear to ‘season the meat’ as it were, and Its favourite prey is children, with their furtive imaginations and powerfully felt emotions. After the opening scene’s death of young Georgie, his brother Bill grows obsessed with the idea of ending IT’s reign of terror and, together with his band of ‘loser’ friends, sets about killing IT.

Also in this mix is The Bowers Gang, led by unhinged snivelling bully Henry Bowers; and the losers have parent troubles particularly Beverly and her entitled and abusive father, and Eddie with his Munchausen’s by Proxy mother. The town itself has a rich history of savagery and sacrifice, which is touched on also.

There is a love triangle that is achingly realised, and a deeper story about the fear of growing up and confronting your own monsters, whatever they may be.

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The novel has a more fluid timeline darting between childhood and adulthood as they battle this eternal beast, but the movie has separated the child storyline from the adult one and so it is ‘chapter one’ we are discussing here.

This sounds like a straightforward monster movie but it is so much more than that, as the mythology itself stretches out far beyond the confines of this film. Having said that,  the scares are effective and memorable, and that opening sequence in the rain is brutal and breath-taking, an amazing start to proceedings.

Directed with a deft touch by Andy Muschietti (Mama) It is equal parts coming of age nostalgia and creeping evil horror. He knows how to tug at your heartstrings, make you smile but then look around the frame for the next delicious morsel of horror coming your way.

The musical score is sometimes expansive and epic, sometimes creeping and haunting – impeccable.

The cast is nothing short of astounding, everyone brings their A game and its truly wonderful to see each beloved character cast so perfectly; I’d love to pick a stand out but each one imbues their character with just the right look or nuance. Jaeden Lieberher as Bill is vulnerable and strong and sweet and determined all at once, his love for and loss of Georgie keenly felt and portrayed. Sophia Lillis as Beverley is knowing and generous and guarded, as she is in the book. Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie is commanding on screen and utterly believable in a part that could have gone awry, he is an explosive new talent and has a big career ahead of him. Finn Wolfhard as Richie has flawless comic timing and brightens every scene he is in whilst still allowing the character to be real – efortlessly perfect.

And Pennywise? Bill Skarsgard is a revelation, by turns menacing and petulant and childlike and evil; I wish there had been more of him but I understand that an over saturation of such a character would have unbalanced the movie and so best to be left wanting more.

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It is not slavishly faithful to the novel, and weirdly, I’m ok with this. I view it more as an appetizer, a companion piece to the novel. Many things are touched on in the film that would then be expanded upon by reading the source material. The majority of changes made did not hurt the things that are most important in this story because ultimately its not about the details or even IT itself.

This is a movie about that fraught time between childhood and adulthood when you feel your old self slip away and become someone else entirely, its about the power of imagination and how friendship can be your greatest strength against the things that scare you, its about love and life and growing up.

This movie may only scratch the surface of the books depths, but it has the novels heart and spirit, and is everything I could have hoped for.

That, for me, is enough.

 

10/10

IT Trailer

 

Get Out

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Get Out has been a world wide phenomenon, raking in 174 million on a budget of 5, scoring 99% on Rotten Tomatoes and beloved by critics, this is an achievement in itself considering it is cast with non-headliners, made by a lesser known writer/director and is low budget, but when you add into the mix that its of the horror genre it is even more impressive.

 

Get out tells the story of Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) a successful young African American New York photographer preparing to meet the upstate parents of his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams of Girls Fame). Its established from the beginning that he’s nervous about this, both because it is of course always nerve-wracking to meet the family of your significant other for the first time but also because its clear Rose has not yet informed her parents that he is black.

The discomfort continues when en route they hit a deer that bounds our in front of their car, Chris is clearly troubled and you later learn it’s a reminder for him of his mothers hit and run death when he was a child, an experience that has unreasonably burdened with him with terrible guilt.

Upon arriving at Rose’s parents homestead it becomes clear that they are the kind of over-compensating liberals who brag about their support of Obama but it sits uneasily with the oddly subdued African American help that hover on the periphery of their lives whom they insist are just ‘part of the family’.

 

That night they are joined by Rose’s even stranger brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones, who, after last years ‘war on everyone’ seems to be making a career of oddballs who make your skin crawl). Said brother challenges Chris to a wrestle, arguing that his ‘make up’ would make it an invigorating match. There is aggression here, but its muzzled and wrapped in a cloying acceptance that makes it hard to grasp. Tension builds up for Chris until during the night on a nicotine mission he encounters Rose’s therapist mother (the seductively creepy Catherine Keener) who promptly hypnotizes him and before he knows it that little cigarette craving is gone.. but is that all she did?

Things get even weirder the next day when at a party of neighbors Chris is paraded about and fawned over like a prize bull.

 

From this point on the action moves into the next gear, the mystery deepens and the clues as to what’s really going on in that house get creepier.

The finale is a violent revelation that for me was unfortunately a small let down as I guess I was hoping for a more grounded denouement and the lack of credibility in its solution was a slight stumble for me. Nevertheless the final scene was telling in how it played out and our reactions to who was in that car. No spoilers here but if you’ve seen it you’ll know what I mean.

There is comedy peppered throughout mostly supplied by Chris’s friend Rod (LilRel Howery who is a most welcome ingredient and in fact elevates every scene he’s in, he’s just so damn likable.

In his debut Jordan Peele directs with eloquence and a clear vision, he focuses on Chris’ face and eyes, he wants us to be as close to him as we can be, feeling as he does, seeing things through his eyes. It’s a claustrophobic and effective viewpoint, one that works perfectly with this paranoid twilight zone-type of horror.

Acting across the board is exceptional with Daniel Kaluuya in particular giving a committed and enveloping performance.

I love socially conscious horror movies. The ones that have a little more on their agenda then just to scare you.

I’ll take my horror with a side of cultural relevance thank you!

Usually a high critic satisfaction score for a horror gives me pause – horrors are not meant to be polite cuddly things that appeal to a wider audience, they are by their very design supposed to challenge, horrify and perhaps even repel you. They are not supposed to be liked by everyone and when they are I question their integrity – did they dull their edges? Did they dumb-down their bite? Luckily those fears do not apply here as the film-makers went into this wanting to sting you and they don’t let up with confronting images, storylines and characters. Indeed, some of the actions Chris takes verge into the questionable violence category, not for this type of film, but certainly for this type of character. By allowing him to do things that are maybe a step to far they have created a character that is totally human, frightening unpredictably, savagely human.

 

With The Stepford Wives an obvious influence, this is still an original and uneasy film to watch. These people aren’t traditional men in white hoods racists, the police aren’t here to save you but may be just another road block to you getting out alive. It’s the quintessential fish out of water, and unlike other horrors where its traditionally been someone from a ‘nice neighborhood’ trapped in an urban nightmare, or a woman stuck in a testosterone filled hell, this time it’s the ‘nice neighborhood’ folk that are the villains, the fact that it sits so well on them tells us something about how our views on the world have changed over the years.

The best horror has always held a mirror up to society and challenged us to see the things we are really afraid of. This movie happily continues that tradition, whilst also managing to be a unique and much needed voice in the genre.

Kudos Mr Peele, kudos!

8/10

Get Out Trailer

Blair Witch

 

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Its no secret I’ve been disappointed with horror lately. All the polite and pedestrian machinations of The Conjuring 2, Lights Out, Don’t Breathe etc. have been taking a serious toll on my love of horrors – the modern ones at least.. there’s only so much disillusionment a girl can take!

 

So when I heard that The Blair Witch Project (90’s game changer and seriously scary) had a sequel in the works that filmmakers Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett (of You’re Next and The Guest) had been quietly beavering away at for five years, I was skeptical. Sequels don’t have the best track record and it’s been a long time between drinks; still, at least it wasn’t a remake.

 

Picking up 20 years after the events of the precious installment, this iteration sees Heather’s younger brother James (James Allan McCune) on a quest to find out what happened to his sister and her crew in the Black Hills of Burkittsvile, Maryland. Putting together a crew of friends (Peter – Brandon Scott, Lisa – Callie Hernandez, and Ashley – Corbin Reid) they start by tracking down the folks who put up an intriguing YouTube video of found footage that has convinced James that his sister is still alive. The finders of that footage (Lane – Wes Roberston – who has some mysteries of his own, and Talia – Valorie Curry) insist on tagging along on their ‘camping trip’ and before you know it, they’ve parked at the edge of the forest, hauled on their backpacks and set off into the woods with cameras. Terror ensues.

 

Easily solving the ‘why are they still carrying cameras when running for their lives’ issue of previous films by giving their protagonists ear-cams and drone-cam, this sequel seems to have thought of everything. By updating this not dissimilar storyline from the mid-nineties to now, they encounter and tackle any questions that arise, with our modern technology quickly becoming useless in the almost Bermuda-triangle-like quality of these witchy woods and our filmmakers refusing to ignore the necessity of confronting these questions, the audience is rest assured the film is in good hands.

 

The characters are the weak point here – less time and effort has been placed into developing them into real people so connecting with them even on a basic level is more difficult for the audience. A few seem to do very silly things, particularly at the end, but this doesn’t have the negative impact on the film it could have. I can believe that when panicking we are not always our most rational selves!

A few other minor quibbles: Lane needed much more storyline as he was given interest that was not developed and we needed more – a wasted opportunity; I also missed the discussions about the documentary they were making itself – this seemed to have been forgotten about once they got to the woods, and I wanted more about Lisa’s foot injury, this was again, a wasted opportunity – everyone loves body horror.

 

The woods themselves are almost an additional character and the cinematography does justice to them more so than the previous film. It is also clear that Wingard and Barrett learnt from the success of the original that sound is almost the most important quality in this atmospheric tale and have played close attention to it, though they have gone more for the ‘loud discordant sounds’ school of horror rather than the more ‘barely heard woods cracking in the distance’ stuff that was so effective in the first film.

 

There are more jump scares and most don’t work but it didn’t bother me as they were not the main of the story but merely appetizers. Once the horror starts (and it’s a long build up of course) it is absolutely solid scares. The ending is much more fleshed out than the original but just as grueling if not more, and the tension is so palpable you feel like you’re there.

I liked the way the film played with time, something not in the first film; and the trees themselves had a much bigger role to play here which made it feel as if the whole woods were against our intrepid crew.

Luckily this film took the less is more approach with the more supernatural elements and while there were barely glimpsed creatures, this was all you needed of them to create that ‘hair standing on your neck’ feel.

 

The first Blair Witch Project was a classic, and changed the face of horror from the point it was released.

Will this film change anything?

No

Is it a film that will stay with me?

No

Could it have featured quieter, more subtle and more effective horror moments?

Yes

Is it a tense, well-made and actually creepy horror film?

Hell yes!

 

Finally…

 

8/10

Trailer

 

Don’t Breathe

 

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I was excited. I’ll admit it. The trailer was on my most played list, my friends were tagging me in on its social media promotions, and I had its release date on my calendar. My YouTube show had recorded a trailer reaction with Matt and I clearly enthusiastic about the coming of this film (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2-ngT8zQUQ)

 

It seemed to me to have all the potential to be THE horror film I had been waiting for – a sparse and sharp story, a hardline director (Fede Alvarez of Evil Dead remake fame) and the promise of some vicious violence.

 

So what went wrong?

Well first lets talk about what went right – this film had a killer premise: Three down on their luck burglars decide to invade the home of a blind veteran only to have the tables turned on them. The acting by all concerned was faultless, with Stephan Lang as the blind home-owner giving a truly committed performance, major props to him. Nice lighting, set design with attention to details pertinent to a blind person, tight direction that makes good use of the essentially limited set.

 

The problems are many – jump scares that fall flat, no capacity for creeping dread so well put to use in other similar films such as Panic Room and Hush (to paraphrase Alfred Hitchcock – if you show the audience the bomb before it goes off they get ten minutes of dread and build up as opposed to just setting it off and giving the audience a ten second jump), leads that all fail to connect with the audience, characters doing very, VERY foolish things that cause their own downfall and take me out of the film immediately, the tedium of ‘inside the house/briefly out of the house/back in the house’ antics, absolutely no thrills and a ridiculous plot twist that happens three quarters into the film that totally jumps the shark and is quite simply almost laughably awful.

 

However, the biggest mistake? This film existed almost entirely of plot holes. I literally had an hour long conversation afterwards with my friend Miss C that was mostly us exclaiming “And what about when this happened!?” that’s how much of this film was nonsensical. Some of my favorites? The blind guy stumbling around in a panic while his own alarm goes off even though HE KNOWS THE CODE, him smelling shoes 20 feet away but he cant smell a sweaty dirty burglar standing next to him, don’t breathe because he might hear you but he doesn’t hear a window breaking in his house, his ability to get out of handcuffs and his ability to ‘defeat’ an inhalant sleeping agent, finding a car a mile away from his house with nothing to go on, and so many more.

 

Not to mention the ending – how absolutely ridiculous! Honestly its beyond belief what film-makers expect us to just accept without question these days.

 

oh and another note to you Mr Alvarez, when you have characters pause to adjust a backpack or breathe a ‘phew’ sigh of relief when they’re still in harms way it just makes them look stupid. I did appreciate the nod to Cujo though..

 

So much more could’ve been made of the house, the plot, the characters, this just had potential to be so much more – harder, tauter and cooler.

 

Immediately after I saw this film I though it was ok, nothing special and a little disappointing but ok. The more I think about its inconsistencies and lazy writing the angrier I get.

All I want is a good scary horror, why does that seem to be too much to ask?

 

5.5/10