Beginning with a title screen informing the viewer that the year is 2020 and that to date there have been X amount of people infected and X amount of people have died from Covid; we are introduced to friends Parker (Gideon Adlon) and Bethlehem (Miri Woodlow). They have decided to quarantine from College at Parker’s parents’ lake house together and after the (at the time) de riguer questions of “did you do a RAT test?” and “do you have any symptoms” formalities, they set off in Parker’s jeep.
It’s clear from the outset that whilst Beth takes this very seriously and is scared of getting sick, Parker is mostly thinking about a fun lake vacation with her friend.
Once they arrive there are the usual young-adult hijinks and fun before they realise that they may not be so alone, and that perhaps being isolated is not such a great idea after all.
Set in 2020 during the height of the Covid pandemic and the rules and changes that occurred at the time, this neat little slasher couldn’t be more topical. Placing it firmly in a world that’s so freshly familiar to us is smart, and works in a way the majority of pandemic set films have not. Honestly, the way its weaved throughout the whole film and is, in the end, integral to the plot, is ingenious.
The acting is well above board with a few familiar faces in Marc Menchaca and Jane Adams (you might not know their names, but you likely know their faces), and in relative newcomers Aldon and Million, both strong and more than capable of carrying this movie and convincing in all aspects of their relationship and their abilities/pain.
The violent scenes are believable and the effects work well too, not to mention the tight and merciless direction by John Hyams (of the criminally underrated ‘Alone’); and there’s some nice, elevated cinematography from Yaron Levy that makes the most of the idyllic setting.
The most praise however should go to Kevin Williamson who co-wrote this clever script with Katelyn Crabb. It was at about the ten-minute mark that I started to get lovely OG Scream vibes and so it’s not surprising that the man behind that script also wrote this one. If you enjoyed Scream, I strongly encourage you to check out Sick, I doubt you’ll be disappointed.
Slashers are a great subgenre of horror and are a favourite of many fans, but they seem to be the one that seems to churn out the more rubbish, so when you find a gem in the pile its worth shouting about.
So I’m shouting.
Run, don’t walk, to see this one – it’s fresh, taut, funny, thrillingand entertaining as hell!
I’m not really into ‘so bad it’s good’ movies unless they are fully in on the joke and do a great job of really amping up their cheesiness, but with its 80’s setting and balls-to-the-wall vibe, I was intrigued by this one; so when Miss Rachel suggested we see this, our second bear movie of the month together, I was in!
The ‘based on a true story’ disclaimer was bothering me though; it didn’t seem right to make a horror-comedy about people dying, so when I discovered it was only the concept of a bear on cocaine and the circumstances surrounding how she got to be that way that were used in this film, I felt relieved and marched off to the cinema for what I assumed would be a slight and corny comedy.
I got much more than I expected.
Focusing on several different protagonists including the always-good Kerri Russel as a mum searching for her daughter and friend who are lost in the local national forest, a pair of forest rangers (a barely recognisable Jesse Tyler Ferguson of ‘Modern Family’ fame and Margo Martindale), a trio of small-time teenage crooks and a separate trio of big-time drug dealers (the late Ray Liotta amongst them in his last film role), a pair of sheriffs accompanied by adorable Lhasa Apso Rosette – don’t worry, she lives!) and more, this tells the story of a bear accidentally coming across cocaine in the forest where she lives, ingesting it and essentially going on a drug-fueled killing spree all in search of more cocaine.
In between the action, the film focuses on the different protagonist groups individually, so we learn more about each character and grow invested in their stories. Luckily the sprawling cast is wholly populated with talented and reliable actors who all manage to be personable and interesting which is no small feat. This is something that is vital for a good horror movie – give the audience characters to invest in and we will care when they are endangered. It’s not rocket science but something that many film-makers don’t seem to understand. It’s the texture that counts. Each character here comes alive as a fully-formed person with their own thoughts, motivations, quirks, needs; and it’s this attention to detail that really pays off in the long run.
However, there are set-pieces here that are pure adrenaline-fuelled, yell-at-the-screen action that shake things up and keep the film moving a pleasingly fast-pace; one in particular (pictured above) was so well-executed and so gruesome that I felt pinned to my seat in horror, even while I was laughing.In fact, it’s the gruesome attacks that took me by surprise – I did not expect things to be quite so graphic, they really leave very little to the imagination.
Written by Jimmy Warden (The Babysitter) and directed by Elizabth Banks (Charlies Angels 2019, Pitch Perfect 2) this is a perfect blend of comedy and horror which is hard to get right. Too much either way and you lose the ability to enjoy the other; tone is vital and Banks nails it. I particularly enjoyed the way she plays with audience expectations; take the ambulance scene for instance – the driver floors it, a power song drops, and we are off – this is the recipe for a kickass escapade set to a cool beat as we have all seen and enjoyed in films before. Instead, Banks treats us to some of the grisliest carnage I’ve seen in a long time, and because of the preceding ‘escapade vibe’, we are totally unprepared for it.I also really liked how she took great pains to ensure the audience understands the difference between a movie monster bear and the real-life animals, the ‘bears do not attack humans without cause’ message was received and appreciated.
Goofy but not stupid, bloody, funny, and exciting with a killer soundtrack and a liberal dose of 80’s dorkiness; I had a great time with this.
Horror movies concerning themselves with cannibalistic families or backwoods rednecks are one of my favorite subgenres of horror. I enjoy the grimy visceral feeling of these films, and watching some bucktoothed Neanderthal get his just desserts at the end is always satisfying. Standouts from this style of horror movie would include the obviously perfect ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (original of course), ‘Wrong Turn’, ‘Rituals’, ‘Deliverance’ etc.
‘Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey’ seemed like the kind of film, at least from the trailer, that could satisfy this strange predilection of mine.
I had no trepidation going in, I am aware of the hand wringing and pearl clutching that surrounds the idea of a Winnie the Pooh horror film, and to be honest it seems a bit ridiculous to me. No one is ruining anyone’s childhood, the books are still the same, they’ve been out for a very long time and will continue to delight.
So I approached this with an air of excitement, albeit guarded, because I didn’t know any of the cast or crew and that can give me pause.
Beginning with an animated back story, we learn that Christopher Robin, once old enough to go to college, abandoned his animal friends to fend for themselves in the 100 acre woods. This led to catastrophe with one of their number killed and eaten. Horrified that the abandonment had led them to such savagery, those lovable animals that we all know – Tigger, Owl, Winnie and Piglet, decide to turn on humans and make them pay; starting with the hated Christopher Robin. Later, when a group of young women come to stay at a house in the woods, Winnie and piglet rise up to kill them in inventive and ridiculous ways.
Here are the positives: firstly a tip – go with a friend like Rachel, whose enthusiasm for bad movies and whose total immersion in the action will amp up your enjoyment exponentially.
This is a handsome-looking film, the cinematography by Vince Knight is good, moody and far more professional-looking than you’d expect from a low-budget movie. Some of the directorial decisions from Rhys Frake-Waterfield worked well and added some tension. The music by composer Andrew Scott Bell, although mostly used in a completely incompetent manner throughout much of the proceedings, was full and rounded. I also enjoyed the practical mask work.
That’s about it for positives.
As for negatives, there are more than I can even list but I’ll try.
I can’t decide what was worse, the exploitive nudity wedged into a scene with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, the cliche rednecks just waiting around at a defunct gas station to swing into dubious action when the women falter, the obvious misogyny of having a group of all female victims? Or was it all just a clumsy satire of these types of slashers? Oh, how I wish that were true.
Made for a budget of reportedly $100,000, the issue isn’t with the budget, the issue is with a screenplay that is so bad it’s hard to believe it ever passed muster, and acting so abysmal that it’s incomprehensible how these people ever ended up on film. Did Frake just hire his friends? His enemies?
There is no character development; in fact I don’t even remember anyone’s names and for a lot of the film I had two of the characters mixed up, the fact that one of those characters was supposedly the main protagonist and she was so forgettable that I mixed her up with another character, is not a good sign.
Characters show up out of the blue with no explanation or sense of place, the deaths are occasionally done well but are mostly of the silly putty variety, or cutaway from, or shown in animation. Scenes continue well past the point where they should have ended, well past the point where the audiences patience have worn exceptionally thin. Tigger and Owl are a no-show and it’s never explained why.
People seem to be actively avoiding opportunities to escape, choosing to stand and die like a good little victim rather than take themany, Many, MANY chances they are given to get away and get help.
It seems to me that what this film needed (aside from a new script and cast) was a proper editor. Obviously director Frake-Waterfield was far too close to the material (indeed he edited, wrote, directed, and pretty much provided the catering for this film) to be subjective and to realise how much needed to be exorcised from this movie. At only 80 minutes it felt stretched beyond belief, points are labored, moments spinout endlessly… it feels like someone forgot to yell cut.
At the end of the day, it’s a great concept, and visually it worked, but the rest was so shockingly bad that it would’ve been better had they just embraced that and continued down this ‘so bad it’s good’ path like Sharknado. Instead, it couldn’t seem to decide whether it wanted to be a down-home cannibals style slasher, or a cheesy midnight lolathon, and that leaves us with an uneven tone as well as its other glaring failures.
I laughed a lot, but I’m not sure that’s what the director intended, and without an audience to laugh along with, I would have turned it off.
It wasn’t a budget problem, but a lack of skill and talent that made this one only worth watching to laugh at.
It’s been a bit of an odd year for movies. Mainstream films have been a bit of a letdown, indie films were at cinemas for all of five minutes and streaming has impacted cinema in ways that worry me – most notably, how quickly they are available to watch in your own home. It concerns me that films aren’t being seen the way they should, or enjoyed in distraction-free environments, and I have strived to do my best to watch as many as I can on the big screen.
I stand by my conviction that all films benefit from the cinema experience, not just big budget actions, and I’ll continue to do my best to support the cinemas with my time and money.
Now, on with the show!
I dig Baz Luhrmann, his films are always bold and swing for the fences, he always has a vision and always has heart – all things that grow harder to find as movies grow more into ‘entertainment commodity responding to algorithms’ rather than art. Luhrman understands the power of imagery and it’s clear that in all of his films, he never plays it safe.
Elvis is a spectacular film buoyed by an even more spectacular performance from Austin Butler, who is a revelation here. The first film about Elvis to really capture the sex appeal of Elvis the performer, and make you understand the effect it had on audiences of the day; and the first Elvis film to talk about the influence of the black community on his music and how the industry didn’t support artists who weren’t ‘good white people’. This is big, ballsy, sad, beautiful, heart-on-the-sleeve filmmaking that is a delight to the senses. It runs the gamut of emotions, has that anachronistic but intuitive music that is the hallmark of a Luhrman film, and truly sparked in me an interest in someone I didn’t know I had any interest in. This film is a juggernaut of wow.
2. West Side Story
I was not a fan of the original 60’s version of this film and so approached Spielberg’s output with some trepidation. I love musicals and enjoy much of the music from the original, so I was prepared to watch it on that level; but this version has so much more to give than that. This is old-fashioned filmmaking at its finest, a big screen musical that uses every inch of the frame to its advantage and fills each moment with emotion and dancing and love. Wonderfully and earnestly performed by the entire cast but especially Ansel Elgort as Tony who has never been better, Rachel Zegler in her film debut as Maria who is perfectly cast and has the voice of an angel, but especially Ariana DeBose who rightfully won an Oscar for her bristling-with-determination-and-passion performance in this movie. They really don’t make films like this anymore.
3. Top Gun Maverick
I’ll admit it, when I heard they were making this movie I actually laughed. There were jokes about Tom Cruise trying to win back former glory, and who asked for this sequel 36 years too late. Hardy har har.
I was wrong. Because this movie is everything you never knew you wanted. The story, concerning the late Goose’s son Bradley (Miles Teller – perfectly cast) and an unwinnable mission, is faultlessly executed with incredible aviation scenes that have never before been put on film; but that’s not the only wonderful element in this film. This is not a rehash of the first film and makes a point of taking strides away from it in many positive ways. Tom Cruises age is not shied away from and is in fact used as part of his character and his interactions with the new hotshot recruits. He has an age-appropriate love interest in Jennifer Conolly who has agency and a life of her own that she’s not just gunna throw away because he flashes his pearly whites. There are women in the top gun recruits now and they are there to work not be decoration. There is a genuine sense of danger that was absent from the first film as they were in training in that one and not running actual missions, unlike this movie. The impact of Goose’s death is given its correct due. The mission is edge-of-your-seat, sweaty-palm fuel, and I love that they never name a specific country as the ‘enemy’. There are nods and references to the first film, but they service the plot and feel organic. And it’s insanely rewatchable.
Now this is how you do a ‘legacy sequel’.
As Sarah, a new and inexperienced care worker in an aged home, Jodie Comer is, again, amazing. Her friendship with resident Stephen Graham’s Tony, admitted for early-onset Alzheimer’s, is wonderfully explored as they give each other purpose and joy; before Covid 19 hits and everything changes. Watching this 2 years past the shock and fear of the initial outbreak, brought home to me how clueless we were back then, how naive. I’d forgotten how it was like stumbling about in the dark trying to make sense of how our world had irrevocably changed, the daily losses unimaginable only a few short weeks before.
It also reminded me of how scary it can be to have a job caring for others who are struggling, or maybe even losing their battle. The unbroken 26 minute shot of Sarah alone trying to hold it together for her patients/charges was painfully familiar; her sobs in the hallway something I have done myself in my years as a veterinary nurse.
This fascinated, horrified, and incensed me. I wish more people had seen this movie. I wish it had had a wider release.
5.Everything Everywhere All At Once
This movie came out of nowhere for me. I’d heard a good buzz just before it came out and decided to go see it based on word-of-mouth. Starring Michelle Yeoh in a performance that uses every one of her skills from martial arts warrior to seductress to mother, this story is almost impossible to describe but it concerns interdimensional travel and strange worlds as well as minutiae like paying your taxes and working on your relationships with family members; from the difficulties of immigrating to a new country to the difficulties of travelling within a multi-verse, from saving a loved one drowning in ennui to saving the world. Jamie Leigh Curtis, barely recognisable, is such a good sport in this and I loved the combination of the mundane with the fantastical. This reminded me in many ways of Cloud Atlas (which I adore), Scott Pilgrim Saves the World and The Matrix all combined into a tantalising, ferociously original film that gave me all the feels.
Also, Ke Huy Quan is in it. I love Ke Huy Quan.
I didn’t see this at the movies, I didn’t get onto it quick enough and it disappeared from the cinema before I could get there. I wasn’t too bothered at the time, mostly because I hated Jordan Peele’s last film ‘Us’ and was worried I’d invest in another bad movie of his. I regret that decision. This horror about alien invasion takes a different approach to the subject matter than we are used to seeing, and the ideas and concepts behind it make that somewhat conventional sub-genre so much more horrifying. Its long and takes its time to tell its story but that time is spent in the company of two fine actors in Daniel Kaluuya (amazing as always – the screen loves him!) and Keke Palmer who almost steals the spotlight in a wildly different performance to his, she is raw unpredictability, and he is studied control – to see them bounce off each other is one of the films pleasures. A very different role for Steven Yuen (also reliably good in everything) makes this a hat-trick of superb acting, but it also features breathtaking cinematography that would have seriously popped on the big screen. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it at the time, it fascinated me, and I admired the ambition, but later I couldn’t stop thinking about it and looked up some of the deeper themes to get even more from the film. The best horror of the year.
7. Bullet Train
There is a Brad Pitt renaissance happening these last few years and I gotta admit, I’m here for it. I think he’s never been better than he is right now, and I’m digging older Brad.
Bullet Train is one of those bonkers, high-speed movies featuring a cast of recognisable faces, snappy dialogue and a twisty plot – my kind of movie. Think ‘Nobody’ or good Guy Ritchie movies and you’ll have a good idea what Bullet Train is like.
Essentially, a few likeable hitmen who are all after the same case of money, are on a superfast train. With some red herrings, flashbacks, and Japanese culture thrown in, that’s really it for plot. The surprise is that you’ll grow to care for at least one or two of these people, and that it all comes together in a satisfyingly unexpected finale. A genuine thrill ride, with great action, humor, and a good time from start to finish. Get onboard!
8. Licorice pizza
You never forget your first crush, reciprocated or not, it’s always a little bit painful and wrought and aches deliciously. Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson knows this, and Licorice Pizza conjures those awkward feelings perfectly. The 70s setting is impressively accurate, and the cast are people you could have grown up with they are so relatable and real. This film is long and takes its time telling a story that integrates several real-life incidences such as America’s fuel crisis in 1973 and the crazy antics of Barbara Streisands coked-out whack job of a boyfriend at the time Jon Peters (a never-better Bradley Cooper who steals every scene he’s in); but it’s fine that it takes its time, it’s nice just to hang out in these youngsters lives for a while and reminisce.
If you’re a single straight or bi woman, chances are you’re probably aware of how terrifying and risky dating can be. It can also be boring, weird, time-wastey etc. But its the frightening part that director Mimi Cave focuses in on here with results that I did not see coming in a movie that did nothing I expected and went places I didn’t think it would dare. Be warned – this is notfor the faint of heart and it’s certainly not a rom-com, but for those with a taste for something a little more ‘surprising/horrifying’ this could be the film for you. I would advise you to eat all your snacks before the credits kick in at the 30-minute mark and things become a spot darker, you may lose your appetite.
10. Rons Gone Wrong
You know when people lament that we are all losing the ability to communicate, that online status is more important than being a good and decent person leading a good and decent life? Those people could have written this movie, and after you’d watched it, you’d find yourself agreeing with them. Essentially the story of a boy and his malfunctioning robot friend, this manages to have a lot to say about corporations monitoring and tailoring products to target children, about the power of real connections, exploring your own identity and backing yourself, and it’s also funny and sad in almost equal measure. I’ve seen it three times and cried at the ending each time. For someone who claims to not really be into animation, that’s saying something.
11. Bones and All
Maren and Lee are fine young cannibals on the run in this unique road movie romance punctuated by bouts of grisly gore designed to actually turn your stomach and successfully does so. Timothee Chalamet is always so damn good and his co-star Taylor Russell holds her own against him, but its Mark Rylance you’ll remember. Rylance, usually so personable, gives a performance here so utterly repellant you’ll find yourself recoiling from the screen whenever he appears; every part of your body wants to crawl away from him. This film stayed with me for a long time afterwards, and that is becoming less and less frequent in this era of movies designed for quick gratification. Director Luca Guadagnino continues to impress with his current hot streak of great films and television.
12. tick, tick… Boom!
Andrew Garfield is extremely likable, even when he’s playing a grown theatre-kid who bursts into song to express his struggle of wanting to make it big in musical theatre before he hits 30. This true story about wunderkind Jonathan Larson – the mastermind behind runaway success Broadway smash ‘Rent’ is not quite the light feel-good musical many may expect. Though a biopic, the script doesn’t shy away from showing how self-centric his drive and single-minded pursuit of this specific goal could make him; and it doesn’t hide the mistakes and failures along the way.
This is the first film featuring the talents of Lin-Manuel Miranda to be in this post, though the other film you’ll find in my worst list.I can overlook the tweeness of the title with its ellipses and exclamation mark because the performances here are so good (Garfield’s Oscar unfortunately went home with slap-happy Will Smith though I suspect that there are now far more opportunities in Garfield’s future than the formerly adored Smiths) and the songs so damn catchy. The fact that Andrew Garfield didn’t sing or play piano before this role is remarkable to me. Made me sing, laugh and cry!
This was one of those small movies you stumble upon, are blown away by, and then recommend to everyone.
Ostensibly the tale of a ne’er-do-well podcaster whose mistaken identity as the boyfriend of a recently-deceased woman allows him to attend her funeral in Texas and cozy up with her family thus creating content for his podcast, but it has a lot more to it than that. The culture clash is amusing, his assumptions about ‘small town people’ and how he is sometimes right and sometimes wrong is cleverly rendered, his finding his own moral compass within a fraught landscape believable on all levels.
It’s also really funny and features an unexpectedly great performance from the little-seen-these-days Ashton Kutcher. Find it!
I don’t like films based on plays, or films set in one place; as a general rule they feel stagnant and stuck to me. Mass is essentially set in one room and yes it could easily be a play; but it is never boring and never feels stagnant. You do feel trapped by the raw emotions these four people express – the pain they show is almost suffocating even for the audience. Feeling only a small amount of what the actors are conveying is draining and like an emotional gut punch. It’s worth it though.
I was blown away by the acting here – it’s a whole new level of amazing, blown away by how the story and the connection between these two couples is gradually revealed like an explosion that quietly creeps into your house. This is not an easy watch and pack all the tissues you own because you will need them, but watch it all the same.
15. Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood
Live action animation isn’t that common, but with Flee and Apollo 10 and a half, I loved both films that were created in this style released this year. From Richard Linklater, who’d previously used this affectation with ‘A Scanner Darkly’ (also awesome), this film tells the story of young Stan as narrated by older Stan (Jack Black) as he recalls his childhood in Houston and how he ended up on the moon. The recreation of an era and place is so real it almost fees like your own memories, the fantastical element done so cleverly that you find yourself almost believing it all could have happened that way. This was funny, sweet, nostalgic and joyous; I love coming-of-age movies and this one is no exception.
16. You are not my mother
What would you do if the person you loved, suddenly stopped being the person you loved? Stopped being, in fact, someone you recognised at all?
When Chars mum inexplicably goes missing and then returns somehow fundamentally ‘changed’, she finds herself battling the non-believers as well as tasked with uncovering the dark family secrets that may hold the key to what happened to her mum, and maybe help to save her.
This was probably the only horror to give me a real fright this year – it was chilling, creepy, unexpected, haunting; all the more impressive given that it is a low-budget effort from Ireland with a feature-length debuting director (Kate Dolan) and a cast of unknowns. Truly scary, good practical effects, a fully committed cast and a director who knows how to scare you. This is well worth the nightmares.
The internet seems to be viewed by some as some kind of invisibilty shield, a thing you can hide behind and be safe. But thats not the case. Thats not the case at all.
When undercover British journalist Amy decides to go deep into terrorist recruitment and discover how young women are being groomed and manipulated into leaving their lives behind to join extremists, she learns the hard way that there is no anonymity these days, and no one is safe. Based on a true story, this one had me squirming in my seat, I had no idea where the film was going and as things escalated, so did my anxiety. One of the scariest non-horror movies I’ve seen.
Honorable mentions –
Men (a horror that understands what life is like for women living in a patriarchy, that’s also experimental and creepy and fascinating)
Bodies Bodies Bodies (sharp, spiky, knowing and very funny – a horror that takes affectionate aim at Gen Z)
Flee (Danish animated documentary that vividly recreates a harrowing autobiographical refugee story – strong stuff)
Dear Evan Hanson (Just the soundtrack alone would have put this movie on the list, but this musical about suicide and its ripples is also wildly affecting and strangely ‘feel good” too)
Unbearable weight of massive talent (silly, good-natured movie that is essentially just Nicholas Cage having a great time skewing his own larger than life persona)
Triangle of Sadness (funny, gross, weird, biting, confronting satire of class struggles onboard a luxury cruise)
The Batman, – BBBBBBOOOOOOORRRRRRRIIIIINNNNNGGGGG! Stop taking this stuff so damn seriously, Its not ‘War and Peace’ for chrissakes
Encanto – Lin-Manuel Miranda, why did you foist this apologist rubbish on us? Pointless, dangerous and annoying AF, with a nonsensical plot that undoes itself by the end. I hated this one.
Scream 5 – Like watching a movie kiss its own ass for two hours. So smug whilst offering absolutely nothing but a stain on a good series.
Deep Water – Painfully turgid thriller that tries so damn hard to be sexy. Your creepy Uncle Greg after too many whiskeys in film form.
Terrifier 2 – Ugly, hateful, overlong, mean-spirited and moronic. This had no business even being made.
Ambulance – Quite literally the dumbest big screen film I have ever had the displeasure of watching. I would seriously doubt the intelligence of anyone who tried to defend this steaming turd of stupidity. I will never again trust a film simply because it has a Gyllenhaal in it!
With its gleeful celebration of its own lack of humanity, it’s deep dive into squalor and depravity was actually depressing. It was also poorly made and badly acted, with a plotless script and kills that were logistically nonsensical. I regretted watching it.
So when a sequel was announced I was hardly excited.
This time our antagonist/anti-hero/vile scumbag Art the clown is on a new killing spree where he targets teenaged siblings who recently lost their dad in Art’s hunting ground of Miles County, and blah blah blah..
Once again we have sub-standard film quality, misogyny and stupidly OTT kills that do nothing but make you feel bad, while the camera lovingly captures every moment of the cruelty.
This instalment however is two and a half hours long. Yep you read that right – this rubbish that is just literally torture porn expects you to wallow in its muck for 2.5 hours.
Some people have mistakenly thought this is a hark back to old skool 80s slashers, dazzled as they are by the synth score, the final girl and the B movie acting, but it’s nothing like the horrors of the 80s. Those old school films didn’t employ lengthy torture scenes, they didn’t kill the ‘undeserved’ in explicitly nasty detail, they didn’t sacrifice story for hours of gore, the killers generally had a motive, and they didn’t last 2.5 hours!
If your idea of entertainment is watching some sick asshole pull parts off a teenage girl while she screams in pain for a good 10 minutes than this is the movie for you.
I am glad to say it’s not for me.
This isn’t horror.
This is just mean spirited, cruel, boring and ugly.
The trailer for Barbarian is a good one. It looks like a barebones, hard-edged, gritty, urban horror – the kind that almost works as a cautionary tale, the kind that will get under your skin and truly terrify you. In other words – my kind of movie!
That was what I wanted; but that wasn’t what I got.
Instead, this film is equal parts creeping dread and intrigue, and equal parts almost grotesque horror comedy.
We start with the story most featured in the trailer – a double-booked Airbnb home in a rundown and dangerous part of Detroit where a man and a woman have to spend an uneasy night in each other’s company; a creepy basement and an even more disturbing backstory.
Then the second act is about Justin Longs greasy ‘AJ’ character and how his wholly justified career meltdown leads him to that home in Detroit with all its secrets and hidden horrors.
It’s a fairly simple story, but how it plays out and the twists and turns along the way are its main strengths, so you’ll get no spoilers from me today.
Written and directed by Zach Cregger in his first film since 2009, and in his horror genre debut, this will be a name to watch in the future. Cregger’s fresh voice in a genre that can be known to self-canibalise, is a welcome one; and even if this wasn’t as entirely successful as I had wanted, its only because my expectations had led me to want a different kind of film, not because this one failed in any way.
The performances, particularly from our trio of leads – Bill Skarsgard who manages to be both creepy and sympathetic, Justin Long in a welcome return to form, and Georgina Campbell in a surely exhausting role – are all impressive here.
The effects work well, the atmosphere is palpable, the comedy is well-earned and it manages to throw in a few surprises along the way; but for me, the explanation of what’s happening doesn’t quite ring true and steps perhaps too far into ridiculous for me to accept.
My real issue was in the fact that so many characters made stupid decisions; not just poor ones, but idiotic ones, and that immediately makes the audience distance themselves from engagement as they know now it wouldn’t happen to them. My other gripe is with the lack of care shown to actually answering some rather glaring questions. If only they’d taken time to insert a few scenes that fleshed out why a character may have jumped from one conclusion or decision to the next, those things may not have been so irksome. This is where the filmmakers lack of experience and clear over-enthusiasm to get to the next bit because he’s dying to share it with you, is most evident.
Not exactly what I wanted, but this is outrageous and creepy and silly and unpredictable – a fun night is assured. Just try to see it with a responsive audience. I swear, the yells and screams and claps and laughs absolutely added to my enjoyment of this nutso movie. My favourite bit? When, after AJ does something particularly noxious, a lady in my audience loudly declared “what a cunt!”
Deputy sheriff John Marshall has a problem. Well, several problems. He’s a recovering alcoholic, the spiteful separation with his ex-wife is causing rift between him and his teenage daughter Jenna (Chloe East), and his father – Sheriff Hadley – has a heart condition, which is constantly on John’s mind; but the biggest problem is that there’s a killer loose in Snow Hollow and everyone but him is convinced it’s a werewolf. The death toll rises as the towns fear escalates and the idea of a werewolf takes a far firmer hold than he’d ever anticipated. This sophomore effort from writer/director/star Jim Cummings after his utterly brilliant ‘Thunder Road’ debut, is ostensibly a werewolf movie, but is actually about so much more. Beginning with a savage murder, this tells the story of small-town America, a country police-force out of its depth and a man struggling with his own identity in the face of mounting pressure from all sides. The town of Snow Hollow is almost a complete character here, and that sense of place and people is an important aspect of the story. A familiarity with the people who’ve seen him both at his best and his worst makes his every move as a fledging sheriff-in-situ that much more open to scrutiny, and adds another layer to the already heavy load he is burdened with. Though clearly unsuited to a job that requires patience and a more careful mindset, his partner Detective Julia Robson (Riki Lindhome) balances out his flaws and is obviously the better choice for the senior role. You get the feeling however that this hadn’t even occurred to John, that as the son of the outgoing sheriff, the job is all but his. John is so consumed by his own problems that he fails to really engage and see the world around him, and his evolution as a character and the widening of his perspective is one of this films strengths.
For Sheriff Hadley, dealing with his own mortality is a thing he wants to put off for as long as possible; and the chance to focus on these brutal killings affords him the distraction he most desperately desires, that it may come at his own detriment is not a consideration until it has to be.
By turns a police procedural, a drama about family and commitment, and a bloody good horror, this manages to service all its favoured genres with aplomb. The acting, particularly from the always reliable Cummings, Lindhome, and the late Robert Forester giving another great performance here in his twilight years, are all effortlessly believable. The cinematography is beautiful and the screenplay is clever. I also particularly enjoyed the way that this was directed, not unnecessarily showy, but definitely distinctive and textural; one vignette concerning a ski instructor was superbly cinematic and another scene in a diner was chilling in both what it showed and what it chose not to show.
This is a film to be enjoyed more than once, rich as it is in context and world building, pointed dialogue and fabulous performances, it’s also consistently funny. Perfect for a chilly night 8/10
When I first saw the trailer for this one, I was excited; it looked right up my alley with regards to themes andstyle. I’m a fan of the director (Scott Derrickson – Sinister, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Deliver Us from Evil), and its based on a story by Joe Hill who is Stephen Kings son and a reasonably good writer in his own right (I really dug ‘Heart-shaped Box’ but couldn’t get through ‘The Fireman’ so there was some caution there). This quickly became my most anticipated film of the year.
Firstly the plot – A serial kidnapper called ‘The Grabber’ is stalking the kids in small town America in the 70s. Finney (Mason Thames) is victim number five and when he awakens in a soundproof basement with only a supposedly broken phone on the wall, he knows he is in some strife. That is, until the phone starts ringing and he hears from the previous child victims hints and tips on how to defeat The Grabber (Ethan Hawke). Outside the confines of his prison, his sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw) is working hard to convince the police and her own abusive father (Jeremy Davies) that the visions she has of Finney and the other victims are real, and could help them find him before its too late. But the clock is ticking…
The acting here is mostly good. James Ransone was a wonderful addition to the cast, he’s always good in everything he does and always adds a touch of eccentricity to his characters. Ethan Hawke was excellent as The Grabber, a fully committed performance in a role that I know from reading interviews he was not convinced he was wanting or willing to play. He was by turns skin-crawly, malevolent, childish, threatening. Thames playing Finney also gave a fine performance as the kid in peril learning to fight from those who lost before him. The cast is rounded out by an inconsistent performance by McGraw as Gwen – she is given a sassy character that will blind some people to the quality of her performance, but she was either great or terrible and there didn’t seem to be any middle-ground; and every time she was bad it took me out of the movie.
The main problem here is that all the ‘scares’ were completely telegraphed in a not-so-well-written script; a lot was given away in the trailer and the rest you could see a mile away if you’ve watched more than a few horror movies. There were no surprises at all and quite a lot of plotholes, such as a scene where Finney manages to remove the bars from the window in his small cellar-dwelling and nothing is made of this, he is not punished, the Grabber never even mention it and there seems to be no repercussions from this act which would have certainly compromised the soundproof quality of his ‘prison’. Why, in a small town, are the police struggling to find an obvious sinister black van? The grabber shares his home – how is he getting away with the things he does? what exactly is the ‘naughty boy’ game? why would he let Finney keep his ‘weapon’? why did this all start? and why on earth would there be a phone there in the first place? Moreover, you never feel like he is ever in any real peril and there is never any doubt in your mind that he will survive to the end, which makes The Grabber feel nonthreatening. This feels like a short story stretched out beyond its limits, and that is why it is so repetitive when each day a new kid teaches Finney something that they learnt while they were captured. You can’t help but wonder why when their plans failed for them, they think they will work for Finney.
I really like the aesthetic of this film, the 70s vibe was well-realised, The Grabbers masks are exceptionally well-done, the dreams/visions looked fantastic – disjointed and full of crashing information like dreams are, Derrickson always does a good job in making things look creepy, dark, grainy, lived-in; but I felt the script was too weak to support what could’ve been a really great story had it had more context, depth, and time spent on really fleshing out the intricacies of a more complex plot. While I appreciated the efforts to give the characters more ‘grey areas’, they needed further work to truly come alive as people who could engage you.
Though underwhelming and somewhat forgettable, this isn’t a bad film, but it should have been far better and somehow that irks me more.
I love found footage films; I’d say its likely my favourite sub-genre, and I’ve enjoyed all the sub-sub-genres it has ushered in such as screen-horror (a film taking place entirely on a computer screen, eg ‘Unfriended’) and live-stream horror such as ‘Spree’. I enjoy the immediacy and immersion it affords the audience, and so I was excited to watch ‘Dashcam’, the latest live-stream horror from director Rob Savage whose previous film was the screen-horror ‘Host’.
Set during our current pandemic times, Dashcam is led by Annie (Annie Hardy), a real-life anti-vaxxer/mask live-streamer hosting her show BandCar which is essentially a showcase for civil disobedience, malevolent mischief and horrible rapping. She is an unlikable character – abrasive and obnoxious, so to cast her as the lead and allow her to use her own platform and personality in your movie is a risky choice, one that doesn’t do this film any favours. With her MAGA hat and conspiracy-theory buzzwords, if I didn’t already dislike her than her choice to abandon her sweet cat to go to the UK from LA to cause mayhem there, would’ve done it.
Once in London, she wastes no time alienating her friend Stretch (Amer Chadha-Patel – amiable), insulting his girlfriend and stealing his car. After making herself a nuisance at an eatery, she picks up a strange passenger for cash and thus launches her strange, gross, bloody night – all captured on her livestream.
There are issues here that show up almost immediately, the livestream format kills any atmosphere that may have been generated as the constant stream of comments and emojis to the left of the screen is distracting and detaching, Savages choice to abruptly cut from tense scenes to a whole new scene with no explanation as to what happened during the cut was exasperating and failed to make use of the strengths of this genre, the chaotic jerky camera makes it hard to see what’s happening during key scenes, the protagonist’s lack of common decency and humanity is echoed in the films perspective and embracing of mean-spirited apathy, but the biggest sin of all is that this is boring. The storyline is thin and Annie is bad company, but its the repetitiveness and lack of invention or any real reason to exist that eventually does this film in. I was barely interested by the time this wrapped itself up, and I am struggling to remember many scenes or the finale at all at this point.
In 2021 another film came out called Dashcam, it was a tense indie thriller that didn’t get a wide released – watch that one instead; because the best thing I can say about this film is that its short, even though, like me, you may find yourself counting down the minutes of its runtime so that you can watch something else.
Back in 1984, director Mark L Lester released Firestarter, a mildly successful horror film based on the brilliant novel by genius Stephen King starring Drew Barrymore, David Keith, Martin Sheen and George C Scott. Its a film I’ve always enjoyed and had a soft spot for for the last 28 years.
Now, because all the films we enjoyed as kids seem to be in need of an update according to Hollywood, we are ‘gifted’ with this remake.
This story of a young girl (Charlie) with the power to create fire with her mind, the mind altering lab tests her parents took part in before she was born, the shady government agency trying to kidnap her for their own nefarious reasons, the struggles of her father (Andy, who has a little party trick of his own – the ability to ‘push’ people to do as he wishes) to protect her at all costs, and her work to learn how to control her unwieldy power, is a good one – compelling and nerve-jangling… in the right hands.
So what went wrong? Firstly, every change made from the book and from the original film add nothing to the narrative and in many ways seriously hurt this film. The relationship between father and daughter is not as well fleshed out, the farmhouse scene is a complete mess in the 2022 version whereas in 1984 it was a set-piece, the relationship between Charlie and Rainbird makes much more sense in the original and is fraught with tension – totally missing in the remake, the agency is better explained in the original, giving mind altering drugs to college kids in the 70s makes sense but these days not so much, the finale of the original is powerful and tear-jerking but in 2022 its beyond ridiculous with an alliance formed that makes absolutely no sense and is almost offensive after what we have seen one of the parties do.
In this version, Andy is played by Zach Efron, Charlie by Ryan Kiera Armstrong, and both actors do the best with what they are given, Efron with somewhat more success as he manages to make his thinly drawn character someone almost resembling an actual person; but his character is a walking contradiction whose supposed ‘life lessons’ are thrown out the window in the end which makes the whole thing feel pointless. Also pointless in this version is the hideous death of a cat (which we left the theatre during – we didn’t want to see it) – when will film-makers learn that audiences don’t like to see animals hurt???
This isn’t a terrible film but it is very far from good and is wholly un-needed. Upon further research I discovered that this was written by Scott Teems, the writer behind the worst film of last year – Halloween Kills. If last years rubbish weren’t enough, than this film gives me ample reason to avoid his work from now on.
Pointless, ugly, and inferior to the original in every way; don’t bother.