Best Movies of 2020

What a strange year 2020 has been. For me, one of the most impactful things was the loss of cinemas.

This sounds like a small and petty gripe and in the scheme of things it definitely is, but going to the cinema has always been my salvation, my place of centring, my church; and not being able to go was difficult to say the least.

What I have enjoyed about this year, film-wise at least, is the fact that because there were less big screen offerings, the indie films have had a chance to shine that little bit brighter, and perhaps find an audience that would not normally have been there.

According to Letterboxd I have watched 287 films this year, and they only count the first viewing so that doesn’t include the ones that were repeats, of which there were a few. Not all of those films were released this year , and there are some that I saw for the first time this year that I wish I had watched in the year of their release so that they could have been included in that year’s list , but such is life. There is only so much time, and there are so many films to watch… 

In all honesty probably the two best films that I watched this year were Thunder Road and Sicilian ghost story, and neither of them came out this year, I just happened to watch them for the first time this year.

However, because I didn’t get to honour them in the year they were released please watch the trailers at the end of this article and then get out there and watch them! They deserve a bigger audience.

This is also the first year that I don’t have a number one best film of the year, instead finding many films that I enjoyed a lot with no clear frontrunner.

This is a first as I’ve always been able to pick at least two that belong at the number one spot.

Because of this, I have decided to just do a free form list the films that I thought were great this year, with no numbering system, and no ranking.

So, the following list is in no particular order

1917

George MacKay as Lance Corporal Schofield in the film 1917.

Although this was the first film I watched in 2020, I still remember the huge impact it had on me. The tricksy one-shot directing device that was utilised only added to the immediacy of a picture that threw you into the action and made something that could have seemed ‘quaint’ and distant, anything but. The actors were all great with several unexpected and perfectly utilised cameos that had the potential to draw you from the story but somehow didn’t. This was a masterclass in film-making from Sam Mendes; I cried and I marvelled – the cinematography is truly breathtaking and the score by Thomas Newman deserved the Oscar it didn’t win.

Dark waters

Bill Camp (left) as “Wilbur Tennant” and Mark Ruffalo (right) as “Robert Bilott” in director Todd Haynes’ DARK WATERS, a Focus Features release. Credit : Mary Cybulski / Focus Features

Mark Ruffalo leads a story about an attorney doing battle with a big Chemical company and its history of pollution. What sounds dry on paper had me on the edge of my seat, equally outraged and astounded that this wasn’t better known. Still so relevant today and likely the most important film I’ve watched in a long time. Literally everyone should watch this film, not only does it actually matter but it’s so well made and acted; with a supporting cast of Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins and Bill Pullman this is vital viewing.

Waves

This film began as a family drama, focusing on the life of a rather entitled young man ad was a cacophony of loud noise and obnoxiousness. Then, just as I was deciding it wasn’t for me, something happened and it became about someone and something else entirely. It found its heart and was then riveting and stirring. The ripple effect of an action within a family and how that action effects everyone in that family was fascinating to watch. Stick with it, it has rich rewards within.

The lodge

Literally one of the most depressing horror films I’ve ever seen, this one had atmospheric dread down pat. All cold and forbidding wintry landscapes, the beauty and harshness of the background a perfect accompaniment to a chilly tale of inexorable sorrow bleeding out from a family broken by tragedy. It touches on religion, cults, grief and some shocking violence that will literally make you gasp. Expertly acted by all concerned, this was a slow burn horror experience for Ari Aster (Hereditary)  fans. I couldn’t shake this film for days.

Corpus Christi

Based on a true story of a young man with a chequered past attempting to live a better life disguised as a priest in a small village, This Polish effort kept me rivetted from the first frame. Had this been a Hollywood film, it would have ended with a fluffy feel-good ‘lesson for us all’, instead we are gifted with a darker and more thoughtful result. Disquieting and moving, this features a star-making turn from lead Bartosz Bielenia.

Onward

I’m not really an animated movie person, I say this all the time, but the last few years there have been at least one animated feature in my ‘best of’ list and this year is no different. This Pixar movie is about two elven brothers on a quest to find a gem that could return their late father to them for one day. I really didn’t expect to love this as much as I did, but I laughed and I actually cried both times I saw it. Chris Pratt does great work voicing older brother Barley who is really the star of this movie – a perfectly realised character who is familiar even though he’s an elf.

The Beach Bum

Matthew McConaughey plays a stoner called Moondog who is on his own path in life. This is a film almost impossible to describe but these things happen – Snoop Dogg’s character is called Lingerie, Isla Fisher plays Moondog’s free spirit wife, he writes poetry, McConaughey wears a dress and a captains hat, the soundtrack is epic, he carries a beloved kitten around with him on his adventures and much more irreverence and joy ensues. More a vibe than a film, I totally loved this crazy unique movie; as soon as it was over, I started it again.

Where we go from here

This was an independent movie I’d heard nothing about but was intrigued by the summary – three acts of terror disrupt the lives of ordinary people. It started slowly and built to horrific real-life acts by terrorists that have occurred in recent years. Starring a cast of up-and-comers, this was intimate, upsetting and sobering. An important and unexpected film that has quite the impact. That final coda is chilling.

Little women 

A reimagining of the classic tale by Louisa May Alcott that uses a less linear story outline that expected. Unconventional and engaging, I enjoyed this far more than I has expected to, especially seeing as I was a fan of the 1994 version. Lovely soundtrack (though the 90s one is better), this is only slightly let down by the miscasting of Beth, though this misstep is mostly corrected by the perfect casting of all other characters.

The King of Staten Island 

2020 was the year I discovered Pete Davidson, and that is something to be glad about. Essentially a coming-of-age movie for a man in his twenties whose emotional growth stopped at the death of his father in 9/11, this is funny, insightful, honest and touching. I thoroughly enjoyed it, good to see writer/director Judd Apatow still giving us such sincere entertainment.

Hail Satan?

Satanists fight to keep church and state separate in this literally irreverent documentary that gives a legitimate voice to these ‘religious’ underdogs. Led by a personable Lucien Greaves, we learn the history and beliefs of The Satanic Temple, and Satanism looks pretty good to me! Though important, this is also funny, thought-provoking and entertaining as hell.

For Sama 

From deep in war-ravaged Aleppo, a woman films her life for her newborn child, and we get to experience the horror of war first-hand as she and her young husband and friends try to save as many lives as they can in their hastily-built ‘hospital’. Its both uplifting and devastating as the escalating conflict brings out the best and worst of humanity.

Palm Springs 

Goddamn I love me some Andy Samberg! Its a shame that thus far his filmic offerings have not been up to his talent. Until now. Palm Springs is a joyous, acerbic, hilarious and ultimately uplifting wry and romantic riff on the ‘Groundhog Day’ trope. Is it a nihilistic end of your world moment or a redemptive chance at a do-over or perhaps an exploration on how fear of failure can paralyse us into immobility? For me, it manages to be all these things and also charming and funny as heck without being saccharine. Truly loved this, would unironically watch it over and over.

Dating Amber 

A coming-of-age teenage LGBT rom-com that had me laughing and cheering from the very first scene. As gay Eddie fake-dates lesbian Amber until they can both escape their stifling small town life, this Irish delight featuring a cast of little-knowns will warm your heart without making you gag on cheesiness. Totally endearing.

She dies tomorrow 

A weird film about a woman who believes she is destined to die the next day. This fear is contagious and the film follows several people who ‘catch’ this fear from each other. Existential, odd, melancholic, anxious and fascinating; this one is certainly unconventional and meandering and so of course, not for everyone, but its also not easy to forget or dismiss, and ultimately rewarding. 

Kajillionaire 

Another bizarre outing from writer/director Miranda July, this one details the lives of two grifters and their arrested-development 26-year-old daughter ‘Old Dolio’ as they recruit an idealistic young woman into their fold. Her presence brings to the fore the things lost to their daughter in her unconventional upbringing as a con artist.  Evan Rachel Wood is almost unrecognizable as Old Dolio and she manages to convey so much with very little – it’s a committed performance. Not like anything you’ve seen before, a great cast and an earnest heart make this one something special.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 

In 1968 Chicago an anti-Vietnam war protest turned violent, this film chronicles the notorious witch-hunt trial that followed. An excellent all-star cast plays prominent dissenters from the time such as Abbie Hoffman and Bobby Seale to great effect in a film I found both enraging and galvanising. A movie court case has rarely been as riveting as this one. I haven’t hated a character as much as I hated Judge Hoffman (Frank Langella) in some time. Rousing!

Tenet 

Twisty and deliberately obscure, this film which is all-but-impossible to describe, intrigues with international espionage, shadowy people who maybe know too much, and a chance to save the world from powers that want it destroyed. I can see why some may not respond to this movie, or may find its refusal to be clear, antagonising; but, featuring strong performances and clever direction from Christopher Nolan, I liked it a whole lot. Repeat viewings are a must!

Promising Young Woman 

Yet another film I simply could not shake afterwards, and another movie that’s difficult to summarise. Essentially the story of a woman doing her best to even the playing field and give predatory men something to think about next time they try to take advantage of a vulnerable person. The finale is a horrifying smack in the face, the script a brave and raw primal scream of anger and frustration. A searing indictment of today’s rape culture and a pertinent exploration of the devastating after effects of sexual assault, not just on the victim but also on those who share their life.

Honourable mentions –  

Climax (dance and horror combine well, as last year’s Suspiria taught us)

In Fabric (quirky killer dress fable I kinda loved)

Alone (all too realistic woman-survival story)

Hunting lands (quietly intriguing – reclusive man finds battered woman in the woods)

Missbehaviour (the birth of feminism at the Miss Universe pageant)

I see you (a thriller that constantly pulls the rug out from under you)

The Report (a damning reflection on USA military torture techniques)

Troop Zero (in 70s deep south a delightfully awkward preteen dreams of outer space)

Relic (an Aussie horror about love and growing old – disturbing and beautiful)

The garden left behind (transgender drama that had me sobbing)

This is our home (neat little artistic horror indie, rich and strange)

The devil to pay (another indie film, this one about Appalachian revenge

Worst – 

Da Five Bloods 

Badly directed and scripted, this one can’t get over its own self-importance. Like watching Tropic Thunder beg for an Oscar.

The Devil all the Time

Ugly, bloated, misogynistic misery porn.

Queen and Slim 

Started strong but got worse as time went on and the ending was truly ludicrous. The cold unlikability of Queen didn’t help, neither did the films lack of own logic.

Camp Calypso

Harkening back to a more innocent time when disco was king and safe sex was an oddity, 1978 to be exact, this is the tale of sweet Margot (Ruby Cumming) who starts her summer as a counsellor at Camp Calypso.

We are introduced to her fellow campers including helpful and kind Heather (Misha Kemp), knowing room–mate Jo with her broad Noo Yawk accent (Billy Titko) and Creepy Pete (Derek Sweet), whose handsy behaviour back in ‘62 possibly led to the death of a fellow counsellor.
Now Camp Director, Creepy Pete is pretty sensitive about that story but he runs a pretty tight ship what with rules such as ‘No seconds at dinner’ – so you know he means business.
That night, as they toast marshmallows, Margot is treated to creepy storiesaround the campfire that tell of evil sirens, mermaids if you will, in the lake. Creepy Pete pops up to scare the crap out of them and put an end to all the gossip, but when Heather slips away for some nookie with her boyfriend, things take a turn into horror and never look back.

This is only the second short feature to come from Monstrous Femme Films and written/directed by Hannah May Cumming and Karlee Boonand I must say, I now want more!

Heavy on the nostalgia and with a giant nod to horror classics such as ‘Friday the 13th’ this is a riot from start to finish. 
At only twenty minutes it manages to pack in a full story that succeeds in character development, humour, horror and a commendable attention to period detail – something that many large-scale films cannot pull off even with their extended runtime and budget.

The acting is good across the board, with all actors delivering assured and confident performances. 

I particularly enjoyed the fact that Pete was either always smoking or drinking – hilarious. 

Its expertly filmed with its own look that also manages to pay homage to the tried and true tropes we have grown to expect from this kind of teen slasher fare; and it does so with affection, gently ribbing those old horrors without deriding them.
Not to mention, the soundtrack is great and the gore is plentiful.

The finale was greatly satisfying and I loved the decision to have it happen mostly without dialogue, many a film is ruined with exposition; the end credits animation was a fun touch.

I really dug the heck out of this little movie.

A bloody and tasty snack of a film I highly recommend.

8/10

Darkfield Radio – Double

So it’s been months since I’ve been able to see something new at the cinema and as most of us cinephiles are, I was chomping at the bit for new material..
I’m in a WhatsApp group with two of my friends and we normally see horrors together or odd little indie films that we like to talk about over coffee and wine afterwards.
Lately we have been watching streaming films at the same time and messaging about them during and after; its not ever going to b the same as going to the cinema but its better than nothing.
When Miss CB suggested a new audio experience called Darkfield Radio I had no idea what to expect but a quick peruse of their website promised an innovative horror-filled immersive aural treat, something new and stimulating for the senses, and as my friend recommended it – I was in!
The new production is called ‘Double’ and though its apparently even better for two people to take part in together, we were told it was fine for singles to also enjoy and so we signed up immediately.

After paying and registering, we each received an email telling us when and where to log into the app they ask you to download.
The email advises that you must be ready at a kitchen table with a glass of water and ‘do not disturb’ on your phone or tablet when the show is set to begin.
Once the app is downloaded and you’ve used your emailled password to login, all that was there was a countdown ominously ticking towards the time that you will be part of the dark radio.


When the time came I was ready, earbuds in, glass of water at hand, the room darkened and my friends in their houses also ready to go.
This is quite an experience folks.
I did not expect to feel the way that I felt. I did not expect to be as freaked out as I was. I did not expect to to jump out of my chair in fright, heart pounding, looking around my room for the source of those ominous footsteps, those voices. Immersive does not even begin to be descriptive enough.
Its best to go in with no real idea what to expect so I’m not going to go into the plot, suffice to say this tells a story that touches on themes of psychiatric disorders, domestic violence and horror. A trigger warning is a fair thing here and should be taken heed.

After it was over we messaged back and forth about how creeped out we were and it seems it managed to have an impact on all of us – not an easy feat at all!


At twenty minutes it did feel a little sudden in its ending but I was very glad to have taken part and recommend it to anyone missing horrors that get your nerves on edge and your hair on end.
A fun unique and spooky good time! 
8/10

http://www.darkfield.com.au

Relic

Man I love Aussie horror, some of the best horror films I’ve ever seen have been Australian.
From The Babadook to Wolf Creek, from Lake Mungo to Blackwater and The Loved Ones, they are always fearless, honest and brutal.

And they often have something to say, some subversive undercurrent to give the horror an extra push of relevance and emotion. Relic is yet another in that line of excellent psychological horror like The Babadook before it.

The story itself is a simple one, or at least it has a simple premise; Edna, the matriarch of the family, has gone missing. Her daughter, Kay, and granddaughter, Sam, arrive at her remote house in the bush to try and figure out what happened to her.
Between long-range searches, visits with the local Constabulary, and chatting to neighbours they piece together a timeline and get an idea of the challenges and difficulties Edna had faced and created in the months leading up to her disappearance.
And when she suddenly reappears at the house with apparently no memory or explanation of what happened to her forthcoming, it seems to her family that perhaps she brought something of a little strangeness back into the house with her.

Is the house haunted? Is it a portal to somewhere else? What is the strange banging on the walls they hear? Who is that old man in Kays flashbacks? What is the relevance of the abandoned cabin behind the property? What is that creeping black mould that seems to be overtaking the home? Is Edna even who she appears to be?
Dark, brooding and pregnant with portent, the patient viewer is rewarded with a thrilling finale that leads to a horrific but tender denouement.

For all intents and purposes this is a three-hander, and every actor here is exemplary, with Emily Mortimer quietly heart-breaking as the pressured Kay, Robyn Nevin as Edna and Bella Heathcote strong and real as Sam, invested in her family with the youthful arrogance of someone who has bitten off far more than she should be expected to chew.

It’s hard to pick a stand out but the nuance and range of emotion that Nevin manages to play across her face and her eyes without a word of dialogue is truly impressive.

Horror has given us some absolutely amazing performances that have been shamefully not embraced by the academy and I suspect this will definitely be another one of those, but without that snobbery in the film industry these performances would and should be recognised
The direction by writer/director Natalie Erika James is assured, intelligent and heartfelt.

This is a film of layers; the top layer is the traditional horror and it’s done well, but the layer underneath is the good stuff, the gold.
While this film in its entirety could be viewed as a metaphor, I believe that there are greater complexities here than that. A film you ponder for a long time afterwards, deeply effected and remembering with admiration the seeds of information that were sown throughout its runtime. I was surprised to find a film that made me a gasp in horror once or twice but also made me cry at the end.
A deeply personal experience, this one wears its heart on his sleeve and unashamedly so.

Not everyone will respond well to this, I suspect the gorehounds and the people who enjoy films like ‘The Slenderman’ et al – readily digested horrors that still litter the multiplexes – will not enjoy the measured, delicate pace and storyline, not the almost Arthouse subversity.


But I did.

I liked it a lot.


8/10

The Lodge

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I am a huge fan of Jaeden Martell. Having been massively impressed with his work in the It movies and his earlier work in The Book of Henry (in which he is astounding!) I was eagerly awaiting his latest films. I saw Knives Out and though I didn’t care for the movie, the underuse of Jaeden (amongst others) was something that impacted my enjoyment of it.

When I heard about The Lodge in which he would be playing a major part (alongside the always great and underappreciated Riley Keough) I was more than a little excited, but when I watched the creepy, nerve-jangling trailer I was truly sold.

This was back in May 2019.

It has been a LONG wait.

Luckily, it was worth it.

The storyline will be hard to discuss as it gives it treasures up grudgingly and in small increments throughout the movie, but I’ll do my best.

After a family disruption, two children, their father and soon-to-be-stepmother decide to have a Christmas getaway to the snow. They hole up in their remote mountain lodge, enjoying ice skating and Christmas preparation until unforeseen circumstances call the father away for a few days. When a blizzard cuts them off from civilization, things get a little ‘chilly’. You see, step-mom Grace has a troubled escape-from-a-cult past, and the isolation and religious iconography is bringing it all back to her. The loneliness is bringing her paranoia and anxiety to the fore, and there are children in her care…

This summary only touches on some of the themes that make this film a standout. There’s trust violations, the unknowable-ness of those we share our time with, the awkward feeling of wanting others to like you, the tenuousness of our sanity in the face of fear, and feeling helpless.

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Jaeden Martell was great as expected, Alicia Silverstone was a pleasure to see in a thankless role, Richard Armitage believably casual and unobservant, Lia McHugh as little sister Mia was surprisingly effective in her first big screen outing, but Riley Keough was an absolute revelation her committed performance, her tragic descent all the more moving because of her earlier work to show Grace as a timid but open-hearted victim of circumstance.

As directed by Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz this will recall Hereditary for many viewers in its aesthetics as well as its back heart – this doesn’t want to just scare you, this film wants to scar you. The choices made in the direction just elevate the material to a new level of artistic beauty. Some shots could be framed on the wall they are that lovely and terrible in equal measure. The relentless throb of the soundtrack adds to the extreme unease of the audience.

Disturbing and unpredictable, I saw this film with two good friends; we didn’t chit chat during it, and when it was over we didn’t talk much, we went home pale faced and silent, later messaging each other to say how we couldn’t shake it and had been thinking about it for days afterwards. Films like this aren’t common, films that get under your skin and fester there. I can’t say I enjoyed this movie, it wasn’t a movie to be enjoyed and it was likely the most depressing horror I’ve ever seen, but it stayed with me for a long time; and I’ll take that over disposable easily digested movies any day.

8/10

The Lodge Trailer

The Conjuring Effect

 

Horror is in crisis, but the reviews for the recent movies have been good and so my non-horror friends are confused as to why I think this. With Hollywood taking a new interest in horror, investing more time and money into it, it has been dumbed down and dulled for the masses with recent horrors such as ‘The Conjuring’ and ‘Lights Out’ leading the charge of easily digestible horrors that re damaging the genre I love so much.

When The Conjuring first came out I’ll admit that I was pleased, even though I felt then, as I do now, that it was completely devoid of scares. I thought that anything that meant horror was viewed as a viable option for Hollywood and stars meant that it would get more money put into it and more quality horrors would get made. I realize now want a mistake that thinking was, because basically all The Conjuring did was mainstream horror; which sounds like a good thing, and in some ways it is, but its really a double edged sword. Sure, more people go to see horror, more people are exposed to horror, it makes more money and is seen as a worthwhile choice. However, what it really means is that Hollywood has decided that here’s a place that we can make money.

Horror fans are, and always have been, eager for the next big thing, and will pretty much see anything that falls under the horror umbrella. So these films don’t even necessarily have to be quality for us to go see them, we are always looking out for the next best undiscovered gem. So, Hollywood decided, we have a ready made audience who will pretty much see anything horror related, if we add a bunch of stars and directors who wanna make an easy buck, such as James Wan, we would expand on the ready made audience and make even more money. The only thing is it cant be too shocking or too unpleasant or too ‘horror’ otherwise we are gunna lose the mainstream audience that we are courting to attend our movies.

Therein lies the rub, the whole point of horror is to be something that not everyone embraces with both arms, to be something that pushes boundaries and genres and ideas, to be offensive. The minute you try to make something accessible to everyone, you lose the thing that made it unique.

Horror is a genre that is not loved by everyone and that is something that makes it kinda special.

Horror doesn’t care if not everyone likes it, real horror probably wants you to dislike it a little.

It doesn’t necessarily want you to have a good time, it might want to educate you by holding a mirror up to your most hidden fears, it might want to just shock you, or make you contemplate the evils in the world you live in, but the thing it always has, no matter what the horror, is that not everyone is gunna love it and that’s just fine.

But these new movies like lights out, the conjuring, insidious and don’t breath, want people to like them. They’re like that kid at school saying “its only a little bit scary, it’ll be fine. Like being on a roller coaster, a few thrills but easily forgettable once you leave the theater, its not really gunna hurt you”.

But I think horror should hurt you, at least a little bit; it should, that’s the point.

Horror has always been a a reflection of the things that society is afraid of.

So what is this about? What are these horrors actually about? What do they have to say? It seems nothing but “Boo!”

I’m not saying that every movie has to be about something more, but at its core, most good horror, is.

Some horror is just there to have a good time – childs play, cabin fever, severance, shaun of the dead etc. these films exist cause they are kinda goofy, big dumb fun and there’s nothing wrong with that. Sometimes it’s exactly what you want. However none of these films claim to be the scariest thing you’ve ever seen in your life, the new wave of horror films do.

So, to return to the original line of this article – horror is in crisis. This is not something that’s easy to see from the huge impact horrors have had on the multiplex lately. The five biggest horror releases of 2016 all made the top fifty box office successes of the year – The Conjuring 2, Lights Out, The Shallows, 10 Cloverfield Lane and Don’t Breathe. Each film also scored high marks with critics, all ranging from seventy-seven to ninety percent on Rotten Tomatoes. So why was the horror community not happy?

Horrors, as discussed, are a divisive genre. They are a ‘love them or hate them’ movie experience, and it takes a horror connoisseur to review them. The average person who doesn’t enjoy horrors generally doesn’t just dislike them, but outright despises them and cannot understand why anyone would like them. You can’t expect a regular film reviewer to embrace something that is designed to offend you or shake you up. So for a horror film to be so widely adored by ‘regular folk’, to be so widely enjoyed, it has to have had its edges dulled. Look at the average rating for these films – PG. These are films designed to scare and entertain jaded teenagers and therefore the intelligent slow build storyline, the realistic violent terror and any subversive sub-story has been left behind in favor of cheap jump scares and action from the get-go because Hollywood believes that audiences these days are too impatient to truly invest in something that may pay off bigger later. They want their roller-coaster style horror experience now please, designed to be swallowed whole and forgotten about. The horrors that work their way into your nightmares and psyche seem to be a thing of the past and the more they churn out these critic-friendly McHorrors to good mainstream reviews, the more we will get.

James Wan and Blumhouse Pictures seem to be leading the way in mediocrity – happy to jump onto the coat tails of horror but with no interest in advancing the genre or even celebrating it. Their films a cynical blend of jump scares and cheap tropes that are easy cash cows as they churn out sequel after sequel and start new franchises piggy-backed on the old such as the ill-advised ‘Annabelle’ spin-off from ‘The Conjuring’, the ever-more-convoluted ‘Saw’ franchise, and the newly announced “The Nun’ spin off from ‘The Conjuring 2’; and lest not forget ‘Insidious chapter 4’ heading your way soon.

Where are the true auteurs of the genre like John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, George A. Romero, Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci, Wes Craven, Dario Argento, Tobe Hooper, Ruggero Deodato and James Whale ?

Or even Hitchcock, DePalma, Polanski, Lynch, Donner or Friedkin ?

 

Lets look back ten or so years to a time when the horrors being released were made more for horror fans rather than their public at large.

2005, Wolf Creek –An absolute powerhouse of a film; a horror that still scares eleven years later and , I suspect, will continue to do so.

When Wolf Creek was released the horror community was thrilled – effective, hard, nasty, well-made and turns horror conventions on their head – we collectively couldn’t have been happier.

 

The reviews from the horror sites reflected this:

 

JoBlo.com said “Wolf Creek punished me and had me thinking afterwards (about the ugly state of our society). As a genre fan and a human being, I thanked it for that. Hit this creek and get drowned in pain!”

 

HorrorReview.com said “A moody, disturbing, and, thanks to the sadly departed cinematographer, Will Gibson, a strangely beautiful piece of horror cinema that still stands as one of the best examples of the torture porn era.”

 

JigsawLounge.co.uk – “manage to serve up more than enough tension, surprise and grisly nastiness (protracted beyond the point of sadism at times) to make for an old-fashioned white-knuckle night out at the pictures.”

 

Moria.co.nz – “Greg McLean’s rawness – both in the entirely naturalistic handheld photography and during the brutality of the climactic chase scenes – is commendable.”

 

Vegan Voorhees – “So it’s a scenically beautiful film with characters sharpened by the long, slow build; gritty and documentarian in feel but also harrowing and depressing with no comfortable resolution or confines of the standard mad slasher opus – but then that’s what horror is, right? The absence of hope – definitively, it should be horrible.”

 

Compare this to how Wolf Creek was received by mainstream reviewers:

 

Qaud City Times said “Hey, here’s an idea for the new year. What if a bunch of us get together somewhere and burn all copies of movies like “Wolf Creek?”

 

Palo Alto Weekly – “Viewers eager to embrace 90 minutes of footage featuring women being brutalized, beaten, stalked and slaughtered may want to consider some serious introspection.”

 

Modamag.com – “This violent horror picture is gratuitously vicious, gruesome and repulsive. Don’t say you weren’t warned!”

 

 

Ebert said “what the hell is the purpose of this sadistic celebration of pain and cruelty? The theaters are crowded right now with wonderful, thrilling, funny, warm-hearted, dramatic, artistic, inspiring, entertaining movies. If anyone you know says this is the one they want to see, my advice is: Don’t know that person no more.”

 

 

Cinema Crazed – “I just wanted the damn thing to end…”

 

 

Yep, those regular reviewers hated it and I’d have expected little else and though I despaired of one of my favourite horrors being unfairly dragged through the mud (in my opinion) it was not a surprise.

Fast forward to 2016 and heres what the same regular reviewers think of Lights Out-

 

Time Uk said – “There are scares from the off in the short, punchy horror Lights Out, adapted by the director David F Sandberg from his short film.”

 

BuzzFeed News – “At 81 minutes, unfolding in a handful of key locations, and opting for practical effects and clever framing over computer-generated imagery, Lights Out is still lean and concentrated, and it benefits from that spareness.”

 

Common Sense Media – “This simple but effective horror movie seems to do everything exactly right. It’s smart, clever, and very scary, and it doesn’t bother with any of the lazy, cynical stuff associated with the horror genre today.”

 

SciFi Now – “What makes Lights Out so terrifyingly effective is that it takes full advantage of that primal fear of the dark that almost everybody has felt at some point in their lives. And this time, there really is something under your bed.”

 

They ate it with a spoon and called it deliciously scary. This, my friends, is mainstream media telling you to go and see this movie which is actually a pedestrian horror that relies on jump scares that any real horror fan could see coming a mile away with a ridiculously overdrawn and over explained plot that just serves to demonize mental health problems.

 

This is not a good thing for horror.

And while these films make money and garner favorable reviews it will continue down the well worn path of homogenizing and making more palatable a genre that should be thriving on anarchy.

What a pity.

The Invisible Man

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The Invisible Man was one of The Dark Universe monsters in the stable of Universal Pictures.
It was originally intended that The Invisible Man would become part of that greater cinematic universe heralded by The Mummy Returns  launched in 2017 to critical and box office derision. As that monstrosity crashed and burned (as it should have done) the idea of an interconnected monster universe was abandoned and the stable of monsters sat in a holding pattern while those in charge decided what to do with the rights.
Choosing to leave the ‘universe’ idea behind and instead entrust each character in individual stories brought to life by creative directors that had a unique vision was a great idea.
First cab off the new rank is The Invisible Man brought to you by visionary actor/writer/director/producer Leigh Whannell who previously brought us Insidious 3 and the wildly entertaining Upgrade.
Starring Elizabeth Moss as domestic violence survivor Cecelia, this tells the story of how she is stalked and tormented after her violent and controlling partner Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) has supposedly committed suicide and left her life.
Of course being called the invisible man we go in with certain expectations and beliefs as of course we never believe that he’s actually dead.
This bad situation just worsens as time goes on and Cecelia finds herself fighting an unseen enemy. As its impact widens to endanger the lives of those around her including her sister Emily played by Harriet Dyer,  friend James played by the excellent Aldis Hodge and his daughter Sydney (likeable Storm Reid), we are invested in this situation to an even greater extent.
Whilst Cecelia begs and cries at people to believe her and finds her own sanity being doubted not just by those around her but by herself, we can’t help but wonder what the endgame is here.
And when it is finally revealed, it is certainly an evil gendered trap; with a wickedly satisfying finale.
Director Whannell does a fantastic job here, I particularly liked how his camera would focus on blank spaces with the expectation that the audience would fill those spaces with their own knowledge of what we are supposedly ‘seeing’. His use of dark and light shadows sound and negative space were all very clever.
The script itself makes sense within its own universe, though one particular plot point was glossed over in a way that bothered me throughout the film’s entirety. I understand that I can figure that out the details but I do wish there had been an acknowledgement of that hole.
Elizabeth Moss was of course always authentic and brought her A game. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her give a performance that was less than fully committed and she does not disappoint here either.
The themes that it touches on are important and relevant. We are more alert than ever to domestic violence and abusive situations within relationships; how the worst abuse doesn’t always leave bruises, at least not visible ones. I like too that when she was downtrodden and in a bad situation in her life she was dressed and presented appropriately, nothing was glamorised, she was never sexualised, and she was treated with the respect that her character deserved. As a woman I find that nothing short of refreshing, and it’s sad that it’s something that needs to be pointed out as it is something that should have always been.
Cecelia was also strong and kick ass in a way that showed her resilience and natural tenacity rather than making her a superhero. Being a victim doesn’t strip her of all her power, and that’s something important to reiterate.
The relationships felt natural and believable, and I particularly enjoyed the easy interactions presented here.

Some people have expressed disappointment with the finale but I for one found it perfection and Mosses acting in particular, Sublime.
Though it could perhaps have benefited from tighter editing and a shorter run time there wasn’t anything that felt superfluous, it doesn’t outstay its welcome but also doesn’t rush the story – a tale well told.

This is one to admire and enjoy, no false jump scares, nothing unearned.
Well worth ‘seeing’.

7.5/10

Top movies 2019

 

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  1. It chapter 2

A film that crosses all genres and excels at them; this has horror, romance, action, thriller, comedy. It is an epic achievement both in its scope and its ambition. Who’d have thought a three-hour horror movie featuring only a few name stars, low budget and nothing but director Andy Muscietti’s passion and enthusiasm behind it would be able to blitz the box office. An entirely different beast to Chapter one (and I suspect those who were disappointed were wanting more of the same childhood nostalgia which they got in spades in the first film and was featured a little less this time around) this is about adult fears, adult worries, adult connections and the themes explored here reflect that. It’s not so easy to put one face to grown up fears, and not so easy to defeat them. A visceral experience that made me cower, laugh and cry; it earned the applauding audience i saw it with. This is a big, beautiful, brave, and wears its heart on its sleeve. I’m glad to welcome it to my top ten of all time.

It Chapter Two Trailer

 

 

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  1. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Old Hollywood will always hold a fascination for new Hollywood, but the winds of change were blowing at the same time that Manson and his brainwashed minions were preparing to unleash hell, most notably on upcoming Hollywood ingénue Sharon Tate whose brutal murder became emblematic of the death of the hopeful flower children era.  Embracing the very best of Tarantino, this is an expertly crafted long game. He is confident in his audience to stay the course and trust him to lead them where they need to go. Its his willingness to take his time, to tell a story well, to invest in his characters, and get amazing performances from his actors that are OUATIH greatest strengths. Every actor here is giving a career best performance and in a fairer world Leo would be taking home his second Oscar – he is breathtakingly good.  Poignant, amusing and effortlessly cool, the finale made me swoon.

OUATIH Trailer

 

 

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  1. Parasite

How far would you go to be part of the ‘haves’? To say goodbye to scrimping and saving and struggling, fighting over scraps? To be at the table with the top percentile? What would you sacrifice? How strong are your ethics? This latest film from Bong Joon Ho comes to you from Korea and its funnier than expected, more striking than expected and has a vicious streak that keeps you on your toes. Its film where I genuinely had no inkling of where it was going, what road this family of grifters would take next. And just when you think you know what’s happening, the rug is pulled out, again and again. Truly compelling viewing, I enjoyed the heck out of this.

Parasite Trailer

 

 

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  1. Burning

Languid and long, I had no idea this was going to have the impact it did. Though fully engrossed from the first scene, the central mystery and drama unfurled like a midnight blooming flower – slow and beautiful and alarming in its intensity. I found myself growing more and more uncomfortable as Jong-Su searches to find what happened to the disappearing Hae-mi. Her recent connection with Ben (Steven Yuen from the walking dead – great!) is an added layer of intrigue, and when the answers come they bring a tragedy and violence that comes out of nowhere. Stunning

Burning Trailer

 

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  1. Suspiria

A witchy dance academy in 70s Berlin, an all-female cast, and dare I say it – its better than the Argento 1977 original. Terrifying and hypnotic, every player gives a nakedly honest performance that throws off self-consciousness with abandon.

And this is the root of what I liked best – this felt an inherently female story. Not the delicate, feminine type of ‘female’ that we have grown accustomed to on film, but real ‘female-ness’; all the rawness of it, the terror of vulnerability, the forced familiarity with blood and flesh and our bodies’ complexities, the connections amongst us, the animal physicality, the horror, sensuality and unabashed fucking beauty of being a woman. I can’t say that’s something I’ve felt in a film before, and if I have, I can’t recall it. A film to luxuriate in.

Suspiria Trailer

 

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  1. Ford v Ferrari 

I never expected this film to get under my skin as it did. I am not in the slightest bit interested in car racing and the infamous Le Mans 24 hour endurance race was not even a thing I was aware of.  But this film managed to be completely engrossing, amusing, and achingly bittersweet. A story about friendship, common goals, the ‘little man’ and a lovely celebration of family life as an added bonus, this had so much more to give than just those exhilarating car racing scenes (that are spectacular by the way). Bale of course, is amazing.. again, but everyone is good. The fact that it’s a true story and it’s perfectly realised complex and whole characters made this even better. I really loved this one.

Ford V Ferrari Trailer

 

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  1. Midsommar

An impressive Florence Pugh (what a year she’s having!) is Dani, tagging along to a once-every-90-years Swedish festival with her boyfriend and his pals. The relationship is in its death knells and the bizarre place they find themselves in only adds to their discomfort. And things escalate, things escalate a lot. I found this clever, compulsively watchable, gut churning, extremely well acted and of course, from Ari Aster (of Hereditary) the direction is unique, cold and graphic with lush visceral cinematography. Hypnotising.

Midsommar Trailer

 

 

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  1. Toy story 4

Hilarious!! I laughed my ass off at this, loved the new characters – Gabby Gabby, Forky and especially Duke Caboom. The team get together for one last adventure and then it’s a teary fare-thee-well for one or two of them. I’m not an animated movies or kids movies kind of gal but this just made me laugh too much not to make the cut.

Toy Story 4 Trailer

 

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  1. Uncut Gems

When I first put this on and was confronted by a load of shouty men yelling over each other I was close to turning it off, so convinced was I that it wasn’t for me. But I had enjoyed the Safdie brother’s previous effort (Good Time) after I got into it and so I took a chance. I’m so glad I did – Sandler makes good on the talent he showed in Punch Drunk Love and is a revelation here, the story about a loser who just keeps making stupid choices was the tensest film I’ve ever sat through; so tense that I actually couldn’t watch every moment of the last frenetic twenty minutes. The end hit me like a ton of bricks.

Uncut Gems Trailer

 

 

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  1. The Favourite

I’ve never been a fan of period movies or the royal family, frankly they bore me; but this, with its modern flourishes, relatable characters talking like actual people, and a lively plot of deception and survival, was a breath of fresh air. Powerhouse Olivia Coleman deserved her Oscar but strong supporting turns from Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone also impress. I was entranced from beginning to end

The Favourite Trailer

 

 

 

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  1. Eighth Grade

This slice of life from the perspective of an awkward teenage girl was almost painful to watch. So real, it paints a portrait of how perilous and lonely it feels as a teenager, particularly a young woman, but it also manages some sweetness with the relationship she has with her dad and newfound friends. Newcomer Elsie Fisher is attention-grabbingly impressive in her brave debut performance.

Eighth Grade Trailer

 

 

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  1. 1985

The first film I put on this list. Set in the 80s and shot in stark black and white, this appears to be the story of a young man heading home for the holidays ostensibly to come out to his family, but then becomes about something else entirely that caught me off guard and left me in floods of tears. Raw and moving, a luminous Virginia Madsen is particularly touching in her open-faced love for her son.

1985 Trailer

 

 

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  1. Vice

Adam McKay is a complex director who deals with complicated subject matters that need a lot of exposition to help you understand, the tools he uses to get the information across to audiences is often ingenious and entertaining even when the subject matter can be dry. This is the story of Dick Cheney and his push to power that helped orchestrate the wholly unnecessary Iraq War. That it manages to be both engrossing and even amusing at times is quite the achievement. Christian Bale is a force to be reckoned with in the role of Cheney but no one gives a bad performance here.

Vice Trailer

 

 

 

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  1. Juliet, Naked

With a winning cast in Chris O’Dowd, Rose Byrne and Ethan Hawke this film is everything I want in a rom-com – droll, literate, charming; this takes you down familiar roads but is never predictable.  I particularly enjoyed Hawkes turn as a semi-retired muso, damaged but working at being the man he always wanted to be. Sweet and satisfying this has more to offer than expected.

Juliet, Naked Trailer

 

 

 

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  1. Green Book

Though accused of not going far enough into the subjects it touches on, and perhaps suffering from a rose-coloured glasses syndrome, this was nevertheless entertaining and enlightening. Buoyed by superlative performances from the great Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen (surprisingly great as an oaf who leans better) I laughed, I cried and I craved Italian food.

Green Book Trailer

 

 

 

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  1. In the Fade

Dianne Kruger plays a woman who’s life implodes after her husband and child are killed in a bomb attack, and then sets out to get justice. This German film really stayed with me for a long time afterwards, the way grief was portrayed was palpable, the struggles and injustice hit like a bullet, the finale is shattering.

In The Fade Trailer

 

 

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  1. Bomb City

The true story of punk rockers in a small Texas town and their violent harassment by the ‘good boy’ preppie jocks that hate them. The clashes between the two groups escalate and eventually leads to one of the most controversial hate crimes in American history. A galvanising plea to not judge a persons worth and measure on appearances and assumptions. Powerful.

Bomb City Trailer

 

 

 

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  1. Thelma

A sheltered young woman, new to college, attempts to ward off her attraction to a friend who also happens to be a woman. These attempts are complicated by the fact that her devoutly religious upbringing has forced her to deny and supress her psychokinetic powers that now re-emerge with the strain. When she returns home and we learn of her past, it has devastating ramifications. Whether an allegory for supressed abuse, or accepted at face value this effort from Norway is a beautifully lensed movie with wonderful performances and a memorable subject matter. Haunting.

Thelma Trailer

 

 

 

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  1. Dr Sleep

The sequel to Kubrick’s The Shining was a welcome surprise to me. There was so much I admired – the lovingly rendered recreations of scenes and moments from the original, the brilliant cast (especially Rebecca Ferguson who’s seductive menacing turn is unforgettable) the nastiness it was willing to embrace, the unpredictability of the story etc but on top of this it gave me the full gamut of emotions and never failed to be thrilling all the way through.

Dr Sleep Trailer

 

 

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  1. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

A stupendously fun anthology movie featuring six Wild West stories. My favourite is the first one with the singing gunslinger but they are all good and feature a star-studded cast who were happy to take small parts to work with the Coen Brothers.  Irreverent, textured, engaging and funny, enjoyable as heck!

Buster Scruggs Trailer

 

Honourable mentions –

 

If Beale street could talk – Let down by a sudden ending this was beautiful, measured and ultimately life affirming.

 

Science fair – Edge of the seat documentary about some pretty impressive kids doing what they can to make the world better (and maybe win some awards along the way)

 

Shazam! – Too many comic book movies take themselves waaaaaay too seriously and I find that pretty dull to be honest. This was cute, very funny, and loads of fun. Pure entertainment.

 

Vox Lux – Sure I saw better films but for some reason this will not get out of my head. After surviving a school shooting a young woman becomes a singing star; even the premise sounds odd and odd it is. But the songs (by Sia) rock and I dug the whackiness.

 

The Nightingale – Beautiful, brutal and not easily forgotten, Jennifer Kent’s sophomore effort is a tough watch but and important one. Its damning exploration of the way Australia treated both its first people and its migrants still echoes today. We need to do better.

 

 

 

Disappointments –

Us – Stupid stupid movie that falls apart as soon as you pull a thread.

Joker – Dangerously asks the average person to empathise with a sociopath, are we really that surprised that he’s been embraced worldwide by Incels?

Top End Wedding – Lazy, clichéd and not funny, haven’t we moved past this kind of filmmaking already?

Ad Astra – Dull with dodgy science, nice visuals only get you so far.

Yesterday – Could have been great but barely raised a smile and the finale is infuriating

The kitchen – Great cast, great premise; maybe ending the film in the middle of a scene wasn’t the best idea…

 

 

Doctor Sleep

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When I first heard they were making a film of Doctor Sleep, I wasn’t exactly excited. Scheduled to be released, as it was, the same year as ‘It chapter 2’, which is the film that I’d been anticipating for years. 

I didn’t feel there was enough of an audience for another Stephen King adaption (after the terrible Pet Semetery remake and the upcoming It 2) and I wasn’t entirely sure that I wanted it to come out in the same year as something I knew was going to be amazing.
The trailer itself also struck me is rather lacklustre, I was excited by the fact that Ewan McGregor was in it but nothing in the trailer led me to believe that he was going to be used to his best advantage. He’s a magnificent actor, very undervalued, and I wanted to see him stretch. I was also unsure of Rebecca Ferguson as Rose the Hat as she was such an iconic figure in the book and so menacing; I haven’t seen Rebecca Ferguson play this type of character before and wasn’t sure she could pull it off.
What was exciting was the director- Mike Flanagan, the person responsible for Hush and Ouija: Origin of Evil, two films that are greatly under-rated; extremely tense, extremely well made, and very creepy.
When it came out I was definitely planning to see it but I didn’t rush to the theatre the minute it opened; and that was my mistake, because this film is great.

A sequel to The Shining (Kubrick’s film version, not the novel version) we catch up with Danny Torrance just after the events of The Overlook Hotel. His mother has moved them to a sleepy seaside town, far from the snowy horror they have escaped but it seems the ghoulish inhabitants of that doomed hotel have come along for the ride. He needs to learn new ways to combat them and a timely visit from the dearly departed Dick Halloran gives him the tools to do so.

Years later and Danny is now a troubled McGregor, using alcohol and hard-heartedness to get by, his newly acquired job and a chance at sobriety point him onto a healthier way of living and way to use his ‘powers’ – easing the dying to their final destination in a hospice.

He is contacted by young Abra Stone, a young girl who also knows how to ‘shine’ and needs his help in stopping the ‘True Knot’ led by the terrifying ‘Rose the Hat’. True Knot are a travelling group of almost-vampires who feed on the steam released by people who shine when they are dying, and tortured to death releases the best and most powerful steam.

Now they must team up to try and keep Abra safe and stop the truly Machiavellian plans of True Knot.

 

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Ewan McGregor is perfectly cast in role that allows him to be almost mild-mannered and yet that vulnerability hides a strength of character forged by hardships, he is never not believable and brings with him a nice sense of groundedness that was important in such a central character around which so many supernatural occurrences gravitate.  

Rebecca Ferguson blew me away with how absolutely terrifying she was; nasty, unpredictable and seductive in a way I had not expected her to be. Rose The Hat is a powerful entry into the villain hall-of-fame and Ferguson nails the part. I am honestly shocked at how totally she embodied and made this part her own. If film awards and those who bestow them weren’t such snobs when it comes to horror, I’m sure there would be accolades coming her way.

Kyliegh Curran playing Abra Is convincing as the conduit of such unwieldy and frightening power that it attracts the True Knot like bugs to a lamp. She is endearing without being cloying.

There is also solid support from Cliff Curtis, Zahn McClarnon and Emily Alyn Lind just to name a few. There are no bad performances here.

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The screenplay felt measured and the pacing perfect, this film takes its time to tell a story that is happy to have down beats spread throughout, it wants the push/pull of tension and calm.
The recreations of scenes and characters from The Shining by Stanley Kubrick are so well done you would think they had been filmed at the time, and they add a lovely nostalgia to the whole proceedings.

The violence is visceral and nasty, I liked that no one felt safe; this was a film that didn’t care if it hurt you. There is one scene where a child is tortured (the always good Jacob Tremblay in a small but impactful part) that was difficult to watch, it felt so very real and cruel. No wonder Ferguson said she cried for some time after shooting it. There are losses on both sides that hurt, victories that cost almost too much.

This is a good horror, and more to the point, a good film; and its a shame more people didn’t see it – they would have been rewarded with a richly characterised, beautifully filmed story about connections, finding your tribe, embracing your ‘flaws’ and moving on.

 

Go see it.

 

8/10

Doctor Sleep Trailer

It Chapter 2

It-chapter-2-bannerSo I’ve struggled with how to write this review, having seen the film almost a week ago I still haven’t written about it.  Though I’ve been very active on Twitter and Facebook in my defence of it, a review requires a far more ordered sense of how I feel and it had been scattershot since I first saw this film. I’ve seen it twice now and had more of a chance to reflect on it and see it as a film rather than this monumental event that I had waited so long for. The first viewing was completely overwhelming, just as it was the first time I saw Chapter 1 and again I walked out unsure of my response because I’d been too busy ticking things off in my brain ie. “that was in the book, that wasn’t in the book” etc.

I am far more confident in my feelings about this film now.
To begin with, a caution –  if you expect to see your average horror film you will walk away disappointed; this is not your James Wan formulaic jump scare-packed thrill ride, this is not something that can be summed up in a few lines or an hour and a half, this is a movie that wants to talk about how traumas damage us, the ripples they create in your life and the friends who help you through it; and it doesn’t care if it takes almost three hours to tell that story.
This film is epic and big and nuts and funny and moving and involving and mind-opening and challenging, pretty much everything I want a good film to be. I don’t want to walk away from a movie feeling nothing, there are many films that give me that; I love divisive films because those real emotions are what I actually paid for.
It’s been 27 years since the seven 13-year-old members of The Losers Club defeated Pennywise, or so they thought. Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) stayed behind in Derry as a kind of watchman to ensure that what have been done stayed done. When it becomes clear that Pennywise is back (as indicated by his first big bloody kill of Adrian Mellon in a shockingly realistic homophobic hate crime that is as hard to watch as you’d imagine) its Mikes sad task to call the scattered losers and remind them of their promise to return should Pennywise ever rear his murderous head again.

They remember nothing on his initial phone call, but the return to Derry also means a return to their long-buried memories, and once they are back together in their hometown it all comes flooding back. To defeat this ancient evil Mike tells hem of a ritual that involves each loser finding a token of their lives when they first became bonded to each other. This leads to the walking tours fans will remember from the book in which some of the best set-pieces occur i.e. Mrs Kersch and also Eddies leper comes back for an encore performance, it all leads to another showdown with Pennywise.
Will he be bested or will he feast?

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Well it’s no secret that this is the film I’ve waited for two years for but is it as anticipated?
I’m happy to say yes it most definitely is.

Everything here is done thoughtfully, firstly the casting which is undeniably perfect. Every actor brings their A game and match their younger counterparts characters in ways both subtle and large.
Much has been made of Bill Haders performance as Richie and yes it is as good as everyone says, the pathos he brings is invaluable to the story, he will make you laugh and break your heart.  James Ransoone as Eddie could be young Jack Dylan Grazer as an adult they are so alike, he is sympathetic and a perfect match for Hader; their chemistry and banter feels effortless.

Jessica Chastain and James MacAvoy bring exactly as expected – perfection in their performance with a nice vulnerability that recalls the great work done by the younger cast. new cast members Andy Bean, Jay Ryan and the aforementioned Mustafa are all surprisingly good though I’ve never seen them in anything else, all three have a new fan in me.

The younger cast who feature in flashbacks that add new dimensions to the story we already know from Chapter one, all continue to do the stellar work we saw of them previously.
And what of Bill Skarsgaard as the titular Pennywise? The great performance in Chapter one is elevated here, he is nothing short of incredible and owns Pennywise. This is a performance for the ages and an iconic iteration of someone who will be remembered in the horror community for a very long time.
The direction by Andy Muschietti shows even more creativity this time around and barring a few questionable choices (Eddies puking leper’s song choice immediately springs to mind) it is assured, inspiring and the transitions between young and old cast members a delight.
Benjamin Wolfisch returns to add more nuance to his criminally underrated score from the first chapter and it’s used to great affect here as it was in Chapter one.
The CGI can be a little hit or miss particularly the de-ageing process that had to be employed in order to still have the younger cast members for the flashback scenes. If only the studios had trusted Chapter one to find an audience and had allowed the films to be shot back to back this wouldn’t have been an issue. It’s a shame because it does detract from some of the emotions felt and requires slightly more of a suspension of disbelief. The best moments of cgi include a homage to The Thing but a naked-faced Pennywise may be one of the creepiest moments of all.
But for me the thing that is most important in this film, the thing that makes it stand out from others, is its heart. I believed totally in every relationship explored in this film, I believe in their connection to each other, the easy care they feel foreach loser. The ultimate battle is not with Pennywise but with the baggage they have dragged about their whole lives from fears and traumas not faced, the things they tried to bury inside themselves.

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The deaths here are more brutal than in Chapter one, and when children are killed, the heart of this film means it hurts more, and I like my horror to hurt.

The people who love the book should love this, the people who love the first one should also be happy.

This is a cult film in the making, and though there are naysayers now, eventually I’m sure they will understand that this film is unapologetically nothing but what it wants to be.

Films that buck the expected always end up finding a loving home, I’m thinking of films like Barry Munchhausen, Evil Dead and The Fifth Element, films that don’t follow a rule book.

Finally, a word on the runtime, some people have said this is too long. It is not. You can say that about The Hobbit as it was thin source material stretched to oblivion, this is a massive undertaking and could only be told over this length of time. It is absolutely not too long; in fact, I would’ve enjoyed another hour.

There are people who will hate this film, it’s earnest and wears its heart on its sleeve, it’s easy to denigrate films like that; but I got everything I wanted and more from this film. Beautiful, surprisingly honest, uncompromising, brave and memorable, this is a love letter to the novel fans.
I adored it and I thank Andy giving me the perfect interpretations of my favourite book.
10/10

It Chapter 2 trailer