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.
Looking back, the fact that Ti West directed this should have been a clue that I was going to be disappointed. After all, I only really like one of his eight horror films (The Innkeepers) – that’s not good odds.
However, this appeared to be a pastiche of exploitation 70s style horror with a healthy dose of killer hillbillies and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, so I figured I was on safe ground, as those themes are my jam.
This film starts strong, with well defined characters in Maxine (Mia Goth), the wannabe-porn-star, and her manager/partner Wayne (the always reliable Martin Henderson) getting excited about their plans to shoot a porn movie on-site at a farmhouse in Texas, rented specifically for that purpose.
They set off with a ragtag team of sex-workers and minimal film crew – Jenna Ortega as Lorraine the reluctant sound operator, and Brittany Snow as the experienced Bobby-Lynne, make impactful impressions, but Kid Cudi and Owen Campbell round out the cast with equally good performances. There’s not a weak member in the cast and the characters are interesting, I had high hopes for a good time at the movies.
The problems start as soon as we are introduced to the Texas farmhouse homeowners – the first time Wayne meets up with Howard, the old man pulls a gun on him, and is openly hostile towards the paying guest. Ignoring this red flag, they press ahead with their film-making plans, and I’m left thinking they are idiots deliberately putting themselves in harms way – ok, I will have to overlook that in order to get to the killings, I think, fine.
But then, the film brings us to the character of Pearl (also Mia Goth) and things turn from sublime to ridiculous.
Howard and Pearl are quite obviously young people in heavy make up – its so obvious in their voices/movements/actions but to add the cheap looking make up on top makes suspension of disbelief nigh-on impossible.
Howard and Pearl don’t go the expected route of being mad that porn is being filmed at their farmhouse but are instead ploys in an incredibly convoluted plot in which the octogenarian Pearl suffers from a high libido that her aging husband cannot satisfy, and this makes her crazy enough to become an insatiable murderer? No, that doesn’t make sense, even if she were physically capable of doing the things West has her doing here (spoiler alert – she would not be).
What did work for me was the evocation of the 70s era – this was done expertly and was definitely one of the films strengths, along with the central cast. The cinematography was wonderfully dreamy in some scenes, suitably gritty in others; I particularly enyed the aerial shot of a lurking crocodile.
Though competently filmed, I found the storyline troubling on many levels – the ageism of shaming and even going so far as to film a sex scene between elderly people as a ‘gross-out’ moment sits uncomfortably with me, the actual motivations behind the killings doesn’t work, the hints at a legacy of shame and religion aren’t explored fully and neither is the real-life illness that is ‘Sundowners’ which is cough-and-you’ll-miss-it mentioned, the reasoning behind not hiring actual elderly actors is something I cant fathom, and after all the hoo ha, the killings themselves are somewhat tame. This wasn’t in anyway scary either, and so it all feels pointless in the end, as well as over-long, inconsistent and tonally muddled.
I really really wanted to like this, but it left a bad taste in my mouth and I wouldn’t watch it again.
Everything old is new again, or so they say, but I think in the case of horror films lately – everything can be recycled and repackaged for the new generation whilst attempting lip service to rope in fans of the OG; and for many horror lovers, that’s a concept that’s rotting on the vine.
Ostensibly a sequel to the original (don’t try to make the timeline or the storyline make sense, it will just hurt your brain) this sequel succumbs to the annoying trend most recently used by Scream (5) of having the same title as the far better original. Thus forcing the viewer to use the year when talking about this particular film.
So this is a review of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2022.
This is a reboot sequel, I refuse to use the term ‘requel’ because it was invented by Scream 5, and that piece of trash does not deserve the notoriety of having created a word that is now part of the collective consciousness.
I love the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it has so much to say about the way we treat animals, the nuclear family, mental health; it is clever in its restraint, the terror you see on the screen is visceral and real but rarely does it revel in exploitation – its truly quite the achievement. My biggest issue with all the remakes and reboots is that the screenplays always want to focus on the gore (for a film with chainsaw massacre in the title, the original actually has very little gore – a truth most of the people making the reboots/sequels ignore) and forget the social commentary that made the first film so unique and vital. This film does little to remedy that – it either heavy-handedly presents cancel culture as a thing to be snuffed out, and only lightly touches on gentrification – without taking a stand or a viewpoint on either issue – a tad cowardly in my book.
IMDB summarises this film thusly – ‘After 50 years of hiding, Leatherface returns to terrorize a group of idealistic young friends who accidentally disrupt his carefully shielded world in a remote Texas town’. This is an accurate, bare bones description of what takes place, but the questions it creates are hard to shake whilst watching the movie.
Essentially two sisters (one a victim of a school shooting tragedy) and their group of friends who oddly want to create some kind of hipster mecca in a rundown and remote Texas town, create enemies from the get-go because they are outsiders and a bit too happily positive – how dare they! After one of the friends throws his weight around a bit too much which results in an elderly ladies eviction and she passes away from an undisclosed heart condition aggravated by the stress, Leatherface (who was in her charge) becomes enraged and decides to just straight up kill everyone. Somewhere along the way a townsperson thinks to call up the original’s ’final girl’ Sally Hardesty (now played by Olwen Fouere after Marilyn Chambers passed away) who arrives to get revenge… or something. The sisters, Melody and Lila, are played by Sarah Yarkin and the talented Elsie Fisher, who definitely pull their weight and are the kind of characters I want to survive – they care about each other and fight like hell. I hated the denouement of this movie and would have enjoyed it much more had it not done such a disservice to these well-rounded characters.
The direction by David Blue Garcia is effective and does create some nice tension, I did feel quite on the edge of my seat once or twice which is not common for me. The deaths, were mostly eye-wateringly good and anatomically correct but the bus massacre was stupid and a bit too mean-spirited for my taste, we are meant to hate people just for being affluent and culturally aware now?
The big problem here is the script and the many MANY implausibilites. Starting with Leatherface himself – what happened to his family from the original? how was he hidden after the brazen attacks of the first film? and the big one – how is he running about hefting a chainsaw when he would now be in his 80s??? There is absolutely no way his body would be capable of doing the things he does here. Leatherface was always a damaged, almost sad individual who only hurt the people who kept invading his home, he didn’t go on rampages. The lack of knowledge the film-makers display about their own characters is disheartening to say the least.
Then there’s Sally – after the original films condemnation of our practice of eating meat and the terror she went through they make her a pig farmer? really? Not to mention that the character from the original was totally broken by her experiences, there’s no way she would grow up to be some kickass sexagenarian just waiting to kill him, and if she had, would she spend the whole movie just wanting him to “say my name” before she did so? And how did she not know where he was all that time when everyone is still in the same town?
For fans who had embraced the character of Sally in the original film, in all her messiness and pure terror, this new tough-talking cypher of a survivalist is pretty insulting. This would not be the natural progression of that character, it just doesn’t fit, and the obvious way they tried to shoehorn her into the narrative to pull in a crowd, is transparent and cynical.
Personally I’m tired of horror treating trauma, women’s trauma in particular, as some kind of personality trait – a character building exercise that only makes you stronger. It’s verging on suffer-porn and fetishising, and the reverence with which it is regularly presented is fairly disturbing.
This film is dumb, its bombastic and bloody and annoying in many ways, but I have to admit I had a good time with it, and I enjoyed it a lot more than the terrible Scream 5 and Halloween Kills.
With that in mind I will give it a good score. Go in expecting numbskull logic and you might enjoy it on that level.
It’s been 11 years since the last installment in the Scream Franchise, and for whatever reason, the powers-that-be decided it needed another chapter.
Although I questioned the wisdom behind this decision, I’ve always liked the Scream movies (though part 3 is not remembered fondly, they got back onto better footing with part 4 and ended on a satisfying note) so I was excited to go see this movie with my high hopes intact.
What a crushing disappointment this is.
The storyline is the same – years after the original killer and all the others that followed, Ghostface is back to terrorise more teens.
A simple storyline, not too hard to get right you might think; but you’d be wrong.
In trying so desperately to come up with a reason for this movie to exist, they cobble together a way to tie the past to the present and in doing so, tie themselves into ridiculous knots trying to make it work. The ‘star’ of this movie, Sam (Melissa Barrera) whose character name I had to look up because that’s how little impression she made on me, is connected to a character from the first movie in a painfully convoluted rewrite of the past – done in order to shoehorn the connection in. She is haunted by visions of that character (whom she never met) who though particularly evil in the original, is now almost a benevolent presence for her – so much cringe.
Her sister is attacked in the opening sequence which is brutal, but not much more so than Drew Barrymore’s demise in the first movie, and this leads to everyone coming together in Woodsboro.
We are very, very briefly introduced to each character before they get slaughtered (care factor zero as most have the charisma and personality of a tea towel) and we see some old familiar faces as three original cast members (and one from part 4) return, stealing even more of the spotlight from our insipid ‘stars’.
Dylan Minnette makes a good impression as Wes, he has star power and can act, which is more than I can say for most of the new cast; with Barrera particularly lacking in these qualities. Jack Quaid also has some good screen presence as Sam’s boyfriend Richie.
Casting choices here give away at least one of the killers early, so then it’s just a matter of watching that pan out; though, as a friend recently noticed – no-one ever actually catches the killer in these movies, they always just reveal themselves in the end. No-one in this friends group seems to care much for each other either, throwing a party literally a day after two friends are brutally murdered/attacked – this apathy isn’t ‘cool’, its gross and disturbing; and it hamstrings the script – if they don’t even care for these people then why should I?
The nods to Psycho, The Babadook, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood etc just made me want to watch those far superior films instead of this dross – name-checking does not always work in a movies favour!
There is a good set piece in the middle of the film that was only mildly marred by a lack of expected police presence; it was exciting and messed with your expectations in the way previous Scream installments would have. I also enjoyed the ‘behind you!’ scene; and the horror of your fingers being too slick with blood to work on your desperately needed touchscreen phone, something that hadn’t occurred to me before.
Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyer Gillett, the late Wes Cravens absence is sorely felt here; this is not witty, wry, funny or scary enough to call itself a Scream film, and it lacked heart. For me, I don’t consider it part of the franchise. Add to this the fact that they felt they had the right to kill off someone they shouldn’t have, someone who deserved a far more reverential send off, and it just rubs more salt into the wound.
There’s a big difference between being clever and knowing with sly nods to the audiences expectations; and making each line/scene a joke on the audience. This movie is not clever, half the ‘tropes’ they refer to aren’t actually tropes at all but are choices very specific to this movie itself; and it is existing in a world where being meta and acknowledging tropes is now passe, having been done to death in other, better, movies.
Its lazy and cowardly to just riff on itself – and its way too self-referential for its own good. Like watching someone kiss their own ass for 2 hours, it certainly doesn’t inspire benevolence towards this unnecessary chapter.
From the nonsensical title (its Scream 5 ffs) to the try-hard meta meta meta, this is maddeningly self-satisfied, the constant digs at previous installments are annoying, and the references to classic or ‘elevated horrors’ (as one character says like that’s everyday speech – lmao) are unearned and in all honesty, embarrassing.
I wish I liked it, I really do, but this was an epic fail on every level for me.
This year I watched 298 films. This figure, however, only counts the first time a film was viewed, and doesn’t include subsequent rewatches, of which there were plenty. It was another year where there were quite a few films I liked, but no real stand out, so the following list is in no particular order.
I gotta admit, I was not excited to watch this, and had put it off several times. After all, its a musical about a pair of celebrities who give birth to a singing prodigy, with the child portrayed by a marionette puppet. But it was breathtakingly original – all sumptuous visuals like half-remembered dreams, the story operatic in tone and scope, the songs, composed entirely by Sparks, were emotive and cutting, the performances by Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard were fully committed, and the storyline about a malignant narcissist and an abusive marriage that becomes a story about a controlling parent failing to put his child first, was moving and memorable.
The second musical on my list. As directed and written by musical genius Sia, this is so her; and that’s an aesthetic you either embrace or reject. This film tells the story of Music (Maddie Zeigler), a low-functioning autistic teenager who ends up under the guardianship of her sister Zu (Kate Hudson) who has her own troubles with drugs, alcohol and mental health. I know this is a controversial film, mostly because of the huge backlash against Sia for not casting an autistic actor in the title role, but the film itself is magical. It moved me to tears a few times, and the songs are so damn good; not to mention the use of imagination and colourful imagery to tell the story. I really loved this movie.
Do you want to cry? Do you want a film that will rip your heart out and stomp on it but still leave you glad you watched it? Then this is the film for you! Parents of two little girls, couple Matt (Casey Affleck) and Nicole (Dakota Johnson) receive life changing medical news, and their long-time friend Dane (Jason Segel) puts his life on hold to live with them and help them through this tough time. Sounds a little pedestrian and depressing but it really isn’t, its about the power of friendship, and finding beauty where you can, and how rewarding it is to support someone in need. But yeah, bring tissues.
Shadow In The Cloud
I really had low expectations for this one, expecting a schlocky c-grade horror featuring an actress i really don’t rate – Chloe Grace Moretz. What I didn’t expect was a film that said “I see your c-grade schlock and raise you a feminist, kick-ass action that fully embraces its pulpiness and adds in a touch of Lovecraft for good measure”! This movie tells the story of Maud (Mortiz – who made me rethink my opinion of her talents), a female pilot during world war 2, who talks her way onto the last mission of B52 bomber with its all-male crew; she has a secret package to deliver, and, to add even more tension, there are monstrous stowaways onboard. This creature-feature war movie is gonzo crazy and an absolute riot until the end credits when a sobering truth about our past heroes is shared. Expertly directed by Roseanne Laing, I can’t wait to see what she brings us next… and the synth score is sublime!
I’ve always liked Bob Odenkirk, there’s something very comforting about his gravelly voice, and his face is full of character, which is probably why he never seems to be the lead but part of the supporting cast, on film at least (Better call Saul definitely benefits from having him front and center). Nobody, the story of a retired hitman who is reminded of how much he enjoyed his prior life of crime and dives straight back in with gusto when his family is threatened, also knows how to trade on Odenkirks likability and ‘everyman’ vibe. This is entertaining as heck from start to finish with escalating action and bone-crunching violence aplenty – the over-the-top cartoonish variety of violence, not the sobering, ugly kind. Featuring the best needle-drop moment of 2021 when “heartbreaker’ by Pat Benatar accompanies a thrilling city car chase, this also contains one of the best ‘man and kitten’ scenes I’ve ever seen. So much damn fun!
A true story about the horrors inflicted upon a man imprisoned at Guantanamo without charge for years, and the people working on either side of his imprisonment. Jodie Foster plays the lawyer tasked with investigating and ultimately fighting for his freedom. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the idealistic soldier recruited to prosecute the prisoner who instead finds his own faith in the system, the military and the government, challenged. As Mohamedu the prisoner, Tahar Rahim (who should have been Oscar nominated) is mesmerising and revelatory, and Foster lends strong support in her Golden Globe award winning performance, with Cumberbatch solid as always. A galvanising and shocking meditation on the abuse of power.
Judas and The Black Messiah
Another true story, IMDB summarises this film as ‘offered a plea deal by the FBI, William O’Neal infiltrates the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party to gather intelligence on Chairman Fred Hampton’. It is a mini-biopic of Fred Hampton combined with the edginess of a spy movie; only this is also about betrayal and racism and the birth of a movement, and the decisions made by the characters had real-world consequences. A little dry ocassionally, this is buoyed by stellar performances from our two leads – Daniel Kaluuya (always riveting but an Oscar winner here) and LaKeith Stanfield (Oscar nominated for this, and also always good). With great support from Jessie Plemons, this one will make you outraged at the injustice. Powerful stuff.
Trapped in a video game, this riff on ‘The Truman Show’ starring Ryan Reynolds as ‘Blue Shirt Guy’ is a riot from start to finish. Sweet, warm-hearted, smart and with the added spice of a winning Jodie Comer, as well as an all-round likeable support cast, this is laugh-out-loud funny but still manages to get you in the feels by the end. Taika Waititi’s bizarre and OTT performance is the only misstep in this utter joy of a movie. Endlessly rewatchable.
What if there was a drug that allowed you to travel back in time? A drug that is like the most psychedelic trip ever but its dangerous because you have no control where you will end up, as the drug opens you up to ‘portals’ or ‘doors’ that can lead to anywhere and anywhen, would you take it? In Synchronic, this drug has already flooded the black market and our two world-weary EMT leads (Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan) are dealing with the medical fallout. I love the movies of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, they are always mind-opening affairs that exist within their own mythologies with a dash of magic realism and science fiction threaded through the narrative. Turn it on and strap in – this ride is unwieldy and unpredictable, but you’ll be glad you took it.
Starring an actress I find fascinating – Andrea Riseborough, who plays an agent who uses brain-implant tech to ‘get inside’ a target and then use their body like a meat-puppet to assassinate victims selected by her rich clientele, to call this screenplay bold would be an understatement. The first feature film of Brandon Cronenberg, son of avant-garde director David, to call this cronenbergian may be on the nose, but its accurate. This combines body-horror, science fiction and touches on the dangers inerrant at the intersection of technology and humans. It talks about the cost of literally losing yourself in your work; and the ending is shocking as all get-out! A cerebral mind-fuck with ultra violence and a bloody raw heart, I didn’t shake this one for days.
I seem to always have an animated movie in my best of list these days, which is surprising to me as I don’t consider myself a fan of animated movies at all, but here we are. Luca (the film that shoud have won best animated feature at this years Golden Globes, not Encrapto) is a simple story about a sea creature child who wants more than just the sheltered under-sea life he leads with his over-protective parents, and after discovering he turns human on land, he befriends a cocky fellow sea creature with a secret – Alberto. Together with human Giulia, they form a relay team to compete in the Porto Rosso cup and win a Vespa. With major coming-out undertones, and its idyllic Italian summer vibe – this is a family-friendly ‘Call me by your name’ with fish. Nostalgic, gentle, moving and funny with great voice work by Jacob Tremblay and especially Jack Dylan Grazer, this is a movie I know I’ll enjoy on rainy Sunday afternoons for years to come.
This is one of two very small indies to make my list this year, and is described on IMDB thusly – ‘ a down-on-his-luck struggling writer, meets an enigmatic woman who enters his life at the right time. While this synopsis is accurate, it doesn’t encompass the oodles of charm and naturalism the two mains (played to perfection by Finn Wittrock and Zoe Chao) bring to this movie, it also doesn’t give away the many interesting plot twists that hurtle this film through several different genres before landing on a genuinely touching finale; and I’m not gunna give away the big twist either, suffice to say I was invested from the first scene. For a directorial debut (Steve Basilone) this is impressive, and the music is lovely too. A unique little gem that I wish more people had seen.
The second small indie on my list, this was a chance find on a late night and I’m so glad I took the journey. Essentially a coming of age film with all the nostalgia removed, this follows the lives of four gen z teens in a typical American high school – it documents the choices hey make, the way their lives intersect and how they navigate their lives in the context of the world as it is now. At times this is uncomfortable viewing with palpable desperation and a true sense of unease even in the most benign moments, but its always compelling. Strong stuff.
Based on the true story of an ordinary joe recruited by the British government to be a spy and help end the Cuban Missile Crisis with the aid of their Russian source. This for me was a film that came out of nowhere; I’d seen no advertising and read no reviews, and I found it fascinating. Its remarkable the danger a government was willing to put a regular citizen like Greville Wynne in, and I enjoyed the ultimately moving friendship that developed between Greville and his Russian counterpart, Oleg. I have taken some time to warm to Benedict Cumberbatch, I think part of me will never move past his slimy pedophilic character in the excellent ‘Atonement’, but he certainly opened my eyes with his brilliant performance in ‘The Imitation Game’, and again here he is proving to be one the more impressive actors working today. Everyone brings their A game, but Cumberbatch goes a step further than I had expected of him.
Don’t Look Up
I’d been waiting for this movie. I’d heard about it and the synopsis sounded like a perfect combination of most things I like – Leo DiCaprio, director Adam McKay, Timothee Chalamet, climate change, large cast of stars, so when it finally hit the theatres for a limited time, I was keen to go. I’m so glad I did, because even though it was released on Netflix a few days later, the big screen was where this film deserved to be seen. The storyline poked wry and clever fingers at Trump and his ilk – his skewed ‘values’ and damaging persona, it satirized our push to not hear what isn’t convenient, to keep that smile plastered on even as we eat our own lies; it was a scathing look at humanity as it is now, our warped priorities and ‘bull in a china shop’ effect on the world. The big screen made those macro shots of nature and animals and hummingbirds not just effecting, but genuinely heartbreaking. The thought of losing those we share the planet with should stop us in our tracks, should break us. Funny, smart, important and quietly devastating. I hope someone out there listens, but I suspect its far too late.
A horror film as much about child abuse, neglect and poverty as it is about monsters and mythology. This examines the after effects of damaging childhoods whilst also telling the story of young Lucas, trying to hold his family together and stop his father from becoming a literal monster – way too big a burden for a child to bear. The imagery is breathtaking, and the scares effective. Director Scott Cooper has managed to create an atmospheric, darkly fantastical tale featuring fine performances from the always great Keri Russell and Jesse Plemons, with an amazing accomplished turn from young Jeremy T. Thomas in his big screen debut. The best horror of the year.
The French Dispatch
I like Wes Anderson films, they can be twee and quaint but their aesthetic works for me, and he is reliably good even with his lesser films. Featuring, of course, an ensemble cast, this is not one of his lesser films. His usual troupe of players are here – Bill Murray, Angelica Huston, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson, Adrian Brody, Frances McDormand, and more; they tell an anthology of stories revolving around a Newspaper called The French Dispatch. Essentially a love letter to old fashioned newspapering and the journalists who sought out and were passionate about their stories, this is outrageously amusing, and supremely creative. Like a good degustation, each course (story) brings you something different, but each portion is delicious and satisfying.
The Last Duel
I don’t much care for entertainment based in the medieval times, so this had not been much on my radar until a friend said she had seen it and thought it was good. I liked the cast, Ridley Scott is a solid director so I decided to give it a go. This is a true story about a woman who has a great wrong committed against her and how her efforts for justice are hijacked by a conceited husband. Set in the era when ‘truth’ is decided by a jousting duel, and women had no ownership of their lives or bodies, I loved the telling of the story from 3 different viewpoints – it worked wonderfully well in this, and kept me on the edge of my seat all the way to the finale. Starring Matt Damon (playing a sniveling pompous character that surprised me), Adam Driver and Jodie Comer (strong!) this is a sumptuous and brutal film that shies away from nothing whilst also not exploiting scenes that needed to be handled sensitively. Utterly engrossing.
The Eyes Of Tammy Faye
Buoyed by a chameleonic performance by Jessica Chastain, this deep dive into the life and crimes of real life 80’s christian evangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Baker is by turns surprising, sympathetic and honest. The recreations of sets, clothes, attitudes of the times etc. are completely spot on and show the care and attention to detail given to every facet of this story. Andrew Garfield as Jim is outshined by Chastain only because her performance is so remarkable; without that attention grabbing accompaniment, he would be the one to praise. Tammy Faye herself is afforded a type of character restoration here, and the films goes a long way to right the wrongs that were heaped upon her.
Spider-man: No Way Home
I enjoy superhero films – they generally feature high quality production values, are well acted and big popcorn entertainment; if they seem to all blend in for me that’s ok, they have a job to do and they do it well – they entertain. I’d seen the previous two Spider-mans featuring Tom Holland as our titular hero and thought they were just fine, nothing special (his best friend Ned annoys me to unreasonable levels) but I cant fault them. This part is different, this part has everything you could want from a superhero film, and, more specifically, a spider-man film. In fact, this is the spider-man film you didn’t even know you needed. I cant summarise it, the joy is in the discovery, but I cant imagine anyone not having a good time with this film.
Honorable mentions –
Blue Bayou – American immigration woes in this smart heartfelt indie – I ugly-cried, you will too.
The Card Counter – Oscar Isaacs is a broken ex-soldier hitting the casino circuit – intricate and gritty.
Together Together – Ed Helms bonds with the woman surrogating his baby – heart-warming, not cloying.
Horror in The High Desert – found footage with an endearing central character and genuine chills.
The Worst List –
Much as it pains me to admit, most of the worst films of the year were horrors:
Halloween Kills – Please tell me this was a parody.
Malignant – Ugly and stupid. James Wan please leave horror alone.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It – a hallmark movie disguised as a telegraphed horror and a snoozefest.
The Empty Man – So boring, So long, So trite. A tonally awkward mess.
Titane – Nonsensical, distancing, meandering and gross. There is nothing to connect with or enjoy.
Vanquish – So bad its almost funny, my love for Ruby Rose led me astray… again!
Suicide Squad – One of the most cynical films I’ve seen, it’s like the film makers hate the audience – an ensemble film with no character development? No thanks