Midsommar (2019): Drama / Horror / Mystery

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A young couple and their two friends decide to fly to Sweden and visit an isolated community’s midsummer festival only to experience events they never expected they would.

Ari Aster knows how to portray death. He has mastered the art of perfectly shooting people die – one way or another – and then how to cut to either their beloved finding out or straight to their reaction after it happens. That said, I can see why the film critically and financially disappointed. Did I like it personally? Yes, I did. Would I recommend it? Before I answer with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’, I would ask myself ‘who would I recommend it to’? Horror fans are disappointed already – is there such a thing as mystery or drama fans? I’m not going to answer with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ but I would hint the following:

  • The film is unnecessarily two and a half hours long and Aster promised (threatened?) that the director’s cut will be thirty minutes longer!!! For a horror film, the first duration is too long, and the second is tooooo long.
  • About an hour into the film and I wanted it to end and go on IMDb to find out if there is such a Swedish or Scandinavian paganistic/folklore festival. As much as this is a good sign, I couldn’t help but wonder that if there it’s shocking, but if there isn’t why on Earth would he go to such great lengths to elaborate/analyse/delve into something that doesn’t exist. Wondering that, I missed a third of the film and then wanted to cut to what the trailer had promised; some thrill.
  • As stated above, the deaths taking place in the film are definitely worth watching.

Now that you know, it’s up to you to realise if it’s going to float your boat or not.

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The Gallows (2015): Horror / Mystery / Thriller

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Years after a kid’s accidental death, four kids get trapped in a school and tortured by a sinister supernatural force.

I would like to be clear once more and I will be every time I am forced to make a review such as this. I never judge a film itself. I judge the intentions behind it. As with The Nun (2018), the ghost in The Gallows is nothing but a clichéd plot device that does whatever is convenient and wannabe impressive to just… I don’t know… take them out? Story and dialogues are horribly written and the camera work is plainly bad! The acting is mediocre (with Cassidy Gifford being the exception) and the VFX… plainly bad again.

I try to be lenient and I’m definitely holding my punches here but it is really difficult as there is nothing positive I can say about the film other than the semi-decent opening scene followed by a freefall to the rock bottom. The scariest thing is that Jason Blum jumped on board. What is even scarier is that there is a sequel out there and Blum is behind that too – The Gallows Act II (2019).

I’m an avid supporter of indie, low budget films and praise them every time they achieve what Hollywood blockbusters can’t. It’s admirable that two directors did everything they could to make this film but please, do not undermine your audience’s intelligence. And this is why the intentions behind The Gallows are not noble. And this is why my review is bitter.

P.S. The poster’s tagline: “Every school has its spirit”. No comment…

Trick ‘r Treat (2007): Comedy / Horror

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Demons, witches, pranks going wrong, werewolves, serial killers and a virgin, all happen in a small town’s Halloween night.

Jack O’ Lantern’s favourite comedy/horror. Writer/Director Michael Dougherty offers great home entertainment by blending scared kids, horny teenagers, and mentally deranged adults in a non-linear narrative horror with plenty of laughs, quirky performances, snappy editing, and highly creative costumes. Winner of the 2009 Fright Meter Award for Best Horror, Trick ‘r Treat is surrounded by mystery itself as, without explanation, it was pulled from the schedule, did not get a theatrical release, and went straight to DVD two years later. Producer Brian Singer reunites the amazing Brian Cox and the mesmerising Anna Paquin after X-Men 2 (2003). So, turn the lights off, grab something unhealthy to munch, and forget about all of your problems for the next hour and twenty minutes. Happy Halloween!

Sleepy Hollow (1999): Fantasy / Horror / Mystery

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An eccentric constable is sent to a village called Sleepy Hollow to investigate three mysterious murders but he gets more than he bargained for when he encounters The Headless Horseman.

Twenty years later and it’s still captivating. Tim Burton adapts for the silver screen the legendary Celtic and German folklore and creates one of the most atmospheric, period gothic fairytales you will have ever watched. Sleepy Hollow is purely a masterpiece. The perfect balance of horror, comedy, and fantasy with an equally “magical” and intense subplot. Like Shakesperean thespians, all actors deliver amazing performances that enhance the film’s genre. Danny Elfman’s eerie score gets your undivided attention from the opening scene and Emmanuel Lubezki’s hauntingly beautiful cinematography may have lost the Oskar to American Beauty (1999) but this merely means anything as you will probably have never encountered anything like it in any other fairytale adaptation [Maybe, Edward Scissorhands (1991) or Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)]. The “Best Art Direction-Set Decoration” Oskar was well earned for building the Sleepy Hollow from scratch within three months. As the and crew stated: “The feeling one had walking around Sleepy Hollow’s sets, and in particular the town at Lime Tree, was almost as if you were walking around the inside of Tim Burton’s head.”

Sleepy Hollow is the best side of Hollywood. A side that is often forgotten by the studios but should be a reminder that quantity (the $100M budget) can be indeed spent wisely and increase the film’s quality. A reminder that visual effects are meant to be used as a means to advance the story, and not dominate the film overshadowing its narrative. Words cannot beautify Tim Burton’s classic. A must-watch not only for the Haloween period but also for times of classical storytelling nostalgia.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019): Horror / Mystery / Thriller

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On Halloween, three friends and a mysterious drifter end up in a haunted house, discovering a dead girl’s notebook that contains deadly stories that come true.

Are you a Halloween fan? Are you a ‘scary stories’ fan? Then look no further! Based on the ’80s homonymous book series written by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen, Gammell Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a nostalgic, coming of age horror which builds on the historic events of Nixon’s elections and the effects of the Vietnam War through the eyes of teenagers living in a small town. Is it too scary? No. Is it flawless? Definitely not. But don’t rationalise it and don’t be too harsh on it. Like any scary campfire story, the couple of plot holes do not matter a bit as the film, in its own right, is thoroughly enjoyable and a perfect fit should you decide to stay in and turn the lights off.

Great storytelling to keep you entertained, and how could it not be? With André Øvredal [Troll Hunter (2010), the Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)] behind the camera and Guillermo del Toro behind the script and the production, it could be nothing but a perfect mix of reality and fantasy. Also, first-class acting by all kids, and very well edited. Look forward to watching more Halloween films like this one which creates the right atmosphere to ward off the ghosts and, whatever issues loop in your mind, take the back seat until the end credits start scrolling down. Highly recommended!

Climax (2018): Drama / Horror / Music

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Talented and diverse dancers from every walk of life gather in a remote, empty building to rehearse but a hard day’s work goes really awry while celebrating as their drinks get spiked and the hallucinations take over them.

Writer/director Gaspar Noé, well known for making his audience feel uncomfortable, helms Climax with bravery aplenty. Forget classic narratives, forget Hollywood morals and standards, forget scripts written in detail. Get into Irreversible (2002) and Enter the Void (2009) mode and just let go.

The largely improvised monologues and dialogues in the beginning and middle of the film respectively could have been trimmed a tad as the audience don’t need this large amount of information to establish a point of view about each and every one of the characters. Of course, the turn the celebration takes, creates the colossal contrast between the first and the second act.

Excellent camera work, amazing photography, powerful soundtrack, divine choreography, and brilliant performances. Especially, given that, other than Sofia Boutella, no one has had any acting experience prior to the film. The protracted shots will fascinate you as the uncut surrealism reveals in real-time the escalating paranoia reaching its… climax!

Mesmerising! Sensual! Hallucinatory! Enchanting!

 

In the Tall Grass: Drama / Horror / Thriller

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A boy’s cry for help lures a pregnant woman and her brother into an endless field of tall grass where an ancient force dwells among its blades.

You know it’s a Stephen King novella when there is an endless field in the middle of nowhere and mazes – Children of the Corn (1984) and The Shining (1980) respectively. If I had to pitch it to someone it would be Coherence (2103), meets Triangle (2009). It is neither though. Coherence is written in such a way to just blow your mind away after insinuating that a comet’s passing will cause… anomalies. Triangle, on the other hand, is very meticulously written, providing the right amount of explanation should one read between the lines. In the Tall Grass provides insufficient information about the element causing this horror, the reason, or the way it does it. The directing and editing deserve the applause here for maintaining the suspense of a film that 90% of it takes place… in tall grass. It definitely deserves a watch. Patrick Wilson is scary as hell and Laysla De Oliveira, Avery Whitted, and Harrison Sloan Gilbertson deliver brilliant performances.

If you are a Stephen King fan this is definitely your year as it marks the third out four films adapted this year, three of which one behind the other; Pet Sematary (April), It: Chapter 2 (September), In The Tall Grass (October) and Dr. Sleep (November).

Enjoy it!

Crawl (2019): Action / Drama / Horror

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During a category 5 hurricane, a young woman attempts to save her trapped, estranged father from his flooding and inundated with alligators basement.

An action, drama, horror flick that will make you forget your problems for about an hour and a half. Alexandre Aja makes Crawl a tad more serious than Piranha 3D (2010), adding a pinch of a background story to the characters that is very early washed away by the flood and replaced by gimmicks and cliches. Unfortunately, it is easily forgettable. It leaves you with nothing to talk or think about once the end credits start scrolling down. Kaya Scodelario is definitely the right actress for the role and one day we’ll get to watch her in a film that will leave us with our jaw dropped. She’s an extremely talented actress and she deserves all the spotlight she can get. I’ve been a Barry Pepper fan for years but Crawl is not the reason.

Alexandre Aja will, one day, find the way back and direct a horror that will take your breath away. The horror genre needs him and his unconventional ‘eye’ desperately. He is way better than jump scares and yawnsome sequences that solely rely on sound effects. Haute Tension (2003) and The Hills Have Eyes (2006) are an original and a remake that beats the original respectively which speak volumes of his talent and skills. I don’t know what Space Adventure Cobra (announced) is, but I hope the one after that makes me indeed, once again, forget to breathe.

P.S. I hope Sam Raimi comes back to horror as well. He’s been sorely missed…

Annabelle Comes Home (2019): Horror / Mystery / Thriller

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Annabelle, Ed and Lorraine Warren’s most dangerous artifact, becomes the beacon, attracts and brings to life all their other possessions when their daughter, her babysitter and her friend accidentally unleash her.

Following my previous mediocre reviews on the conjuring universe after Conjuring 2 (2016), Annabelle comes home, we get to watch her, and here we are… Having been disappointed, frustrated and in the end infuriated with The Nun (2018) I will admit I was kind of biased. The strong opening sequence though got my attention straight away, and the whole duration of the first act and beginning of the second started proving me, thankfully, wrong. I can’t remember last time I watched a paranormal horror taking place in broad daylight and have this effect on me. By now, Annabelle has my undivided attention. Then, the sun goes down… and so does the story! And I’m screaming “why?!?!”. Once again, the cliches take over and degrade the film and all its potential. I’d like to be fair here though so I’m gonna give you two ghost pros and two cons. Then you watch it if you haven’t already and make up your mind.

Pros:

  • The Ferryman is innovatively portrayed and everyone involved deserves a round of applause.
  • Daniela’s sequence in front of the TV is hair-raising.

Cons:

  • The dismantled by the guitar and reassembled foggy Werewolf. That’s right…
  • The incredible misuse of the samurai.

I never spoil a film but the following deserves mentioning. Apologies, but I can’t help it. My greatest disappointment in the film is Daniela’s dead father. So. Much. Potential. Wasted! Daniella is the only one who blames herself for her father’s death and he shows up accusing her! Big mistake as there are bad and good ghosts (as they point out). A mistake which gets even bigger when he doesn’t save her when she needs him the most, and which is blown out of proportion when Lorraine shares with her in the end that he told her to tell Daniella that she shouldn’t be so hard on herself. I’m not saying anything else. If you disagree, by all means please let me know. Apologies once again for the spoilers but I felt like it could not be left unsaid.

I’ll finish up with a positive. Congratulations to all three girls for their stupendous performance. Shockingly believable!

Brightburn (2019): Horror / Sci-Fi

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A young couple who struggles to have a child adopts an alien boy who crash-lands on their farm and proves to be anything but a blessing in disguise.

I’m gonna give it a shot in the dark here. I will speculate within reason but I couldn’t think of it any other way. The film’s origin is common knowledge: DC’s Injustice timeline. DC belongs to Warner Bros. The question that arises is how was Brightburn able to get made without getting a colossal lawsuit from Warner Bros? Here’s where my speculation comes into play. James Gunn asked to produce it only after he signed for The Suicide Squad (2021) – Warner Bros/DC. Which was after he was fired from Disney (and before he was hired back). Warner had no plans for that timeline, they gave it up disguised as an independent project to Sony, there will be no prequel nor sequel, and everyone will be talking about the ending.

Keeping that in mind, the film is brilliant. It cost approximately $6,000,000, it made $32,893,421, and David Yarovesky and the Gunns gave birth to a child that will never grow up to… (watch it to find out). Brightburn is a horror/sci-fi and the haters/doubters should understand that the project has never had a future; neither dark nor bright – pun intended. For both genre fans, the film is a must! Well acted, well directed and edited, and great visuals. Enjoy the gore!