An Ebert* of Movie Reviews

*Please don’t sue me, I’m trying to be clever.

I’ve seen a whole bunch of movies, mostly horror, most of them not worthy of proper reviewing. Since “murder” is taken as a collective noun, I propose calling this a slaughter of horror movies.

At this jaded, world-weary stage of horror movie watching, I go into each and every one braced for disappointment yet with the tiniest, maddening glimmer of hope of being pleasantly surprised (i.e. scared and traumatized). I would’ve given up completely if not for such recent gems as The Conjuring 2, The Babadook, and slightly older, Sinister; films which proved I’m not utterly dead inside. Yet.

These will be in generally ascending order, finishing with what I think are the best of recent options.  And away we go…

If we’re starting at the bottom, that’s easy. Blair Witch was a total waste of time. I’m still fond of the original, which I still think was a remarkable achievement of terror for having no budget and never actually showing anything scarier than really awful camera work. Well, the new film mistakenly thinks shaky cameras were the best ingredient of that recipe and ups them so much that you can’t see anything, scary or otherwise, for the constant jerking and whipping around. F

Speaking of woods-based horror, I mentioned this in a recent post as not worthy of mention, so I’ll stick it in here. And I won’t even bother avoiding spoilers, because no one should watch it. The Beast of Exmoor sells itself as a werewolf movie, then takes a hard turn in act three into a serial killer movie. I enjoy a good twist, but not into a whole different sub genre.  F

More woods theme: The Forest.  Natalie Dormer, so good in “Game of Thrones,” goes into Japan’s “suicide forest” (totally a real thing, BTW) to find her missing sister.  So much wasted opportunity. Sure, the place starts to mess with her head, but nothing beyond very annoying jump scares. C-

Getting away from the woods, Rings. All that bit I said about expecting disappointment but having tiny hope? That ratio was flipped for Rings.  Because The Ring might be the last movie that really, truly terrified me. Oh, the hope I had for Rings. Is that enough foreshadowing? Because it completely let me down. So much potential squandered. You would think making Samara’s video a digital file that can be copied and shared with a mouse click would open up a literal world of horrible deaths, yet the movie ignores that juicy possibility and instead makes our heroes walk virtually the same path as Naomi Watts did in the first movie, only adding a few branches to Samara’s family tree that we didn’t really need. The mini film (also named Rings) sold with The Ring Two is less than 15 minutes and better than this.  D

————————————————————–

Here’s the line. Everything below it I think is worthy of one viewing at least.

The Boy.  Lauren Cohen, so good in “The Walking Dead,” takes a job as a nanny at an eccentric older couple’s home; eccentric because their son was tragically killed as a child and they now treat a doll like him — and expect her to do the same. Not long before creepy things start happening when she’s alone with it, and I’ll admit I didn’t see the ending coming (but I’m not one to guess at endings).  At first it’s a shock, but then kind of sucks all the magic out of the previous creepiness and, once I learned the secret, I became impatient for it to be over. For that reason I regretfully have to give it a C+.  

Don’t Breathe.  This started out kind of promising: three kids break into the house of a blind vet (Stephen Lang, last seen as the hard-as-nails relentless sergeant in Avatar. He’s still buff as hell).  It quickly becomes evident that the old man is far from a victim and that blindness doesn’t slow him down much. It becomes a suspenseful game of cat-and-mouse, except our “heroine” is hard to root for since she’s stealing from a disabled vet, and eventually we learn the vet isn’t entirely morally superior either in a stomach-turning reveal. This also employs two of my least favorite horror tricks: the weirdly omniscient monster and the false hope ending. Though it did keep my attention through most of it, so it gets a B-.

The Monster.  Speaking of monsters, how about a good old fashioned creature feature?  This movie got SO MUCH right.  Mother and daughter stranded on a rainy road at night, with a mysterious actual monster lurking in the woods that gruesomely picks off anyone who comes to help them.  The monster always has the perfect mix of light and shadow on it so you can see enough to be scared but not enough to see if it’s a crappy effect.  The mother isn’t that great an actress but the daughter makes up for her. Where it suffers is the flashbacks to scenes of terrible emotional abuse between them, until only the most obtuse viewers will miss the fact that the titular monster is actually the mother, and the creature menacing them is a metaphor for the obstacles they face to have anything close to a functional relationship (see also The Babadook, where this was done much better).  Still, the creature effects are well done for a presumably low budget and there’s some great tension, so B.

Split. Oh, Shamalamadingdong. My hope foolishly springs eternal for you. Why is this film crammed in here instead of deserving of its own post? Because there’s not much to say about it. Don’t get me wrong, James McAvoy is magnificent (and even, ultimately, believably menacing) as a split personality who kidnaps three young women for presumably dastardly purposes. But the big twist (and I’m sorry you feel beholden to always have one, Night) is a big callback to one of his earliest movies. His career has become an ouroboros.  B

Victor Frankenstein. Speaking of McAvoy…I went into this expecting something rompy and silly, like RDJ’s Sherlock Holmes.  I was taken aback when instead it was a bit of a slashy take on Igor and Victor’s relationship (slashy fan fic, not slasher film genre).  Throw in Andrew Scott (BBC’S Sherlock, as well as very fleeting glimpses of Mycroft and Molly) as a dogged chief inspector, and now we’re cooking with lightning.  But then it tries to get serious with a peek into Victor’s upbringing, and goes off the rails entirely when the monster shows up; act three is a hot mess.  Too many directions at once, doesn’t know what it wants to be, barely qualifies as a horror film, but the beginning had huge promise and a lot of nice moments. B-

Shut In.  By virtue of The Ring, Naomi Watts has permanent horror street cred for me, and she doesn’t disappoint in this thriller about a woman trapped by a blizzard with her vegetative son when weird things start happening. At the risk of spoilers, it turns into a mashup of The Boy (above) and The Shining. Really nothing new under the sun, but Naomi makes it watchable. B

The Autopsy of Jane Doe.  That thing I said about Naomi’s street cred also applies to Brian Cox (also in The Ring), and here he is with his son performing an autopsy on a mysterious cadaver. Obviously any movie that takes place in a morgue has a built-in creep factor, but there’s nothing lazy about this film. As the mystery deepens and becomes more horrifying, you can’t look away and become intensely curious where all this is going (even though the script does unfortunately give the ending away a tiny bit in the first scene).  Didn’t exactly terrify me, but still plenty disturbing and well done. A

Train to Busan. This might rank slightly below Autopsy, but I have an obsessive need to group things together when possible  I think this is the first Korean (thank you, Erin) zombie film I’ve seen, and I was pleasantly impressed. What they lack in a special effects budget they make up for with extras with amazing inhuman-looking contortionist skills.  The claustrophobic train setting is perfectly terrifying (they can’t get off because of course the stations are all overrun), and it’s refreshing to have the little girl with the long black hair be the emotional center rather than the monster. A-

The Girl with All the Gifts. That thing I said about there being nothing new under the sun? Not quite true. Behold, a completely unique take on zombies!  (Okay, there have been noted similarities with the video game “The Last of Us,” which I’ve also played and the comparisons are fair.) I can count on one hand the number of zombie movies that aren’t trite and overdone, and this is definitely one. 

I read the book first, so I knew what they couldn’t fit into the script: namely, the most scientifically plausible cause of “zombification” that I’ve ever heard. Cordyceps is a fungus that attacks ants, takes over their brains, and forces them to climb as high as they can so the fungus can explode through their skulls and shower spores everywhere. Yes, this is a horrible thing that’s in our world as we speak. The movie conjectures that the fungus has spread to humans, turning them into “hungries” (kind of like how “Walking Dead” refuses to use the zed word) who spread it by chewing on unaffected people. 

The children are the second generation and oddly not mindless monsters until they get a whiff of skin. Melanie is the Hermione Granger of the class (also with a massive crush on their pretty teacher) and Glenn Close is the pragmatic military doctor who needs to cut her brain open to make a cure. They all end up on a madcap road trip when things go pear-shaped and wackiness ensues.

Not a scary movie to fans of the genre (although, between you and me, mostly normal-looking people whose jaws snap spasmodically like sharks when they smell sweat are more unsettling than 98% of the makeup jobs on “Walking Dead”). It is a thinking woman’s zombie movie when it speculates what if these aren’t unnatural mutations but instead the next evolutionary phase of mankind?  Not scary, but faithful to the book and very enjoyable. A

Before you think, “wow, this chick has too much free time and apparently spends it all watching movies,” this is the culmination of months and months of watching. They’ve all just been festering waiting for me to blog about them. FINALLY I’M FREE. 

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3 thoughts on “An Ebert* of Movie Reviews

  1. I echo your sentiments on the original Blair Witch and The Ring – those two really shook me when they came out, and The Ring is one of the few times I’ve ever preferred the American remake over a foreign horror film.
    (Past: Train to Busan is Korean, not Japanese. I know this because S. Korea has taken over my life lol.)

    • Thanks, fixed! (I knew that when I watched it but obviously forgot).

      I’m trying to figure out if movies used to be scarier or I was less jaded (I suspect the latter). I mean, Blair Witch didn’t show you anything but my heart was pounding through the whole thing anyway. And I was pleased when reading other reviews of Rings to see everyone puts the American remake top of the list.

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