Midsommar


Viewed – 11 January 2020. Online rental

Following a family tragedy, a female student agrees to go on a trip to Sweden with her boyfriend and his friends to attend a religious festival at a secluded commune. However once there she begins to witness the community’s unusual ceremonies and suspect not all is what it seems.

The second movie from Hereditary director Ari Aster certainly has influences from The Wicker Man, with its focus on Pagan rituals, and also bares resemblances to religious cults like The Manson Family and Heaven’s Gate. Yet Aster also sprinkles it with his own ideas and haunting imagery and with an exploration of human drama at the centre of the horror, like Hereditary this again disturbs. Lead actress Florence Pugh is mesmerising as someone already dealing with grief, faced with uncertainty in her relationship and then unfamiliar surroundings that initially seem exactly what she needs – and then something else entirely. The movie also explores passive-aggressive behaviour amongst the various characters which only adds to the tension.

It is a bit long at over 2 and a half hours, and gets predictable towards the end with a little too much foreshadowing … but direction is effective with great use of sound, unconventional editing and (cleverly) daylight to build unease. A movie that further cements Ari Aster as one of the most interesting horror directors working today.

Verdict: 4 /5

Crawl


Viewed – 30 December 2019. Online rental

As a hurricane hits a small town, Haley, a professional swimmer seeks out her estranged father after she’s unable to contact him, However during her attempt at a rescue a ravenous group of alligators find their way into the gradually flooding town.

Director Alexandre Aja continues to be a reliable prospect and has delivered some solid genre movies namely brutal French slasher Switchblade Romance and the gore-tastic Piranha 3D. This latest effort lacks some depth between the principle leads with a hinted at troubled past only vaguely mentioned, and a bit more detail would have added to the emotion of the father & daughter bonding. With that said, lead actress Kaya Scodelario does bring a raw believability to her character throughout. Yet this remains all about the situation, and thankfully, Alexandre Aja cranks up the thrills and tension. The alligators are convincing, genuinely scary and brutally vicious resulting in several heart-in-mouth moments that kept me glued. Also the backdrop of the hurricane and its gradually building ferocity makes for plenty of edge of the seat moments.

Even if this can’t escape its creature flick / b-movie roots … with a decent budget and a skilled director, this still managed to work me up and wear me out.

Verdict: 3.5 /5

Doctor Sleep


Viewed – 06 November 2019

I consider The Shining one of the best movies ever made, so this follow-up, based on Stephen King’s own best seller was something I never knew I wanted. King famously hated director Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation and so this movie interestingly brings King’s sequel to life as well as heavily referencing Kubrick’s movie.

Ewan McGregor plays Dan Torrance, the grown up version of that kid in the original, who has battled his ‘shining’ affliction to see the dead, with alcohol. However when a young girl named Abra begins communicating with him through her own psychic gift, Dan is drawn into a battle against a mysterious group of travellers (lead by Rebecca Ferguson) who pray on those that shine.

The way characters, separated for miles connect and come together during the story was what drew me into this. The movie uses imaginative ways of making the various locations and characters feel connected and only builds and gets more creative the closer they get to one another. The story also fleshes our the ‘shining’ ability as well as further exploring characters and moments from the first movie with spot-on re-creations and occasionally uncanny look-a-likes. Rebecca Ferguson is dangerously sexy as Rose The Hat and McGregor is also very good, even if he’s often outshined by Kyliegh Curran as Abra.

Although I’d have liked the movie to be less the supernatural drama it is and more a full-on horror, the story was (mostly) involving enough to make up for a lack of genuine frights. Director Mike Flanagan (Gerald’s Game) uses many creative visual flourishes to make what on paper could get a bit silly – highly entertaining and I found myself invested in Dan and Abra’s plight. This is how you do a sequel to such a legendary movie … build on a great concept yet take nothing away from the original.

Verdict: 4 /5

3 From Hell


Viewed – 02 November 2019 online-rental

Rocker turned director Rob Zombie has over the years carved out his own sub-genre that despite strong influences from grind house shockers like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Last House on the Left, delivers a style that’s all his own. It can be an acquired taste that’s for sure, and not much has changed since 2005’s The Devil’s Rejects that this is a direct follow up to. With a clear tip of the hat to Natural Born Killers, in the years since their incarceration, the Firefly gang have become celebrities. After one of them escapes, a violent home invasion ensues to convince a Prison warden to help crazy as-a-loon Baby Firefly (Sherry Moon Zombie) escape also.

Zombie’s direction attempts to add style and panache to a movie that’s neck deep in sleaze and grime. It’s characters carry a self-importance that doesn’t make them glamorous, but simply pompous, and with the lack of interesting adversaries, including a none existent police presence, there’s a distinct lack of tension or drama throughout.

If you’re here to find out if this delivers the required violence and gore then yeah, there’s several nasty scenes including a throat slit, stabbings and a (unconvincing) face removal – but almost all is watered down by what appears to be crappy CGI blood. Bill Mosely is the stand out as Otis, and Sherry Moon is equal parts entertaining and annoying – so the acting’s a mixed bag also. The under-use of Sid Haig (who recently passed away) as nutty clown Captain Spaulding is disappointing but in a movie this half-arsed, perhaps it wouldn’t have been his finest swan-song. For die hard Zombie fans only.

Verdict: 2.5 /5

It Chapter Two


Viewed 01 October 2019. Cinema

I only have vague memories of the original made for tv two parter in the early nineties – but I strongly recall being underwhelmed by the second part. However having liked the first in this re-adaptation, I sat down to this with anticipation and optimism. Twenty seven years after the events of the first movie, following an incident involving a young man as well as several disappearances of various children, it’s time to get the losers club back together in hope of putting an end to that f***ing clown, once and for all.

In the hands of the same director and with solid choices made when casting the adult counterparts of the first movie’s young cast, I was quickly drawn into this again. It’s filmed with panache and no end of style. Like last time there is a focus on character that works brilliantly, with a welcome dose of flashbacks to the young cast delving deeper into the gang”s friendship where clearly additional scenes were filmed rather than just copy and pasting from the last movie. It helps build up each individual character and made me care for all of them – very important when Pennywise turns up to deliver a wealth of set piece scares.

It’s here with a reliance on said set pieces that the movie falters, and it quickly dawned on me the approach here was maximum frights instead of gradual menace, meaning some of those scares just aren’t earned. It helps that the set-pieces are often imaginative and visually freaky – there’s just so many of them it does get exhausting. Thankfully performances across the board are great, with names like Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy and especially Bill Hader all delivering.

This may be a sequel that considers bigger is necessarily better … more subtlety and a stronger sense of mood (with a need for about 30 minutes chopped from that run time) would have made this equally as good as the first movie. As it stands, this makes up for such shortcomings by still being solid entertainment that’s well acted and brings the story to a (albeit drawn out) decent enough conclusion.

Verdict: 3.5 /5