Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from 2018

The Ritual (2017): Review

David Bruckner's The Ritual (2017) is a movie about wrong-turns. Yes, it largely involves four men who get themselves increasingly lost while hiking in Sweden. This is undoubtedly a wrong-turn, but not the first. When four was five, two of the group, at the end of a guy's night out, decide to walk into a liquor store. There are misgivings: Luke is on a bender of sorts; the others want to go home to their wives and jobs. So Robert narrowly joins him inside, a go-between for Luke and the others, alienated by the former's incessant party antics...

Disclaimer: Before you proceed, I wholly recommend watching the movie first! 

Inside, the two men convene, their hushed debate cut short when they spot the cashier. Beaten supine, she gawks wordlessly at them. Robert freezes; Luke takes cover, hearing the assailants return. Enter two junkies, armed and belligerent. They spot Robert and corner him, demanding all he has. Refusal to hand over his wedding ring nets him two healthy blows …

Murder Party (2007): Review

Though relatively new compared to journeyman directors, Jeremy Saulnier is hardly a novice. It might seem otherwise; ten-plus years have seen him produce only four feature-length films. Three of them succeed; one does not. The focus of this review is not to attack the one that fails, but celebrate his earliest, Murder Party (2007). First, however, I'll need to explain my viewing history of Saulnier's canon, starting with Blue Ruin(2013) and leading up to Hold the Dark (2018). I want to explain how the latter misfired, encouraging me to sit down and watch Murder Party (2007).


Jeremy Saulnier and Macon Blair—I stumbled upon Blue Ruin several years back, and immediately fell in love with both men; they operate in tandem, much of what they deliver working through a constant, healthy partnership. For example, the stark conclusion, of the suicidal revenge plot, is realized by a shrunken, speechless Blair (a directorial talent in his own right: I Don't Feel at Home in This World …

Nacros: Mexico (2018): Review

Technically, Narcos: Mexico (2018) is a spin-off of Narcos (2015). However, given their close ties, I like to consider it the fourth season of that show. The first two focused on Agent Murphy from the DEA, and his fight to take down Pablo Escobar. Season 3 focused on Pablo's successors, as combated by Agent Peña, Murphy's partner. Season 4 occurs before either the DEA or cartels were fully established; it tells the story of two opponents: the Thin Man, Félix Gallardo, and his rise from lowly hill bandit to the most powerful drug trafficker in Mexico; and Kiki Camarena. Kiki is a name that's appeared before in the show, though only in passing. Turns out, his contribution to the war-on-drugs is substantial.


Season 4 is my favorite, and I enjoyed the other three. It gets a lot right, even if it disclaims how various liberties are taken for dramatic effect. Such drama is not limited to dialogue; many additions up the ante, in terms of action. Consider the aquifer scene: Tradin…

I Am Not a Serial Killer (2015): Review

Billy O'Brien's I Am Not a Serial Killer (2015) is the story of a young man growing up in a small town. The only son of a single, female mortician, he lives with his mother, learning how to embalm corpses. Small wonder he has something of an abnormal fascination with death, most notably serial killers. He pores over their hideous exploits, fluent in the modus operandi of many a slayer. However, when he meets an actual killer, very little makes sense, in terms of what he thinks he knows about these elusive individuals.



IANaSK is an interesting horror film, on different levels. It's perspective is somewhat displaced, a frank examination of death in small communities via its tortured protagonist. However, small pinches of quirky humor introduce levity to counterbalance the dark subject matter. One quirky scene involves the protagonist being told by his therapist to behold a sensational object: a duck, coasting on a distant waterfront. The hero is confused, uncertain of the sig…

Castlevania, Season Two (2018): Review

Disclaimer: This review of the second season of the Netflix miniseries, Castlevania, contains many spoilers!

One thing before I begin: Trevor Belmont's whip—called the Morning Star, but which I'll simply refer to as "explodey whip"—is quite possibly the coolest thing ever. More to the point, and what really matters, here, is that all three heroes—Sypha, Alucard and Trevor—were amazing in their own right. Each repeatedly does things per episode that had me sit upright and exclaim, "That was so cool!" And I'm usually pretty critical of recent animation, because so much of it nowadays fails to capture a certain weight. Here, that wasn't a problem. I was thoroughly wowed by the sheer visual heft.


Better yet, the show feels faithful to the games, if you consider a loose adaptation faithful. Alucard's move set, the aforementioned "explodey whip" and Sypha's own magical repertoire all serve as nice visual nods to the attacks of their olde…

Summer of '84 (2018): Review

Directed by François Simard, and Anouk and Yoann-Karl Whissell, Summer of '84 is a wonderfully misleading horror film, one that spells itself out in familiar patterns. The narrator practically sighs during the opening shots. The voice belongs to Davey, the film's hero. We see him cheerfully deliver newspapers on his bicycle. However, the narrator of a bildungsroman (coming-of-age story) or similar formula is usually an older, wiser version of the same character, and Davey's older self sounds solemn and detached. This alone should warn that trouble is not simply afoot, but already come to pass. Over footage of present events, Davey speaks plainly about everyday tendencies to overlook evil in our own lives. He seems to discuss things backward—in hindsight, just like the little girls in Alex Proyas' The Crow (1994) or Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven (1978).


Summer of '84 is horror pastiche, much like Andrés Muschietti's It (2017); they operate in recognition o…

Veronica (2017): Review, part 2

For all the successful tricks that Veronica (2017)borrows from older movies, there are some missteps, too. And Paco Plaza shows enough horror know-how to make one wonder why he made these mistakes, in the first place. For example, one particular visual gag is repeated to the point of being exhausting: seeing the monster's shadow slither across the wall.


On one hand, this is a pretty cool nod to Count Orlok, from F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922). In Veronica,they do the gag three times! By the third, the exhilarating effect is gone, and impatience starts to set in. This issue is compounded by the special effects, themselves. Instead of using actual shadow puppetry like Murnau did, Plaza digitally animates the monster's shadow. The more you stare, the faker it looks, and there's plenty of time to stare.

Another problem is how the movie starts. It opens with a languid, dream-like sequence, with a detective responding to a 911 call. Everything moves in slow-motion. People r…

Veronica (2017): Review, part 1

Something about Paco Plaza’s Veronica (2017) felt familiar. I didn’t recognise the director's name, but he seemed at home, in the genre. As it turns out, he actually directed [REC] (2007)—a movie exported to American theaters with John Erick Dowdle’s note-for-note remake, Quarantine (2008). With the possible exception of Gus Van Sant’s Psycho (1998), I generally don’t mind heavily derivative remakes. Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In (2008) was solid; so was its American counterpart, Matt Reeves’s Let Me In (2010).


In and of itself, Plaza’s Veronica is notably atmospheric. Much it revolves around an innocuous, inanimate object: a Ouija board. A sinister Ouija board is a ridiculous idea, but horror relishes the exploration of ridiculous avenues, especially superstitious ones. Even so, scary Ouija boards are a tough sell; as C.S. Lewis once said, no one is afraid of what a ghost may physically do to them. Personally I think he meant, "in a particular state of mind."