Tag Archives: Horror

Movie Review: Infinity Pool (2023)

Premiered at Sundance Film Festival this week. Now in select theatres from Neon Films.

Tropical resorts seem to be the modern milieu for disassociating with one’s central humanity, and auteur Brandon Cronenberg’s horror thriller Infinity Pool (B-) is the latest instance of a not so innocent abroad discovering he’s not feeling completely himself. Without spoiling the labyrinthine plot, expect curious customs in a foreign land, relentless violence, the appearance of doppelgängers and an array of hedonistic detours. Unfortunately Alexander Skarsgård doesn’t command the screen with enough gravitas to justify his journey, but his co-star Mia Goth is an unhinged sensation as the seductress who brings out his primal instincts. She’s proving to be the follow-her-anywhere marquee star of horror shows. There’s a point in this film where a very original premise gets lost in a fog of Altered States meets A Clockwork Orange tropes, but Cronenberg ultimately reins it in and lands his thesis. Beyond the bizarre brushes with ultra violence, there’s a compelling message about wealth and power and creating one’s own moral universe. The tale could be tidier but is fairly engrossing.

Movie Review: Skinamarink (2023)

Now in theatres.

Welcome to the latest horror movie escape room: unfortunately it may provoke in even the most patient viewers an unwavering desire for that final moment of freedom through the multiplex exit door. A triumph of sustained, unblinking mood and atmosphere with an equally confounding sense of storytelling, Kyle Edward Ball’s little suspense movie that could, Skinamarink (C+) is an admirable micro budgeted cult curiosity. It feels like an art project brought to life as two largely off-camera preschoolers roam their house in the middle of the night, whispering (with necessary subtitles) about missing parents, noting vanished windows and observing their toys are moving on their own to the soundscape of diabolical public domain cartoons. It’s likely the first found footage genre film to showcase such an ambitious unfinished Lego project or highlight how many low budget ways filmmakers can show a toilet disappear. Ball employs an intriguing grainy film stock to invoke a sort-of 1995 with some creepy objects and angles and a few choice “audio jump scares” in what is otherwise the very definition of a slow burn. Yes, the movie was evidently made for $15,000, but the subtitles required more proofreading and the TV sets needed frame rate adjustment. The story doesn’t sufficiently reveal themes or intentions; and although the ambiguity may stoke some viewers’ imaginations, it will leave many shaking their heads and some saying, “Hey, Blair Witch, hold my juice box.”

Movie Review: M3GAN (2023)

Now in theatres.

In a funkified morality tale fusing Frankenstein’s Monster and Gremlins, the invention in question is Gerard Johnstone’s M3GAN (B), an orphaned girl’s companion robot who proves to be more wired for overprotection than child’s play. Allison Williams is effective as a tightly wound toy maker who inherits a niece (game kid actress Violet McGraw) whose unusual bond with the automaton becomes increasingly concerning. The title character played by Amie Donald and the voice of Jenna Davis is a sass machine full of tangy twitches, and an ensemble including a funny Ronny Chieng becomes the prey-things for the uncanny valley of the doll. The endoskeleton of the story has been told many times before, but Johnstone imbues his entertaining enterprise with suspense, satire and panache. The musical numbers alone were unexpected and amusing, and the jump scares prove pretty fun for a PG-13 outing. The story sputters a bit toward the end, and the whole movie could have been much scarier; but it’s overall very crafty and creative and elicits some wily smiles. These android adventures in babysitting are largely a light horror hoot. 

Movie Review: Speak No Evil (2022)

Now on demand.

You’ll think twice accepting the invitation of a couple met on vacation offering to host your next holiday at their home after watching Christian Tafdrup’s unsettling suspense thriller Speak No Evil (B+). This is icy social satire of the highest order on a slow slide to all-out horror, filmed mostly in English with some sequences in Danish and Dutch, although nobody’s tourism bureau is likely to claim this prickly cautionary tale. The story showcases ways we dole out small compromises to accommodate and keep the peace with folks we don’t know all that well. Morten Burian and Fedja Van Huêt make the biggest impressions as two men with opposite approaches to nearly everything in life, which makes for a cauldron of conflict. Sidsel Siem Koch is also magnificent as the mom who’s a canary in the coal mine; the shock in her eyes based on different parenting approaches portends even more horrifying chasms. There’s very effective, absorbing drama here and hardly a false move, although the final act wraps a little too terrifyingly tidy. Fans of tightly wound, misanthropic movies will get their fix on this one.

Movie Review: Halloween Ends (2022)

In theatres and on Peacock streaming.

Subverting expectations for viewers who simply wanted a Michael Myers versus Laurie Strode showdown, director David Gordon Green completes his contemporary “H40” trilogy with equal parts dim wit and sequences dimly lit. Halloween Ends (C) is as shaggy as its nobody-asked-for-him new lead character (a game but underserved Rohan Campbell) giving Lost Boys vibes atop a motorcycle, lured into nocturnal darkness by what may be The Shape under a bridge ready to fully phantom menace a fresh faced friend into a co-conspiratorial baddie. Jamie Lee Curtis is here too, of course, and she’s a delight, but the story’s awkward flash forward defies credulity, leaving her spiritually stranded as she and her granddaughter played by Andi Matichak fend off their own harvest season demons. Following the effective 2018 reboot of a direct sequel to the chilling 1978 original and a misbegotten 2021 continuation, this 2022 installment seems to be going full Season of the Witch (i.e. what in terrifying tarnation does any of this have to do with anything?) for most of its duration before it finally gets to the mincemeat of the matter. There are guilty pleasures amidst the stab bag:  namely, some outrageous supporting characters and extremely awkward subplots. But despite slick production values, stunts and slayings, this finale barely sticks the landing. Among the junky jump scares and clunky split-cuts is a film that doesn’t deliver on scares or pathos in acceptable doses. It’s a Mary Jane candy of an occasion, petrified on the exterior and only mildly satisfying once you take the bite.

Movie Review: Smile (2022)

New from Paramount.

Put on your brave face because Parker Finn’s supernatural movie Smile (B) is one of the year’s most terrifying horror films. The plot follows a therapist, gracefully played by Sosie Bacon, who appears to be losing her mind after witnessing a bizarre tragedy involving a troubled patient, portrayed so well by Caitlin Stasey that the audience is spoiled by amazing acting early in the story. The film effectively unpacks the effects of trauma while supplying a steady stream of creepy visuals, jump scares and menacing mysteries. Bacon’s lead performance is consistently engaging, as is Robin Weigert as a tightly wound psychiatrist. Finn keeps the tension high and the emotions raw but relies a bit too often on unnecessarily fancy camera angles and cellphone calls as deus ex machina. The director keeps his grip and grimace so taut for so long that the narrative hardly has any pearly white fight left in it for the final showdowns. This movie is undoubtedly a good time for horror lovers and a solid entry into the genre.

Movie Review: Pearl (2022)

Pearl movie by A24
Now on demand.

When making this year’s ‘70s set horror film X, director Ti West also filmed a secret WWI era prequel, Pearl: An X-traordinary Origin Story (B-), and it’s the eerie crackup tale of the titular killer set amidst a corn pone maze of vintage Technicolor trappings. The handsome Hollywood production design on an isolated farm and an old-fashioned nearby town blended with Grand Guignol grotesquerie is consistently fascinating to watch even though the total package feels a bit obligatory. Mia Goth is brilliant in the central role, showcasing mania simmering slightly below and very highly above the surface in a series of escalating, campy and terrifying sequences. You truly can’t take your eyes off her. Tandi Wright is delightfully icy as her controlling mom; there are definitely Carrie vibes here. West’s stylized hues and horrors are largely a wonder to behold, although the color tones get more consistent attention than the themes and story beats. Some prescient subplots involving the Spanish Flu pandemic and an adjacent alligator are given short shrift, and one curious theatrical monologue doesn’t quite stick the cinematic landing. The film’s crafts including its score are roundly impressive, making the movie a triumph of style over substance. This is a slasher flick for the indie film set; but when you strip away the sparkling artifice, it’s sometimes not quite as special as its glamorous aspirations might imagine.

Movie Review: Barbarian (2022)

September 9 in theatres from 20th Century Studios. Now on demand.

The infamous Bates Motel has nothing on the vacation rental home at the center of Zach Cregger’s creative horror movie Barbarian (B), where two intriguing perfect strangers played by Georgina Campbell and Bill Skarsgård (“Pennywise” of It himself, a kind of Everyman without clown makeup) find they are mysteriously both booked the same night. Somehow there’s a feeling they may stay a while. It would be a Meet Cute if it weren’t so immediately creepy. Add in some toxic masculinity in the form of a crafty performance by Justin Long and some uneasy subplots which could make you wish for another infant formula shortage, and you have the strange elements of one of the most twisty terror fests of the year. Campbell is very committed to the protagonist role even though her mistake-prone character makes some outrageous decisions. Sometimes it feels she is playing into the audience’s delight at watching her make a decathlon of debacles, with parts of the plot clearly leaning into laughs. Cregger’s series of magic tricks, played so well in the first acts, sags a bit in the prestige. There are also a series of elevated horror concepts not sufficiently fleshed out. But overall it’s a bonkers good time with high production values (talk about a trap house!) and genuine psychological suspense. If you enjoyed last year’s Malignant or this year’s X, this feisty fright flick should be your jam.

Movie Review: Bodies Bodies Bodies (2022)

Now in theatres from A24.

Texting is vexing, words are blunt instruments and smartphones illuminate the unexpected in Halina Reijn’s dark comic horror movie Bodies Bodies Bodies (C+). This meta whodunit featuring a quintet of Gen Z actresses playing wealthy semi-strangers engaged in hardcore house-partying trades magnifying glasses for digital devices to examine a killing spree. The film, with its land grab of lewd lexicon and triggering aplenty, feels oddly hatched in a sassy sociology class. Reijn is fixated on allegory over actual scares while uncovering the carapace and contradiction among women of gentle demeanor becoming merciless in an Insta. Amandla Stenberg and Maria Bakalava seize some of the best acting moments, and Pete Davidson is a riot as a slacker and truth teller. The film’s most distinctive features are its lighting and cinematography, exploring a gleefully glowing aesthetic in the increasingly dark domicile. Whether the ensemble is intended to be the object of affection or ridicule, the group is fairly unlikable, which can distance the viewers from caring deeply. Despite some occasionally curious satirical ideas, this movie is hardly more frightening than a wi-fi outage.

Movie Review: They/Them (2022)

Now streaming on Peacock.

Those harboring horror film history will have a sixth sense of what you get when it’s Kevin Bacon plus sleepaway camp: it’s not a lucky day for the teen participants. John Logan’s new film They/Them (B) is pronounced “they slash them,” and although it’s sometimes more effective as social commentary than horror movie, it’s often a riveting and surprisingly sensitive psychological adventure. Theo Germaine is absorbing as the non-binary protagonist in a talented LGBTQ ensemble, with Anna Chlumsky and Carrie Preston among the standout counselors at an outdoor conversion camp further complicated by the presence of a masked killer. Kevin Bacon is solid as the seemingly mild mannered but possibly sadistic camp leader; the actor clearly liked the concept enough to be a behind the scenes producer as well. The body count is punctuated by sterling doses of intimate drama and even a jubilant singalong to a Pink anthem. Just when folks thought it was safe to be out of the closet, this twisty tale provides refreshing riffs by the queer and loathing, especially when the usual roles occupied by damsels in distress are  magnificently reversed and empowered. This is unexpected fare in the streaming wilderness of late summer.

Movie Review: The Black Phone (2022)

Now in theatres from Universal Pictures.

Ethan Hawke has made some of the seminal movies about growing up and coming of age, and his casting against type as a terrifying child abductor and serial murderer in Scott Derrickson’s ‘70s-set scary movie The Black Phone (B+) is one of the project’s genius original flourishes. But the child actors Mason Thames and Madeleine McGraw playing the lead siblings in this extremely entertaining film are the revelations that hold the puzzle pieces together. These charming teens are a delight, and their characters make way fewer novice mistakes in facing down their adversaries than those in typical slasher flicks. The grounded direction is taut and the story satisfying as the voices of past kidnapping victims lend the protagonist the courage to face his captor via the titular device. Some of the supernatural elements could have used a bit more explaining, but superb character work and period detail help propel the movie into the top-tier of recent elevated horror films. For its genuine performances and highly competent story beats alone, this film is a thrilling callback.

Movie Review: Men (2022)

In theatres.

It’s possible for an elevated horror film to be so contemplative that it floats right above rational headspace. Alex Garland’s ambitious but only partially successful Men (C+) centers on Jessie Buckley as a widowed London woman who goes on a solo holiday in the English countryside but becomes disturbed by the men in the community. There’s sledgehammer allegory aplenty (sometimes as obvious as a big bite from the fruit of the courtyard apple tree) but ultimately lots of Garland’s creative visual flourishes including some “body horror” conceits haven’t been seen before. Viewers will soon know and appreciate why ensemble player Rory Kinnear is creepy menace personified. The film’s standout star though is Buckley, fresh off an Oscar nomination, who communicates bravery and dread in both plausible and outlandish parts of the story. Garland’s vision mostly exceeds his grasp in this outing, but he brings genuine characterization and suspense to the first two acts before the plot gets more toxic and off the rails than anyone expected.