Broadcast Signal Intrusion (2021)

Quick Synopsis: In the late 1990s, a video archivist unearths a series of sinister pirate broadcasts and becomes obsessed with uncovering the conspiracy behind them.

To start, I should clarify the title, it refers to when someone hijacks a television or radio signal to broadcast something. So when I refer to an intrusion, that’s what I mean. For a real life instance of it, look up the Max Headroom incident. I mentioned that to both explain the concept of signal intrusions, and also to explain the “Max Headf*ck” excerpt I used. It wasn’t just me being crude, it was actually a super pretentious reference.

That’s not better is it?

These reviews are personal opinion. They always have been, and I’ve made no attempt to hide or deny that. That’s why some films which aren’t technically great get worse reviews than others. It’s why stuff like Table 19 (Rotten Tomatoes Score: 26%) receives a more positive review than Don’t Breathe (Rotten Tomatoes: 88%). There are some films which I just don’t gel with. Movies are all about preference, there’s no point in me recommending a film to someone if I know they won’t like it, just because “it’s directed really well”. I say all of that to preface this: there are some people who absolutely love this film and consider it one of the best horror films of the year, but I’m not among those people.

I get what the film is going for, and it has moments of true greatness. Everybody involved is obviously incredibly talented, it does a lot of things better than most horror films. I particularly like how it displays the film title on colour bars on-screen within the film. I don’t know why but I like when films make the title card exist within the film itself. I’m also a fan of how it used sound, particularly in the intrusions themselves, where there’s almost a wall of sound that the audience is banging its head against. The intrusions themselves are genuinely creepy and disturbing, which is always good. This film also creates a really compelling story and mystery that you want to find out.

That’s where it let me down. It is so concerned with being mysterious and asking questions, that it doesn’t answer those questions. You can get away with that if it’s a weird and esoteric film, but this is mostly normal (with the exception of intrusions). If it went into weirdness more then the lack of a cohesive narrative would have been acceptable. I’ll clarify what I mean by “lack of cohesive narrative”, it’s possible to describe this plot in a way that makes sense, but it involves missing out on a lot of the details. Details like “who made that phone call?”, “Where did that character go?” etc. So the synopsis makes sense, but the plot does not. I know some people like mystery, and I do at times, but not when it’s like this. Mysteries should enhance a film, not be used as an excuse to not answer questions. I recently watched the rerelease of the classic John Carpenter version of The Thing. That ends with an unanswered question: are both the characters still human? That’s a question that people have discussed for years. But if the film started with that question, and had a spooky voice stop the characters from making progress in answering it, then it would be annoying.

It’s not helped by how reminiscent it is of last year’s Censor. It’s not close enough that it feels like the same movie, but it is close enough that comparisons are inevitable. It’s a bit like someone took the script of Censor, played Chinese Whispers with it, and then made a film of the resultant script. It’s bad luck as I think they were developed around the same time, so there’s no way they influenced each other, it’s just bad timing on my part to have seen that first. I do feel bad about comparing the two, but I think part of that is due to how disappointed I am with this film in general. I love the unique idea of it, and the performances are all fantastic. Harry Shum Jr will get the plaudits, and rightfully so, but I feel you can’t ignore how talented Kelley Mack and Jennifer Jelsema are when they’re on screen. Mack, in particular, has a very bright future if she can pull off more performances like this. That’s what this film is to me, a possible footnote in a future favourite film. Jacob Gentry directs it wonderfully, and his choice of jazz music for a lot of it instead of a more traditional horror movie score is inspired.

If you’re a fan of more esoteric, dreamlike cinema, then you’ll appreciate this. If you prefer more straightforward watching, then I’d say avoid this as you’ll find it frustrating.

Nope (2022)

Quick Synopsis: Aliens

Time changes a film. Despite the fact I have only watched it once, my opinions on IT: Chapter 2 are very different now than they are when I left the cinema after seeing it. Now I’ve had time for the mistakes of that film to bounce around my head a bit more, the inconsistencies in plotting have made themselves known. I have the opposite feeling with this film, I came out thinking “that was okay”, and if I reviewed it immediately, or even that day, this review would mostly be about how disappointed I was with it, how I’m worried Peele has slightly lost it and the lack of a big twist and that special “something” let it down, that the film veered off into strange diversions that just slowed the plot down.

But I just couldn’t forget about certain parts of this film, and then I realised certain things. My brain recognised thematic continuity, it realised the diversions weren’t really diversions, they were character explanations that said a lot about humanity and how they exploit things for entertainment purposes. It’s ironic that this film is about being watched, as it seems to be spending its entire runtime staring back, judging the audience for their participation in cruel acts. Once this film had time to breathe and spread itself through the recesses of my mind I realised this is actually genius. I’ve heard of a film being described as a slow burner, but “a week after you leave the cinema” is taking the piss a bit. A lot of people won’t like that, you don’t want to have to sit there and analyze a film to enjoy it. You shouldn’t have to delve deep into the themes to enjoy a film, but I think you do for this. An alien invasion film should be mass-market, and though Peele’s previous work has been highbrow, they’ve also been instantly accessible in a way that I’m not entirely sure this is.

I mean, it makes sense as a film, but if you watch it and don’t think about it, then it’s just going to be “okay”, if anything it’s going to seem too simple. It’s only when you think about it that the complexities reveal themselves. It’s kind of frustrating that that’s the case because it means it’s hard to defend this film without sounding like an obnoxious prick “no no, that was there because it’s about how that animal was being watched by a room full of people showing their teeth and it interpreted it as a violent gesture and lashed out. This ties into the main themes because humans feel they can control things when they can’t, they forget basic animal instincts and get cocky which leads to their destruction, it led to the deaths on set, and to the mass deaths in the theme park, it’s ALL CONNECTED”.

It’s a shame as this VERY smart and deserves plaudits. It looks fantastic, there’s a lot tension when there needs to be, and the performances are amazing. I do highly recommend this, but there is a chance you just won’t like. It’s one of those “1 or 5 star” films, I don’t think there’s an in between. But I’d rather that than a “meh” film.

She Will (2021)

Quick Synopsis: An ageing film star (Veronica, played by Alice Krige) retreats to the Scottish countryside with her nurse to recover from surgery. While there, mysterious forces of revenge emerge from the land where witches were burned.

I am aware I have huge gaps in my pop culture knowledge, so forgive my ignorance when I ask this question: is Alice Krige a big deal? Because after watching this, it feels like she should be. She carries herself brilliantly in this. If anyone is looking to remake Sunset Boulevard, you’d be hard-pushed to find someone to step into Gloria Swanson’s shoes than Krige. But also, don’t remake Sunset Boulevard you dicks. Her performance is a real highlight in this, it feels slightly exaggerated, but only because the character is a fading actress, so her whole personality is exaggerated. If she was too “real” and grounded you wouldn’t have that “she used to be a star” feeling, and if she was TOO exaggerated she wouldn’t feel real, and some of the moments would come off more comedic than creepy.

The supporting cast all have their chance to shine, although you sometimes wish some of them were in it a bit more. It’s only 95 minutes long and I feel another 10 minutes or so might have helped it. There are glimpses that Malcolm McDowell’s character is highly regarded, but if the film had more time then we would have had a better glimpse of how famous he is in this universe. Is he a “known in Britain” actor, is he a “known by film buffs” actor, or is he a “respected and known by the world” actor? If we knew more about that, we would know more about the influence he had on Veronica’s life and it would help to flesh out the story. He is on verge of knighthood, but is it a “and now you’re put out to pasture” one?

I feel like “Post #metoo horror” is now a genre. In the last few years, there has been a definite increase in female-created horror films about women fighting back against male oppression and patriarchal power structures. I don’t know enough to judge whether there’s been an increase in those stories being made, or whether the ones being made now have more eyes on them, either way, stuff like this is very important to see. But since it is a delicate subject, it can be tricky to pull off well without seeming like it’s retreading old ground. There are moments where this does dip into the cliche, particularly with some of the visuals, and “this area is where witches were punished” is used a lot, to the point where it feels like it’s replaced “ancient Indian burial ground” as a horror trope. It does take it into an interesting direction though. It’s not enough that “bad shit went down here”, it’s not a therapy retreat where the people there praise the earth as being good for your health “because of all the ashes from women who were burnt as witches”, so its not enough that bad stuff happened, it’s the commercialisation of those awful events. Burning women wasn’t enough, they’re now exploiting their memories and deaths. It would be like if Dachau sold foundation powder mixed in with ashes from the rooms. It’s dark, horrific when you think about it, yet not entirely surprising. It does feel like that moment is there to influence the character, it doesn’t seem to go as deep into the notion of systematic oppression as it should.

This is the feature directorial debut of Charlotte Colbert, who also wrote it. She has a bright future in horror. Her main background is in photography and multi-media sculptures, and her knowledge of photography comes through in some of the ways the film is shot. She approaches them in a way that tells you the story with the way everything is framed, you could watch this with the sound off and still get a pretty solid idea of what is happening, based solely on the choices of shots used. Of particular note is when Veronica arrives at the lodge. Before that, you think it’s going to be a film about isolation and her losing her mind with nobody near her. So when she opens the door and is met with a room full of people you’re just as shocked as she is. Then there are a lot of really claustrophobic shots of everybody approaching her, it does a great job of putting you in her shoes.

Just because you can watch it in silence, doesn’t mean you should. Clint Mansell does a fantastic score, as he normally does. And the sound design is pretty fun throughout, there’s a moment where someone’s hand starts burning, and the sound is weirdly wonderful, it’s almost crackling, as if the world itself is coming apart.

That leads to the downside though, the film is very stop-start, it doesn’t keep momentum well at all. The fire incident, for example, doesn’t really have a narrative follow-up. The narrative is where Colbert’s inexperience as a writer shows. It tries to do much, and sometimes feels like it lacks identity. It has a lot to say, and I feel that if it tried to say less, it could end up saying more. There’s enough material here for three films, but now Colbert has put them all in the same film, it will make it harder for her to explore those themes again without it feeling like she’s retreading old ground.

In summary: a noble effort, and one with a lot to say. It’s definitely worth watching if you can, but you do feel it’s slightly on the cusp of something much better than it is.

Unhuman (2022)

Quick Synopsis: Seven misfit students must band together against a growing gang of zombies

Was really looking forward to this. It looked like it was going to be funny, violent, and slick. Basically I thought this was going to do with zombies what Freaky did with body swap cÍomedies. It’s not quite there, but that is what it’s aiming for. It’s definitely trying to do that, but it’s just not good enough to reach it.

Directing and editing are a bit like making a soufflé, there’s a fine line between perfection and the whole thing collapsing in on itself. This tries so hard to be slick and cool, but is too visually busy at times. Even scenes which are just conversations are overstylized to the point where it’s almost comical. There’s one in particular at the start where there’s an edit which is definitely a conscious choice, but feels like a mistake.

The directing and the writing are the weakest parts of this. The whole thing feels weirdly dated, to a very specific time too: the late 90’s early 2000’s. All that’s missing is a nu-metal soundtrack. There’s a cool mid-point plot twist that is pretty surprising, but I feel like it needs to be set up better. It also comes at a weird time, around halfway through. If it happened earlier then it would be the inciting incident and would set the film up as different from its contemporaries. If it happened later than it would propel the film into a chaotic third act, but it happens in the wrong place to achieve either. It also doesn’t do that thing that great twists do, you don’t sit there thinking “I’m going to watch this again and catch all the clues that led to this reveal”.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pretty damn good twist, and very cleverly thought of, it’s just poorly executed. Probably would have been helped if the characters were better, they’re so poorly defined that you could swap the characters at multiple points and it wouldn’t affect the story that much. They don’t feel like they have a relationship outside of this film, their lives begin and end when the film does.

There are some promising moments though: the bus crash itself is very well shot. Although there’s a moment in it where someone bashes their head on the chair in front and gets a broken nose. But the impact itself is weirdly flat and if it wasn’t for the CGI blood you wouldn’t think it did any damage. There’s a great split-second moment afterwards though where a guy is handed a menstrual pad to pass over to the broken nose girl to help clean up the blood. The pad is new and in an unopened box, but the guy still acts with utter revulsion. I don’t know whether that was the actor’s decision or the director’s, but it was really smart and so funny.

The cast? It’s okay. The main star is Brianne Tju, better known for being in TV adaptations of 90s horror films, which is a weird niche to be in. Drew Scheid also seems to have found a niche as “nice guy in a horror movie who turns out to be creepy”. There are no real standout performances, you mostly get “wait, where do I know that person from?”. It was released by Paramount yet the whole thing SCREAMS “Made for MTV” in terms of casting.

It feels like it’s influenced by the John Hughes movies of the 80s, but doesn’t seem to understand what made those films work. It’s not enough to just have “here’s a jock, and here’s a fat kid, and a shy girl, all trapped together”, you need to have heart. You need a warmth to the whole thing. There needs to be an emotional lynchpin to base the situation around so that you can relate, and this lacks that.

It’s a shame as I had a lot of hope for this, and it’s a shame that it ended up being so disposable and forgetful. Also, and I appreciate this is a weird criticism: it’s nowhere near as gay as it should be.

You Are Not My Mother (2021)

Quick synopsis: In a North Dublin housing estate, Char’s mother goes missing. When she returns, there’s something “different” about her.

I will always be a sucker for a slow-burn horror film. Don’t get me wrong, I adore a fast-paced slasher with blood from the outset. But there’s a weird sense of satisfaction I get from watching the closing section of a slow-burner, when everything comes together and the tension starts ramping up. This is one of those, it’s not the quickest film, not going to be one where you’re sitting there thrilled throughout. But it is one where you’ll be watching and enjoying. It’s the cinematic equivalent of when you read a book by the fire, and you’re so hooked that you finish the whole book in one night. It’s genuinely a compelling watch. It’s set in Ireland, the quiet modern world providing a lovingly simple backdrop to the haunting narrative. That’s the best location for this story, I feel if it was in a large city it wouldn’t have the cosy familiarity that it needs to work. It would also require a different type of audio, you’d need the sound of the hustle and bustle of city life, so you couldn’t get the silence and the darkness that this needs for the narrative to breathe.

That’s the best way to talk about one of the possible downsides of this film, it is slow, and that won’t be for everyone. There are also some plot points which are started, but not really closed. I know that closure is unrealistic, but there are some things which feel like they’re forgotten. Trouble is, I’m not entirely sure how you could have closed them without disrupting the narrative. It’s really tricky, and really picky of me to point out. You also get the feeling that this might work better as a short, it does struggle to fill the length sometimes. There are also moments where characters don’t question things which they probably should, it feels like this is just because if they asked questions and investigated, the film would be over quicker.

This is Kate Dolan’s debut feature as both a writer and a director. She’s found success in her shorts, creating the award-winning Catcalls back in 2017. There’s been a lot of promising debuts over the last few years, particularly in horror, especially from female creators. Some have shown promise (Umma), some have shown potential but aren’t quite there yet (How To Deter A Robber), and some instantly get you into the creator (Censor). This is up there towards the higher quality, I won’t exactly rush out and have a NEED to watch everything she has done, but if I’m watching a trailer and I see the words “By Kate Dolan”, it will be the deciding factor about the film. She has a great talent at narrative misdirection, but then making it seem like the ending was the only possible way, almost like it’s mocking you for thinking one thing was true. Her directing is pretty much spot on too. She knows when to inject suspense into a scene, and when to have it play like a drama. The biggest compliment I can give her as a director is it’s a horror movie that doesn’t feel like a horror movie. That’s a weird point I know, so I’ll just explain it. Often things in horror movies only happen because they’re horror movies: there are people just walking around a house while creepy music plays and they’re terrified. But if you think of it from their reality, they don’t hear the music, so what are they scared of? It makes you very aware you’re watching a movie. This plays out like a drama, so when the horror moments happen, the grounding in reality that the film has established means the horror feels real. These aren’t characters in a horror movie, these are real characters who are living, and are having a horror movie happen to them.

Her work is aided by the performances, the central 3 (Ingrid Craigle, Hazel Doupe, and Carolyn Bracken) work so well together that I could watch a film that’s just the three of them in a room talking for 90 minutes. Carolyn deserves special mention purely because of how physically demanding her role as the mother (and “mother”) is. She technically plays two roles and carries herself differently in both. There’s one scene in particular where she shines and is a great example of her talent. She’s dancing around the room, very graceful and elegant. But then it gets weird, and the dancing has a strange, almost violent energy to it. It is still elegant, but it’s a violent elegance that is beautiful to watch but also terrifying.

That’s how I sum up this film: terrifying elegance. The biggest disappointment is that it’s on Netflix and I didn’t get to see it at the cinema.

The Black Phone (2021)

Quick synopsis: Finney is a young child kidnapped by The Grabber in this adaptation of a Joe Hill short story.

A few weeks ago I reviewed Firestarter, it’s okay if you’ve forgotten, give me a few weeks and I’m going to forget everything about it too. One thing I do remember is thinking that it should have led with the opening credits. This is similar, the actual opening of the film is standard horror movie “develop doomed character” but only really giving them one trait so you don’t really feel too much fear from their death. It feels like it’s there just because “well this is horror movies start, right?”. It introduces you to the main character too, and his relationship with the kid who dies, but both of those could have been developed more naturally throughout the film. It flashbacks and explains the connection between the two characters later on anyway, so not as though you miss much.

In contrast, the opening credits are really well-done. They’re super creepy and disturbing, like a home video which you know ends in tragedy. If the rest of the film was like that I would have enjoyed it a lot more. It just feels a bit……well you can tell it’s adapted from a short story. It doesn’t really have the momentum to carry itself through a full-length film. It feels a bit stop and start so never really gathers enough pace to really be exciting or scary. The idea of a small child being locked in a basement and getting help from the ghosts of previous victims is an intriguing one, but because that doesn’t happen until quite a way into the narrative, the situation never feels as helpless as it actually is. The section of that character in the basement either needs to be longer so we feel his pain and despair, or needs to be shorter so that it’s the final section.

The pacing as a whole is a bit weird, but thankfully the performances are great. There are moments where some of the child actors are slightly weak, but that’s to be expected. Plus, the true star of this is Ethan Hawke. If Johnny Depp turns out to be a genocidal dictator and the industry needs to remake all his films with a different performer, Hawke wouldn’t be a bad shout. He has a dangerous playfulness to him that makes him seem both weirdly endearing but also terrifying. I get why they don’t have him in it that much, if you over-used that character you do risk either watering him down, making him sympathetic, or giving too much information about him away and thus reducing the mystique around him. They could do a slightly better job of building up the legend of The Grabber. The only people who discuss him are the kids. So you don’t really get the idea of a town in fear. Compare this to Halloween Kills, that film truly made Haddonfield feel like a town scared. I know this was the 70’s, and people were slightly more blasé about child safety, but you get the feeling that the parents would be more cautious about the safety of their children when there’s someone going around abducting them.

To end this on a positive, the ending section where al the kids knowledge builds together to create the perfect escape method is a great piece of scriptwriting, it’s very narratively satisfying to see it all come together like it does. Also, when the ghosts first appear the film shows the lives of the children leading up their demise. It’s incredibly simple but effective, instantly providing emotional backstory to what otherwise could be fairly flat characters.

So in summary: not one of the best horror movies you’re likely to see, but one of the most interesting of the last few years.

Firestarter (2022)

Quick summary: Andy (Zac Efron), and Vicky (Sydney Lemmon) are a couple who have powers given to them by their participation in an experimental government trial. Together they have a child, Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), who has the ability to set fires with her mind. When Charlie finds her powers harder and harder to control, her parents try to hide her from government officials who wish to use her as a weapon.

I went into this with trepidation. I was excited by the trailer, but I felt that the actual film would let me down. It matched expectations, by which I mean it let me down.

There’s nothing inherently terrible about it. It’s just incredibly dull. Part of it is that there doesn’t seem to be any passion involved in making it. There doesn’t seem to be a reason for this to be remade besides “we could”. It’s reminiscent of The Omen remake from 2006. Keith Thomas only has only directed one feature-length film before (The Vigil), and his inexperience shines through here, where there’s no sense of a continuous style. His visual style really doesn’t mesh well with the music. John Carpenter’s score is very synth-heavy and almost future-retro, but the visuals are just pedestrian. It’s like the music is neon, and the visuals are fire.

The blame isn’t all his though, the script is also quite weak. Some reviews have picked up on this, and how the writer was also responsible for Halloween Kills. Personal opinion, I absolutely loved that film, because it did something different and focused on the effect on the wider town. But this is lacking what I enjoyed about that. A lot of the background characters are there for plot purposes. The childhood bullies, in particular, walk the line between being unbearably cruel to the point the teachers would pull them up on it, or not really being bullies at all, just saying “hey, you’re weird”. The adults aren’t much better, almost all of them just being walking cliches. It’s a shame as the performances are pretty solid without. Zac Efron has matured into someone who is surely due a role which gives him a chance to get award nominations. Essentially, give him the roles that you would have given DiCaprio 15 years ago. Ryan Kiera Armstrong has to carry a lot of this on her back, and considering she’s only 12 years old she does an amazing job. She probably gives the best performance in this, my only criticism of this is that she reminds me of McKenna Grace, which makes me disappointed it wasn’t her in this (although that wouldn’t have improved the film tbh).

There are some weird choices in the script. I will say it’s not all bad though, a scene where they meet an older gentleman and he gives them shelter for the night is what this film should have been more like: good character work, plus it showcases the paranoia that the general public would have towards her if they found out, so highlights exactly WHY the family have been in hiding for so long. It showcases a world bigger than these characters, and for a brief moment, everything feels real. It also has genuine emotion. Now I’ve talked about the good, onto the bad; the opening scene is Charlie as a baby, setting her bedroom alight. It’s not that exciting an opening. It’s just there to demonstrate her powers, which means that there’s no waiting for it to happen because we’ve already seen it. It would be like if Godzilla opened with a full-grown Godzilla destroying a city, a waste of what we’re there for. Now I know really we’re not there for a small fire, we’re there for a large “BURN EVERYTHING” roaring rampage of vengeance, but that’s in the trailer. So really you’ve got nothing to look forward to while watching this.

What makes the opening more baffling is if you cut that section out, it would have one of the strongest opening sections of the year. The need for a “small scene before the credits” have never harmed a film as much as it does here. If this opened with the credits, it would be a much stronger movie. Not just because it would cut out an unneeded scene, but also because the opening credits are great. They’re video recordings of the parents volunteering for medical experiments. Just short recordings that look dated. It’s a great way to set the film up, and the characters. It would make it seem like the parents are fully-fledged characters instead of the background ones they seem now.

Of course, there is always a possibility that was a decision made in the edit. Which is how I’m going to clumsily segue into talking about one of the worst edits I’ve seen. At least, I think it’s an edit, it’s either that or an atrocious line delivery. There’s a moment where it seems like Sydney Lemmon’s character stops mid-sentence. Not “trails off as she loses her train of thought”, she gets halfway through a sentence and then just stops talking. It’s just as the camera cuts away too, so even if it was a bad delivery, editing on that moment just highlights it. A bit like in Killer Kate when the music stopped at the exact point the characters stopped talking just highlighted the silence and made me think the version I was watching was broken. An editor’s job should be to hide those issues, not highlight them.

There’s just a sense that nobody cares about. The director already said there have been discussions of it being a franchise, either in a sequel, prequel, or spin-off. So he’s not thinking “No, I didn’t tell you enough, there are all these things in this cinematic universe that I want to explore” otherwise he’d know how he wants to franchise it. The studio just wants to franchise it for the sake of franchising it.

It’s a summary of how the whole thing feels, nobody knows why they’re doing what they’re doing, and what they’re doing isn’t that great.

Studio 666 (2022)

Quick synopsis: The Foo Fighters move into a mansion steeped in grisly rock ‘n’ roll history to record an album. Spooky shit happens.

Horror is a strange genre, it’s incredibly self-referential and is a genre that really rewards people who are familiar with it. You occasionally get that with comedy as well, but not so much. And very rarely happens with dramas, you don’t often get homages to A Star Is Born in West Side Story, for example. But it’s encouraged in horror, and it can be a lot of fun.

This is definitely a film which rewards you if you’re a fan of the genre. It has so many references to old horror movies. Some might be accidental (is someone hanging themselves and crashing through a window a reference to The Omen or just a good visual?), but some definitely aren’t. The whole thing looks like it was a lot of fun to make.

Horror is a director’s medium, and you’d be forgiven for going into this with trepidation. Not just because it stars musicians, but the director (BJ McDonnell) has a history in documentaries and music videos, with his only horror directorial credit being Hatchet 3 back in 2013. He does a really good job here. There are issues with this film, but almost none of them are due to the directing. He has a great sense of when to use silence, and when to amp up the noise. This is actually a really solid film, much more so than the only film I can really compare it to, Punk Rock Holocaust, which you can really only enjoy if you’re a fan of the musicians involved. I’m not that big a fan of Foo Fighters tbh, I’ve liked some of their songs, but never really felt that appreciation for them over a whole album. Despite that, I still liked this film. Fans of the Foo Fighters will get a lot more out of it, but even those who don’t will still find a lot to enjoy about it, maybe not if they didn’t like horror films, actually definitely not if they don’t enjoy horror films.

Now onto the bad. It’s a bit weird they all know of Dream Widow (the band who all died at the start) but don’t know that they’re currently recording in the house they died in. Fans of Nirvana would know if they were recording in the house Kurt Cobain died in. Plus, let’s face it, if they were really touted as the next big thing, then that house wouldn’t be abandoned, it would be a tourist spot.

It tries to play off “Dave Grohl is the killer” as a reveal, but we already knew that, it was very obvious. In fact, most of the supposed twists were really obvious, to the point where they aren’t really twists. I mean, their manager said “oh, you want a place? I’ll find you a place”, makes a phone call to someone and says “send them there”, he obviously knows about the possessions etc. It’s weird the film treats us like we don’t. Also, the manager should have been in it more. He only appears at the beginning and the end. He should have been seen in cutaways during the film, phoning up the band to check on their progress.

The performances are pretty good throughout. Nothing special but not really many too awful. Considering most people in the film are musicians, it’s weird that the worst performer is Whitney Cummings, who has acting experience. It’s only really her performance that takes you out of the film. Well, that and some of the cameos, appreciated as they were. I mean, it was cool to see John Carpenter on film, he did a cracking job on the soundtrack btw, the music is creepy as hell. Very cool.

So in summary, quite good, but does feel like it’s a horror designed to be watched with friends while drinking rather than watching alone in the dark whilst terrified.

Umma (2022)

Synopsis: A woman’s quiet life on an American farm takes a terrifying turn when the remains of her estranged mother arrive from Korea.

It’s been a few days since I’ve seen this film, and it now annoys me that I saw it. Not because it’s bad, or offensive etc. It annoys me because this is the directorial debut of Iris K.Shim (at least in terms of feature lengths). Such a shame because I wanted to delve into her back catalogue, where I’d be sure to find a hidden gem. It is only 83 minutes long, once you take out credits you’re looking at about 75 I’d guess. So it’s not much to base it on, but she does enough in that short time to show just what she’s capable of.

She gets what makes a horror movie work. It’s not enough to have bad things happen to the characters. We need to actually give a shit about the people. That’s often where long-running horror franchises go wrong, they focus more on the villain (Freddy, Michael Myers etc) and leave everybody else underdeveloped, so we end up cheering the killer, because they’re the only defined character in it. Compare that to the first Nightmare movie, where Nancy was a bigger part of it, we supported her, we wanted her to survive and when she panicked, we were scared. It’s amazing how likeable characters make a horror movie actually scary. This does a good job of making us care about everyone. Key to this is that they don’t feel like characters in a horror movie, they feel like characters who a horror movie happens to. So it all feels more real. We don’t judge them based on “but you’re in a horror movie, why would you do that?”, we judge them based on reality.

It also does a good job of setting the character dynamics. Sandra Oh’s character (Amanda) feels her mother was overbearing and she wants to get free of her, meanwhile she’s annoyed her daughter wants to live her own life, and she’s fully unaware of the irony of those two conflicting beliefs. That’s what drives this movie, it’s not “spooky spooky ghost ghost”, it’s “character realises they’re turning into what they hate, and they need to stop repeating the cycles of abuse and neglect”. She is slightly like her mother too, just in different ways. Her mother was an abusive asshole, whereas she’s more ignorant of how the choices she makes effects her daughter, who doesn’t really have any friends, and is guilt-tripped into staying and helping the business. You feel the daughters isolation, and the pain it causes her. But you also understand Amanda doing what she does. It’s a film that inspires conversation about what should be done.

The relationship between Amanda and her deceased mother is key to the film working too. Even though there’s a history of abuse, you can still feel the connection between the two, the warmth in her eyes when Amanda talks of the stuff handed down to her is genuine and shows that even though she was abused by her mother, and has escaped, she still feels a blood connection to her which makes it hard for her to completely escape from under her shadow and influence. This is backed up by when a relative tells her “The doctors say it was a heart attack, but I know it was your fault that she died” The speech that follows about how she’s useless and a disgrace for leaving her mother is astounding in a “okay and see why she’s the way she is”, it completely explains her motivations and personality. So well done, in a kind of horrifying if you think about it way.

Now onto the negative. Some of the jump scares are a bit too corny to work. It’s weird to have a really dramatic, well-written character exploration in a story of inherited trauma and abuse, and then have the line “I’ll show you a burial” and someone being dragged by a piece of clothing. Weirdly enough, the moments which are explicitly horror are the weakest parts. But part of that might be because of how expertly done the other parts were. In a lesser movie, they’d be the highlight. But that’s not the point, it’s not a “oh no jump out seat” horror, it’s a slowburner of a story, one that you can almost imagine being told by a campfire late at night, or as a morality tale to kids.

This has got some very negative reviews, and I feel that’s unfair. It’s a solid 6.9/10. Not great, but a good time-passer and not something I’d actively avoid if I was in the room while it was on TV. There will be better horror films this year, but it’s going to be difficult to have one with characters as well-written as they are in this.

X (2022)

Quick synopsis: A group of people try to film a porn movie at a cabin belonging to an old couple, who strongly oppose the idea and decide to show their thoughts on the matter by writing a strongly worded letter to the local council. No wait, they murder them.

If you are thinking of watching this, go see it at the cinema. Not because it’s particularly great and you need to watch it immediately, but because the title means it’s going to be a bitch to find on a streaming site.

Let’s get one thing out of the way; this is not for everybody. It’s heavily focused on sex and violence, so unless you’re comfortable with both of those things, you won’t like this. It doesn’t shy away from the violence, and it doesn’t shy away from the sex. The whole thing feels slightly grubby, which is something that works in its favour. This isn’t a modern film, it’s a 70’s throwback in terms of style. It does work a lot of the time, and Ti West is a talented enough director that you never forget the time period that it’s set in. Now, as anybody who read my review of Censor knows, I love my throwback films. Especially when it comes to horror. And I don’t shy away from films about sex and killing people (I mean, one of those things is my favourite thing to do on weekends). I also like films about film-making, and am not afraid to see them going weird, as seen in Black Bear). So in some ways, this film was designed for me, yet I’m not that fond of it.

Part of that is because of how it sometimes utilises the throwback style in terms of film-making. The gimmick of “it’s edited like a 70s film” actually kind of gets in the way sometimes. There are far-away shots that don’t really tell us anything, and moments where it cuts to something for a second and then cuts back. It’s jarring, but not in a “horror movie making me feel unsettled” way, but in a way “this was edited manually and they botched it”. So it feels less like a throwback love letter to a genre, and more, just incredibly dated.

My main issue though? The same issue I have with a lot of modern horror films. The same issue I had with The Gallows, Unfriended, Don’t Breathe, Escape Room 2, Fantasy Island: I don’t like the characters. They’re annoying, selfish, not that likeable. So when they die, you’re not sad, or emotionally affected at all. If anything, you’re relieved.

The only slightly sympathetic character is one of the killers. She has a tragic backstory and her motivations do kind of make sense, although it’s never clarified exactly why that drives her to murder. She doesn’t get as much focus as the other characters though. The film spends so much time developing doomed characters, and not the location. At one point one of the characters finds the rotting corpses of a naked man in the basement, and someone else finds (presumably) his car in the lake (in a delightful shout-out to Psycho). Those things are glossed over really quickly. Was that person the only one? Or do they have a long history of this? The film comes close to answering this. One of the characters escaped the couple, and overheard them talking about throwing a body in the river. The actual ending of this is in the trailer, one of the cops finding a camera, “what’s on there?” “probably some fucked up horror movie”, END!

So, is she the reason the police are there? If so, why aren’t they draining the lake? If not, then why are they there? There are no houses nearby for people to have overheard the commotion. Really, they’re there to bookend the story, but it’s done quite poorly. Just full-on ape the ending of Psycho and show the car being retrieved, and then news footage of the discovery of bodies, to let us know this wasn’t a one-time thing, they’ve been doing it for years. I mean, think of the shot that ends From Dusk Till Dawn, where the camera pulls out and you realise the bar is not only built on an Aztec temple, but there are hundreds of vehicles there, all of them belonging to drivers who didn’t survive previous nights there. It’s not talked about often but it’s one of my favourite ending shots because it provides a history to everything, it shows that this has happened a lot before, and we’re just lucky enough to see the ending of a story that’s been being told for years. It hints at hundreds of untold stories just like the one we witnessed, only with unhappier endings. As opposed to this, which ends with nothing of substance.

I think it tried substance, there’s a preacher being shown on the television throughout, and at the end, it’s revealed that the main character is his daughter, who ran away to star in porn. A reveal that changes………..absolutely nothing. It doesn’t change what we think of her, or the situation, or anybody else in the film. It adds absolutely nothing outside of irrelevant backstory. It might as well have ended with “And that house where all the murders happened? It used to be a slave ranch”. It’s like, “yeah, and? Who gives a shit, that’s not relevant. Stop padding your word count”.

None of this takes away from the unarguable talent of everybody involved. Mia Goth continues to usually be the best thing in every film she stars in. Jenna Ortega has a great “final girl” quality (as anybody who watched the new Scream can testify), Martin Henderson has a strange, slightly Matthew McConaughey-esque quality to his performance.

So in summary? Maybe see this, some of you will like this a lot more than I did, and some of you won’t. It just wasn’t for me.