Brahms: The Boy II (2020)

I’ll freely admit I did not see the first film, but I don’t think that matters as I’m not entirely sure the people who made this one did either considering how it seems to completely retcon the ending. Which raises the question: who is this film for? People who enjoyed the first one won’t like the change, and people who didn’t like it aren’t going to see this film as they would have been put off by the first one.

I suppose it would have been okay if the film was a remarkable improvement, but I doubt that’s the case. Like I said, I haven’t seen the first one, but there is no way it can be worse than this. It’s strange for a toy doll to not be the most wooden thing in a film. Nobody gives a good performance in this, and it’s not due to a lack of talent, it’s lack of effort. It’s nobody giving a single shit about this film. It’s directed without flair, how can someone who has directed 5 or 6 feature films before this seem so inexperienced? They’ve all been horror films too so it’s not as though he’s trying a new genre, he should be great at this by now. He should know how to subtly scare the audience and not be dependent on jump scares and babys-first-scares style of horror. This does not seem like it was directed with passion, by somebody who wants to make it the best he can. This seems like it was directed by computer, no emotion, no idea of why certain horror techniques are used, it just uses them because it feels it should.

The script……I watched this film four days ago and I still couldn’t tell you much of the plot. It left nothing on me. Nothing stood out in a positive way, and trust me, considering I’m writing a horror film, I pay attention to horror film scripts, even if only so I can get inspired. For a film to give me NOTHING I can use is almost admirable. Not a single shot, not a single moment, nothing, it gave me zero to work with. That’s incredible for a film that is nearly three hours long.

Wait, what’s that? It’s only 86 minutes long? Then why did it seem like it was taking ages to watch it?

Oh, okay.

Fantasy Island (2020)

I was actually excited about this. The idea of a group of people getting what they wish for but it leading to their destruction is perfect for a horror movie. Think about it, since there’s really no limits you get to showcase some incredible set-pieces full of imagination. You can use the characters wishes to display who they are as people. Plus the whole “be careful what you wish for” allows for some creative scripting as well, the idea of your dreams being cursed or not up to what you expected. That’s definitely not the case. The script is formulaic, as is the direction and performances. I’m mainly annoyed by two things, two major issues I had with the film:

  1. The horror wasn’t linked to the dreams.
  2. The ending.

I’ll go into them in further depth. The first one: the way the wishes end up causing deaths is not really linked to the wishes themselves, there’s no sense of clever Twilight Zone/Black Mirror karma going back to get you kind of thing. I’ll go through them here:

Melanie

The wish

She wants to torture someone she went to school with.

How it goes wrong

It turns out it’s not a hologram and she is actually torturing her. I’m going to go into this specific moment in more detail later on. It then gets darker as she breaks the woman free and they end up getting chased by the torturer. So it just becomes a standard slasher film.

What would have made sense

Simple; have Melanie kill her but then realise that revenge doesn’t fix everything and she’s haunted by the memory of what she did. When she tries to sleep at night all she can think of is what she did.

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JD And Brax

The wish

“having it all” Basically a massive party at a big house

How it goes wrong

The house used to belong to drug dealers who come to the house to kill everyone

What would have made sense

This could have been the most interesting. All they needed to do was show the toll that lifestyle takes. Basically have them trapped in a never-ending party, forever. No sleep, no rest, no escape. Every time they go to leave the building they’re transported back in, every time they sit down they get forced to join a conga line. Show lots of asshole strangers there who refuse to leave the party.

Gwen

The wish

To accept a marriage proposal she rejected years ago.

How it goes wrong

Okay this is where the film gets weird. She gets exactly what she wanted but realises that her new life with her now-husband and daughter doesn’t actually belong to her and she has memories which aren’t hers. Interesting concept for a horror movie, right? This was done magnificently in Happy Death Day 2 U, in this it lasts a few minutes and then she changes her mind and asks to go back to a hotel fire she caused. Now she’s there again she changes the past by………she doesn’t. The fire still happens. It’s very important to the plot though as she sees everybody else from the island (minus Melanie) there on the night of the fire. So really this only happens for plot reasons.

What would have made sense

Have you seen The Butterfly Effect? Make it that. Show how her decision would have impacted her life; have it mean she failed in her career etc. Basically, have her first wish matter.

Patrick

The wish

To be in the army like his dad.

How it goes wrong

The army think he’s pretending to be a soldier and hold him hostage. This section actually provided the strongest moments of the film, he’s transported to the past when his dad was alive and meets him. There are some great emotional moments where his dad realises what’s happened and they have a great reunion and talk about how his dad died saving his troop. Patrick ends up disappointed when his dad goes to leave as he doesn’t want to go on the next mission because (as Patrick told him) it leads to his death. “but you dying saved your men, that’s why I thought you were a hero, you have to go do it” is essentially Patricks argument. An argument which makes no sense, the only reason he died is because he walks into an ambush he wasn’t prepared for, he’s prepared now, so can tell his men to avoid the ambush. His dad ends up dying anyway when they walk into the house where the aforementioned party is going on (in the present, and no they don’t mention the time discrepancies, the closest you get to it is “oooo magic island water”).

What would have made sense

Keep the “transported back in time to see his dad” part, that part works. But change it so it is his dad’s final mission, and he didn’t actually die saving his men in an ambush. He was part of a top-secret mission to attack something non-human; so a demon, a monster etc. Basically, turn it into a monster war movie (similar to Predator). Ordinarily, I would have gone with “show how his dad was not really a hero and instead killed lots of innocent people”, but the emotional moment of the film is the only part that worked, so it needs to stay.

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Now is as good a time as any to mention the wasted talent in this movie

There you go, it’s fixed. Now what you have is more like an anthology film, with each section having a different tone, with different scares, albeit ones which merge together well. Now onto the ending. The ending twist was that the whole thing was actually Melanie’s wish, and she wanted them all to die because she blames them for her not-boyfriend dying in a fire; Patrick because he didn’t rush in and save them, JD and Brax because they were friends with him and didn’t check he had left the room before they left the hotel, and Gwen because she started the fire. This would have worked if we didn’t see Melanie early on act really confused by the fact the powers of the island were real and she didn’t realise the woman she was torturing wasn’t a hologram. But if she was behind it all, then she knew all the time what was actually happening. So why was she pretending? She was alone in the room so the only people who were watching her were the audience. It was like the ending was written by somebody who hadn’t read the rest of the script. It makes ZERO sense and completely kills the small amount of goodwill I had towards this film. It wasn’t even needed, just play the film straight and let it scare people, not everything needs a twist. If you must have a twist, make it a different way. Cut out the fire sub-plot completely. Yes, if you had them all die and this was hell it would have been obvious, but it would have made sense.

So in response; avoid this movie. I can see 2020 having worse films than this, but I can’t imagine I’m going to see one that wastes its potential as most as this. It’s truly awful, not even worth a netflix watch.

Black Christmas (2019)

So this will probably be the last film I see this year. In my review of Knives Out I mentioned that I think that probably be the last great film I see this year. After seeing this movie I can categorically say I was I definitely right. This movie is not a great movie. In fact it’s kind of bad, and for reasons I hate to bring up as it makes me sound like a dick. So the reason I didn’t like it? The politics. Now I don’t want to be one of those “keep politics out of films” dickheads. This is essentially a film about how patriarchal power structures silence and oppress women, particularly when it comes to justice for rape victims. That’s a message that is, depressingly, still incredibly relevant and is well worth discussing in a film, the issue is that the film itself isn’t good.  It means well and what it says are things that have to be said, but they have to be said better than this. I haven’t seen anything this hamfisted since Kermit’s date night.

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Not the worst thing someone has put in a pig though

It deals with themes such as sexual assault and the PTSD that can come from it, but it does it really badly. For a film about someone breaking out and trying to escape that memory, the main character isn’t given much of a personality outside of that. Almost all her actions (and most conversations) in the film come from that one event, so whilst the character is trying to not let it define her, the film insists upon it.

The other characters aren’t written much better either. Nobody is given any depth, especially the villains. Horror movies need compelling villains to kill characters, or you need characters you care about and feel scared for. This film has neither. The villains are so 2-dimensional they’re practically stick figures. I’ve had occasions where trailers have spoilt the film, this almost does it in the opening text crawl. It has a quote about using the supernatural to punish people made by a character who founded the college the film is set at. So when you see a statue of that same person oozing a black liquid then being used on people wearing the same clothes as the killer, you can pretty much guess what’s going on. That’s a big issue with this film; how predictable it is. As soon as I saw one character I literally thought “he’s too obviously evil to be evil”. But no, I was wrong, it turns out that he, and all the characters who you might think would be evil, turn out to be, shock horror, evil!

So the black sludge, the scene with the reveal is where the film takes a weird left turn. It manages to be both weird, and predictable. I get you don’t want to do the same thing as the original film, but when you divert this much from the original then what’s the point of remaking it anyway? It would be like doing a remake of Psycho and it turns out Norman Bates is possessed by a ghost. Actually, that is actually exactly what it is, the villains in this use the black sludge on impressionable students so that they get possessed by the founder of the college. Here, the film misses an opportunity to do two really interesting things.

One: a debate about whether possessed people who kill people are evil or whether the possession is to blame. Yeah, that doesn’t happen here, possessed or not, they all get locked in a room and burn to death.

Two: throughout the film, the main character gets close to a guy called Landon. He gets caught and possessed by the spirit of the founder. The college founder is an old white guy who owned slaves and is possessing men to get them into the positions of power which he feels they deserve. Now I don’t want to cast aspersions on a slave owner, but I don’t think his “only men should rule the world” extends to non-whites like Landon. The intersectional nature could have been a really interesting subject to tackle, but it doesn’t. And I think that’s REALLY white. I don’t get how they can miss such an obvious political point to make.

So should you see this film? Regrettably, I’d have to say no, it’s just not fun, or scary. It’s yet another horror film restricted by its rating as it can’t get as violent as it needs to at some points. This is very notable with one death where we see a dead body on a chair, it gets spun around and before we get a full shot of the face and the damage done to it, it cuts to a reaction shot. If you do that “slow-motion chair spin” shot it should end on a reveal of the face, that should be the closing shot of that sequence, the slow nature of the chair spin is a build-up to that moment. In this it’s like a build-up to the revelation that she’s dead, which is something the audience already knew from the second we saw her, so what was it for?

I haven’t seen the original (or the first remake) to judge whether it’s good compared to them, I imagine people who saw those will actively HATE this film as they change almost everything about the plot. I can’t imagine either of those two films are worse than this, but I can say with 100% certainty that it’s not as good as the song by the same name by former X-Ray Spex singer Poly Styrene

Killer Kate (2018)

I watched the trailer for this before seeing it (something I try to do now with films with bad reviews that I haven’t heard about, a policy I have started since Wolf). The trailer for this got me hyped, it looked kind of shlocky but fun. Plus, the film was under 90 minutes so I thought it won’t overstay its welcome. That goodwill was evaporated in the opening scene. It wasn’t badly shot, it was just weirdly shot in terms of the editing and shot choices. It wasn’t a great introduction to some of the characters, with some showing traits which they don’t show for the rest of the film. It’s understandable that they would be behaving in that way within the context of what they’re about to do (kill a group of people), but if you have that in the introduction to them it feels like it’s a character trait, so for that to not happen is a bit weird. It’s also strange that that’s how they start the film. The first thing we see in this film is a scene about the group of killers, and it stays with them for a good while, which makes it seem like they’re the focus of the story, like we’re following their arc and seeing how they’re going to come together to work as a team to kill people. The actual main characters are a group of young women on a pre-wedding getaway. Out of the four of them, only one of them is introduced to the audience before the fifteen-minute mark, which is about twenty percent of the film. That’s kind of a big issue with this film, the timing. For a lot of the film, it doesn’t seem like it knows how to use the time it has so just pads it out. It’s an 80-minute horror-comedy, those should be really easy to fill time for. As it is so much of this just feels like padding. There’s an almost 2-minute scene where we watch two characters flip through TV channels, they then get a joint out, this isn’t mentioned again in the film. I know two minutes isn’t that long really, but the film is full of minute-long scenes which could be done in seconds, and they all add up to a lot of wasted time. There is a scene after that which had a really baffling moment for me, and I’m not sure if it’s just me being picky. There was a noticeable gap between songs in the background music, and it coincided with a break in the conversation. So you went from lots of noise, to just complete silence for about three seconds. I had to quadruple-check that actually happened and it wasn’t just my laptop screwing up, because that was just a really strange choice. At least after that, the killers make an appearance in the house. This was at the 40-minute mark, again, of an 80-minute movie. That’s way too long, WAY too long for a film like this. Especially one which didn’t even really set up the characters that well in the first half.

Thankfully this is followed by a really smart moment, someone knocks at the front door whilst the women are hiding. They’re not sure if it’s the police, or maybe the killers trying to trick them. In the end, it’s a guy delivering the pizza they ordered earlier. That was a very smart piece of writing, it was set up, and was done long ago enough that you forgot about it when it happened. It made sense. Which is baffling why they then rush through another part. A character is seemingly poisoned and collapses, we think dead. Then about thirty seconds later they wake up when they hear a loud noise. Personally, I feel it would have been better if her “death” lasted longer, and she made a sudden appearance later to save someone at some point. As it is her “death” seems really inconsequential. Her waking up doesn’t have a big moment attached to it either, she just wakes up and rejoins the main characters (and the pizza guy) before running away to get killed by Tiffany Shepis’ character. I mention her by name as even though she is only in the film briefly, she is brilliant in it. Her performance is one of the highlights of the film, she carries herself as someone who knows exactly what the film requires of her performance. Which, to be completely honest, is more than can be said of some of the others. A lot of the performances are a little, I don’t know, one dimensional? This is a big problem, especially with the lead. It’s the first leading role in a feature for Alexandra Feld (who is also one of the producers and married to the director), and she doesn’t really carry it off. She remains stone-faced throughout the entire film and never really feels like anything other than a character in a movie. Part of that could be the writing though, a lot of the characters don’t have much depth to them, and the dialogue is VERY “written” and unnatural. On the subject of the writing, I feel I need to mention the pizza guy again. The main characters lock their phones in their car so they won’t be disturbed whilst they’re there, standard way to stop the audience asking “why don’t they just phone the police?”. But the pizza guy, he doesn’t lock his phone away. In fact, he specifically mentions he tried phoning them on his way there, so she has a mobile phone. He doesn’t use it. He doesn’t use it when he’s there, and he doesn’t use it once he runs away either. We know this as the film soon cuts to the next morning and the police aren’t there (but what is still there? The blood on Kate’s face, for some reason she didn’t feel the need to wash it all night). And “but they don’t know the address” would be bullshit, as the pizza place would have had it listed so it could get delivered. “But maybe he died on the way”, again, the pizza place would have followed that up, he had deliveries to make after this, and if he didn’t deliver any of them then the place would have had a lot of phone calls complaining, so the company would know he didn’t get there, whilst having a list of where he was supposed to be, to be checked out. I mean, I guess the guy could have just completed all his deliveries and just forget to mention it, that would be consistent for how the characters act in this movie.

The fun of a film like this can be the reveal of the motivation, and this COMPLETELY fucks it up. The motivation; someone wants to make Airbnb etc look bad so his hotel gets more bookings. Seriously, that’s it. It doesn’t seem to occur to him that when the news mentions the attacks at the Airbnb, they’re highly likely to mention who owned that one, and his face will be plastered everywhere too, so his motel will also be negatively affected. His motive rant is essentially “urgh, Millenials”. He then gets shot and dies easily, much like all the villains in this movie. That’s a huge problem, none of the bad guys really seem like threats. There are two who are kind of threatening, and they’re the first ones to die. So after that we have; a neurotic guy who is basically Ed Helms but not, a motel concierge who just stays on the phone, and the old guy. There’s no “final boss” so to speak of the film. No “oh, the characters are in major trouble now THEY’RE there”. No sense of escalation, it’s really frustrating.

On the plus side; with the exception of some of the gore, it looks great. The film language isn’t great but in terms of just the general look it’s pretty good. And the music choices are exceptional, bringing a faux-retro 80’s feel to the whole thing. Other than that? I am really disappointed with this, truly. Not scary enough to be a horror, and nowhere near funny enough to be a comedy. I really wanted this to be great, and it’s a real disappointment that I didn’t even find it good.

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark (2019)

I saw a trailer for this months ago (I think was about March), and as such, I had forgotten some things about. Mainly, how violent it was. For some reason, in my head, it was like Goosebumps (a severely underrated film btw). You know, not “scary”, but “spooky”, the kind of thing schools would show at Halloween. Yeah, I’m a f*cking idiot. The director, Andre Ovredal, previously directed the Autopsy Of Jane Doe, and is currently working on a film version of a Stephen King novel. So that’s a good indication that this film is not for kids. It’s not exactly aimed at die-hard horror fans either though. It’s aimed at that middle ground. It’s not quite “My First Horror Movie”, but it is like the third or fourth one you watch to help establish yourself to the genre once you realise you like it and want to find more.

This won’t end up in my list of scariest stories of the year, but I will still highly recommend it. The first story (about Harold the Scarecrow) is a truly disturbing piece of body horror, but it’s just too restrained to be truly effective. I’m not asking for full gore, but a little bit more would have helped it a bit. Considering the limitations, Ovredal did a fantastic job here. An uneasy sense of dread hangs over the entire film (kind of reminds of the film Ghost Stories from a few years ago). Even within slightly comedic moments, that sense of fear never leaves the screen. The effects on the “monsters” are also remarkable, genuinely creepy. I’ve looked at some of the illustrations in the book some of the stories are based on, and he nailed it, especially the Pale Lady. I’m not that familiar with the series as a whole, but I can’t help but feel fans of it will be pleased by what they say.

The acting, now horror movies aren’t known for great performances, but they’re getting better. This is towards the higher end of the talented performances spectrum. There’s one performance I wasn’t a particular fan of as it just annoyed me, but looking at reviews and comments I seem to be the only one as a lot of people considered this character a highlight, so what do I know? Zoe Colletti is a revelation as the lead, even if she did remind me of someone I know for a lot of the film. Michael Garza has the potential to be a great obnoxious anti-hero in a family-friendly television series.

I saw this the same day I saw IT: Chapter 2. They’re kind of similar films, young kids in a bygone America fighting evil (for parts of Chapter 2 anyway), as such it would be easy for this to look weak by comparison, especially since it’s going towards a younger audience. I loved IT, and I will say that this film stands proudly alongside it

Child’s Play (2019)

This is the first one of the series I’ve seen in the cinema (The first one I ever saw, incidentally, was the fourth one). So this was quite a big moment for me. Remakes/reboots can be terrible though, particularly when it comes to horror movies. Was curious about this because the trailers didn’t really do a good job of selling it, to be perfectly honest I was disappointed by the trailers, the way it was edited made me worried that the actual film wouldn’t have the right tone.

Thankfully this film works. I’m not sure if it’s better than the first one, it’s an entirely different film. I think this film does more though. It has a lot more satire to it. More interesting human characters (even if they aren’t as adorable as the original Andy), and more interesting kills. I think the issue is people are comparing it to the original series as a whole, and not just the first movie, or even as just a piece of work on it’s own.

The big difference between this and the original? No voodoo. This isn’t a film about a serial killer getting his soul transferred into a doll, it’s about an A.I system. A disgruntled worker removes the safety protocols from a self-teaching robot. This fundamentally changes a lot of things, for one it makes the link between Chucky and Andy a lot stronger. Chucky genuinely cares for Andy (as much as a robot can) so his kills are made not from malice but to protect Andy from those who cause him harm (like when he strangles a cat that scratches him). This creates a much more interesting dynamic between the two, and is a lot creepier. I think it improves it as quite a few of the kills in the original didn’t really make strategic sense. In this the kills are done for a reason, that alone makes it a lot more interesting.

Another worry was that Chucky was no longer voiced by Brad Dourif. His voice was a huge part of that character, and you had to wonder how they were going to cope with replacing such an integral part of the franchise. Which unlucky bastard would they get to attempt to fill the void of one of the greatest vocal performances of horror? Oh, they got MARK FUCKING HAMILL? Yeah, I’m all for that. He NAILS the performance here. Coming off not as a manipulative killer like Dourif’s Chucky was, but like a broken angel. He sounds genuinely hurt and confused when Andy doesn’t respond to him like he wants him to. His voice performance is surrounded by other great performances too. The main 3 kid characters are great, the dynamic between them reminiscent of the Losers Club from IT.

And now onto the bad. It feels a little restrained, especially in the final section. The closing stretch takes place in a toy store, where Chucky takes control over all the wi-fi enabled toys (which is a lot). I expected this to be a true highlight, pure chaos and thrills which will build on the earlier kills to be all-out mayhem and one of the highlights of the year. As it is, it’s just another scene. With the exception of the BRILLIANT opening kill (well, the kill itself is kind of meh, but the way he kind of stumbles about whilst in costume and sprays a random kid with blood is brilliantly brutal), it feels lacking. It’s missing that sense of chaos and brutality that I felt the scene needed. It’s got multiple characters locked in a room full of things that can kill them, yet not enough happened for me to remember it (I can remember about 3 things that happened, and that’s it). Maybe if I didn’t have such high expectations I wouldn’t be so disappointed but as it I can’t help but feel a little bit let down.

So in summary; if you enjoyed the original series, I think you’ll enjoy this. It’s an entirely different animal altogether, but one you’ll still enjoy. It also has a piece of music that is both cute yet kind of creepy (sung by Mark Hamill).

Us (2019)

Spoilers: this film isn’t as good as Get Out. That’s not damning it though, as VERY few films are as good as Get Out. I feel that film could weigh Jordan Peele down slightly, it has given everything he is involved with INCREDIBLY high expectations which it’s going to be hard for him to match.

That being said, this film is still spectacular. I don’t see it hitting pop culture quite as high as Get Out did, but it’s still probably one of the highlights of the year, and definitely the best horror film of the year so far.

Honestly, and as much as I hate to say this, the weakest part of this film is the script. It feels like it needed adjusting slightly. I mean, it is still good, but there are moments where it’s a bit too unsubtle, a bit too unfocused, taking too long to say certain things. It’s still great, it just needs slight tweaks. While the script isn’t as good as Get Out, this film is MUCH better directed, which considering how great a job he did on Get Out, really says something. EVERYTHING seems to have purpose visually. He’s great at making sure a sense of unease looms over the entire film, giving even innocuous scenes a sense of dread. You could watch normal scenes out of context, scenes of family just walking down the beach, and they’d be SOMETHING about it which would tell you it’s slightly off.

The performances are also SUPERB. Almost everyone in it has to play two roles, and they need to make them different enough to visually identify which character we are seeing. Lupita Nyong’o in particular really nails it. The way she makes her characters move effects how you see them as people, it’s truly great.

My favourite moment of this film? The wham moment (which is not to be confused with the scene from Keanu where they argue that George Michael was a gangster, that’s a Wham! moment) is one of the best I’ve seen. This moment has slight spoilers so if you don’t want this film spoiled, look away now, and I’ll tell you when you can look back.

Those fucking idiots. If they’re looking away then they won’t see when I tell them to look back, they’re going to be walking around forever looking slightly to the left, they’re going to walk into so many open sewers. Hah!

Wait, where was I? Oh right, the wham moment. For a lot of this film it’s played like the only clones (ok, they’re not clones, but if I call them “tethereds” that will make no sense unless you either see the film, or I explain it) that exist are the ones of the family. We then find out that they exist of another family, and they’re all similar; all sociopathic killers. We then see a news broadcast and find out it’s country-wide. This moment is SUPERB. We find out that what we have been watching has been happening all over the country, that there are millions of stories just like the one we’ve seen, and they’ve all ended brutally. That is what I will remember from this film, how I felt in that moment. Also, that moment had a piece of realisation of visual foreshadowing that made me say out loud “You magnificent bastard”. So that’s that, this film made me annoying.