All My Friends Hate Me (2021)

Quick synopsis: Pete is cautiously excited about reuniting with his college crew for a birthday weekend. But, one by one, his friends slowly turn against him.

People decry trigger warnings, but sometimes they’re useful, you can argue “they ruin the surprise” or “if you’re that bad then just don’t go to the cinema” but both of those ignore one simple thing:

You’re actually supposed to enjoy things sometimes. Even things it seems like you’re not supposed to. Horror books are supposed to use a font that’s actually legible so it’s not a struggle to read it, roller coaster seats are not supposed to be painful to sit in. It’s the same with films, it’s supposed to be something you actively want to do, and if trigger warnings will let you know that this film is not for you then that can only be a good thing. I’ve avoided certain films purely because I knew I wouldn’t be able to objectively watch them. As much as I might have enjoyed, for example, Another Round, the subject matter meant that there was a large chance I wouldn’t, so I avoided it.

So what does all that have to do with this film? Well if I knew going into this film how I’d feel going out, I might have avoided it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very well made. It’s very funny at times, the performances are pretty much perfect, and it looks fine. It’s just…….it feels too real. It starts with the main character (who we’ve seen to be awkward) described as “funny” and how he now worries he has that to live up to. It’s so difficult to watch his anxiety beat the crap out of him, especially as you can kind of see why he’s so anxious. It feels sometimes like his friends are trying to gaslight him. They take him shooting and then berate him for not being able to shoot anything, saying it was disrespectful of him. They then hire an impressionist who just insults him the entire time.

And then to top it off, they say “it’s you. You’re why this weekend has gone wrong” is horrific. His anxiety drives all his friends away in a self-fulfilling prophecy. That’s not something you want to hear if you have anxiety, that you have to hide all your worries or everybody you love will leave you. It’s a lot to take in, maybe it would have been better if it was a short series so you had a break every half hour as opposed to taking it all in in one sitting.

So in summary, maybe you should see this. But there is a chance this film will lead you into a deep depression and do for friendship what Psycho did for showers, makes you wary and slightly frightened of them. If you have any insecurities, this film will play upon them, it will gnaw into your brain and reside there, making you think over your friendships and wonder if they are actually your friends or whether they hate you too. It’s a psychological horror for your mental health. Utterly fascinating, and you probably should watch it, but…..prepare something nice for after. I may have said that before in reviews, but I have never meant it as much as I do for this. No film has damaged my brain as much as this did, and that’s a huge compliment to just how spot-on they got everything.

Men (2022)

Quick synopsis: Harper Marlowe is a recently widowed woman who wants to escape for a short holiday in the country. Folk horror misogyny happens.

I went into this expecting to be creeped out, but to still enjoy it. Out the gate I’m going to say that I love the performances, Rory Kinnear has a difficult job playing so many characters, but giving them all a distinct personality. Jessie Buckley continues to be one of the best hidden talents of the UK acting scene. It’s also directed beautifully, with some stunning shots. I was just let down by the narrative, which is a big deal because to me, narrative is king. I’m more likely to forgive a badly made film with a great story, than a wonderfully made film with a bad story.

I get what the director was going for. The “women are surrounded by toxic masculinity” is a valid theme for a horror movie, but this somehow manages to be both too obvious, and too confusing. The behaviour by all of Kinnear’s characters is shocking, but the reason for it is not. The fact that every male in the village is played by the same actor is never referenced. I’m guessing it’s to do with the impersonality of the attacks. But at one point Buckley’s character asks “who are you?”, this was when I gave up with the film. If they were going to make the film make sense, this is when it would have happened, but it didn’t. They ignored the question and then carried on being possibly metaphorical, possibly real. I’m still not sure what it actually was that was attacking her. Was it a shapeshifter that couldn’t change his face? Something that can teleport? Her psychosis? It’s very surreal, and not very satisfying as a viewer. The whole thing reminded me of Lucky, that had similar issues. It’s a story worth telling, and it sets up a compelling mystery, it just has no idea how to solve it so dissolves into batshit insanity.

The ending of this is true insanity. It’s a LOOOOONG sequence of the male characters giving birth to each other, finally ending with the abusive husband. It’s horrific (but beautifully made), and goes on longer than necessary and doesn’t really explain it. Really it sums up the film in general; too focused on the themes and the shock, rather than a compelling story.

I’m disappointed to have to rate this so low, as it does have a lot of really cool ideas. Her defending herself against the attackers causing them to have the exact same injuries her ex husband did, is REALLY smart writing. Plus the use of echoes and ripples is very smart and themetically perfect. The idea that the past actions echo back to us in a different form is one that’s prevalent throughout the film, and is a neat idea.

Outside of those themes, and outside of the technical brilliance, there’s really nothing to it. And that’s a shame.

Still, great music.

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.

Antlers (2021)

Quick Synopsis: A small-town Oregon teacher and her brother, the local sheriff, discover that a young student is harbouring a dangerous secret with frightening consequences.

I did not enjoy this film. Normally I like to build up to a natural conclusion before arriving at sentences like that. But I don’t want to lure you into a false sense of security with this review for this. It was an incredibly frustrating experience. Part of that is that it felt like it was doing too much, well attempting to anyway. Horror films are best when the core message is simple: Don’t have sex, he’ll break your necks. Give a hoot, don’t pollute or else you’ll be shoot. You know, simple stuff. This? Is it like a rural zombie movie? Is it an environmental film? The fact the film makes a point to have a radio news broadcaster point out local environmental issues would lead you to think that. Maybe it’s about First Nation myths and legends? Or is it even about family abuse? The truth is it’s about all of them, but because it’s only 99 minutes that means it’s also about none of them as nothing has time to develop itself. It stretches itself way too thin.

It feels mostly it’s trying to be a film about a Wendigo, a legendary figure in Algonquin culture. In the myths and legends it’s a spirit that possesses humans and gives them an incredible thirst for human flesh and murder. We’re told this in passing by a “local Native American”, who turns up, tells this story, and then is never really heard from again. His entire character is to pass on information, be the “magical native” teaching them. So they’re using First Nation mythology, and have a First Nation character as an exposition dump because the film feels it’s more important to focus on the white people in the film. On the plus side, they did actually case a First Nations actor to play the part, but the fact he’s just there to give on information feels a little weak.

Going to go into the lore of the Wendigo now, this really has nothing to do with the film itself and won’t change your mind about it, but I feel it’s something that is useful to know about. Now there are slight variations among the different myths. For Naskapi people, for example, it’s a giant that grows in proportion to whatever it just ate, so it can never be full, whereas in some it takes over a human and provides urges in them. But there are two main differences in the original lore, and how it’s presented in this film, one of which is more a thematic or visual choice, and one which is the entire visual aesthetics of the movie. The first one: it has a heart of ice. Now in this film the final battle ends when the main character cuts out the beasts heart, where it’s glowing orange and burns to the touch. Which is basically the opposite. For Western comparison it would be like if someone did a film about Jesus and they had him drown by walking into water. The second one is one you can’t ignore, antlers. Yup, the films title is based on an aspect of the myth that does not appear at all in the original indigenous stories. It’s weird as there other aspects of the legend that it gets spot on: the drapings of skin and bone in the final form, the original form being an almost transparent white with the bones visible under the skin. It is mainly the heart being fire not ice, and the antlers, which are the modern parts. But the film isn’t called “Long claws” is it? It’s Antlers. It’s focused on a part not in the original.

So yeah it uses First Nation stories but rewrites them for their own purposes, it’s quite weird. And it doesn’t even work to make the film good as it’s still a bad watch. But it is indicative of the lack of care and thought that’s gone into it. Scott Cooper directed this and he’s normally done crime dramas (Black Mass, Hostiles etc) so this is new ground for him. He actually did a good job though. The use of shadow and scale is great to watch and provided the main highlights of this film. His talent shows that there is a way to film someone just walking through a tunnel, and have it be visually impressive and use the difference in size of him and the impending shadows to tell us details about the character. The script is the main part that lets it down. It’s incredibly on the nose at points, but then also weirdly lacking in others. Do you ever watch a film adaptation of a book and feel lost because something important has been lost in the translation from book to screen? Like they missed out a plot point that actually explains the whole thing? That’s what this feels like. Like I napped at some points and wondered why certain people were doing certain things and not taking the obvious steps.

I should commend the performances I suppose. Keri Russell does what she needs to, never really astounds you but never makes you cringe. Jeremy T.Thomas is probably the best performer, providing a haunting energy to his performance. I feel mean picking on child actors but the kid who plays Clint is just annoying. In wrestling parlance, there are two types of hatred or “heat” a character can have with an audience. There’s standard heat, where the audience thinks “I dislike this character and hope they get their comeuppance”. That’s normal, that’s what you should have. And then there’s “go-away heat” (also known as X-Pac heat after a particularly disliked wrestler from the late 90’s). This is the worst. It’s something that can best be summed up with this:

Basically, it’s where the audience doesn’t hate you in a way that they will pay to see you be defeated, they hate you in a way that they turn off the channel. That’s how annoying this kids performance is. It’s not helped by how 2-dimensional his character is.

So, in summary, I would not recommend this film. It had to be legally shown in cinema due to contractual obligations stopping it from being allowed to be premiered on screening services. I wish I knew that before, I would have waited, or avoided it.

The Night House (2020)

Quick Synopsis: Beth (Rebecca Hall) is trying to recover from her husband’s suicide but her progress is halted by discovering thousands of images on his phone of women who look like her, and that he built an exact copy of their house.

This is an interesting film. In some films, you’re a passive viewer, aware that you’re watching films on a two-dimensional screen. Then there are films like this, films which feel like they surround you like you’re a part of the world the film takes place in, making you feel like you’ve been sucked into the screen. Part of that is the sound, the mixing job for this is superb, it really helps place you in the world.

The script itself is pretty intense too. It’s one of those films where even if I didn’t watch the film I’d want to know the story. So like if it turned out that the director was actually a terrible person and I couldn’t justify paying to watch the film, I would still read the story synopsis to see what happens. The trailer was just that intriguing. I was curious as to how it would end and what would happen. Thankfully it doesn’t disappoint. The way you see it unravel is marvellous and you’re hooked from the first moment. It’s a satisfying mystery, one that you as an audience member WANT to get to the bottom of, one that actively engages you. It helps that the conclusion is satisfying, it’s something that’s hinted at so makes sense, and also redeems someone but not really.

On the downside, it is all predicated on deliberately vague instructions. When her husband committed suicide he left a note that said “There is nothing. Nothing is after you”. Now, spoilers, “nothing” is the name of a demon that is after the main character. There must have been a clearer way of saying that and it feels like it was only written for the “reveal”. I mean, it is still satisfying to watch but it is a bit weird.

There are two people responsible for this film working. The first one is obviously Rebecca Hall, who has always had a lot of promise but somehow manages to find slightly disappointing roles (Iron Man 3, Godzilla Vs. Kong, Dorian Gray), in this she lives up to the potential you always knew she had. She plays a character dealing with intense personal loss, and that loss is written through every fibre of her performance. So even in the horror moments, you are always fully aware that this is a character tinged with sadness and regret. It’s the kind of performance that would be talked about for oscar nominations if they didn’t hate horror movies for some reason.

The other person: David Bruckner. He’s mainly known for doing segments in films such as VHS (where he directed Amateur Night), The Signal, and Southbound. This is actually only his second feature-length. His first was The Ritual, which was a cracking piece of cinema and I always assumed was directed by a Brit. His directing carries the air of someone who has been doing this for decades. The wonderful thing about his style is he doesn’t direct them through the frame of traditional horror with the focus on scares, he treats them first and foremost as cinema. So he uses colours and shapes to create shots which are basically paintings, using space and darkness not to create fear, but to tell you a story about the characters. His films are the kind of ones you want to pause and analyse and discuss every detail. This means that when he does get to the horror moments, they’re impactful because they don’t feel like they take place in a horror movie, they feel like they take place in a standard drama, so the horror has kind of invaded the drama universe. This is how horror works in reality, scary things happen in ordinary lives, and it’s the ordinary which makes the horror scarier.

So yeah, I would highly recommend watching this film. I sadly missed the chance to see this at the cinema, but it is available on Disney+ weirdly enough and is well worth checking out.

No One Gets Out Alive (2021)

Quick Synopsis: An undocumented woman from Mexico moves into a dilapidated building run by a guy who is obviously hiding something sinister

This film is an acquired taste, I’ll say that upfront now. There’s a chance you won’t like this. Maybe you won’t like the pacing, maybe you won’t like the horror style, maybe you’re an asshole and won’t like that the main character is an undocumented citizen. Either way, there is a lot that could possibly rub you the wrong way. I dug it though. There’s something so weirdly timeless about this movie. I think I’ve mentioned in the past that some horror films seem more like ghost stories read by candlelight. This is definitely one of those. Also, despite it being set in America, it feels weirdly British. Maybe it’s because of the “ghost story” like feeling to it. Maybe it’s the architecture. Maybe it’s something as simple as the fact some of the other people are Romanian etc, which seems more like something you’ll find in England than the US (or maybe it’s because it’s based on a book by a British author. Who knows?)

I’ll admit, I’m not that familiar with the work of the director, Santiago Menghini, but now I want to be. He makes some great choices in this which really enhance it. There are some decisions where nothing was needed, but he did something anyway, and it makes it better. The best example is when someone is being killed on the other side of a door, and a tooth flies under the door. Most people wouldn’t think to do that, but it really adds to it and shows a great attention to those little details that make a film great.

It’s not just him though, the performers are all great too. It’s a cast of people I’m unfamiliar with and that helped it. It felt less like a movie, and more like we were witnessing these events. Cristina Rodlo, in particular, is a revelation, giving her character the broken strength needed to make it work (and make the flashback make sense with her characterisation).

This is an incredibly powerful story. The basic set up and characters would work in a drama series. It’s only the specific situation that is definite horror. That helps it as it makes it feel like the story is happening in reality, as opposed to some horror films which seem to take place in a horror movie universe.

I think this is a film you need at watch at some point, but not one you need to rush out and see immediately. It’s not as good as, say, The Power, but it’s not as frustrating a watch as Lucky. It’s a netflix original, so hopefully will stay on the platform for a very long time. So if you want something to watch with your friends who don’t enjoy gorey or incredibly disturbing horror films this halloween, it would be hard to go wrong with this. The non horror parts are engaging enough to keep everybody watching involved.

Don’t Breathe 2 (2021)

Quick synopsis: A blind veteran has to defend a young girl from people who want to kidnap her.

I went into this knowing there was a chance I wouldn’t like it. I didn’t like the first film, mainly because I saw it as just a group of terrible people being awful, I had nobody to root for and my main hope was that the winner would be a gas leak under the house.

It was clear that the reaction to The Blind Man from the first one meant that a sequel would turn him into an anti-hero. It’s a bit weird as the first film tried so hard to make him hateful so when you’re watching this that is always in the back of your mind. It’s like in Cruella where no matter what she does you know she’s capable of attempting to skin dogs alive. Only for it to be comparable to this she would have had to have kidnapped and raped them too, now I haven’t seen the original animated 101 Dalmatians, but I’m fairly sure she didn’t do that (maybe in the original book).

This feels like it’s trying very hard to give him redemption. It even has a character say

“you’re a bad man, a man who’s done terrible things. At least you think that, I’m the same”.

No, but he actually is evil. He’s not an anti-hero. The previous film, again, had him forcibly impregnate someone. I’m all for morally ambiguous characters but there is a limit. There are some evils you can’t be redeemed from, and what he did is one of them. It would be like having a film called Hitler 2: Electric Boogaloo, where it turns out he faked his death and now runs a dance club in Argentina where he helps youths stay out of trouble and fall in love.

Now, onto this film itself. It’s……it’s so forgettable. I would have rather it be bad than be as bland as this is. It’s nothing. It’s a film which if I didn’t make notes I would REALLY struggle to come up with a summary at the end of the year. The characters aren’t that memorable, the situation is cliche, and most of the dialogue seems very first draft.

On the plus side, it’s quite well directed in parts. This is the directorial debut of Rodo Sayagues, and he already seems experienced in it. The best parts of this film are due to him. There’s a tracking shot in this which belongs in a much better film. There are a few issues with cohesion and clarity, but for a first-time film this is incredibly strong and great showcase for what he could do.

Stephen Lang continues to do a great job as the lead, but he still reminds me too much of Kevin Nash for me to be entirely comfortable.

Overall, it’s hard to recommend this, but I do say as someone who went into the film with expectations to dislike it. Maybe if it was a standalone film I would have been more appreciative of it. But as it is it’s so incredibly nothing that it’s hard to overcome my expectations.

Malignant (2021)

Quick synopsis: Madison (Annabelle Wallis) is a pregnant woman living in Seattle with her abusive partner. She starts receiving visions of people being murdered and………..actually you know what? A synopsis would not help you that much here. Just watch the trailer, then watch the film. It’s fucking strange.

I watched this on the 25th September, and I still haven’t properly gathered my thoughts about it. It’s something unlike anything else you will see this year. One of the most unique films and I’m still not sure how it got made and given a wide release. It’s unlike anything else I’ve seen this year, but also has a weird sense of familiarity. It’s the kind of film I may not buy, but I do want to see again just to experience it.

It’s a really strange film, incredibly uneven. There are moments where it looks slick as hell and incredibly well produced, but then moments where it looks really cheap and kind of silly. I have never both enjoyed and been disappointed at the same time as much as I have with this. Some of it feels like it’s a tribute to horror movies of time past, there’s a definite air of the giallo horror movies of the 70s and 80s, but also very reminiscent of the early horror movies of Peter Jackson or Sam Raimi. It mostly works, but there’s one moment which is supposed to be horrifying but I heard laughter in the screening I went to.

One thing that is pretty even throughout is the tone. It’s consistently uneven. There are some sub-plots here which definitely could have been cut. Chief among them is a romance sub-plot that felt so unnaturally shoe-horned in I wanted to hit both characters with a cheese grater and tell them to stop being so damn horny. It might work if the performances are better, but they’re incredibly flat a lot of the time. So wooden they might as well be an IKEA shelving unit.

Now onto the good. The music is great. Both in terms of the songs picked, and the original score. It’s incredibly brutal in parts, not shying away in situations when lesser films would.

And the third act? It’s the cinematic equivalent of throwing lasagne against the wall and playing in the mess it’s created. It’s chaotic, it’s strange, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

The visuals are brilliant in parts. Some of the effects aren’t great, but the actual look and colour schemes are beautiful. It says a lot about both this film, and how much of a pretentious dick that I am, that there are a few scenes in this where I thought “wow, that use of focus and shadow is very Citizen Kane”. There are so many shots here which could have been a poster.

So in summary go see it. You may love it, you may hate it, but you will be fascinated by it and feel yourself unable to turn away. I am so glad something like this can get made, I am all about this kind of big-ish budget experimental cinema. A truly risky move from director James Wan, but one I feels pays off.

Censor (2021)

Quick Synopsis: A film censor (Niamh Algar) is convinced a horror movie she is watching is linked to the disappearance of her sister in this throwback horror directed and written by Prano Bailey-Bond

This is a strange film. It’s essentially a love letter to 80s horror movies of a specific type, the ones with gore so exaggerated it was obviously fake. The way it’s done is masterful, it would have been okay if they told this like a modern film, and made it feel like a 2021 film, it still would have worked. But the fact that the director used film-making techniques to make it FEEL like it was from the 80s REALLY helped it. It sets it’s tone very early, using low-tech dated logos. Changing the logos can be a great way to get people IN early, it allows you to set the tone immediately and I wish more films did it as it seems like the only genres that do are comedies, occasionally horrors do but not often.

That feeling permeates the entire film. It feels like it’s not just from the 80s, but from a very specific time in the 80s, when video nasties were a concern and horror had an underground boom, where cheaply made slashers were everywhere and being sold in weird video shops. It brings to mind not only the time, but also those films. I mentioned this was done by the way it looked, but the sound also helped. It has a weird lo-fi soundtrack that really suits it.

The whole thing just FEELS like it’s from another time. Even the script feels like a throwback. In a modern film it would have been death throughout. This is more about setting a tone, all building up to a murderous scene of carnage and horror. And WHAT an ending, it plays with reality beautifully and ends in a way that’s both beautiful and bloody. This is a horror based around the characters, the scenes on their own don’t mean much. But because you’ve grown to love these characters, know their backstories etc, you GET the ending. You get why it happened and what it means, and why it hits as horrifyingly and beautifully as it does.

It’s not just the directing etc, the performances are great too. Niahm Algar looks broken throughout and it’s amazing to watch. Even when she’s saying things she’s certain about, her face still seems unsure. It’s perfect for the character and I want to see her in more stuff. She’s backed up by a group of performers who are more known among British sitcom fans, featuring stars of The Thick Of It, Nathan Barley, and Alan Partridge. It’s definitely a showcase for the talent of Algar though. Occasionally you get a performer who you truly feel is representing the directors vision, and I feel Algar is doing this for Bailey-Bond. Her performance feels like it suits the character, the film, everything about it. I really hope the two of them work together in the future as they compliment each other wonderfully.

I also want to see more from Bailey-Bond. This is her debut feature film and it’s incredibly strong. It’s like the work of someone who’s three or four films into their career. She’s done a few shorts which are now on my list to watch. (Man Vs. Sand, The Trip, and Nasty). The best parts of this film are due to her, and I’m glad that unique voices like hers are finally being amplified.

It’s hard to discuss this movie and why you should watch it without spoiling moments of it. I normally have no objections to spoiling plot points, but I feel I can’t for this as it will severely impact your viewing experience. This is a film that needs to be watched as blind as possible. You need it to unfold as you watch it and “enjoy”.

Candyman (2021)

Quick Synopsis: An artist delves into the Candyman mythos and it starts to slowly take over his life.

I will freely admit, I haven’t seen any of the original Candyman films, so I am going into this mostly blind. Pretty much all I know is the basic plot, and that Tony Todd is in it (or to give him his full name: Tony Freaking Todd). That might have made it harder for me to enjoy this film as there are quite a few returning characters who I just didn’t get. On the other hand, if I did know, then it might have ruined one of the “twists” as it would have been obvious what had really happened, so it would have been only an internal reveal, the audience already aware.

I’m not really sure who this was aimed at, the lengths they go to to include all those references to the original make me think it’s aimed at seasoned fans of the franchise. But the fact it was advertised based on creating something new, that it didn’t talk about a “return” made it seem new, even the name made it seem like a new start and a reboot. Compare this to Halloween. Which firmly established itself as a sequel that ignored all but the first film. I also hadn’t seen any Halloween films before I saw that one, but that did a much better job of establishing who the character is, and what he does. This doesn’t really do a good job of establishing what it is the character can actually do. It focuses a lot on “say his name and he’ll appear”, but it doesn’t establish whether he feels physical pain, whether he can be reasoned with, or even deal that much with the mirrors. The character mostly exists in mirrors, unable to be seen in the real world. This means that the film is missing that core aspect of a horror film: the fightback. At no point does any character even begin to look like they can fight back, there’s no “will they survive” to any of the deaths as you know they won’t. So there’s no tension, every death is the equivalent of a train approaching somebody tied to a railway track, you know they’re going to die so the slow nature of it just draws out the inevitable.

It’s not as though the film itself is slow and drawn out, there are moments where it’s painfully rushed. 90 minutes is not long enough to tell a story like this. The film has to do A LOT. It has to introduce the main character in his normal life, then introduce the lore, have the character be uncertain then be presented with evidence, then research it more etc. You need to do a lot for a film like this, and that requires time, and this film just doesn’t have it.

The third act in particular really suffers from the rushed nature. The third act reveal could really work, and the concept itself is exciting and could lead to a great sequel. But the way it’s handled in this is shockingly bad, with REALLY important details rushed over in a sentence or two, so the true implications of the reveal don’t have time to breathe. I’m not asking for a five hour horror film, just another 15 minutes or so would have really helped this.

Now onto the good, it looks amazing. Nia DaCosta is lined up to do The Marvels film, and I’m really excited about what she could bring visually to it. There’s some very cool concepts in this, the idea of the shadow puppets being used to tell some of the stories is interesting, bringing to mind the works of Lotte Reiniger. Her use of angles too are interesting, making even standard scenes have a sense of dread. It’s also suitably gory, and the score is pretty damn intense too. Would I recommend this? It’s hard to say, I feel if you go see a few films a year, maybe skip it. If you want to just sit and be scared, go see it. Also, if you’re interested in film-making I’d go to see it purely so you can study the techniques they use. I’d say it’s more important than it is good.

It did give me one of the stupidest comments I’ve seen on film twitter though:

Yeah, stupid woke Hollywood, taking a story about a former slaves son who was lynched and tortured for falling in love with a white woman, and somehow making it about race. What’s next? Making a film where we actually are supposed to sympathise with the creature in Frankenstein? Or a Nightmare On Elm Street film where it turns out Freddy Krueger is actually the villain just because he kills people? Snowflakes!