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!

Dark Night: Episode 1

This isn’t just for reviews, I occasionally post my writing, and if you hadn’t guessed I’m going to be doing that again today. Yet another new project to add to the continuing of Headlines, Headspace, Superlee, and Nightmare On Elm Street (as well as a few I haven’t posted on here). This is my current project though and it comes from a facebook conversation, about how superhero movies need to move into other genres, specifically how cool it would be to see a Batman-themed horror film. Hence this, a short series of horror scripts set in the Batman universe.

Here’s the opening to the first episode:

So yeah, a Saw movie with the Joker as the villain. I know the obvious choice would be the Riddler but I’m having one of the characters be a massive Joker fan, someone who worships him and sees him as actually a good guy, like his craziness is to be looked up to. Because that’s what people actually think. Look online and you will see people saying how they agree with the character and he’s actually a hero, forgetting that he’s a sociopathic rapist and murderer. Riddler doesn’t have that sort of fanbase in real life, so it wouldn’t be as effective. It had to be Joker, and I have to make him as cruel as possible for this story to work, to remind people about who he really is. That’s also going to be difficult, to make him an actual villain and not worthy of worship. Considering that on the next page I show him shooting two toddlers just to prove a point, I think I’ve done that pretty well.

Few things I need to change, one of which is I need to figure out who one of the characters is. Done about 40 pages (this is just the opening) and there’s one who I still haven’t really established so I need to do that, then go back and change them. I’m also working on a sub-plot involving the police searching for victims in other similar rooms around the city. I’ve done parts of that (and it involves a simply BRUTAL death for someone which I’m looking forward to showing people) but it’s difficult to slot them into this narrative without it seeming like it’s disrupting the flow.

Also I definitely need better puzzles, I haven’t got too much experience in escape rooms and I think that shows.

Other than that, I feel confident that I can finish this script and make it a satisfying read. I’ve placed enough subtle clues as to where things are going that I hope will provide satisfying resolutions. I just need to actually settle down and do it now. I’m also very excited by other possible episodes as they will allow me to do different kinds of horror. I’m thinking the Poison Ivy episode will basically be a zombie movie, Scarecrow will be akin to Nightmare On Elm Street, and I definitely need to do one set in Arkham. Other than that, not sure yet. Let’s wait and see.

Normal reviews will be back on Friday, with either Sweat or People Just Do Nothing, only saw those films yesterday so haven’t had time to do a review yet, spoilers, they’re getting good ones,

12 Hour Shift (2020)

Quick Synopsis: A drug-addicted nurse needs to find a spare kidney to stop her sister being killed.

By all rights I should have loved this. It’s an interesting plot, bloody, funny, and it has Mick Foley. For some reason it inspired no bigger reaction than “it was alright”. It was good, but it never felt better than that to me. It never fully grabbed me like I needed it to. I’m not sure why, the performances are great, I’ve only seen Angela Bettis in the 2002 version of Carrie, a film which had many problems but she was not one of them. I think its an issue of the film over-reaching, it attempts a lot more than it needs to. It has so many plates spinning in the air that it never spins them quickly enough. If it cut down some of the unnecessary characters I feel it would be stronger. Because it has so much going on it never really gathers enough momentum to be truly satisfying.

It’s written and directed by Brea Grant, who also gave us Lucky, which was more disappointing but probably had more potential. It’s a shame because she’s obviously really good, it’s just her stuff seems more like stuff I’d see shorts of than features. Not to say this film is bad though, like I said the performances are great, and it’s really really funny when it needs to be.

It’s still weird to see Mick Foley drop the f-bomb considering I always assumed he was allergic. It also looks great, has a kind of washed out greyness too it that really suits the tone. Praise must also go to the uniqueness of the the film. It’s hard to compare it anything because there’s really not much else like this. There’s not nearly enough horror films set in a hospital, especially not one over the course of a nightshift, which is weird as that kind of thing is ripe for horror movie fodder. I feel that may also slightly work against this film, you get the feeling that it’s not quite making the most of the setting and timing. There doesn’t seem to be much in this film that couldn’t be accomplished over the course of a few nights instead of just one. It doesn’t have that race against time that would be great for a film like this. It does seem to do a lot with the location, there are few places this could take place in other than a hospital, although again, it doesn’t make the most of the fact that it’s a night shift. Compare this to something like The Power, which made the most of the creepy nature of hospitals late at night.

Maybe that’s my issue, it doesn’t feel like a horror movie full of darkness and creepiness, it feels a bit like a cheap slasher movie, but the story doesn’t lend itself to that so there’s a real disconnect between tone and story. Also it feels a little too polished for such a scuzzy tale. It needs to feel dirty, but it comes off just a bit too clean. Overall the film suffers a real struggle for tone throughout, and that really hurts it.

This is a film I feel I will like a lot more on a second watch, and I will watch it again someday, just not for a while. Worth checking out though.

Willy’s Wonderland (2021)

Quick Synopsis: Nicholas Cage beats up animatronic creatures alongside a group of teens.

Bit weird. That’s an understatement, I mean, just look at that synopsis and tell me there’s a way to make it normal. It’s every bit as strange as that makes it sound. It’s like Five Nights At Freddy’s as a horror movie (a bit like the Banana Splits movie which I still need to see). It probably helped that Nicolas Cage is in it, which allowed it more casual eyes than it would have had otherwise. The script grabbed his attention when he read it on the blood list, and he helped produce it too.

Cage is weird, he is occasionally awful, not just in performances but also in the films he picks (Wicker Man comes to mind), but then he picks something like this and knocks it out the park. That’s all the more impressive when you realise he doesn’t utter a single word in the film. That’s incredibly hard to do, especially in a way that feels natural. But it’s done so well that it’s possible you might not notice. There’s not a moment where you sit there thinking “why doesn’t he just say something?”, he gets his character over so well wordlessly. This is possibly one of his best performances, and to be honest it’s kind of frustrating that he is capable of this, but then makes terrible choices in other films. Either he’s very lazy at times, or he has an evil twin who can’t act.

The other performances are good too. Beth Grant continues to do her usual, but her usual is so damn impressive that it works. Emily Tosta co-anchors the film alongside Cage, and easily matches him in performance levels.

The others are good, but aren’t in it long enough. It’s a shame as they’re good characters with individual motivations. So it’s a shame to see them go so soon when they all had so much potential for their own plot points. The 88 minute runtime slightly hinders it in that aspect, if you added half an hour and spread the characters around you could add more depth to the film whilst also (hopefully) not upsetting the pace too much.

The other main weakness is the animatronic characters themselves. Sometimes they look fine but in some of the more intense sequences they do just look a bit silly. Ozzie Ostrich in particular doesn’t look good when it moves. When that kind of thing happens it can be a bit distracting and take you out of the film. It’s a shame as the general look of the film is good. It has a weird neon look to it. Kevin Lewis has a great sense of light and dark, using the intense brightness among the night-look to create a stunningly unique look.

Now onto the plot, the plot doesn’t need to be this good. It doesn’t need to be as disturbing as it does. It could get away with no explanation, just have it as a schlocky horror. The fact it does is to be commended. The plot is as disturbing as the images, and the images are pretty damn disturbing. This film actually has the balls to kill kids. That doesn’t happen in horror films often enough, usually they’re spared because it would be too disturbing (as if that’s not the point of horror films).

So in summary, see this. But don’t see it alone. Get people around, get drunk and watch it while making stupid jokes.