Month: August 2015

Sinister 2

After the horrific murder of the true crime writer, Ellison Oswalt, and Oswalt’s family, Ex-Deputy So & So decides to pick up the investigation. He begins to follow the pattern in which the Bughuul finds its victims. This pattern leads him to a house that he intended to burn to the ground, only to arrive to find a single mother with her twin boys living in the house. The ex-deputy must race against the clock. If he isn’t able to break the pattern then this unsuspecting family will be doomed.

When the first Sinister film came out, I thought it looked pretty lame. Then I saw it and I had to sleep with the light on that night. After seeing the first trailer for Sinister 2, I got excited, mostly because it looked like they were going to add to the mythology of the Bughuul. It is my personal opinion that horror sequels are pointless unless they add to the mythology of the franchise in some way. While this addition to the franchise did add some to the mythology, it was quite a failure in most other aspects.

The best aspect of this story line was was the investigative side. Learning more about how the Bughuul finds its victims was very interesting, although I do wish they had gone a bit more into the Bughuul’s origins as well (it was only briefly touched on in the first film). Sadly, there wasn’t much else that I liked about the story. The murders of the previous families in this film were kind of ridiculous. It felt like the filmmakers were trying to come up with more elaborate deaths to compete with the first film, but they went way over the top. They just didn’t seem as believable. There were also several aspects of the plot that appeared to just be thrown in and were not relevant to the story (such as a random romantic aspect and an abusive ex-husband).

Another major flaw with this film was that it was not even remotely scary. The first film was terrifying. This installment tried so hard to be scary, but it just fell flat. One major reason for the lack of scares was that everything that was supposed to instill fear was to visible. The creepy kids from the previous murders were out and in your face so often that they were no longer really that creepy. As for the Bughuul, it was much of the same issue. In the first film you only caught glimpses of this evil being. In this film, it seemed like everywhere you look the Bughuul was there. It is Horror Films 101 that the big evil should be primarily in the shadows in order to maintain its fearsome appeal. He popped out so often that you never truly feared seeing the Bughuul, so the general reaction become “Oh, there’s that Bughuul guy again.”

As for the acting, I’d say half the cast did a great job and the other half was a bit lackluster. James Ransone (Sinister, Oldboy) did a great job of reprising his role as the deputy who assisted Oswalt in the first film. What I especially enjoyed was that there was a clear evolution in his character from the first film to the second. He was still quite goofy in both films, but the second film showed Ex-Deputy So & So with a weight on his shoulders and clearly more weary with the knowledge he carries. Shannyn Sossamon (A Knight’s Tale) played the mother who unknowingly moved into a house marked for death. While there was nothing necessarily bad about her acting, she did have a fake Southern accent that was more distracting than it should have been. The twins were played by real-life siblings, Robert Daniel Sloan (Hero of the Day) and Dartanian Sloan (Hick). Robert Daniel played Dylan, the twin who is constantly haunted by the previous victims of the Bughuul. He did a great job of portraying the kinder, seemingly weaker of the twins who really wants nothing to do with the old “home movies.” Dartanian unfortunately was slightly less believable. His character was definitely a bit of a sociopath, which Dartanian portrayed well, but there were many times where it felt like his acting was too exaggerated.

I wouldn’t say this film was horrible. It had the potential to be as good as the first film, but the filmmakers made unfortunate choices that diluted the main story line and overexposed everything that was supposed to be scary. If it wasn’t for Ransone’s part in the film, I probably would tell you this film wasn’t even worth watching, especially since the last 2 minutes of the film left me baffled and very unsatisfied. If you enjoyed his character in the first film, then I would recommend giving Sinister 2 a chance. Just be warned, this film will likely leave you scratching your head and jonesing for the scares that you expected but didn’t get.

OVERALL RATING: 4.5/10

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Dark Was the Night

Paul Shields (Kevin Durand) is the sheriff in a small town at the edge of a forest. Things in this sleepy little town take a turn when odd things begin to happen. Livestock and family pets start to vanish during the night. Then one morning bizarre animal tracks are found in the snow throughout the entire town. Is this the result of an elaborate prank, or is there something more ominous at work? Shields must quickly follow the clues to find the truth before panic engulfs the residents and things go from bad to worse.

I have to start this review by saying how much I love Kevin Durand (The Strain, X-Men: Wolverine). While he typically plays gruff, surly characters, Durand showed his range in this film. He is still a bit of a tough guy, but his character in this film has more emotional depth with the inner demons he has to battle. Even though his role in this film is smaller, Nick Damici (Stake Land, Late Phases) is also great. He plays the knowledgeable local hunter who also owns what is probably the only bar in town. The only acting in the film that I wasn’t completely sold on came from Lukas Haas (Mars Attacks, Inception). He plays Donny Saunders, the new deputy in town that recently moved from the big city. There wasn’t necessarily anything bad about his acting, but it seems like he plays the same character in practically every movie I have seen him in. He is quiet, slightly awkward, and he doesn’t really show any emotions (especially in his face).

The story for this film moved at a very nice, gradual pace up until the climax. It created a feeling of hysteria, which worked well because it gives you an idea of what the townspeople are likely feeling as these events occur. I love that you only see glimpses of what lurks in the woods. It makes the climax that much more effective when the creature is finally revealed. While I think this film really could have benefited from practical effects for the creature, I understand why they chose to go with CGI effects instead. The creature still looked amazing and terrifying.

The only thing that really bothered me was that the filmmakers opted to use a blue filter on the camera anytime they filmed during the day. This may just be a personal preference, but I really hate when movies use a blue filter to either exaggerate the look of it being cold or to attempt to turn a scene filmed during the day into a night scene. To me, it almost feels like the filmmakers think the audience isn’t smart enough to understand. We get that it is cold in the daytime scenes of this film. They are wearing winter clothes, the ground is covered with dead leaves, and for a good portion of the movie there is snow. The blue filter was completely unnecessary. As I said, this is probably just a personal preference, but it really bugs me.

There were many successful aspects of this film. In general, the acting was excellent (especially Durand). I also loved that they took a creative, original story line and turned it into an exceptionally creepy film. It is the kind of movie that will make you think twice about entering the woods alone. This film also had a unique creature that I have not seen anywhere else. Go watch this film, and be prepared to be on the edge of your seat for the full 90 minutes.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

The Guest

The Peterson family lost their son in action while he was serving in the Army. Some time later a stranger arrives at their door. He claims to have served with the Peterson’s son. Not only was this stranger his friend, but the stranger says he was also there when their son died. Desperate for closure, the Peterson family welcomes this man into their home. It doesn’t take long for people around the family to start getting hurt or killed, and it seems likely that this mysterious man named David is at the root of everything.

Adam Wingard (You’re Next, V/H/S, V/H/S/2) is becoming one of my favorite directors in the horror/thriller genre. This film is another achievement for him. Not only was the storyline original and intense, but the characters Wingard created were incredibly dynamic. One of the aspects of the film that I think was especially successful was how the story explained who David (Dan Stevens) is, and why he does these horrible things, without going too far into it. It’s the perfect balance so there are no plot holes, but the audience is not overloaded with information either. The choreography of the action sequences is also quite stunning and brutal all at the same time. When it comes to the characters, they are very complex but enjoyable. Even when David is doing unspeakable things, there is something that makes you still like him.

The acting in this film was absolutely phenomenal. Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey, A Walk Among the Tombstones) was especially amazing as the mysterious David. When I started watching the film, I knew I recognized Stevens. It wasn’t until I finally looked him up on IMDB that I finally realized that the man who played David was also the same man that played Matthew Crawley on Downton Abbey. It is clear that he went through a major physical transformation for this role. He was a bit on the soft side when he was on Downton Abbey, but had lost 30lbs to prepare for his role in A Walk Among the Tombstones before getting his role in The Guest. To prepare for his role as David, Stevens went through rigorous physical training, gaining 25lbs of muscle. Even more amazing than the physical transformation is his acting ability. Stevens was completely believable as the handsome sociopath that could be exceedingly charming one moment, and a stone-cold killer the next. Maika Monroe (It Follows) did a great job as Anna, the sister of the fallen soldier. She really showed her range and that she can play a strong female character that kicks some butt when she needs to.

One of my favorite aspects of this film was the music. Both the soundtrack and the score were so beautiful. The mixture of upbeat 80’s style synth music was the perfect accompaniment to the evil deeds carried out by David. The score, by Steve Moore, was absolutely breathtaking. It reminded me a bit of the score from John Carpenter’s Halloween. There is even an Easter Egg in the film that references Halloween III: Season of the Witch. During the climax of the film you can actually see projections of the masks from Halloween III on the walls. Another clever Easter Egg was related to Adam Windward’s film, You’re Next. At the party that David and Anna go to towards the beginning of the film you can see a party goer wearing one of the animal masks from You’re Next.

This was the kind of movie that I really enjoyed while I was watching it, but fell more and more in love with as I thought about the film afterwards. It was so successful in many ways to the point where I already want to watch it again (which rarely happens). I really hope to see Dan Stevens in more horror movies. He clearly can succeed with any role he is given. In the future I will be keeping an eye out for more films directed by Adam Wingard. From what I have seen of his work Wingard perfectly blends horror, suspense, despicable villains (that you can’t help but like), amazing music, and strong female characters. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10

Maggie

There is a zombie outbreak across the country. A young midwestern girl named Maggie (Abigail Breslin) has been infected by this virus. Her loving father (Arnold Schwarzenegger) decided to do what he can to care for her as she goes through her transformation. Maggie tries to live a relatively normal teenage life while she can. Unfortunately, there are several obstacles in her way including people who fear what she will become and the feared “quarantine zone.” How far will her father go to keep her safe?

This film was incredibly well done. I think what I enjoyed the most is that the story took a different approach to the idea of a zombie virus. The transmission of the virus is the same where if a person is bitten by the infected, they will become a zombie as well. Something that was different is that while in most films the change happens within hours, or even minutes, the virus in this film takes days to take over the body. It was very interesting to watch the slow decay of the body, starting at the site of the bite. I also loved that the story went over different stages where the infected start out relatively healthy and normal, but eventually they begin to smell you as food and become more aggressive before they are completely gone. There are also some physical changes that the infected go through as the body decays. One classic zombie trait that the filmmakers kept, which I greatly appreciate, is that the zombies are slow moving. Fast zombies can be fun, but realistically it doesn’t make sense for a corpse to be running around at top speeds (rigor mortis, anyone?).

Maggie was definitely made to be more of a drama set in a zombie apocalypse than a true horror movie. That made the film especially effective. It is less about the flesh eating creatures lurking in the shadows and more about the people who are trying to get by in this new world. It especially focuses on the father-daughter relationship. It is hard to imagine what you would do if someone you loved was bitten. Would you hide them from the authorities? Would you do anything to protect them? When the time came would you put them out of their misery? Or worse, would you give them over to the quarantine? The only thing that bothered me about the storyline is that they never tell you how Maggie got bit by a zombie in the first place. They had occasional mini-flashbacks but nothing that truly explained what happened.

The acting in this film was also excellent. Abigail Breslin is one of the child stars who has been able to continue her career and show time and time again how talented she really is. Not only does Breslin portray what it is like to be a teen in this dark world, but she superbly goes through all the emotions of knowing you have a limited amount of time before becoming a zombie. I was also quite impressed with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s acting. Don’t get me wrong, I love most of his movies, but I have only ever seen him as an action star as opposed to a true actor. He proved me wrong in this film. Everything he did was understated, yet you felt his character’s struggle as he essentially watches his daughter go through a slow death. He did such a great job that I wasn’t even bothered by a midwestern farmer having a thick Austrian accent.

Considering the fact that this is a zombie film, albeit a dramatic zombie film, the makeup effects were very subtle and beautiful. There was only a bit of gore makeup, mostly with the infection site and when a zombie was put down. The makeup was primarily showing how the virus slowly spreads and kills the infected from the inside by creating a black-veined look on the skin. They also created a haunting look by making the eyes look like the infection decayed them as well. Overall the look was muted, but still created the intended effect of what a zombie would look like.

Maggie is definitely a must see movie of 2015. It does an excellent job of telling an effective story of strong family bonds, that just happens to involve zombies. The fact that it blurs the lines between multiple film genres also makes it a great film to watch, even if you don’t necessarily enjoy horror movies. Keep in mind when seeking this movie out that it is primarily a dramatic film. If you are looking for something with more scares or action, then this is not the film for you. I would recommend this film to practically any adult film lover because of its relatively simple storyline of a father-daughter relationship done in a very unique way.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

What We Do in the Shadows

A group of four vampires live in a house together in New Zealand. They decide to let a documentary film crew follow them around to film their daily lives. Many centuries ago these were masterful, terrifying vampires that could do whatever they wanted. Now they live like your typical roommates having to pay rent, divide chores, and try to pick up girls in clubs. As the crew follows this odd group, you begin to realize they are some of the most ridiculous vampires you have ever seen. It isn’t until a new roommate gets added into the mix that this group finally steps up their vampire game.

This is a great film to show someone who isn’t necessarily interested in the horror genre. It is horror, comedy, and mocumentary all rolled into one. That being said, it is very light on the horror, but it’s definitely not light on the humor! This film delivered on the laughs constantly and in ways that I did not expect. They did a great job of creating a very simple story about a group of bachelor roommates with incredibly boring lives, but making it hilarious by making the characters ancient vampires. The vampire Viago (Taika Waititi) was especially hilarious. He acted as the narrator of the film, introducing us to all the characters and how they all live their undead lives.

All of the main actors did a tremendous job. What made the performances so enjoyable was the subtlety of them. Most of the humor tends to be on the sarcastic side, or a character will say something that is clearly the opposite of reality (although that character will definitely think it’s the truth). While I believe the standout performance was definitely Waititi, Jemaine Clement (Vladislav) and Jonny Brugh (Deacon) were truly funny as well. This is the kind of film where even the actors that had smaller, two-line roles were able to stand out and do or say something so simple that still made you crack up.

Another great aspect of the film was the special effects. There were not many special effects, but the ones that were added to the film were perfect. What made them so perfect is that they were delightfully cheesy. The two main types of effects were fake blood spewing from the vampires’ victims and what I assume was string to make the vampires appear to fly/hover. Both of these effects looked so ridiculous, but in the best way possible because it added to the cheesy feel of the film. There was also an amazing scene where two vampires are seemingly battling on the floor, the walls, and the ceiling. I would guess that this scene was filmed on a set where they are able to spin the room so it appears to us that they are sideways and upside down when they are actually right-side up the entire time. However they achieved this scene, it was hilarious and very fun to watch.

As I said before, this is a movie I would definitely suggest horror fans share with their friends or family that may be weary of horror films. It is not scary at all, it is so amusing, and it perfectly fuses comical scenarios with creatures typically associated with scary movies. Of course, it is great to watch with people who genuinely enjoy horror as well. This genre bender has aspects that will appeal to practically any viewer. I would have to say that this is one of my favorite comedies so far of 2015.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10