Month: December 2019

Favorite Things: Best of 2019

As another year ends, it’s time for me to reflect on my favorite pieces of horror entertainment. It’s been another amazing year for horror, making it incredibly difficult to narrow down what I thought was the best. From movies to books to music to events, here are all of my best horror of 2019 selections!

BEST MOVIES OF 2019 (Note: I have two #1 films as I couldn’t choose between them)

10. Sweetheart

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I had a really hard time choosing between a few films to take this spot on my list, but ultimately Sweetheart stuck with me more than the others. Released on Netflix just before the end of the year, this film by J.D. Dillard brings together the thrills of an aquatic monster film with the deeper message of a social commentary film. I wish Blumhouse had done a bit more to get the word out about Sweetheart. It has great creature design/effects, a strong performance from Kiersey Clemons, and sends an important message. Full review here.

9. Harpoon

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This film surprised me because the three characters are so unlikeable! Normally this ruins a film for me because there isn’t anyone to root for, but it worked in Harpoon. Instead of rooting for someone to survive, we could all relish in their darkly humorous demise. The small setting on a boat adds to the tension of being trapped with people you hate and the performances from all three leads are wonderful to watch. Full review here.

8. Happy Death Day 2U

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It was hard to imagine there was any way to make a sequel to Happy Death Day. Yet writer/director Christopher Landon was able to double down and make a sequel that added to the mythos, injected even more humor, added some great sci-fi elements, and made the film have even more emotional depth. Plus, it’s impossible not to love Tree, played by Jessica Rothe. Full review here.

7. Crawl

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Everyone knows I’m a sucker for aquatic horror. Crawl was no exception. It drew from multiple fears people have including natural disasters, small spaces, and of course alligators. The film is very exciting and surprisingly gory, which is everything I could want from a killer gator film. Yet I believe the film held back just enough to keep it from getting too cheesy. Full review here.

6. The Perfection

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This was a film that caught me completely off guard. While watching for the first time, it shocked me again and again while also making me question what subgenre of horror it would end up fitting into. The many twists and turns, the unique format, and the overall plot made me fall in love with The Perfection. It may not work as well upon second watch, but I won’t forget how it felt watching it for the first time. Full review here.

5. Satanic Panic

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Satanic Panic is by far the funniest horror film I saw this year. I loved the play on the classic 80’s idea that the rich get rich by worshipping the devil. It allowed for some hilarious hijinks and fun practical effects. Plus, it’s impossible to not fall in love with the trifecta of badass female leads; Rebecca Romijn, Hayley Griffith, and Ruby Modine (especially Modine because she has the best dialogue). Full review here.

4. Tigers Are Not Afraid

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Writer and director Issa López truly created a powerful film with Tigers Are Not Afraid. It offers a unique glimpse into the lives of little kids surviving on the streets of Mexico, with an added supernatural element. The children acting in this film are absolutely fantastic. The balance of cartel violence, eeriness, and heartbreak tell a beautiful story that can appeal to even those who don’t enjoy horror. Full review here.

3. Daniel Isn’t Real

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This is a film with a plot that shouldn’t work on film. Yet Adam Egypt Mortimer not only made it work, but he create a beautiful film about trauma, mental illness, and inner demons. On top of having a great story, the film also has gorgeous visuals and superb performances from the two male leads. Daniel Isn’t Real is the kind of film that really takes an emotional toll and sticks with the audience long after it’s over. Full review here.

1. Doctor Sleep

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The more I think about it, the more I completely adore everything about this film. Mike Flanagan managed to write and direct what, in my opinion, might be the best Stephen King adaptation with Doctor Sleep. Not only did he bring the book to life, but Flanagan also managed to incorporate the film version of The Shining to appeal to fans of both the film and the books. The film really perfectly conveys trauma and addiction in a beautiful way, has fascinating characters, incorporates gorgeous visuals, and has a cast of amazing actors. Full review here.

1. Midsommar

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It might seem impossible to create an effective horror film drenched in daylight, but Midsommar does just that. Seeing truly horrific events unfold in the light and in a beautiful setting somehow makes everything more disturbing. Another emotionally driven film, the way writer and director Ari Aster is able to convey grief, trauma, and the longing for that feeling of “home” results in a memorable film experience. As someone who was once in a similar relationship as the one between Dani and Christian, I found the film to be especially cathartic to watch. Full review here.

HONORABLE MENTIONS (Films I watched, but didn’t review – no order)

Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror, Wounds, The Nightingale, Knife + Heart, Velvet Buzzsaw, Ready or Not

BEST HORROR SHORTS OF 2019

5. Road Trash – Written and Directed by Natasha Pascetta

4. Fanatico – Directed by Hannah May Cumming, Written by Hannah May Cumming and Sam Schrader

3. Hana – Written and Directed by Mai Nakanishi

2. Cemetery Song – Directed by Michelle Prebich, Animated by Justine Prebich

1. Finley – Written and Directed by J. Zachary Thurman

BEST FILM SCORES OF 2019

5. Tigers Are Not Afraid – Music by Vince Pope

4. Black Site – Music by Max Sweiry

3. Candy Corn – Music by Michael Brooker and Josh Hasty

2. Midsommar – Music by The Haxan Cloak

1. Satanic Panic – Music by Wolfmen of Mars

BEST TV SHOWS OF 2019

5. Creepshow S1 – Shudder

4. N0S4A2 S1 – AMC

3. Castle Rock S2 – Hulu

2. What We Do in the Shadows S1 – FX

1. Stranger Things S3 – Netflix

BEST BOOKS I READ IN 2019 (not necessarily released this year)

5. Osgood as Gone by Cooper S. Beckett

4. The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

3. My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

2. The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer (I know this is cheating since it’s 3 books, but it’s my list so I don’t care)

1. Lady From the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick by Mallory O’Meara

BEST EVENTS OF 2019 (no specific order)

  • Midsummer Scream
  • Portland Horror Film Festival
  • The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs on Shudder – including the holiday specials
  • Into the Dark on Hulu
  • Joe Bob Briggs Live: How Rednecks Saved Hollywood

 

 

Sweetheart

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After an apparent shipwreck, Jenn washes ashore on a remote tropical island. As if having to survive stranded on an island isn’t bad enough, as night falls Jenn realizes a deadly creature uses this island as its hunting ground. Jenn will have to battle the elements, dehydration, starvation, and the creature in order to survive.

This thrilling new aquatic horror film is directed by J.D. Dillard (Sleight, Judy Goose). Dillard also co-wrote Sweetheart along with Alex Theurer (Sleight, Intervention) and Alex Hyner, this being Hyner’s first feature film. The film opens as Jenn awakes on the shore of the tropic island. She has to quickly come to terms with the shipwreck, the likelihood that all her friends are dead, and how she will live on the island until found. Jenn proves to be a very resourceful woman, even as she is forced to fend off creature attacks each night. I’ve always been a fan of aquatic horror films, especially those with unique creatures. Sweetheart not only delivers a fantastic creature feature that is exciting to watch, but it also gives the audience a heroine they can root for.

Sweetheart may be a great creature feature, but it is also very well written. Since Jenn is on the island alone for a majority of the film, there is very little dialogue. The story is told primarily through action, which is very difficult to do in this day and age. There has to be a balance of action and exposition in order to hold the audience’s interest. Dillard, Theurer, and Hyner do a phenomenal job of maintaining this balance throughout the film. They even know when to inject moments where Jenn speaks to herself to break up the silence. Similarly, the audience only learns things as Jenn reveals them or as they are revealed to her. This leaves certain plot points a mystery. While for the most part it works well, there is one plot point that alludes to the fate of a character. While it works in the sense that we only learn as much as Jenn does, it seems almost unnecessary. It hints at something that never becomes important by the end of the film.

What I found most compelling about the writing is the subtext. There are multiple references in Sweetheart to whether or not Jenn is a trustworthy person. It references how women, especially women of color, often have a hard time getting people to believe them. In this film it’s to make people believe there is a ravenous monster lurking in the water. In the real world, it’s to make cops or other people believe they have been abused, raped, or any number of other terrible things. It’s a not-so-subtle subtext that fits in perfectly with the horror genre.

The film has a small cast, each performance being great. Kiersey Clemons (Flatliners, Dope) absolutely carries the film with her performance as Jenn. The way Jenn adapts to her situation and does what she can to defend herself is fascinating to watch. Clemons perfectly portrays Jenn’s resilience as well as her striking ability to accept her situation and rise above it. Another vital and entertaining performance comes from Andrew Crawford (Alien: Covenant, Little Monsters) as the creature. While this isn’t a speaking role, Crawford breaks through the screen as an imposing and terrifying monster. There is also an elegance about the creature and the way it moves. These two opposing forces make for quite the power struggle.

Visually, Sweetheart has a lot going for it. The tropical setting is absolutely gorgeous, which makes the presence of a monster stand out. The setting is enhanced by some absolutely gorgeous cinematography by Stefan Duscio. Duscio especially has a way of using natural light sources, such as the sunset and fire, to enhance the scene and draw the eye to specific things on screen. Then there is the creature design. In a film where there are really two characters, Jenn and the creature, the design of the creature becomes a vital piece of the film. Luckily, the filmmakers chose to go with a practical monster design that is as terrifying as it is sleek. It looks like something that could exist in the tropical setting, living in the ocean and hunting on land. Some of the creature effects are enhanced by CGI, but it’s clear that for the most part it is practically made.

Sweetheart is equal parts monster survival movie and social commentary film. Dillard, Theurer, and Hyner prove to be a fantastic filmmaking trio. They create a film with minimal dialogue that tells a powerful story of survival, resilience, and strength. While there are one or two extraneous aspects that never become fully-formed subplots, they don’t necessarily detract from the primary focus of the film. It is still a stunning film with a frightening creature and an important message: believe women.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

Favorite Things: Wintery Hellscapes

This time of year you can always find lots of great lists featuring holiday horror films. In fact, I have done one in the past (which can be found here). This year, I wanted to do something a bit different. Here are some of my favorite films that show the dark, desolate, deadly side of snowy winters.

Frozen (2010)

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Adam Green (Hatchet) created something unexpected with Frozen, the most subtle and understated of his films. When three friends get stranded on a ski lift in the mountains, they are forced to find a way to escape or freeze to death. The film has great performances by the three leads and the snowy setting perfectly amplifies the dire circumstances the friends find themselves in. There is an anxiety in this film that worms its way into your chest and stays there until the bitter end, making it a winter must-watch.

Let the Right One In (2008)

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This Swedish film creates a unique love story in the bleak and snowy landscape. Based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, young loner, Oskar, falls for the mysterious new girl next door. The only problem is, she’s over 200 years old and needs blood to survive. This film has such a beautiful plot filled with young love and realizing how far you will go for the ones you care about. The freezing, snowy suburbs of Sweden offer a fantastically ominous backdrop for the film.

Pontypool (2008)

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One of my favorite Canadian horror films, Pontypool tells the story of a radio host in a remote town in Ontario. The host is the first to report on a strange outbreak causing locals to attack each other. The film does a great job of not only creating a bizarre and entirely unique premise, but it also makes the viewer feel just as isolated as the host. While the outside world is a wintery hellscape of snow and murder, he’s trapped inside the radio studio. That single location helps to amplify just how dire the situation is.

30 Days of Nights (2007)

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This underrated vampire flick offers one of the most isolated and desolate settings for the carnage that ensues. A remote Alaska town prepares for the 30 days a year where the sun doesn’t rise, only to have the town overrun by bloodthirsty vampires. This film has darkness, freezing cold, and enough snow to make it impossible for the outside world to save them. It definitely creates a nihilistic feeling as it seems as though the characters are doomed. That combined with lots of thrilling bloodshed makes for an exciting and highly re-watchable film.

Wind Chill (2007)

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This film often gets overlooked, but it stars Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place) and has a very intriguing premise. Two college students sharing a ride home for the holidays end up stranded in the snow on a road in the middle of nowhere. As if that isn’t bad enough, they soon find themselves terrorized by ghosts of people who died on that road. The film has great performances, a mysterious plot, and a few good twists to keep you guessing. It’s sure to make you think twice before taking any snowy side-roads anytime soon.

Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning (2004)

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Anyone who knows me won’t be surprised to find the third Ginger Snaps film gracing this list. This prequel takes the audience back to a trader’s fort in 19th century Canada. Brigitte and Ginger find themselves trapped there with a group of men as they fight off the winter as well as a pack of werewolves. Of all the films on the list, this one really emphasizes the isolation in the snowy wilderness in a time where transportation was by boat, horse, or foot. Plus, this selection has two badass female leads, giving some much-needed feminism to a time period of male bravado.

The Thing (1982)

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Now, you knew there was no way I could have a list of snowy horror films and not include John Carpenter’s The Thing. This classic film follows a small research team in the Antarctic when it discovers a dangerous life form that can take on the shape of anyone and anything. The film has the most isolated and snowiest location on this list, amazing practical effects, and some truly memorable performances. Plus, you can’t go wrong with Kurt Russell (Escape From New York) as MacReady. This is the kind of classic you can watch again and again, never tiring of it.

The Thing (2011)

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Much like it’s 1982 predecessor, this film focuses on a research team in the Antarctic. While this film doesn’t quite have the same magic as the ’82 version, it is still a fantastic film that deserves way more love and attention than it gets. The biggest differences are that this group was the first to find the “thing” and they have a different way of detecting who is still human. The main reason the film gets overlooked is the last-minute decision to go with mediocre CGI creature effects instead of the practical effects fans know and love. Despite that, I still adore this film with it’s surprise ending and love Mary Elizabeth Winstead (10 Cloverfield Lane) as the lead.

Favorite Things: Feminist Films to Weed Out the Oafs

There has been a lot of clashing in the film community on social media. Much of it has been men targeting and attacking women for having a different opinion than they do. The opinions women are attacked for are often that a film with a feminist plot is good, entertaining, and/or has a great message. The fact that men attack women for these opinions is absolutely insane.

In honor of those troglodytes, I’ve created this list of five feminist films for women to show men (especially ones they are considering dating) in order to weed out the cretins from the good guys. To be clear: men don’t necessarily have to like all of these films since everyone has different taste. But if they sympathize with the men I point out in each film, or they’re against the feminist messages, then it’s time to kick them to the curb!

(This list will contain spoilers so avoid if you haven’t seen one of these films)

1. Black Christmas (1974)

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Many people seem to forget the feminist message sent in Black Christmas, but if you watch it again it will become glaringly obvious. In this classic slasher, we watch Jess (Olivia Hussey) as she reveals to her boyfriend that she is pregnant and intends to get an abortion. Her boyfriend, Peter (Keir Dullea), immediately reacts by trying to control Jess and force her to keep the fetus. However you feel about abortion, one person should not have control over another person’s body.

Peter, and his reaction, is clearly portrayed as a villain in the film. I’ve heard people say Peter is meant to be a red herring in the film, making the audience believe he could be the killer. To me, it was obvious he was never the killer, but he’s just as villainous as the serial killer. Both Peter and the killer are trying to ruin Jess’s life in their own way. If a man agrees with Peter and thinks he should have been able to force Jess to keep her pregnancy, effectively taking away her autonomy and destroying her life, then get rid of him now!

2. You’re Next

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This might be the least obvious choice on this list, but hear me out. In You’re Next Erin (Sharni Vinson), who is arguably the most badass final girl ever, has to fight for survival as a trio of masked men attack a family get-together. The twist comes when she discovers her own boyfriend, Crispian (AJ Bowen), was in on the murder plot in order to inherit his family’s fortune. While Crispian insists the plan was for Erin to survive as a “witness,” the betrayal and living hell he put Erin through leads to her stabbing him in the neck.

It’s bad enough that Crispian plotted to kill his family, who he didn’t seem to care much for, but to put the girlfriend he supposedly loves in danger is taking it too far. Erin was attacked, stabbed, chased, beaten, and almost killed by multiple people throughout the film. All of this is because her boyfriend and one of his brothers wanted the family’s wealth. If the person I loved and trusted put me through all of that, I wouldn’t care if he had instructed the killers to keep me alive; I would also stab him in the neck. If a guy you’re dating thinks Crispian did his best to keep Erin safe, run away immediately!

3. Revenge

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Horror fans are very familiar with the rape-revenge subgenre of horror. What makes Revenge a bit different is how the lead, Jen (Matilda Lutz), is portrayed. She isn’t the typical demure, innocent young woman typically seen in these films. She dresses provocatively, she flirts and dances with different men, and she is dating a married man. Jen is raped by the friend of her boyfriend. Then, instead of defending her, the trio of men push her off a cliff and leave her for dead. It is very satisfying to watch her take her revenge.

Unless you’re dating a complete monster, chances are they are against rape and will root for the victim seeking revenge in these types of films. Yet, because of the way Jen is portrayed, there are some men who don’t feel like she is justified in killing the men who wronged her. That’s why her character is so important, because it reinforces that what you wear or how you act doesn’t matter; no means no. If you know a guy that thinks Jen is just a slut who got what she deserved, kick him in the balls and kick him to the curb! (Full review here)

4. Midsommar

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One of the most popular horror films of the year, Midsommar takes the audience on a journey with Dani (Florence Pugh). Dani’s boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor), is a terrible boyfriend. He doesn’t seem to really want to be with Dani, but he stays with her out of familiarity and continually emotionally manipulates her and cheats on her. Watching how horrible he is to Dani, and to their friends, makes it all the more satisfying to watch his fate fall in Dani’s hands. The moment Dani finally smiles as Christian burns alive is quite the cathartic moment.

All of Christian’s actions in the film are for his own personal gain, including his manipulation of Dani. Even after everything she goes through with losing her entire family, he can only think of himself. It’s fine if you think Christian maybe shouldn’t have been burned alive. While I think it’s fantastic and well deserved, it can be interpreted as a bit extreme. Yet, if you’re with a guy who doesn’t see anything wrong with Christian’s treatment of Dani and their friends, definitely ghost his ass! (Full review here)

5. Black Christmas (2019)

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This newest re-imagining of Black Christmas has been engulfed in controversy. The only reason for the controversy: it has a feminist message that tells men their time is up, and they can’t get away with treating women like garbage anymore. This film depicts a group of strong, independent sorority sisters being hunted down and killed by evil frat boys. These guys are condescending, misogynistic men who are prone to violence against women. Unfortunately for them, these women fight back, and they make the frat regret coming after the sisters.

Even before the film was released, men were complaining about the message of this film. They make all sorts of claims about all the different reasons this film is going to suck when it all comes down to one thing: they can’t handle feminism and women being shown as strong enough to take down men. The film isn’t perfect, so it’s one thing for them to simply not enjoy the film. If a man doesn’t agree with the message the film sends or he thinks this message isn’t important, leave him out with the rest of the trash! (Full review here)

Black Christmas (2019)

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A group of sorority sisters at a prestigious college decide to stay at their sorority house over winter break. Unfortunately for these women, the school has a sordid tradition of misogyny and racism. This holiday, that tradition involves killing female college students who are “out of line.” The sisters will have to fight for their lives if they want to make it until Christmas.

Continuing a long and delightful tradition of Christmas horror films comes Black Christmas. This re-imagining of the 1974 classic is directed by Sophia Takal (New Year New You, Always Shine), who also co-wrote the film with April Wolfe in her feature film debut. Instead of recycling the same plot of the original film, Takal and Wolfe have created a culturally-relevant thrill ride that still has some of the same spirit of the original. The film focuses on Riley, a sorority sister who has had enough of the fraternity brothers. After a scandalous Christmas performance at the frat house, the sisters find themselves in mortal danger as a masked figure attacks them in their sorority house. The mythos created around the university and the founder of the school is very interesting, albeit not as well developed as it could have been. Either way it is still very entertaining. Even though this film is a complete re-imagining of the original, eagle-eyed fans of the 1974 Black Christmas will still see a few fun nods to the original film sprinkled throughout.

This film is incredibly politically charged, definitely written for women, and it’s going to piss off a lot of men. It addresses the rampant male toxicity in the world today and how it affects women. Much of the plot, both the normal interactions and the murderous ones, involve experiences that are unique to women. The most obvious female-specific experience is the sexual harassment and assault women deal with on a daily basis. It even shows how we can’t walk down the street alone without having to be completely aware of our surroundings. Some of the more subtle interactions are likely ones most men won’t pick up on. There are references to Diva cups, periods, and vibrators that are sure to get some good laughs from the women in the audience. What I especially enjoyed about the update of this film is how it essentially lets men know women are done taking all of their shit. These women are strong, powerful, and they are done with misogynistic men trying to control and ruin their lives.

While I love the update in this Black Christmas and commend the message it sends, that doesn’t mean it’s a perfect film. One issue I have with the plot is a lack of character development. Aside from Riley and maybe one other sorority sister, it doesn’t feel like the audience really gets to know the women very well. Another aspect that felt unnecessary is the character of Landon. While the character is nice and the performance is great, his character felt like an afterthought. It was almost as if the studio asked the filmmakers to include at least one guy to fit into the “not all men” category. Finally, I feel like Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride, Kiss the Girls) was greatly underutilized. It’s obvious from the beginning that he isn’t a good guy, and we’ve seen in him a great villain in past films, but his character just doesn’t quite reach that same malevolent level fans will likely want and expect.

Each of the women in Black Christmas deliver great performances of complex and strong females. Imogen Poots (Green Room, 28 Weeks Later) stars as Riley. She is a survivor of a sexual assault and doubly strong because she persevered despite not being believed. Poots does a fantastic job of conveying Riley’s trauma and how it has changed her, but she is also able to be strong and powerful with the help of her friends. Aleyse Shannon (Charmed, Instinct) stars as Riley’s sorority sister, Kris. Kris is a very political character and a clear fighter who isn’t afraid to speak her mind. Shannon is great at exuding confidence as Kris while also being a great support system for her sisters. Honorable mention goes to Lily Donoghue (Jane the Virgin) as Marty, Brittany O’Grady (Above Suspicion), and Caleb Eberhardt (The Post) as Landon.

To keep up with the legacy of the original film, this Black Christmas had to be sure to have some great visuals. For one, the lighting in this film is phenomenal. There is a lot of great use of Christmas lights to draw the viewer’s eye while also creating gorgeous color play on the screen. While I feel as though the filmmakers shied away from showing the kills a bit too much, they did find a clever way to show some gore within the constraints for the PG-13 rating. I will leave this as a bit of a surprise since it relates to hidden aspects of the plot, but suffice it to say there is at least a bit of gore for the gore-hounds out there. Earlier I mentioned there are great Easter eggs from the first film, but also be sure to keep an eye out for a delightful little nod to The Exorcist III.

Black Christmas is a film made by women, for women, that is sure to bring in hoards of new young female horror fans. It is clear that Takal and Wolfe made this film for young women with the goal of empowering them and bashing male toxicity. If this film makes even one young woman feel empowered after leaving the theater, then it is a successful film. Naturally, the political message and the idea of empowering women is a threat to many men, as we see in the film and has already been evident on social media around the film. I for one really enjoyed Black Christmas. It has it’s flaws, but its fun, has great characters young women can look up to, and will definitely appeal to its target audience. Hopefully this will lead to many more studio horror films geared towards women who love horror. There are definitely going to be plenty of men who don’t like this film, which is fine, but if you’re a guy just remember: this film wasn’t made for you.

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10

Daniel Isn’t Real

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As a child, Luke had an imaginary friend named Daniel. After a troubling incident, he locked Daniel away and moved on with his life. Now a freshman in college, Luke returns home to visit his mentally unstable mother. In rehashing past trauma, Luke releases his old friend to help him cope with his reality.

From the producers of Mandy comes an all-new film to blow audiences’ minds. Daniel Isn’t Real is based on the novel by Brian DeLeeuw titled This Way I Was Saved. DeLeeuw (Curvature, Some Kind of Hate) co-wrote the film with director Adam Egypt Mortimer (Holidays, Some Kind of Hate). This duo creates cinematic magic in this film and delivers a compelling story unlike anything I have seen before. The film introduces us to Luke when he is a child and dealing with his parents going through what is clearly a tumultuous divorce. It is during this time that Daniel makes his first appearance. Imaginary friends are a fairly common coping mechanism for children going through trauma, so his mother allows this fantasy to continue until that fantasy becomes dangerous. Then Daniel comes back into Luke’s life during another time of trauma. Daniel is a very alluring and charming person who is able to help Luke get through hard times, tap into his artistic abilities, and become more confident with women. But, as with most things, all of this is too good to be true and Luke’s life spirals out of control all thanks to Daniel. DeLeeuw and Mortimer clearly create a fantastic mythos for Daniel and relate it to real-world issues. It’s also a mythos that keeps the audience guessing as to whether Daniel is a figment of Luke’s imagination, a side effect of a mental health issue, or something far more sinister.

There are so many layers to the plot of Daniel Isn’t Real. The top layer primarily deals with mental health. Luke’s mother has schizophrenia that is clearly not being taken care of by a healthcare professional. Naturally, when Luke’s life starts to get out of hand he thinks he is like his mother. Not only is it sad to watch his mother lose her handle on reality, but it’s equally unsettling to see how much it alters Luke’s life both when he was a child and as an adult. With schizophrenia potentially being hereditary, it’s heartbreaking to see Luke question his own sanity and fear that he is becoming like his mother, despite his love for her. It’s really powerful to watch and creates a stunning yet depressing commentary on mental illnesses and how they affect more than just the afflicted.

Another layer to the plot of Daniel Isn’t Real is the allure of power and control. Daniel is able to improve Luke’s life in virtually every aspect at first. His mother finally goes into the treatment she needs, he gets into photography, and he finally is connecting with other people. The effect Daniel has is intoxicating to Luke, but it also means he lets his guard down around his newfound friend. Daniel ends up taking over his entire life. There is even a psychosexual element as Daniel’s power over Luke extends to the bedroom, yet Daniel appears to almost be jealous of these interactions. It’s a bizarre dichotomy that makes you wonder who is truly in control at any given moment. Yet, despite that battle for control, the two are very much dependent on each other as well.

Daniel Isn’t Real contains many truly phenomenal performances. Miles Robbins (Blockers, Halloween) stars as Luke. Up until this film I had only really seen comedic performances from Robbins. His portrayal of Luke absolutely blew me away. Robbins shows such emotional depth in this role and conveys Luke’s unraveling mental state perfectly. It’s the kind of performance that stays with you long after the film ends. Patrick Schwarzenegger (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, Grown Ups 2) stars opposite Robbins as Daniel. At first Schwarzenegger’s performance is quite subtle. He’s charming, helpful, sleek, and sexy. Then as the cracks in Daniel’s facade grow and his true nature shows, Schwarzenegger is able to really let his acting ability shine. He makes the character ominous and dangerous and pure evil in the best way possible. Both Robbins and Schwarzenegger also play off of each other very well. Other delightful performances can be found in Sasha Lane (Hellyboy) as Cassie, Mary Stuart Masterson (Fried Green Tomatoes) as Claire, and Chukwudi Iwuji (John Wick: Chapter 2) as Braun.

There are many gorgeous artistic elements throughout Daniel Isn’t Real. The filmmakers utilize a combination of both practical and CGI effects. While both are impressive, the practical effects are especially striking. They manage to be both beautiful and disturbing in a way that commands the screen and draws the viewers’ eye. The effects become more prominent and elaborate as the plot progresses and beautifully blends different worlds. Throughout much of the film, artwork is prominently featured as well. The most disturbing, beautiful, and iconic images are of Daniel. Along with the visual artistry, Daniel Isn’t Real also has a bewitching musical score by composer Clark (National Treasure: Kiri, Rellik). The score has an eeriness to it that matches the tone and look and the film.

Daniel Isn’t Real is a triumph of filmmaking. It claws its way into the minds and souls of audience members and never lets go. Both DeLeeuw and Mortimer deliver a masterpiece of a film. The performances from Robbins and Schwarzenegger demand attention and their on-screen chemistry is delightful to watch. What might be the biggest feat of Daniel Isn’t Real is how it takes ideas that wouldn’t traditionally work on screen and executes them perfectly. As an indication of how much I enjoyed this film, I went online and bought the novel Daniel Isn’t Real is based on as I wrote this review. This is a must-watch film and one that has solidified its place in my top films of 2019.

OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10

The Fare

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A taxi driver finds himself on a remote road at night to pick up a fare. A mysterious woman ends up in his cab, but before they reach their destination she vanishes. Unbeknownst to the taxi driver, he will meet the woman again as soon as he switches the meter back to vacant.

D.C. Hamilton (The Midnight Man) brings audiences his sophomore film as the director of The Fare. Written by Brinna Kelly (The Midnight Man), who also stars in the film, The Fare tells the story of a taxi driver named Harris. When he is sent out to the remote location at night to pick up a fare, he half expects it to be a prank call. That is until he finds a beautiful and mysterious woman named Penny there waiting for him. They have normal polite conversation until they approach an oncoming storm, then the woman suddenly vanishes. Harris, confused, resets his meter back to vacant and ends up right back where he started. The only problem is, he doesn’t seem to know he’s been reset. The audience watches as Harris and Penny go through the same time loop, that is until Harris finally starts to remember.

The entire premise of The Fare is far more interesting and unique than I expected. In the past few years there have been a number of time-loop films. Each one has its own distinctive flare and reasons for the time loop. This film manages to stand out from the crowd by delivering a compelling story and an unexpected reason for Harris and Penny being stuck in that loop. The filmmakers do a fantastic job of keeping the audience guessing. At times the film hints at aliens, gods, and other potential reasons. The truth is revealed in layers, only divulging small pieces of the puzzle at a time and ultimately making the big reveal incredibly satisfying. More importantly, it makes sense! Often times the plots of time-loop films can get convoluted, but The Fare delivers something audiences will understand and enjoy.

When you strip The Fare down to its core, it is much more of a love story than it is a time-loop film. Once Harris becomes aware of his situation and remembers more, we see his relationship with Penny grow. It’s especially interesting to watch because they are at such different stages of coming to terms with their situation. Penny’s memory goes much further back, so she’s already gone through the various stages of grief such as anger and bargaining, but she’s now accepted her situation. Since Harris is starting from the beginning, he has a harder time coming to terms with his situation. Yet it all brings them closer together, which only strengthens Harris’s quest to escape the loop with Penny and find the truth.

Both leads in The Fare deliver great performances. Gino Anthony Pesi (Shades of Blue, Battle Los Angeles) stars as Harris the taxi driver. While more handsome than people might expect of a stereotypical taxi driver, Pesi still fits the role well. There is a roughness to him, but he is still a very personable individual. What I especially enjoy about Pesi and his portrayal of Harris is his gradual change. Throughout his character arc, the audience sees Harris go through a wide range of emotions. When Harris and Penny become closer, Pesi even conveys a soft and caring side that is unexpected. Writer Brinna Kelly stars as Penny. Kelly brings a certain amount of poise and elegance to Penny that is very fitting for the character. Yet it’s when her barriers are broken down and her affection for Harris grows that Kelly really creates memorable moments for Penny. Pesi and Kelly have great on-screen chemistry throughout the film and will hold the attention of audiences.

Overall, the look and feel of the film reminds me a lot of an episode of The Twilight Zone and old noir films. At first, The Fare is in black and white. As Harris’s memory comes back, more and more of the film is in color. It creates a great visual cue for the audience to designate when Harris knows he is in the loop or not. The filmmakers also wisely chose to have the film set almost entirely within the taxi. Not only does this create a very intimate setting for the two leads, but it also allows for a lot of possibilities when it comes to the “why” behind the time loop. This decision likely gave the filmmakers the opportunity to spend the budget in more valuable areas instead of building elaborate sets or paying to use various locations.

The Fare is an unexpected gem that delivers something new to the time-loop subgenre of film. Hamilton and Kelly prove to be an effective filmmaking duo as they take audiences on a journey that goes to strange new places. Kelly also shows her acting prowess along with Pesi. Both actors deliver stunning performances and create dynamic characters. My only truly negative criticism of The Fare is at times the small budget is quite apparent. Yet the plot is novel enough and creates a mythos that is sure to bewitch audiences.

OVERLL RATING: 8.5/10