Creature Feature

Diablo Rojo PTY

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Thanks to the work of a coven of witches, a bus driver, his assistant, two cops, and a priest cross paths. They find themselves lost in a remote part of Panama. To survive, these men will have to combat witches, cannibals, and the legend of La Tulivieja. With only the bus for refuge, it will take all their effort to make it until morning.

Diablo Rojo PTY is the first horror film to come out of Panama, and it definitely jumps into the horror scene with a bang. The film is directed by first-time director Sol Moreno alongside J. Oskura Nájera (Megamuerte). Combining multiple different stories from Panamanian folklore, Nájera wrote the script along with collaborating writer Adair Dominguez, making his film debut. To say there is a whole lot going on in Diablo Rojo PTY would be an understatement. The opening of the film throws so many different things at the audience at once that many will likely have no idea what’s going on. Once the various characters are introduced, the filmmakers take time to make sense of what has already been shown. The various threads come together in a way that begins to make sense. Then in the final act the plot is thrown into chaos again, some things making more sense than others. It leads to a delightfully gory climax jam-packed with carnage.

It makes sense, since this is Panama’s first horror film, that the filmmakers would want to include as much folklore as possible into Diablo Rojo PTY. There are witches who have cursed the unfortunate men of the film. There is La Tulivieja, which has a similar origin story to Mexico’s La Llorona except La Tulivieja takes on a horrifying, ghastly form as she searches for her child along the river. There is even a deadly cannibal tribe hunting for human prey in the Chiriqui jungle. While these elements are interesting, it is really too much for one film. Viewers will see shocking things including the witches, cannibal tribes, a monstrous creature, infanticide, and even incest. Unfortunately, many of these things are shown, but never full realized or explained in enough detail. The plot ends up muddled and inconsistent as some areas are more explored while others are never fully resolved. The same can be said for the characters. Some of the characters, like Manuel, feel more fully formed compared to someone like Officer Pinilla who seems to just be there to have someone to dislike. Many viewers will likely find parts they can connect to and parts that leave them wanting more.

Despite the ups and downs in the plot and character development, the performances are still enjoyable to watch. Carlos Carrasco (Speed, Parker) stars as the Diablo Rojo bus driver, Manuel. He is by far the most complex character in the film, and Carrasco brings depth to a man who initially comes across as quite simple. Julian Urriola makes his debut as Manuel’s assistant, Juanito. Juanito is definitely a misfit, and that persona doesn’t really change even when facing certain death. While the character isn’t necessarily that likable, Urriola does a great job of bringing him to life. Blas Valois also makes his film debut as Officer Pinilla. This character makes the least amount of sense of everyone. He’s rude for no apparent reason, doesn’t seem to be a very good cop, and keeps stupidly going off on his own even when he knows what dangers lie in wait. The way this character is written unfortunately makes it really difficult to tell if Valois’s performance was part of the problem as well, or just the character.

As with much of the film, the visuals in Diablo Rojo PTY are also a mixed bag. For the most part I would say the visuals feel like what fans would expect from a low-budget horror flick. The filmmakers relied entirely on practical effects to create the creatures and gore. There are some particularly grotesque effects in the climax of the film that might not look the most realistic, but they are still very well done and make the scenes fun to watch. The creature design for La Tulivieja is definitely unique and is sure to remind horror fans of the demons from the Evil Dead franchise. That nod to classic horror is just one of many throughout the film, and honestly these nods are some of the most enjoyable parts of the film. The musical score by Ricardo Risco sometimes sounds very similar to the score from The Shining. Even the very last scene of the film takes iconic imagery that likely comes from Carrie and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. Again, I really enjoyed these visual nods to classic films, but sometimes they added to the muddiness of the plot.

Diablo Rojo PTY has some great moments and includes a lot of fascinating Panamanian folklore, but it quickly reaches the point of having too much. Moreno and Nájera have nuggets of greatness throughout the film. The problem is, when you try to include so many different elements, nothing ends up getting the time and attention it really deserves. A film that has witches, cannibals, and La Tulivieja is a lot to tackle in a film that is only about an hour and 16 minutes. The performances, practical effects, and visual nods to classic horror films make up for some of the film’s pitfalls, but there is still a lot to be desired. I do believe this is a promising start considering it’s the first horror film from Panama. Hopefully the filmmakers will remember this adage on their next film: sometimes, less is more.

OVERALL RATING: 4/10

Monstrum

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It’s an unstable time for Joseon, a kingdom of Korea. Between threats of plague, political unrest, and rumors of a vicious monster stalking the countryside, King Jung Jong’s reign is threatened. He sends the exiled Yoon Gyeom to investigate claims of the monster, but along the way he unlocks dark secrets and a conspiracy to dethrone the king.

Monstrum is a thrilling Korean film blending martial arts, history, and a giant monster directed by Jong-ho Huh (The Advocate: A Missing Body, Countdown). Huh co-wrote the screenplay along with first time screenwriter Heo-dam. I personally have always been a fan of Korean horror films. To date I haven’t seen one that I didn’t love, and Monstrum is no different. The plot combines multiple different genres and subgenres of film to create something beautiful. It is a period piece, showing a bit of 16th century Korean history intertwined with fiction. It is a political thriller, revealing sinister conspiracies to dethrone the king. It is a martial arts film, complete with fantastic fight choreography. Then, of course, it is a creature feature with a quite unique monster called Monstrum. Huh and Heo-dam seamlessly bring these elements together. The resulting film has a little something for everyone to enjoy.

The film builds suspense by gradually revealing information to the viewers. At first the rumors of the monster are just that, rumors. The filmmakers play with the audience by initially making it unclear if Monstrum is a real beast threatening the kingdom or if it’s a figment created by those wanting to overthrow the king. That makes the reveal of the monster even more exciting. There are many messages thrown around throughout the film, but what stands out as the prevailing theme is how those who suffer the most from coups are the common folk. Time and time again we see how the poor people in the kingdom are slaughtered, sacrificed, and left to starve or exposed to plague while those in power stay safe within their palaces. It’s a theme that stands out not only because it tells a thrilling story, but also because it is something that still happens today. In the world today, I think many of us can relate to the fear of plague and feeling as though those in power couldn’t care less whether we die or not.

Monstrum has a huge cast of characters and all of them are a delight to watch. Myung-Min Kim (Six Flying Dragons, Closer to Heaven) stars as the once exiled Yoon Gyeom. We we first meet Yoon, he’s kind of dopey and lives in the countryside with his daughter and brother. When he is called upon by the king to help the investigation into Monstrum, Myung-Min Kim completely changes the character to a respectable and formidable man, yet it still feels natural. In-kwon Kim (My Way, Tidal Wave) plays the lovable Sung Han. Living with Yoon and his daughter, Sung is definitely the goofy uncle. While he can clearly kick some butt as well, In-kwon Kim makes sure to keep that goofiness throughout the film. Hyeri Lee (Reply 1988, My Punch-Drunk Boxer) plays Yoon’s daughter, Myung. She is smart, skilled, and takes everything in stride. Lee shows how Myung’s strong will allows her to easily go from being a simple country girl to warrior fighting alongside her father. Honorable mention goes to Woo-sik Choi as royal guard member Heo, whom many will likely recognize from the Oscar-winning hit film Parasite. This motley band of heroes makes the film even more enjoyable because you have someone to really root for.

There are so many stunning visual elements that make Monstrum an artistic feat. The most obvious things viewers will notice are the fantastic costume and set design. It’s clear a lot of care was taken to not only make the costumes and sets visually appealing, but also true to the period of the film. Of course, the film also includes glorious fight choreography as well. Surprisingly, the film has some shockingly realistic and very well done practical effects. This is evident in various wounds and the physical effects of the plague. What I’m sure everyone is really wondering about is Monstrum himself. The beast is done with CGI and somehow manages to look both menacing and adorable. I may be alone on this, but I think Monstrum is cute. While the CGI itself isn’t necessarily the best, the actual creature has a stylish and distinct look. The design of the creature is stunning and feels reminiscent of the beasts one would find carved around ancient temples and palaces of Asia. There is just so much to look at, which may be discouraging for viewers who take issue with subtitled films, but it’s definitely worth the effort.

Monstrum is a gorgeous film brimming with action, beauty, suspense, and of course a giant monster. Jong-ho Huh and Heo-dam expertly put all these different elements and genres together in a way that tells a memorable story. It not only has great performances, but it also is one of the most visually appealing films I’ve seen so far this year. There is a lot for people to look at on screen while also reading subtitles so it can be difficult at times to take everything in, but don’t let that discourage you. Even if it takes multiple watches to catch all the details, it is one you won’t want to miss. Monstrum is sure to be on many “best of 2020” lists at the end of the year.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

Camp Calypso (Short)

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It’s the 1970’s and a group of kids are arriving at a summer camp on its last legs. It’s a typical camp complete with misogyny, cabins, camp counselors on drugs, and a seedy new camp director. It seems like just another summer at camp, until the legend of the lake siren proves to be a little too real.

Camp Calypso is the sophomore short film by directing duo Hannah May Cumming (Fanatico), who also wrote the short, and Karlee Boon (Fanatico). This short begins much like the classic slashers of the 1980’s. We meet a small group of campers and the counselors who will watch over them for a fun-filled summer. On the first night while gathered around the campfire, the campers learn about an the legend of a siren who lives in the lake and a young woman who drowned at the camp in the 1960’s. Cumming and Boon do a fantastic job of creating a complete story in less than 20 minutes. They gradually reveal more details for the audience, slowly unravelling the mysteries of the past and connecting them to what is happening at the camp with the latest batch of counselors and campers. It veers from a typical summer camp horror flick to something much more intricate and interesting.

While the only other short film I’ve seen by Cumming and Boon is Fanatico, from what I have seen it is clear this duo has something to say. A common theme in their work, which is clearly evident in Camp Calypso, is feminism, the battle against misogyny, and challenging traditional female roles. The only characters in this short that could be considered stereotypes are the men. They are chauvinistic womanizers who care more about getting laid than doing their job, even when that means being forceful with women. The female characters, on the other hand, are more dynamic. Cumming and Boon also flipped the classic idea of a siren. Most people know the legend of how sirens dwell in bodies of water and use their song to lure men to their deaths. While that is true in Camp Calypso, there is more to the siren’s origin than the legend suggests.

The entire cast of Camp Calypso delivers compelling performances from the camp counselors, to the campers, to the camp director. While everyone is great, I’m going to focus on the female performances. Ruby Cumming stars as Margot, the shy young camper. Margot is the more reserved and observant type, so she is the first to really notice something is wrong at Camp Calypso, and Ruby Cumming adds a sincerity to the role. Misha Kemp plays camp counselor Heather. She is kind and in charge, but also willing to sneak off for a little weed. Kemp excels in the role with how she is able to be gentle and nurturing, yet she takes no shit when a male counselor tries to feel her up. Then there is the other female camp counselor, Cherry, played by Savannah Rae Jones (The Halo). At first glance, Cherry looks like the stereotypical slutty camp counselor. Yet Jones shows there is much more to Cherry than meets the eye. This is evident from her first interaction with the male counselors when she blows them off, to the way she remains cool under pressure. While the women are the clear stars, I will give honorable mention to the men including Derek Sweet, Dawson Redmond, Erik Norseth, and Nathaniel Owens.

A lot of artistic work went into Camp Calypso to make it feel like it could come from the late 1970’s while also making it a fun creature feature. For a low-budget short film, they managed to get a really great location for the camp that helps transport the audience. The wardrobe also helps quite a bit in this area, each outfit looking like it could easily have come from the late 70’s or early 80’s. Camp Calypso also has a vibrant color palette that catches the eye. What is especially surprising is the delightful creature effects for the siren. The practical prosthetics are subtle, but very well done and effective. Plus there is some delightful gore thrown in for good measure. Plus the short boasts a fantastic score by Rudy Klobas, Carlo Mery ft. Nick Mcclurg that perfectly embodies the time period. The only visual aspect I didn’t like is more of a film pet peeve of mine: the use of blue filter to make turn day into night. I realize it’s the simplest and most cost effective method for filmmakers, but it never looks right.

Camp Calypso is a delightful short monster movie that takes a bite out of misogyny. Cumming and Boon make a unique short film that creates it’s own complete story, yet it has a mythos that could easily be added to in order to make a feature-length film. The short has beautiful visuals and practical effects, although the use of the blue filter during the climax of the film cheapens the look a bit. With strong performances and an even stronger message, it’s impossible not to enjoy this short film. Between Camp Calypso and Fanatico, I can’t wait to see what Cumming and Boon do next.

OVERALL RATING: 4/5

Underwater

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A crew working in an underwater lab has been drilling into the darkest depths of the ocean. Something causes the facility to implode and flood, killing hundreds of crew. The few survivors will have to brave the intense pressure and darkness of the ocean floor, but there is something far worse waiting for them in the dark.

William Eubank (The Signal, Love) brings to life an all new aquatic horror film written by Brian Duffield (Insurgent, The Babysitter) and Adam Cozad (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Tarzan). I’m a big fan of aquatic horror films, so I’ve been looking forward to this film since the first trailer dropped. I’m happy to say the film was entertaining from start to finish. Right when Underwater starts, it wastes no time getting into the excitement. The filmmakers wisely focused on two main fears: the claustrophobic fear of being in the deep ocean and the fear of the unknown beasts that lurk in those hidden depths. Arguably, the most terrifying aspect of the film is that claustrophobia. These fears drive the plot forward with survival as the main focus. It’s a very simple plot, but effective at evoking tension and anxiety in the audience.

There is nothing wrong with a simple plot in horror. Honestly, sometimes it makes a monster movie more fun when the main goal is simply surviving a beast of unknown origin. Yet Underwater hints at a more intricate plot multiple times, but those hints never come to fruition. One of the most obvious signs that there was likely a more involved plot can be seen whenever the captain is on screen. It seems clear that he knows more than he lets on and some of his actions even come across as a bit sinister, but nothing ever comes of it. Since there are multiple writers involved and a bigger studio, I can’t help but wonder what the film started out as compared to what is currently in theaters. I do enjoy the plot as is, but I would still love to see a version with a deeper conspiracy.

Genre film lovers will likely recognize many of the faces in Underwater. Kristen Stewart (Personal Shopper, Lizzie) stars as Norah. She is a highly industrious and pragmatic character. Stewart plays Norah quite well as someone who will do what she can to survive and to save her friends, but she also clearly understands her odds of survival. Another standout performance comes from John Gallagher Jr (10 Cloverfield Lane, Hush) as Smith. I’ve often thought of Gallagher as a chameleon in genre films because he does such a great job of committing to a character that he becomes almost unrecognizable. His portrayal of the lovable Smith is no different, and he is a joy to watch. Other compelling performances come from Jessica Henwick (Game of Thrones, Iron Fist) as Emily, T.J Miller (Cloverfield, Deadpool) as Paul, and Vincent Cassel (Brotherhood of the Wolf, Black Swan) as the captain.

From the creatures to the sets to the costumes, every artistic detail of Underwater is clearly very thoroughly thought out. As an aquatic creature feature, the design of these underwater beasts is very important. Underwater utilizes CGI effects to create an array of frightening deep sea creatures. The audience will see different variations of this creature. For the most part the design makes sense for the environment these beings likely thrive in, but there are certain aspects that don’t work quite as well for me. Without giving too much away, the main creatures we see are a bit too humanoid, and one of the creature reveals almost looks like it belongs in a different movie entirely. The set and costume design are fantastic. It truly feels like the actors are in a lab with thick, sturdy walls that could still implode if even one thing goes wrong that deep in the ocean. The dive suits the actors wear are also incredible. They look as if they could actually handle the pressure of being under 6 miles of water. All of these artistic choices effectively transport the audience to an anxiety-inducing, claustrophobic setting.

Underwater is a claustrophobic creature feature that is entertaining as is, but hints at a deeper conspiracy. Eubank proves he knows how to make an edge-of-your-seat film. While it is thrilling and fun to watch, I can’t help but be curious what more there was to the plot before the film hit theaters. There are clear indications of a different film than what audiences were given. I truly enjoyed the popcorn horror flick we got. I just hope we either get a director’s cut when the film is released on Blu-ray that goes deeper or a sequel that builds on the mythos and the history of these creatures. If you haven’t seen Underwater yet, I strongly urge you to make time to see it on the big screen as it should be.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

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

IT Chapter Two

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It’s been twenty-seven years since the Losers’ Club thought they defeated Pennywise the clown. Now, he’s back and taking children again. The friends are called back to reunite in Derry to try to stop It once again. As they remember their past, the old friends will have to face the monster head-on to break the cycle and save the children of Derry… and themselves.

The second half of Stephen King’s legendary novel is yet again brought to life in IT Chapter Two by screenwriter Gary Dauberman (The Nun, Annabelle Comes Home) and director Andy Muschietti (IT [2017], Mama). The film begins right where the previous film left off, with the Losers’ Club together in the field right after defeating Pennywise for the first time. After seeing a sign from Pennywise, the only person in the group to have stayed in Derry, Mike, calls his friends and reminds them of the promise they made all those years ago. From there the film weaves back and forth between the past and the present as each member of the group is called and brought home, then as their long-forgotten childhood memories finally come back to them. The way the plot is integrated with past and present is done perfectly in a way that still allows the film to naturally flow and move forward.

Dauberman and Muschietti do a fantastic job of including the important scenes and aspects of the source material, while still giving audiences something new. It allows the filmmakers to capture the spirit and feel of the book, even if it is not an exact adaptation. In several scenes, fans of the book will recognize what is happening. Yet there are still many exciting new things that did not come from King’s novel. Some of the changes were entire scenes, while others were more subtle, but impactful changes in the characters. One specific aspect of the novel I know many people were curious to see in the film is the “ritual of Chud.” Without giving away too many details, they do reference the ritual and have it in the film, but it might not be quite what fans of the novel expect. The climax of the film is thrilling, frightening, and heartbreaking. It pays homage to King’s work, but changes things up in order to give fans something unexpected and new.

Considering the IT Chapter Two has an almost three hour run time, somehow the film still felt like it went by very quickly. This is great because it means that, despite the long run time and everything they are able to include, the film is exciting and intriguing enough to keep the audience interested. Yet it also almost feels like many aspects of the film were simply brushed over instead of giving them the more in-depth look they deserved. Considering the length of the source material and how much the filmmakers were able to include in the film, I still applaud this cinematic achievement.

Fans of the first film were likely blown away by the kids’ performances. The adults in IT Chapter Two are no different. Of course, everyone knew James McAvoy (Split, Dark Phoenix) and Jessica Chastain (Mama, Molly’s Game) as adult Bill and Bev would be phenomenal. Jay Ryan (Beauty and the Beast, Terra Nova), who plays adult Ben, is one of the least known actors in the Losers’ Club. What makes his performance so great is how much he is able to convey more than words can with just a look, even when the camera is focused on other characters. James Ransone (Insidious, Generation Kill) is perfect casting as adult Eddie and comes across as the same person as the child we saw in the first film. One of the most surprising performances comes from Isaiah Mustafa (Chuck, Shadowhunters) as adult Mike. He is unrecognizeable as the “Old Spice guy” in this role. Not only does his character get more spotlight than his younger counterpart in the first film, but Mustafa is clearly up to the task and shines in the role. All of these actors are fantastic, but Bill Hader (Trainwreck, Barry) as adult Richie will be the one audiences remember most. Hader is absolutely hilarious, adding some great laugh out loud moments in the middle of the most tense moments. Yet what makes his performance so amazing is the emotional depth he conveys beyond the humor on the surface. Last, but not least, it is important to mention Bill Skarsgård (Castle Rock, IT [2017]) as Pennywise the clown. Just like his performance in the first film, Skarsgård manages to play what is likely the most terrifying clown in movie history.

Between practical effects, CGI, sets, and Easter eggs, IT Chapter Two has many stunning visual elements. As with the first film, the many terrifying creatures and characters IT appears as are a fantastic combination of practical effects and CGI enhancement. The two modes combine seamlessly to create some of the most shocking, disgusting, and frightening imagery. The filmmakers utilize familiar sets from the first film, such as the barrens and the house on Niebolt Street, but also incorporate gorgeous new ones. Some of the most memorable sets are the elegant old inn and the place deep underground where the final showdown takes place. The film also utilizes some really fascinating transitions. These transitions allow the filmmakers to maneuver from the past to the present and back again in unique, beautiful ways.

One of the most intriguing visual aspects of IT Chapter Two is the many Easter eggs hidden throughout. Some of these are characters in the film with small cameos, including Muschietti himself and the actor who played young Ben in the 1990 IT miniseries, Brandon Crane, and one cameo I will leave as a surprise. Other Easter eggs are references to the 1990 IT and other popular films from the 80’s. One especially memorable moment is a creature that is a combination of practical and CGI effects that appears to be an Easter egg or homage to John Carpenter’s The Thing.

IT Chapter Two is a thrilling and heart-felt conclusion to the story of our favorite losers that captures the feel of King’s novel while still giving us something exciting and new. Muschietti and Dauberman clearly know how to tell a compelling story that has a strong emotional core, amazing sets and effects, tons of scares, and even more laughs. They also honor King’s work by creating this cultural phenomenon of a film for horror fans and non-horror fans alike to adore. Every single actor embodies the characters they play in a way that reminds us of the children from the first film. And, of course, Skarsgård still brings the terror with his unique and terrifying portrayal of Pennywise. Purists who want an exact adaptation of the book or fans who are devoted to the miniseries may not be thrilled by the film, but this film is undoubtedly one of the horror highlights of 2019.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

Crawl

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A category 5 hurricane is heading straight for Florida. A young woman is unable to reach her father, so she decides to brave the storm to try and find him. What she finds instead is a nest of dangerous alligators. She will have to fight the predators and the rising floodwaters in order to save herself and her father.

This tension-filled film is directed by Alexandre Aja (High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes) and written by sibling duo Michael and Shawn Rasmussen (The Ward, The Inhabitants). The film follows Haley, who is on the college swim team. She has a strained relationship with her father, but when she can’t reach him as the storm approaches, she is compelled to drive over to check on him. When she discovers him in the crawl space under their house and realizes he’e been attacked by an alligator, she has to go into full survivor-mode.

The thing that makes this film so effective and brings suspense to the audience is the combination of killer animals and being trapped in a small space. Killer alligators are terrifying enough on their own and, as we have seen in many “when animals attack” type horror films, they are very entertaining to watch. But alligators aren’t all that fast on land, so something more needs to be done to make them more frightening. The filmmakers take it to the next level with Crawl by keeping most of the film confined to the tight crawl space with no means of escape. It gives the film a very claustrophobic fear to compound the terror brought by the alligators. Then that terror is taken to all new heights when the small crawl space begins to fill with flood waters. It leaves the characters with the options of staying put and drowning or attempting to get past the alligators. Both options are enough to strike fear and panic in the hearts of audiences.

Crawl primarily focuses on two characters and both of them give the audience someone to root for. Kaya Scodelario (The Maze Runner, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile) is tough as nails as Haley. She is a very strong female character with a complicated relationship with her family and a love-hate relationship with being a competitive swimmer. Scodelario is always a joy to watch and her portrayal of Haley delivers a dynamic, complicated, and kick-ass character. Barry Pepper (The Green Mile, True Grit) plays Haley’s dad, Dave. Pepper does an amazing job of playing the supportive dad who sometimes takes things a bit too far when trying to push his child to do better. Scodelario and Pepper play off each other very well. Much of the complexity with both of their characters comes from their strained relationship as we watch Dave fall back into his old swim coach ways as he talks to Haley. Their relationship and the way it strengthens throughout the film gives Crawl it’s heart. I also want to give a very special shout-out to Cso-Cso, the dog who plays Sugar, for being absolutely adorable, even when in peril.

For a summer creature-feature, this film has some very impressive effects. Most of the alligators are CGI, but they look absolutely stunning. There is one scene where the CGI looks especially gorgeous as the audience is shown a close-up of one of the alligator’s mouths. The use of CGI allows for the alligators to traverse the crawl space and the flood waters in order to deliver many fantastic jump-scares. The practical effects are equally well done. In any animal attack film it is a guarantee we will see bloody wounds from bites. The gore is truly taken to an unexpected level in this film. Most likely this is Aja’s influence. He is known for lots of amazing gore. Between bites, breaks, and other horrifying injuries, the practical effects are sure to make audience members cringe, gasp, and maybe even avert their eyes.

Crawl is the perfect summer creature-feature bringing action, scares, gore, and tons of thrills. Aja is definitely known for giving crowd-pleasing, bloody horror films and Crawl is no different. He expertly combines different fears to create a fun and thrilling summer flick with fantastic performances by Scodelario and Pepper. It may surprise audiences, but the story created by the Rasmussens delivers not only on the action and scares. It’s also a great heartfelt story about family coming together and conquering past issues. I wouldn’t suggest going into this film assuming you will see the next Oscar-winner, but if you go in expecting something that is fun and will have you on the edge of your seat, then Crawl is sure to be a fan-favorite.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10