Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl


Adele has always been a shy, sweet, responsible girl. Adele’s mother sends her to live with and care for her sick, agoraphobic aunt. Soon after moving in she meets Beth, a sensual, mysterious young women. The more time the young women spend together the more Adele’s limits are tested. Soon her life begins to spiral down a path of lust, obsession, and something much darker.

From the very first frame this film has the feel of the 1970’s. Everything from the clothing to the cinematography transports you to a different era. It isn’t until we see Reagan on a television in the background that the time period is confirmed as likely being in the early eighties. To be honest, the addition of Reagan on the TV was unnecessary to determine the time the film takes place in, and I believe the film could be a bit more intriguing if this had been excluded. The gorgeous cinematography, the haunting music, and the mysterious nature of the plot all lend to the early-seventies, Italian-inspired atmosphere of the film. It gives the film a distinct giallo look and feel.

The film has a very sexy gothic quality to it that only enhances the relatively simple story. Adele is so innocent and naive. As she spends more and more time with Beth, who is a wild and a free spirit, Adele starts to do things that she normally would never do. What is even more interesting is how her actions directly affect the aunt that she cares for. It is fascinating and tense to watch Adele’s actions spiral out of control as she becomes increasingly infatuated with Beth. While the story is interesting and the film itself is beautiful to watch, the end is a bit rough. It adds a supernatural element that works with the style of the film, yet it doesn’t make very much sense. When I finished the film I found myself trying to analyze the end and was unable to make sense of it. It is almost as if there should be one more scene in the film, that perhaps got cut, that would better connect all the elements.

Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl continues the horror film trend in recent years that focuses on young women coming into their own. Adele is shy, awkward, and clearly repressed in more ways than one. She always does what she is told whether it be by her mother or her aunt. Beth is the conduit that allows her to break free from the bonds of responsibility. Their friendship allows Adele to branch out from her comfort zone, both by breaking the rules and discovering her inner sexuality. It is almost as if Beth is the embodiment of the person Adele wishes she could be.

Both of the young actresses in this film do a stellar job. Erin Wilhelmi (Disconnect, Perks of Being a Wallflower) is brilliant as shy little Adele. She is so innocent and follows all the rules. It is fascinating to see Wilhelmi convey Adele’s transformation as she has a sort of sexual, rebellious awakening as she spends more time with Beth. Quinn Shephard (Unaccompanied Minors, Hostages) is also brilliant as Beth. Shepard plays the character in such a way where you sense there is more to her than meets the eye, and she simply oozes sensuality. Wilhelmi and Shephard together have amazing on-screen chemistry. It is impossible to take your eyes off of them.

Sweet, Sweet Lonely girl is a seductive and atmospheric film that will take you back to a different era of film. The sinister and sexual nature will draw you in and hold your focus, as will the astounding cinematography and remarkable performances by both Wilhelmi and Shephard. This could almost be a flawless film if not for the somewhat confusing ending. While it doesn’t necessarily ruin the film, it may leave you scratching your head as the credits roll. My advice would be to simply take the ending for what it is, and don’t attempt to read too much into it. Either way, you are in for a treat.


A Dark Song


Sophia’s young son was kidnapped and murdered. Now she is trying to find a way to contact him. After much research and effort, she rents a house in a secluded part of Wales. Sophia then hires an occultist to come stay with her in the house in order to reach her Guardian Angel. The process involves days, weeks, and even months of meticulous rituals. This process will test them psychologically, and it will even threaten their lives.

Many people wish they could talk to a deceased loved one. So much so that it is common in horror films to have that as the driving force of the plot. While trying to reach the dead is common enough, A Dark Song manages to give a completely unique take on this concept. The ritual in this film isn’t some simple incantation or sacrifice that allows you to achieve your goal in a matter of minutes. It is a series of precise and intricate rituals that have to be performed over and over for weeks on end in order to purify your soul. The tedious nature of this makes the film very intense, almost even anxiety inducing. If one little mistake is made it could all end in disaster. What’s even worse is that the pair are trapped inside a house together for the entirety of the process, adding a claustrophobic feel to the situation. The first 3/4 of the film focuses entirely on the ritual process. Then there is a shift in events, and the last 1/4 of the film involves more excitement. No matter which part of the film you focus on, the originality of the plot is simply undeniable.

While A Dark Song is very much about magic and the occult, it is also about a woman against the world. Sophia has completely dedicated her time, money, and life to finding someone to perform this ritual. While her motives may not be quite what they appear, she is clearly consumed by the death of her son. Her family is against what she is doing, and she has no true support system. Even the occultist, Solomon, acts against Sophia. Despite the fact that she is paying him to perform this ritual he makes it clear that he is in charge, and Sophia has to do anything and everything he tells her to do. It creates a bizarre dynamic between the two because Sophia must follow Solomon’s instructions to achieve her goal, yet she clearly feels hatred towards him and following his orders goes against her instincts.

Because 90% of this film focuses on two characters it would not have turned out so brilliantly if it hadn’t been for the exquisite talent of the actors. Catherine Walker (Leap Year, Patrick’s Day) plays the grieving mother, Sophia. Walker does such a phenomenal job of showing Sophia’s internal struggle of wanting to complete the ritual, yet being distrustful of the occultist who is supposed to help her. It is amazing how her feelings play so well on her face, even if her actions are saying something different. Steve Oram (The Canal, At World’s End) is also fantastic as the occultist, Solomon. Even though he is there to help Sophia, and being paid to do so, Solomon has no filter and makes sure it is clear he is in charge. Oram plays this part so well because he manages to be completely deplorable while also making the audience like him for what he is doing to help Sophia. The dynamic between these two actors is so incredible that I couldn’t imagine any other actors in these roles.

A variety of effects are used throughout the film. While most of the effects can be seen at the climax, there are still some smaller ones scattered throughout earlier in the film. One scene that stands out early-on employs CGI to make it appear as though gold flakes are raining down from the ceiling. It is so beautifully done and adds an element of fantasy and whimsy in a film that is otherwise completely shrouded in darkness. The practical effects in A Dark Song are used sparingly and, again, primarily during the climax (so I won’t go into detail). I can say that they are well done and very creepy. The ultimate scene of the climax utilizes gorgeous CGI. Again, I won’t go into too much detail, but while the scene is beautifully done it will definitely divide audiences on whether they like it or not. I personally think it works quite well with the story, but others might find it to be a bit much.

A Dark Song is a gorgeous film that is guaranteed to be polarizing to audiences. Some people will prefer the first section of the film because of the tense feeling it creates, while other will find it a bit slow and boring. Then there will be some who prefer the last part of the film because it has the most action, and others will dislike it because it feels less grounded in reality than the rest of the film. Even the ultimate climax of the film is quite polarizing in how audiences will view it. As a whole, I think the film is fantastic. It is intense, beautiful, frightening at times, expertly acted, and has some of the most unique pieces of plot and imagery I have ever seen.


Personal Shopper


Maureen is a young American living and working as a personal shopper in Paris. She recently lost her twin brother to a heart defect that Maureen has as well. Also like her brother, Maureen may possess the abilities of a medium. As she attempts to contact her brother’s spirit she exposes herself to dangers she doesn’t understand. Someone, or something, is trying to make contact. Whatever is trying to reach out to Maureen will change her life forever.

The plot of personal shopper is relatively unique, but what makes it truly stand out is the way the film was pieced together. This isn’t a film that necessarily has a typical beginning, middle, and end. It feels more true to life in that there isn’t a linear story, instead the film flows with the ins and outs of Maureen’s daily life. There is also a lack of the expositional scenes audiences are used to when watching traditional narrative films. This style is very similar to what was done in the Golden Globe nominated film, 20th Century Women. Some may be put off by this style, especially since it does not lay the who, what, when, where, why out on a silver platter. I personally enjoy this method of storytelling because of the realism it adds to the film. This particular method also enhances the high fashion aspect. Maureen is a personal shopper for a high profile model, and that means she has access to fantastic haute couture clothing. When that is combined with the realistic storytelling the result is a raw and gorgeous film.

There is also a constant presence of death throughout the film, whether it be ghosts, thoughts of Maureen’s deceased brother, or her own impending mortality. Since she was a child, she has experienced the paranormal because she and her brother are mediums. Then when he dies of a heart defect that Maureen also has, death is brought into the forefront of her life. It is no longer static in the background, but something she has to face and learn to no longer fear. In a sense her brother’s death helps her to live her life the way she wants because there is no way to know when her time is up. She has to learn to accept and live with the idea of death because it is all around her.

There are a few downfalls to the plot. One scene is specifically bothersome. In it Maureen is having a conversation about her brother’s spirit with a friend’s boyfriend. The dialogue for this scene is choppy and sounds unnaturally forced. It is one of a few scenes where the dialogue sounds awkward. Additionally, there are a couple scenes that don’t make much sense or feel irrelevant. Some of this can be written off as part of the unique storytelling format, but one specific scene involves events implying a ghost is present. What makes it odd is that the ghostly presence is not explained or even acknowledged in any way. Again, this is likely due to the format of the film, but it definitely detracts a bit from the plot.

This film focuses almost solely on the protagonist. Many people will know Kristen Stewart as Bella from the Twilight franchise. In Personal Shopper she plays the complicated main character, Maureen. Historically the only film I have thought Stewart could act in was Panic Room. Luckily, Stewart seems to have broken the Twilight curse. Her performance in Personal Shopper is evocative, grounded, and she brings the character to life in a way I have not seen from her before. I will say there are times in the film where Stewart acts in stressful situations that gives me flashbacks to her Twilight days. Specifically, she tends to twitch and stutter to portray anxiety or fear much like she did as Bella. Not to say that these actions don’t work for the character of Maureen, but it still calls me back to memories of Stewart’s less competent performances. However, her overall portrayal carries the film and gives it life.

Since this is a film that is meant to feel as real as possible there is a minimal amount of effects. The only CGI effects in the film are used to create the ghosts Maureen sees. Most of the time it is just a glimmer in the darkness, but one scene involves a more full-bodied apparition. While the more minimalist CGI works well, the full-bodied work loses any sense of mystery and any chance of scaring the audience. This is a perfect example of “less is more” being the smartest route, especially in paranormal horror films. The cinematography works much better than the effects. Most of the shots, much like the story, are done in a way that makes the audience feel like they are peering into Maureen’s life. Yet there are still scenes that have a certain air of beauty. One specific scene that is masterfully shot manages to make a horrific event intriguing and bewitching. The audience is shown just enough to understand what is happening, without truly showing anything too disturbing. It fits with the overall themes of the film; sex, mystery, beauty, and death.

Personal Shopper is a film that has its flaws. If you can look past some of the less fortunate dialogue and lackluster CGI, then you will see the unsettling and seductive film that lies within. There is no one aspect of this film that narrates the story, except that it is Maureen’s life. Her life is revealed to the audience as she experiences events in an authentic portrayal of the darker side of humanity. The only theme that runs throughout the entire film is life in the fashion world and a sort of acceptance of death. If you enjoy fashion, intrigue, and the supernatural then this is a film you should seek out.




Julia’s boyfriend, Holt, disappears after beginning a special assignment for one of his professors. She goes to his college to try to find out where he has gone. She discovers that the professor and Holt are involved in an investigation surrounding a mysterious tape that kills people seven days after watching it. Julia watches the tape, but something is different about the images this time. Julia and Holt race to find the meaning behind these images before Julia’s seven days have run out.

Rings is the kind of film one goes into with very low expectations. It is the third installment of the American franchise of The Ring, there was a large drop in quality between the first and second installments, the film is rated PG-13, and the two leads are played by relatively unknown young actors. This film has many flaws, but considering how low my expectations were I was pleasantly surprised with what I saw. This installment of the franchise built a lot on some of the mythology that was slightly hinted at in the previous films. I really enjoyed how the filmmakers added different images to the tape we already knew in order to create a new and interesting investigation into Samara’s past.

While the expansion of the mythology was fascinating, the plot focused so much on this aspect that there was virtually no tension. Not only did the film lack any truly tense moments, but there weren’t even any good jump scares. Jump scares are a pivotal part of PG-13 horror films. There were scenes where the filmmakers were clearly trying to elicit fear from the audience, but they did not succeed. The film felt more like a drama or mystery that just happened to have a cursed tape and a ghost girl. Rings also had incredibly weak opening and closing scenes. The opening scene was just ludicrous. It attempts to set up what we already know about how the cursed tape works, but on such a ridiculously grand scale to the point where it is almost laughable. It is also unnecessary since shortly after there is another scene that acts in the same function with much more striking imagery. The end scene ruined the plot a bit for me because it felt all too familiar and didn’t really work with some of the implications from earlier events in the film.

There seems to be a recent trend with PG-13 horror films where the leading roles are filled by unknown actors that aren’t necessarily great at their job, and then lesser roles are filled by recognizable faces. In Rings there are two actors that not only do a good job in their supporting roles, but they are also people audiences will likely be familiar with. Johnny Galecki (The Big Bang Theory, In Time) played the egocentric college professor while Vincent D’Onofrio (Daredevil, Jurassic World) played a blind man who managed the graveyard where Samara was buried. Both actors gave great performances and added hidden depth to their characters. In the leading role of Julia we had Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz (Summertime, L’Universale). There were two main issues with her performance; 1. There were many times where I could hear her Italian accent come through while she was portraying an American. 2. She seemed almost aloof through most of the events that took place, which was part of the reason why the film didn’t feel as tense. The role of Julia’s boyfriend, Holt, was played by Alex Roe ( The 5th Wave, The Cut). He also gave off a bit of a nonchalant vibe throughout the film. It’s difficult to say if that was a conscious choice by the director or if these two were simply inexperienced and unable to show true emotion. Together the two leads were completely lacking in on screen chemistry as a couple, and I did not find them even remotely believable as eighteen year old kids.

Rings provides an interesting expansion on the mythology of Samara, but offers little else. The intrigue was enough to keep my interest. The complete lack of scares, bad acting, and horrendous opening and closing scenes turned a story with potential into a mediocre film. I think the film was better than what the trailer led people to believe, but in the end it will likely be forgotten by the end of the month. If you are a fan of The Ring franchise then you will likely enjoy learning more about the curse. For the more casual movie goers, you may want to pass on this particular film.


The Bye Bye Man


Three college students rent an old house off campus. In the house is a small nightstand. Within that nightstand the words “don’t think it, don’t say it” are written over and over and over. Under that writing something else is carved into the wood:”The Bye Bye Man.” From the moment the name is read and spoken aloud, the friends are put in danger. They must quickly work to discover the origin of the writing and save themselves from pure evil.

Going into this film I did not have high expectations. It looked like your typical PG-13 horror flick with a bunch of young unknown actors and a mediocre plot. The opening scene of the film almost changed my mind. It was completely different than I expected. It was shocking and it set the tone for what could have been an amazing story. Unfortunately, the rest of the film was exactly what I expected.

There was a lot of potential hidden within this mess of a film. As I said before, the first 10 minutes of the film were superb. It threw you into events that showed you what needed to be done when the name is spoken aloud. By showing this to the audience, we immediately get a better understanding of some of the mythology behind the mysterious Bye Bye Man. Once we get to the present, everything becomes less clear. The mythology the filmmakers attempted to build is spotty and incomplete. On more than one occasion scenes depict a train and two old coins. They are shown many times, yet not once is their significance explained. The only things we know for sure about the Bye Bye Man are that you shouldn’t think or say his name, he has a strange dog-like creature as his sidekick, and he drives his victims mad by making them see things.

While the film doesn’t focus enough on the mythology, it does focus on many minor plot points that have no real significance to the story. Specifically, the film focused a lot on the lead actor having a sneaking suspicion that his girlfriend and best friend are having an affair. I understand that this was implanted into the plot as a way for the Bye Bye Man to invade this character’s mind, but at the same time this idea is put into our minds even before the Bye Bye Man is involved. It doesn’t make sense to have a character suspect his girlfriend is cheating on him with his best friend, yet he is fine with the three of them all living together in a house. To me this either indicates a bit of laziness on the filmmaker’s part or they expected the audience not to be smart enough to notice.

The Bye Bye Man had some pretty well known cast members. The Bye Bye Man himself was played by the much beloved Doug Jones (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth). The cast also included the likes of Carrie Anne Moss (The Matrix, Chocolat) and Faye Dunaway (Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown). The one problem with these three big talents was they were vastly underutilized. I was mostly disappointed by the lack of use of Jones. He is such an amazing actor, especially when in elaborate prosthetics, yet in most scenes Jones was merely standing in the shadows. Since these three actors are more well known, it only makes sense they likely were paid fairly well, despite the size of the roles they were in. With so much of the film budget going towards people who were barely in the film, it appears that the remaining budget was barely enough to cover the lead actors and the CGI.

The three leads were sadly another negative aspect of this film. Douglas Smith (Miss Sloane, Big Love) played the loving boyfriend, Elliot. There were times when his performance was passable, but then he would deliver a line that felt so over the top some audience members laughed. His best friend, John, was played by Lucien Laviscount (Scream Queens, Honeytrap). I have seen Laviscount on season one of Scream Queens and thought he was a good actor. In this film it seemed like he was overacting a bit, much like Smith. Cressida Bonas (Doctor Thorne) played the girlfriend, Sasha. Since this was Bonas’s first feature film, and one of her first acting projects, I am willing to be a bit more forgiving. My biggest concern with her performance is that there were many times when I could hear her English accent coming through when she was playing an American student. It seems likely the acting was flawed due to a combination of factors; lack of experience, poor direction, and an underdeveloped screenplay.

The CGI in The Bye Bye Man appears to be more comparable to a SyFy channel film than a film that has a wide theatrical release. In one scene that can be viewed in the trailer, the Bye Bye Man makes a character see maggots on another character. It looks like virtually no effort was put into making the maggots appear realistic or look like they are actually coming out of the person’s body. That is just one example of the unfortunate effects throughout the film. The “dog” sidekick of the Bye Bye Man is another CGI disaster. Not only are the effects poorly executed, but the creature design also leaves much to be desired. It’s not quite a monster, it’s not quite a real animal, and I’m still not sure why it was even in the film.

When I think to some of the basics of the plot, I see something that could have been great. I love the idea of the evil called the Bye Bye Man. I also love the “don’t think it don’t say it” catchphrase and how the Bye Bye Man gains his power. Perhaps if the film had spent more time learning about the villain himself, as opposed to seeing his effects on the three students, the story would have held the interest of viewers. I went into this film expecting it to be bad, but at least somewhat creepy. The fact that I went home to an empty house at night and was not even remotely scared speaks volumes about the film. As much as it pains me to say it, The Bye Bye Man is already in the running for one of the worst horror films of 2017.


The Wailing

A strange Japanese man arrives at a small village in South Korea. Soon after, people begin to go mad and kill their families. A local cop is assigned to these strange cases. His own daughter eventually starts to exhibit the same symptoms as the others who went mad. With the help of his friends, a priest and a shaman, the cop does whatever he can to stop the Japanese stranger from harming his daughter, or anyone else in town.

The Wailing is the second great Korean horror film I have seen this year. Similarly to Train to Busan, the focus of this film is the relationship between a father and his young daughter. Once the daughter is thrown into peril we see the father grow as a person and try to rescue her. The father adds a comedic aspect to the beginning of the film up until the point when his daughter gets sick. From there the film takes a more serious turn. It also does an interesting job of blending different types of mythology. There are satanic rituals, shamanism, ghosts and spirits, a zombie-like illness, and possession. The filmmakers expertly weave all of these aspects together into a chilling, and often times humorous, story. The only issue I had with the plot is that the ending felt a bit convoluted. It seems like the filmmakers are trying to insert too many twists and turns to the point where the audience is left with one too many questions.

This film has multiple amazing performances that lure the audience into the story. One standout is Do-wan Kwak (The Berlin File) as the cop and father, Jong-Goo. The fact that his portrayal of Jong-Goo shows him as a rather dopey and fearful cop who finds his strength when his daughter is in danger feels natural and compelling. Do-wan Kwak manages to make me laugh and make me feel compassion for Jong-Goo and his family. I also love Jun Kunimura (Kill Bill: Vo. 1 and 2) as the stranger. He doesn’t have many speaking scenes until later in the film, but it is hard not to feel his presence. With just a stare, Kunimura is able to send chills down my spine and add to the unsettling ambience of the film.

The effects of this film are subtle, which works well with the story. The infected people first get strange rashes. These rashes eventually cover the whole body, and the eyes of the infected turn white before they become violent. The rashes are grotesque and very well done. One scene involves an infected person having a convulsive fit that results in a bone protruding from the skin. It is disgusting, but also beautiful in how they are able to achieve it with the practical effects. There is another scene at the climax of the film that involves a different kind of transformation. This one I can’t get into too much detail for, but it is one of the most unnerving scenes in the entire film.

While The Wailing isn’t my favorite Korean horror film I have seen this year, it is definitely a memorable one. It has a unique and intricate plot that will keep you hooked through to the end, which is impressive considering it is over two and a half hours long. While the climax does get a bit tangled and confused, it still makes for a riveting mystery. This is another film to add to the rather long list of great foreign films that have come out in the past year. It will appeal to a multitude of horror fans and non-horror fans alike.


The Autopsy of Jane Doe

The body of a woman is found partially buried in the basement of a home with multiple murder victims. The identity and cause of death is clear for all the victims, except the woman. Not only is there no clear cause of death, but no one knows who she is or where she came from. The sheriff entrusts the body with a father and son coroner team to find out who she is and how she died before the press gets wind of the situation. As the father and son work through the night to conduct their autopsy strange things begin to happen. There is more to this Jane Doe than meets the eye.

This film is a horror lover’s dream. Director André Øvredal has dabbled in the horror genre with the delightful Trollhunter in 2010, but this is the first truly terrifying film he has worked on. The audience is immediately thrown into the crime scene where the body of Jane Doe is discovered. At once we are apart of the mystery and the investigation into the odd circumstances surrounding what happened in the house and who this woman is. When we are introduced to the father and son coroner team, the filmmakers do an excellent job of quickly developing their characters and their relationship. This allows the plot to move swiftly into the autopsy phase. There is further character development during the scientific study of Jane Doe, but you feel like you already have a grasp of the characters before that.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe perfectly blends science and the supernatural. As the coroners are performing the autopsy they try to find a way to rationalize all the unexplainable wounds they discover. Things eventually become more and more strange, leading to the supernatural happenings and the realization that nothing about the corpse is normal. It is filled with secrets and things that should not be possible. The further into the autopsy the duo goes, the more strange and terrifying everything becomes. On more than one occasion I hid my face behind my hands in anticipation of what scary things were to come, but at the same time I couldn’t look away.

The two leads in this film are wonderful. Emile Hirsch (The Girl Next Door, Into the Wild) gives his usual excellent performance as the son, Austin Tilden. While he is science-minded like his father, Hirsch shows that Austin is the first to notice the strange happenings and accept them for what they are. I especially enjoyed Brian Cox (Morgan, Trick ‘r Treat) as the father and widower, Tommy Tilden. Cox creates a perfect blend of characteristics for Tommy. Tommy is sad and lonely after the death of his wife, but he gets through each day by burying himself in his work as well as with the support of his son, but he does it all with a sense of humor. This is conveyed by Cox in such a way that Tommy feels like a real, complex person. I also have to give a nod to Jane Doe herself, played by Olwen Catherine Kelly (Darkness on the Edge of Town). While she plays a lifeless corpse throughout the film, I was impressed by the fact that not once did I look at her as a living person. I can’t even imagine what the workday would look like laying naked on the slab each day, trying to hide your breathing and minimizing any movement during filming.

Horror films can often feel real, depending on the content and how they are made. The scientific aspect of this film keeps it somewhat grounded in reality, but what really makes this film feel so real is the effects. Before seeing the film I was expecting the autopsy itself to happen slightly off camera so the audience never really sees anything. What surprised me is this film successfully hides certain terrifying aspects while keeping others in plain sight. Much to my delight you never really see the things lurking in the dark, yet you see everything that happens to Jane Doe on the slab. Not only do you see the entire process of the autopsy, but the practical effects are so well done that it feels like you are watching an actual corpse being dissected. Everything is masterfully done from the smaller effects like cutting into the skin, to the bigger ones like cutting open her ribs to examine the organs. It was all beautiful, terrifying, and lifelike.

This is a very successful jump into the horror genre for André Øvredal. The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a truly frightening film. It contains many of my favorite aspects of horror films: science, supernatural happenings, great acting, a unique story, excellent practical effects, and it doesn’t reveal so much that it takes away from the scares. This is the kind of film that makes your hair stand on end and gives you the feeling that someone, or something, is lurking behind you. I imagine you could watch this film repeatedly and see new, small details you never noticed before. I can honestly say this is one of the best horror films of 2016, if not one of the best I have seen in years.