Jigsaw Review

If there exists a film series that I understand the appeal for the least, it would probably have to be Saw. Known for their grisly, morbid content, the film series has sparked numerous controversies. Often beloved by many fans but consistently panned by critics.

I’m sure most if not everyone is now familiar with the Saw film formula. A serial murderer named John Kramer (played by Tobin Bell) kidnaps individuals and makes them play a very real game of life and death. Forcing them to compete in psychological games of torture to atone for their crimes of the past.

Except this time around in Jigsaw, the gimmick (Did I say gimmick? I meant catch!) is that John Kramer has been dead for ten years. Yet, someone is going around killing off new people. Is John back from the dead, or is there a copycat killer on the loose? Will the police be able to find this mysterious individual before it’s too late, or will they get away with their cruel crimes?

I’ve personally never cared for this genre of horror, often crudely labeled as “torture porn”. Where as many slasher films have novelty, uniqueness or even political/social commentary aspects that make them entertaining, the only feature of Saw meant to be fun is watching individuals be tortured and maimed. This isn’t my cup of tea, nor will it ever be.

But if I were to take a second to look at it from a Saw fan’s perspective, I’d still loathe this film with a passion. For the simple reason that, none of the kills (or traps) were that crafty. I distinctly remember some of the other films having creative torture devices, where Jigsaw feels oddly void of any interesting traps or obstacles.

Saw also attempts to throw red herring after red herring at the viewer, attempting to distract from the obvious end bad guy. When all but one main character has been accused of being the villain before the runtime hits the hour mark, it quickly becomes clear who’s in on it. So when we get the obligatory Scooby-Doo style explanation of who the villain is, it’s all the more excruciating to sit through.

A clever moment here and there doesn’t nearly make up for the sloppy, downright incoherent product that we’re given. It’s cardboard characters and sorry excuse for a mystery are the most horrifying, vomit-inducing parts of the film. After a whopping eight installments, its abundantly clear that the Saw franchise is completely out of ideas, leaving the audience with a jumbled puzzle that no one should be forced to put together.

The Verdict: D-

-Zachary Flint

It Review

The choice to remake a popular horror film is far from a new concept. And with Hollywood’s recent drought of creativity, the horror genre has become stale, boring, unexciting, and lacking any passion from the filmmaker’s end. Occasionally something unique will slip through the cracks (It Comes at Night comes to mind), but more often than not we get unoriginal slop (Poltergeist (2015), Rings, Annabelle, and so on).

So, when I heard we’d be getting another film of Stephen King’s It, I was fairly certain that It would fall victim to the same level of incompetence as its peers. Yet, in a surprising turn of events, just the opposite occurred. Rather than getting a boring, run-of-the-mill remake, moviegoers are being treated to a highly appealing horror flick with a terrifying antagonist and talented cast.

Set in the quaint town of Derry, Maine, an evil entity preys upon the fearful youth. Often appearing in the form of a clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), this entity awakens every twenty-seven years to devour the children of Derry. However, when some of the neighborhood children (labeled as the Losers’ Club) band together, their friendships and fears are put to the ultimate test. Facing off against an evil force with power unlike anything imaginable.

It was delightfully scary in the utmost creative and unexpected ways. The film went with a mix of tension building, creepy moments, as well as quick jump scares that are followed by loud spikes in the sound. The jump scares were pretty standard and didn’t get the strongest reaction from audiences. The scariest scenes of It were when the film took its time building suspense through creepy imagery, all leading up to great payoffs featuring Pennywise the clown (whose eerie demeanor completely stole the show in every sense of the word).

Not only a terrifying horror flick, It contained a clever narrative on the struggles of teenage adolescence. Each character in the film was dealing with some sort of real life dilemma, such as a hypochondriac parent, grief, and child abuse. This not only gives our unlikely heroes motivation, but makes them feel all the more genuine, resulting in the audience connecting with them more. Even the stereotypical bully, a character whose writing I was fully prepared to loathe, had a tragic backstory that gave him more depth.

The dialogue and personalities of the child actors reflected how young kids might actually behave. Incredibly foul-mouthed and crude, they felt less like Hollywood twerps and more like normal everyday children.

While a few characters here and there could’ve had a little more time devoted to them, I’m really stretching to find issues. The reality is that It is a fantastic work of fiction, with dedicated filmmakers striving to make a movie that entertains viewers. With plenty of grotesque scenes, memorable performances, and a great use of camera angles, I think there’s enough here for just about any horror fan to be completely satisfied.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

Annabelle: Creation Review

To the best of my knowledge, Annabelle: Creation is the first prequel of a prequel based off an opening scene of another movie. And being that it’s a prequel to a horror flick that was poorly received, Annabelle: Creation was pretty much destined to be a critical failure from the get-go. However, director David Sandberg (Lights Out) and producer James Wan (The Conjuring and Insidious) were fully prepared to go against the odds, turning out a flawed, yet entertaining movie.

The film follows a nun (Stephanie Sigman) and six orphaned girls, who move into a farmhouse owned by a mysterious former doll maker named Sam Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia). Strange events begin to unfold soon after moving into the house, as one of the girls sneaks into a forbidden room previously occupied by the daughter of Mr. Mullins. There, the girl finds a porcelain doll that seems to have a life on its own, as it begins to scare and terrorize the orphans.

From his previous work on the 2016 horror flick Lights Out, its clearly evident that David Sandberg has a knack for crafting and executing a scary scene. In Annabelle: Creation, I felt that his talent was able to shine through, at least in some respects. The camera placement, pacing, and convincing acting aided Sandberg in scaring the audience on many occasions. Sadly, a lot of these frightening moments are followed up by unrelated scenes, which made a lot of the film feel poorly integrated.

I felt that many of the creative choices made in Annabelle: Creation didn’t quite fit this story, as if the filmmakers were trying too hard to emulate the style of The Conjuring. Take the numerous themes of Christianity for example, which are seen across many of James Wan’s productions. Christian themes and symbols are frequently discussed and seen all over this film, yet they never play into a deeper meaning or context. In The Conjuring these themes made sense, as it all played into the central message of the film, that the character’s religious beliefs would help them prevail over evil. In this, the Christian symbols are present for no reason other than to draw parallels to The Conjuring.

Even some of the horror movie logic doesn’t flow very well, with Annabelle often disregarding its own established rules. Even near the third act of the film the evil doll/demon would begin exhibiting powers and characteristics not yet introduced, as if they didn’t have a clear idea of what this evil entity was going to be. Usually something like this would just be a minor nitpick, however Annabelle takes it so far that the audience got tired of suspending their disbelief. There were points where the audience would audibly groan or question why certain things happened, or why a character would behave so irrationally. It was at these moments that I stopped taking the film seriously and just enjoyed it purely for the schlock factor.

I highly respect what Sandberg and Wan attempted to do with Annabelle: Creation, and in some areas, they were pretty successful. Whether the film was being serious and scary, or just complete schlock, I was entertained the whole way through. The great use of an eerie film location, compounded with the effective filmmaking techniques, made for a pretty terrifying atmosphere. I’m sure the average moviegoer would be able to overlook the numerous flaws in this picture and enjoy it as a solid, conventional horror film.

The Verdict: C+

-Zachary Flint

47 Meters Down Review

47 Meters Down blurs the line between what should be allowed in the theater, and what should be restricted to the Syfy channel. With atrocious acting, poor CGI effects, and a slew of other issues, 47 Meters Down manages to be both dim-witted and ludicrous.

The film follows two sisters named Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt) on a vacation trip to the coast of Mexico. There, they meet a couple of locals, who invite them to go cage diving in shark-infested waters. The women of course agree, and set off into the vast ocean to see some great white sharks. When the girls finally enter the cage and descend into the ocean, things take a turn for the worst when the winch holding up the cage breaks. This sends the girls plummeting to the ocean floor, trapped in the cage with little oxygen. It is now up to Lisa and Kate to find a way back up to the surface, without being devoured by bloodthirsty sharks.

Despite it being about murderous sharks, most of this film was relatively boring. Almost every scene included way too much filler, as if they were struggling to increase the overall runtime. The camera would often hold on completely unnecessary shots or angles in an attempt to reach the eighty minute mark.  All the events that unfold could’ve easily been condensed into half an hour.

The dialogue exchanged throughout the entirety of 47 Meters Down is incredibly obnoxious. Our ditzy, superficial female leads had zero chemistry and no personality, making for some very unpleasant conversations. The majority of the dialogue was pretty bland, and resembled what you would hear in your typical, run-of-the-mill horror flick.

The CGI on the sharks, unfortunately, couldn’t have been any less believable. Instead of building suspense and terror like the filmmakers intended, the sharks just made the audience roar with laughter.

The conclusion of 47 Meters Down proved to be one of the very worst film endings I’ve seen all year, even rivaling The Bye Bye Man and The Circle. The filmmakers first try to pull a fake out ending, where what the audience thinks happens was actually a hallucination by the protagonist. However, not even five minutes later the film actually ends, with a very similar conclusion as the fake out ending. So if the film is going to end in a similar way as with the trick ending, then why have the trick ending at all? Fooling the audience for no reason is just a pathetic cop-out. Films like 47 Meters Down should focus more on having strong, entertaining content than adding unnecessary trick endings that annoy moviegoers.

Overall, 47 Meters Down belongs more on the Syfy channel than it does in a theater. Other than the ridiculously cheesy acting and laughably bad CGI effects, 47 Meters Down offers viewers very little enjoyment. Instead of paying upwards of eight dollars to see this pile, I’d advise you stay at home and watch something much better on cable television.

The Verdict: D-

-Zachary Flint

It Comes at Night Review

It Comes at Night is an extraordinarily effective horror film, with an exceptionally intriguing premise. Directed by Trey Edward Shults, the film flaunts great camera work, beautifully written characters, and a truly horrifying ambience.

The film centers on a small family of three, who live in a secluded house in the woods during an unknown apocalyptic event. The family is led by a man named Paul (Joel Edgerton), a stern individual who maintains strict rules in order to keep his wife and son safe. Paul is quickly put to the test in these difficult times, as a family with little food and water seek refuge in his home. Despite his better judgement, he agrees to let them stay. From here, both families are continuously at odds with one another, letting their paranoia and suspicion get the best of them, until everything finally boils over.

The characterization in It Comes at Night was beyond impeccable. Each character was very well-rounded, with completely different personalities and mindsets. Even in scenes with minimal dialogue, we the audience learn so much about each individual person just from body language and facial expressions alone.

The camera work in the film, mixed with the wonderful sound design, made for a very eerie and disturbing atmosphere. The way the camera would slowly dolly around dark corridors as the music would steadily become louder, was both visually artistic and petrifying.

One issue I’ve heard people have with this film, is that most of the horrors are left to the imagination. The viewer is never shown any monsters, zombies, or exactly what even comes at night. This, for me, was honestly one of my favorite aspects of the film. It Comes at Night emphasizes that what isn’t seen on-screen can be equally terrifying as what is actually shown. In an age where everything needs to be spelled out in black and white for moviegoers, it’s refreshing to see a film that makes you think for once.

Instead of focusing on monsters or zombies, the film really hones in on the slow psychological descent of the two families. The audience sees firsthand what paranoia and fear can do to a group of people, when pit against one another. A concept like this, when done correctly, is far more terrifying than any amount of CGI monsters.

It Comes at Night gives the viewer zero straight answers, leaving the film up for an open ended debate. These are oftentimes the best kind of movies, and this film here is no exception. It Comes at Night is the scariest film I’ve seen this year, and I hope others will enjoy its crafty, cinematic horror as much as myself.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

 

Alien: Covenant Review

Of all the countless films I’ve seen over the years, none have captivated me more than Ridley Scott’s 1979 masterpiece, Alien. From the lonely atmospheric environment, to the fantastic H. R. Giger design work, all the pieces fell perfectly into place to create a one of a kind science fiction beauty.

The 1986 sequel Aliens, directed by James Cameron and once again starring Sigourney Weaver, also enthralled me, in a completely different way. Aliens didn’t try to recreate what made Alien perfect, it was its own entity, full of science fiction action and awesome one-liners.

My love for the first two Alien films runs deep, and they deserve a respectable prequel film. So, going into Alien: Covenant, I knew that I’d be judging it far more critically than most films. And for the most part, after viewing the picture, I felt this was a worthy prequel to my favorite movies of all time.

The plot, taking place some years after Prometheus, centers in on the crew of the spaceship Covenant, who are on their way to a distant planet to colonize. Leading this crew is now first mate Christopher Oram (Billy Oram), who takes over after damage to the ship leads to the captain being killed.

Christopher decides to end the spaceship’s voyage early by landing on a nearby remote planet, with the belief that it may have intelligent life. But when things go awry for our protagonists (as they always do in these movies), they must enlist in the help of an android named David (Michael Fassbender), who may not be the man he appears to be.

There were many moments in Alien: Covenant that felt like a complete retread of Alien. In fact, some were almost identical. We have the crew of a ship woken up from cryo-sleep, we have our characters investigating an unknown planet, followed by a bunch of unfortunate events that result in our surviving crew fighting an alien. So instead of getting a new sci-fi adventure, we get a rehashed version of the original. Despite this issue, I still enjoyed Alien: Covenant more than something like Prometheus. Yet I commend Prometheus for at least trying something new with the series, which is more than I can say for this.

The acting and dialogue kept me entertained, and I enjoyed the various different character personalities we’re introduced to. At times, certain conversations or line deliveries would get hokey and too melodramatic for my taste, but for the most part the characters interacted in an appealing way. I especially loved any scene with Michael Fassbender, as his character of David is both mysterious and brilliant in all the right ways.

The environment created for this film is visually impressive, and expands upon the vast lore previously established by the franchise. I’ve always been fascinated by clever sci-fi gadgets and landscapes, and Alien: Covenant really delivered in that department.

Unfortunately, along with the retreading plot, the worst aspect about this film is that many points and ideas just don’t add up. For example, Alien: Covenant suggests that it was David who created the Xenomorph, through extensive years of breeding. However, if this is true, then how did we already see imagery of the Xenomorph in Prometheus? If you’re just the casual moviegoer with low stakes in something like Alien, then I’m sure this won’t bother you. As for a die-hard fan like myself, major inconsistencies like these tend to get on my nerves.

Overall, Alien: Covenant doesn’t even come close to comparing to Alien or Aliens, but I’d be surprised to hear if anyone thought it would. And honestly, it didn’t have to! Alien: Covenant stands pretty strong as its own piece in the series. It gave just enough back story to the inception of the Xenomorph (as well as other minor aspects) without spelling out every detail of Alien for the audience. Alien: Covenant is a film that respects its source material, and is full great science fiction scenery and technology. I’d recommend Alien fans and other science fiction fans to go ahead and check it out, as I believe the film is a pretty enjoyable experience.

I feel as though some individuals will be disappointed with Alien: Covenant, in the same way they were disappointed with Prometheus. In that, the audience still really doesn’t get any answers. There is no direct link made to any of the Alien films, other than partially furthering the lore along, which makes this flick feel very inconsequential. And if that’s the conclusion you come to after watching this, I would completely understand.

The Verdict: B-

-Zachary Flint

Lights Out Review

Lights Out is as short, sweet, and to the point a modern horror film could be. Director David F. Sandberg wastes no time focusing on petty plot threads audiences don’t care about, and gets right to the good stuff.

Based on a 2013 short film by the same name, this clever flick centers on a little boy named Martin (Gabriel Bateman), whose mother (Maria Bello) is on the brink of sanity. At night, Martin is stalked by a silhouetted entity that can only move about and  exist in the dark. He believes that this supernatural being is somehow related to his mother’s mysterious past, mentally and physically tormenting her. Therefore, Martin enlists in the help of his distant sister Rebecca (Teresa Palmer), whose experienced similar issues with her mother. Together, they must work to rid of this entity and save their suffering mother.

Lights Out is clever, unique, and has a lot of freaky imagery that modern horror fans will surely love. The idea of an entity that can only kill you in the dark is fascinating, and it’s good to see it utilized well here. The film has its lulls and moments of predictability, but for the most part remains an interesting movie.

The one downside to the film is that it was made for mass appeal, so it contains a lot of the usual tropes that get on horror movie fan’s nerves. I especially dislike the police officers who never listen to those “stupid teenagers”, as that plot point has long since been overdone.

The end of the film has a nice resolve that, while conventional, was still pretty satisfying to see. It didn’t have that last ditch, desperate attempt to scare the audience unexpectedly, like many horror films do. Lights Out respected its audience enough, and was confident enough, to give an ending that felt fulfilling to viewer.

The Verdict: B+

-Zachary Flint