A Quiet Place Review

With the simple tagline of, “If they hear you, they hunt you”, actor John Krasinski (The Office) stars in and directs the new hit thriller A Quiet Place.

After some indescribable, extraterrestrial event, Earth becomes ravaged by a race of monstrous creatures with no ability to see but possess supersonic hearing. Those still alive, including the Abbott family (made up of John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, and various child actors), have learned to adopt a nearly silent lifestyle. This involves complex, sand-laden trails, using sign language to communicate (which is to the Abbotts’ benefit since their daughter is already deaf), and even marking spots on hardwood floors that creak the least. In a world where coughing could mean imminent danger, how long can the Abbott’s’ survive?

The way A Quiet Place presents its simple plot and contextual information is a bit passé, and panders to viewers with no concept of subtlety. Rather than showing us how the monsters are deaf and nearly indestructible, the film tells us with overused tropes. Like the overreliance of old newspapers to convey past events. A Quiet Place even resorts to showing the audience a dry-erase board of notes Lee has in his basement, which outlines everything the viewer should know by that point in time. The only way the film would’ve been more on the nose is if John krasinski looked directly at the camera and read the script.

I found this quite strange because everything else in the film was conveyed through the actions of our protagonists, as it should be. Krasinski, Blunt, and all the child actors gave incredibly expressive performances, capturing their struggle of survival very well.

For this reason, moviegoers don’t need spoon-fed exposition, especially when the excellent performances are already communicating everything necessary. Spelling out details you already visually told the audience is needlessly handicapping the storytelling capabilities of your movie, as well as treating me like an idiot.

Other than the first major scare of the film (which introduces the terrifying monsters that will inhabit the rest of the flick), many of the scares were accompanied by the typical Hollywood trope of a loud and obnoxious sound. Frequently used as a lazy tactic to startle rather than scare the audience, even smart horror movies like A Quiet Place fall into the trappings of their inept peers.

There’s one moment that I found particularly frustrating where Evelyn (Emily Blunt’s character) becomes injured in the basement. After alerting her family that she’s in danger, Evelyn limps over to the staircase where she is surprised by the sudden appearance of a monster. This is a perfect setup to frighten the audience. Our complete and undivided focus is on the already injured Evelyn, and not about the possibility of a well-timed scare.

Yet, to my dismay, this scare is accompanied with a loud screeching noise, one that was inessential to the scene. What was supposed to make me fearful and uneasy of the coming moments just angered me instead.

Thankfully the film switches its gears about halfway through, turning into an intense thrill ride full of real tension and horror. No more sudden jumps accompanied with a loud pang of music. We alternatively get tense moments that effectively unsettle and excite the audience, both with strong payoffs.

My few issues with the film aren’t to say that I disliked A Quiet Place, as I found it to be a vastly entertaining and clever modern horror flick, albeit a few self-handicapping aspects that held the film back from being anything more. The most powerful aspect of the film was definitely when the climax hit, where the film turned into a nonstop thriller with great tension in each scene. The performances were all around fantastic, further displaying the acting range (and directing capabilities) of John Krasinski. The central topic (or gimmick, if you will) of A Quiet Place reminds me a lot of the 2016 horror film Don’t Breathe, both of which I believe utilize this concept to the best of their ability.

The Verdict: B

-Zachary Flint

Young Frankenstein Review

During the month of October, I had the incredible experience of viewing Mel Brook’s 1974 comedy classic Young Frankenstein on the big screen. Sitting in an almost completely empty theater, I watched in admiration as one of my favorite actors played out one of his most famous roles, just as people did in 1974.

The story, a comedic spoof based on various film adaptations of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, focuses in on the well-educated medical doctor Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder). Frederick discovers that he has just inherited the Transylvania castle of his famous grandfather, who conducted experiments in attempts to reanimate the dead. Initially hesitant, Frederick decides to recreate his grandfather’s experiments with the help of an unlikely group of odd individuals.

If there exists a film that is so universally hailed as comedic and undeniably hilarious, then it was probably directed by Mel Brooks. Brooks utilizes every level of humor to its fullest effect, whether it be simple slapstick or a subtler humor that takes a couple of viewings to fully appreciate.

Discussing humor can be a difficult and daunting task, partly because of the subjective nature of comedy. There are only so many ways that I can say a scene from Young Frankenstein is funny, and only so many ways I can say entire films made in its image are not. Yet, with that established, I believe Young Frankenstein to be comedic genius. Brooks takes a beloved source material and handles it with such care, delicacy, and most of all, lunacy.

Pondering such questions as, “What if Igor was in denial that he had a hump?” Or even, “What if Frankenstein’s monster meeting the blind man had a more comedic punch to it?” It’s questions like these that any individual can conjure up in their heads, but only Brooks has the audacity to carry it out on the big screen.

Playing the role of Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, Gene Wilder gives what I would argue the best performance of his career. The frantic ravings and occasional lunacy of a mad scientist in denial about his family heritage is about as outlandish as imaginable, and Wilder fits the bill. Not only that, he becomes the character, going beyond the call of duty to give the audience an unforgettable experience. And is it surprising for me to say that whenever I hear somebody talk about Frankenstein, I first think of this movie, rather than the Universal classic?

One can hardly forget the enigmatic supporting cast, who help make this lovely masterpiece what we know it as today. My personal favorite would be Igor (Marty Feldman), a dimwitted wisecracker with a knack for making the situation worse. Something about Igor has always appealed to me unlike anyone else in the film. His onscreen presence alone is enough to elicit hysterical laughter from yours truly.

Young Frankenstein is a film I re-explore at least once a year, typically around the Halloween season, and for good reason. It’s listed as one of the greatest comedies of all time by the American Film Institute (14th), Bravo TV (56th), Rolling Stone (5th), and was even selected for the Library of Congress National Film Registry. It’s a beloved masterpiece that will hopefully be respected by moviegoers for years to come.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

 

The Strangers: Prey at Night Review

The Strangers: Prey at Night is an earnest attempt to make a fun and effective horror flick, unlike many cheap studio products of our time. Sadly this genuine attempt at scares is thwarted many a time by the lack of understanding of how to successfully craft a movie.

You know the story. A family wrapped in turmoil is trapped in an isolated trailer park with three masked individuals hunting them down just for the thrill of it. The family proceeds to fight for their lives for approximately one hour, all of this resulting in a deadly bloodbath.

The cast was well-picked and gave strong performances all around, despite portraying the stereotype characters that audiences stopped caring about years ago. And of its precious eighty-five minute runtime, the film spends an incredible amount of time developing these characters. While characterization scenes like this are often throwaways for scary movies, here it’s refreshingly purposeful.

Many scenes within The Strangers served no purpose whatsoever, and many shots lingered for way too long on nothing of importance. Instead of being intense and scary, it was more a scattershot of scenes that were either too fast-paced or excruciatingly slow.

Not helping The Strangers odd situation was its soundtrack, which was the very definition of a hot mess. Using a mixture of 80’s hits and original score, the music was so bombastic and in your face that it kills any sort of mood or style that the film was trying to establish. The opening title card has this very eerie music and tone to it that I found intriguing, but then the film cuts to a suburban family packing up their belongings to go on a trip and yet continues playing that creepy music. Where’s the consistency? What sense does that make? And this isn’t just a minor forgettable instance, as the film is full of these inconsistencies. Almost every scene where a person is killed or stabbed has an upbeat tune playing loudly in the background, which was so on the nose it became off-putting. The upbeat music contrasts with the frightening imagery, we get it.

The Strangers still leaves us on a strong note, going the extra mile into territories of excess and outrageousness, including a rather strange nod towards The Texas Chainsaw Massacre at the end. It certainly off-sets the preestablished “realism” the film had, but nonetheless it was still one of the more exciting bits it had to offer.

The Strangers: Prey at Night is the most frustrating kind of film, one that has lots of misguided potential. It wants to be a slow-moving, tense horror film with characters the audience will care about; yet has a loud soundtrack, uneven pacing, and an ending that, while enjoyable, goes too far off the rails for the mood it was trying to set. The filmmakers clearly confused an excessive soundtrack an unnecessary lingering shots with suspense. And in a film like this, that’s an unfortunate concept to mix up.

The Verdict: C-

-Zachary Flint

Insidious Review

For the past couple of decades or so, the genre of horror has become somewhat of a minefield. With the film industry so over saturated with overdone plots and jump scares, the clever and inventive movies often slip through the cracks in the form of independent productions. Films like It Follows and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil received little attention upon their initial release, while films like Paranormal Activity maintain constant popularity.

Nonetheless, occasionally moviegoers get a widely released horror flick that manages to bring something new to the table, even if that ‘something new’ is minute. A fine example of this being Insidious.

Directed by James Wan (maker of such films as The Conjuring and Saw), Insidious didn’t revolutionize the genre or shy away from the mainstream. What it did do was put a new twist on the now conventional horror formula, making it a film that appeals to many different audience tastes without being polarizing.

Insidious stars Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne as Josh and Renai, a couple who move into a new home in the suburbs. Soon after moving in their child Dalton (Ty Simpkins) tragically slips into a coma, and strange things begin to happen around the house. They quickly realize something supernatural is afoot, and enlist in the help of a parapsychologist named Elise (Lin Shaye). Elise informs them that their child isn’t actually in a coma. Rather, Dalton had an out of body experience that left his spirit trapped in a ghostly place she refers to as The Further. It is now up to them to save Dalton’s spirit from The Further before he is stuck there for good, and something more sinister takes his place.

A good horror flick doesn’t only lie within the bounds of its actors capabilities, but having performers that can convey the fright is always a plus. Wilson and Byrne lead the cast wonderfully here, perfectly portraying a distraught couple worried sick over the wellbeing of their child.

Their performances are complemented well by the addition of Lin Shaye about halfway through. What’s great about Shaye’s acting is that she seamlessly convinces the audience that the far-fetched sci-fi jargon is in fact genuine. Even those who are skeptical of science fiction in films will buy into the absurd rationale this movie relies on. Rather than jump the shark, Insidious somehow managed to slide under the shark.

The frightening sequences in the film are quite tactfully employed, mixing inventive and clever ideas with more conventional methods. We get the quick, one and done jump scares that many moviegoers love, but also see plenty of built up moments that get big payoffs. There are even scenes that don’t have any sort of payoff, but are authentically creepy because of the eerie atmosphere that’s created.

The eerie atmosphere is mostly due to the aesthetics of the Further, which are distinct and artistic without looking too forced to be that way. This creepy imagery is accompanied with a truly fantastic musical score that managed to intensify a lot of the more suspenseful scenes.

Again, Insidious didn’t subvert the genre or change the game completely, as we still get plenty of terrible horror films today (like the fourth installment of this franchise). What I believe Insidious (and its creative contemporaries) did accomplish was to pave the way for other mainstream horror flicks to get imaginative, so to speak. Films like Lights Out and The Conjuring have received critical and box office success since the release of Insidious, and both ride the line of conventionality too.

I hope to see more inventive and fun horror films in the future, especially from the Insidious director James Wan.

The Verdict: A-

-Zachary Flint

Insidious: The Last Key Review

As we gracefully enter the new year of 2018, I remain hopeful that we’ll get plenty of insightful and clever films. Unfortunately, January is often the worst month for films, and a horrible way to begin the year. Cited as being a “dump month”, January is host to a slew of poor-quality, bottom of the barrel leftovers from last year.

And this time we’re kicking off January with the not-so-anticipated Insidious: The Last Key.

The film stars Lin Shaye, reprising her role as the friendly neighborhood psychic named Elise. This time we delve deep into Elise’s tragic backstory (how typical), as we learn how her powers to talk to those beyond our world developed. Introducing new characters and settings important to Elise’s traumatic past, Insidious: The Last Key takes us deep into The Further for one last time (at least, one can only hope).

The Last Key was about as tiresome and worn as the title may suggest. Once a film series that attempted to bring creativity to the dying genre of horror, Insidious finally gives into the cookie-cutter, paint-by-numbers methods of most modern-day horror flicks. Just look at the entity of the film, which was conjured in a corporate board meeting. Indistinguishable and lame, he’s basically just a spooky locksmith.

Not even jump scare enthusiasts will enjoy watching The Last Key, as it was surprisingly void of any scares at all. The few jump scares that did occur were much more annoying than frightening, but overall The Last Key didn’t have much going on in the horror department.

Lin Shaye as Elise gave the best performance she could under these circumstances, but many of her scenes meant to be emotional and heartfelt came off as laughably cheesy. Even her two sidekick friends, who gave much needed comic relief in the previous installments, were written in the most obnoxious way imaginable. Lighthearted moments involving both these characters were all too cringeworthy, and made me and the audience I saw this with groan more than laugh.

In multiple instances The Last Key drums up plot points that it leads the audience to believe are important, then decidedly never revisits them. As if the writer just forgot.

Speaking of poor writing, in a rather distasteful maneuver the film attempts to tie itself in with the previous Insidious movies. As if to remind the viewer, “yes, the film you’re currently watching is somehow related to this better film”. This comes at the tail end of The Last Key, and actually has some hilariously messed up continuity between the films. It’s in fact so blatant that I’m not even sure if the director saw any of the previous Insidious films.

Filled with tired clichés and unintentionally funny scenes, Insidious: The Last Key is unlikely to hit the bull’s-eye for anybody. The inconsistent rules and poor continuity surely won’t please fans of the series, and those who actually enjoy jump scares will probably find this film overwhelmingly dull. With no new scares and no new ideas, I hardly feel this was a story that was necessary to tell.

The Verdict: D-

-Zachary Flint

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