Us Review (Symbolism and Hidden Meanings)

I vividly remember seeing Jordan Peele’s 2017 directorial debut Get Out in the worst theater conditions imaginable. A packed, sold out house of rambunctious patrons ready to get their scare on is my typical worst nightmare when trying to watch a suspenseful thriller. To my astonishment, both the crowd and film were a pleasant experience.

Having little knowledge of what I was in for, Get Out’s unique and eerie premise surprised me in more than one way, and ended up being among the greatest theatrical experiences I’ve ever had. People we’re naturally reacting to the humor and horror in genuine shock without coming across as obnoxious; effectively narrating the emotions everyone was already feeling.

I attempted to recreate the same experience with Jordan Peele’s latest horror film Us, going in without expectations of what was to happen. And in many aspects, Us was an even greater achievement than Get Out, as its true intentions/themes are shrouded in brilliant writing.

Us stars Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke as Adelaide and Gabe Wilson, a close-knit family on a beach vacation. The family trip goes awry when they find themselves stalked by soulless doppelgängers that go by “the Tethered”. Beings that look exactly like them but clad in red jumpsuits, the Tethered mimic their movements and desire to kill the Wilson’s before the night is over. The Wilson’s must stick together and fight for their lives as they try to outwit themselves and comprehend this frightening phenomenon.

Just like Get Out, Us is a highly entertaining movie with complex visuals and obvious double meanings and subtexts accompanying it. Even the most casual of viewers can see the writing on the walls, that Us goes a lot deeper than its terrifying premise.

To my understanding, the Tethered represent the stereotypical American citizen and how we are to conduct ourselves in society. The way we go about life putting on a facade of ourselves and never showing our true colors. Themes of family cohesion and flaky personalities are sprinkled in at key moments before the doppelgangers arrive, and by the films end we’re left asking how well we know our own family and what exactly it means to be human.

I feel this symbolism is displayed prominently by the Tethered all throughout the picture, particularly in their behavior. The men exhibit clichéd dad-like mannerisms (including moronic grunting sounds), the children are commanded to “go play”, and the mother is the family orchestrator/ leader that holds it together.

This message is driven home with multiple references to Hands Across America, the public charity event that had people linking arms across the U.S. to help end hunger and poverty. A rather flaky and unrealistically kindhearted event to reflect on. And Us uses it as a vessel to emphasize fakeness and class divides. A metaphor for mindless American facade and our unwillingness to show our true selves. At one point the leader of the Tethered directly states that they are soulless copies of humans. And when asked, “What are you?” she cleverly remarks, “We’re Americans.”

Several other themes crop up along the story too. Notice the constant imagery of rabbits as well, which often signifies rebirth or resurrection. They’re also coincidentally one of the most popularly cloned animals. I haven’t even mentioned the biblical allegories and references to Abraham and Jeremiah 11:11 that permeate throughout the picture.

My interpretations may be different than yours, in fact I expect them to be. But that just goes to show how multi-layered Us is, woven like a fine quilt. Hypotheses on deeper meanings and symbolism aside, Us is still an effectively terrifying movie from the inside out. As soon as the horrors commence, they keep you nerve-racked and suspicious of scares that could happen at any moment. The doppelgängers feel all-encompassing and powerful, like they could pop up at any second as a shadow in the background waiting to move (as they do on several occasions).

Us makes its heroes more intelligible than typical horror protagonists, as some modern flicks have done in attempts to kill that old trope. But what’s done differently is that some major horror clichés are still purposefully present, and the heroes wittily react to these in rather comedic ways. For example, one character must run back inside of a house for the keys to the car when she notices one of the previously dead doppelgängers is gone. The actress practically winks at the audience with how much a stereotypical horror situation she’s in. And her physical, badass response shows her comedic preparedness to deal with such a clichéd situation.

A story like this is only as strong as its actors, and Us boasts strong performances all across the board. Actors and actresses that bring some genuine humor and raw emotion to a strong script. Top that with the finely-tuned cinematography that’s full of rich imagery and the spine-chilling soundtrack prominently featured, Us turned out to be a Grade-A horror experience. And I’m incredibly thankful I got to see it in a packed theater.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

Halloween (2018) Review

Forty years ago, on Halloween night, Michael Myers (Nick Castle) stalked and killed the residents of Haddonfield, Illinois. Now he’s back with a vengeance to kill Laurie Strode (the scream queen herself, Jamie Lee Curtis) and family in an all new franchise reboot by Blumhouse Productions.

John Carpenter’s classic slasher flick remains an iconic cultural piece of history and is often regarded as among the best horror films of all time. I make it a tradition to watch the original twice every Halloween, and I consider it one of my favorites.

There have been countless sequels, remakes, rewrites, and reboots. Yet, this is the first time there’s been so much hype revolving around a Halloween movie. Despite the hype and raving reviews, I’m not quite sure the magic transferred over here.

Too much of Halloween mimics past films within the franchise. Kills, plot points, and major scenes are completely ripped from the original Halloween, Halloween II, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, Halloween H20, and even the Rob Zombie remake. Having so much potential to succeed and a wide-open platform to speak on, Halloween made little effort to differentiate itself from any sequel in the series. If you were to blend up some of the best and worst aspects of all these movies and put it into one modern film, it would be Halloween 2018.

Some of the dialogue and sound effects were awkward and frankly dead on arrival. All the humor was misplaced and didn’t make sense in the context of what was happening on-screen. The jokes got occasional laughs from the audience, but I don’t believe anyone will be highlighting the quality of the humor as a selling point.

No, we’re more concerned with the gore, a staple of the slasher genre. And as sad as it is to say, it wasn’t as graphic as one would hope. Now the original film could hardly be called graphic by today’s standards, but at least most of the kills were on-screen. I swear only half the kills in this movie even take place on-screen, with many characters shown to already be dead. Some are murdered slightly off-screen, as if to tease us. Strangely, this directly contrasts with several incredibly gruesome death scenes, including a gory head smash that we see every bit of. It was as if the filmmakers couldn’t decide if Halloween should be PG-13 or R, so they just met in the middle.

There’s a nice long tracking shot of Michael Myers as he goes from house to house slaying victims, getting adjusted to murder once more. It’s very cinematic, and the visuals within the sequence are filled with a nostalgic, spooky atmosphere. Festive decorations, pumpkins, and costumes line the streets that Myers haunts, and I loved every bit of it.

The main event, if you will, of Halloween is the showdown between Laurie Strode and Michael Myers. In a sense it becomes a classic game of cat and mouse, with the odds not always in Myers’ favor. This was hands down the best part of the film, the moment everyone was waiting for. And did it deliver? Yes, yes it did. We’re given a satisfying, tense, and kick butt conclusion to one big shoulder shrug of a movie.

If you wanted a Halloween movie that looks, feels, and plays out exactly like previous installations, then this is the film for you. Just like many Blumhouse films, the Halloween remake plays it safe in the most frustrating and painstaking ways. The unoriginality negatively impacted many key death scenes, as I could accurately predict almost every twist and turn just off prior movie knowledge. Even disregarding the rest of the series, this new Halloween was just lacking in the spooky department. It’s Halloween, I’m entitled to one good scare, and this just didn’t fully do it for me.

The Verdict: C

-Zachary Flint

Hell Fest Review: One Helluva Movie!

While at the local showing for the new Halloween-themed flick Hell Fest, I noticed the formatting of the film on the screen was off by several feet. Meaning that the film projected on the wall and not completely on the screen. However, five-minutes into the film I realized it simply wouldn’t be worth the effort to raise from my chair and notify the staff of the issue.

The central idea (or should I say gimmick) of Hell Fest is that it all takes place inside a large haunted house. Six millennial teenagers act as our protagonists and go expecting to have the time of their lives. Only problem? A real-life murderer sneaks into the scare zone, slowly killing off our unsuspecting millennial stereotypes.

Starting with the characters, they’re so blandly clichéd that it’s almost a cliché to even talk about it. These types of cookie cutter characters have been done to death, and films have been satirizing these dull, bimbo idiots even before Wes Craven’s Scream made it cool to do so. They’re so overly sexualized, awkward, and annoying that at no point does it come off as cute. The one benefit to the terrible characters was watching them get killed in some pretty clever ways. One guy gets his head smashed by a test your strength carnival mallet, which I don’t think I have seen in a horror movie thus far. It’s funny, it’s unique, and horror fans will get a kick out of it.

Honestly, if Hell Fest took place anywhere other than a haunted house, I’d be hard pressed to find any redeemable qualities to the film. Thankfully, the costume designer and cinematographer put in overtime making sure the audience absorbed every inkling of horror-themed atmosphere. Everywhere you look there’s another cool costume or interesting prop that really gets me in the spirit of Halloween.

Unfortunately, this novelty wears off.

On a technical basis, Hell Fest was too preoccupied with scaring the cast and not with scaring the viewer. There were far too many reaction shots of the characters being frightened, as if they forgot that we were the ones supposed to be startled. Many moments where somebody jumps out and goes “Boo!”, the camera is focused on the protagonist and not the scare actor, therefore leaving the scene without tension. What’s even worse, we always know exactly where the real killer is going to be, leaving us with a net total of zero scares.

The biggest insult of all was the ending, which was very visibly rushed and ill-thought-out. Without spoiling anything (not that you probably care), there’s hardly a villain vs. hero showdown, and we never see a solid conclusion to the identity of the killer. Really, it felt like Hell Fest was building up to something that it never quite reached because it got bored and gave up.

They attempt to go for the nameless killer trope established in movies like The Strangers, but here it’s much lazier.  And that’s the key word there, lazy. Everything about the direction of Hell Fest just felt like a dull, straight to Netflix horror movie you watch when there’s nothing else on. Instead of earnestly trying to make a decent movie with a good payoff, they distract you with a clever Eighties throwback marketing campaign. Don’t let them trick you into believing this is a nostalgic romp. It’s not.

Hell Fest was essentially a scattershot of excellent Halloween visuals and remarkably poor writing. Those with a passion for the spooky festivities of the season will get the most enjoyment out of Hell Fest, but the rushed third act and lack of resolution is enough to disappoint any moviegoer. Sadly, Hell Fest just didn’t deliver in the scary department.

The Verdict: D+

-Zachary Flint

The Nun Review: An Unintentional Spoof of the Modern Horror Genre

The Sister Act just got a whole lot weirder with Blumhouse Production’s most recent film, The Nun. A film with a plot so clichéd, characters so one-noted, and soundtrack so overbearing, I believe The Nun is an unintentional parody of itself.

The film stars Demián Bichir and Taissa Farmiga as a priest and a nun in training, respectively. They’re sent by the Vatican to investigate an isolated Romanian abbey where a young nun mysteriously committed suicide. Quickly discovering the true nature of their visit, that the abbey is actually haunted by an evil entity that takes the form of a nun, they attempt to confront the beast and defeat it for some reason.

The Nun continuously tests how far we the audience are willing to suspend our disbelief, all for the sake of cheap jump scares. Some moments are so ridiculous and void of intelligible thought that it felt like the film was purposefully trying to test my patience. As if the filmmakers were fully self-aware of how corny, desperate, and melodramatic everything is.

And if you weren’t convinced by my testimony of this film’s ludicrousness, The Nun goes as far as to include the actual blood of Jesus Christ as a tool for defeating the evil. The blood, kept inside a relic that looked like the Holy Hand Grenade from Monty Python, has the power to seal a portal to hell that was accidentally opened by Nazis during WWII. Except, of course, when the relic has no power at all; since The Conjuring series typically lacks consistency with its logic.

The characters were as bland as they come, with no establishment of their personalities or their motives. It’s almost impossible for me to elaborate any further on this topic because there’s no information to go from, aside from some obvious foreshadowing that turns out to be obvious foreshadowing. It’s a shame too, because the cast (while not perfect) does their best to give strong and convincing performances. But when you’re not given a reason to care about these people in the first place, it makes for all-around poor character development.

The only particularly good aspect of The Nun was the stylish cinematography, which seemed to have at least an inkling of artistic vision. The location and set designs were moody and gave off a naturally spooky vibe. However, even the cinematography had its limitations. The Nun is filled with so much scary imagery that it looks more like it was set in a dungeon than an abbey. Not to mention the humorously absurd number of Christian crosses strewn about in the background and foreground, to of course tell us how possessed this place is.

Often scenes intended to be frightening would be accompanied by a loud musical score (this includes the divine chanting of monks, for some reason). The score was so domineering over the entire movie that over time it became quite comical. Playing at such inopportune times that it would’ve fit better in something like Young Frankenstein (cue loud neighing of horses).

Audiences frequently shoot down well-crafted horror films like It Comes at Night, The Witch, and Hereditary, citing them as boring, weird, and lacking in scariness. This mentality, coupled with a fundamental misunderstanding of what true horror is, has led to a breeding ground of mediocre scary movies. With very little wiggle room for original frightening concepts to make it into the public eye.

This tragic “assembly line” sentiment culminates into films like The Nun, which take all aspects of horror filmmaking to the nth degree. So illogical, basic, and blandly spooky, it’s practically all a big joke.

The Verdict: F

-Zachary Flint

The First Purge: White People Ruin America (A Review)

After the financial success of not one, not two, but three Purge movies, I guess it was inevitable that Blumhouse would sooner or later make a fourth Purge flick.

In The First Purge, we see the political origins of how the Purge eventually came to be, and how the initial round of participants respond to the carnage. It turns out that the first purge didn’t take place all throughout the U.S., but instead acted as a trial run on Staten Island. Think Escape from New York but not just criminals. We follow an unlikely group of heroes as they attempt to survive the night; while they also discover a sinister plot by the political party who began it all, the New Founding Fathers of America.

The First Purge makes the grave mistake of thematically following in the footsteps of the 2013 Ethan Hawke Purge movie. The film spends most of its time trying to convince the audience that this is some realistic dystopian future that the United States is heading towards rather than give the audience what they came for. People watching The Purge want to see mindless violence, awesome kill sequences, and entertaining costumes. All of which we were given very little of.

The bottom line is that The Purge is a ridiculous concept, period. It cannot and will not ever happen in real life. Please make whatever pun you’d like about the current political climate, because I’m sure it’ll be better than anything in this film.

The movie lazily tries to comment on all things race related; including poverty, crime, violence, and an assortment of other things. This is a feat The First Purge is not properly equipped to deal with. The film’s basic principles are such thinly veiled propaganda that, when I left the theater, I had a bruise from where filmmakers beating me over the head with their nonsense.

If the messages of white vs. black weren’t already too evident for the viewer, there’s even a scene where white supremacists commit mass murder inside a black church. I personally found this to be a bit out of place and too heavy-handed for what this film is, but maybe that’s just me.

The poor directing and camerawork often got in the way of enjoying the few good scenes of action sprinkled about. Towards the climax of the film there’s a big fight inside a dimly lit apartment complex that started out pretty promising. The imagery is quite frightening and intense, and the location itself was a fascinating one. But as soon as the action begins, this obnoxious strobe effect gets intercut throughout the scene and distorts the audience’s view. Why purposefully make it difficult for us to see the best part of the movie?

At the very least the movie was well-acted, a particularly tough task when the level of filmmaking is sub-par. I give special props to Y’lan Noel, whose acting I highly enjoyed. He somehow managed to give a convincing performance despite the series’ goofy limitations.

If The First Purge would’ve dropped the serious shenanigans and gave audiences more of what they came for (cool costumes/masks and intense action) I think more could’ve been redeemable. Unfortunately, this pill is hard to swallow. The writers behind The Purge want us to take this ridiculous plot as sensible commentary on modern society yet throw in cartoon-like villains named Skeletor. What an unbelievable cluster of a series.

All in all, don’t let this film trick you into believing it has something intelligent to say. It doesn’t.

The Verdict: D-

-Zachary Flint

Hereditary Review

The intent of most great horror flicks is to create an unsettling, suspenseful atmosphere for the moviegoer. It usually takes a film at least thirty minutes to effectively establish this mood, and sometimes the effort is in vain. Therefore, I consider it a true feat when a film like Hereditary sets this disturbing tone less than sixty seconds in. Somehow managing to keep the creepy ambiance going throughout the whole picture and frightening me far after I left the theater.

Attempting to summarize Hereditary does no good, as it risks bewildering prospective viewers and spoiling the many twists and turns. It’s basically about a small family gripping with the loss of their grandmother, a rather strange woman known to have dabbled in the occult. As time goes on, bizarre events begin to unfold that makes us question our ideas on fate and inheritance.

This is the kind of well-designed horror film that critics go nuts for and audiences shrug off in disgruntled confusion. Perhaps Hereditary gets a little too abstract and bizarre for mainstream audiences to latch onto. Take the ending scenes of example. The movie ends on a , even vile note that’s meant to leave you grasping for answers instead of feeling warm and satisfied.

Despite it’s limited audience, Hereditary is bone-chilling. There’s simply no other way to say it. I very highly enjoyed it’s blend of serious and realistic subject matter, complex themes of mental illness, and fusion of abstract horror elements. The camera work is done at such a leisurely pace, quietly crawling down corridors and holding on shots for uncomfortably long periods of time. Several moments left me on the edge of my seat begging for the film to just get on with it, as something terrifying sat silently in the corner of the shot.

Toni Collette deserves special praise for her chilling, disturbing performance as a mother at wits end. In multiple instances she has emotional breakdowns and blowups that sometimes will scare you and other times just leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. One moment that I found particularly crazy is when she attends a group therapy session for those grieving the loss of loved ones. Collette proceeds to dump out all her emotional baggage for the whole group to see, leaving them all in an awkward state of shock. Truly discomforting.

So, while Hereditary is a stylistic and thrilling movie, it’s a very slow build to a payoff only those with zero preconceptions and expectations will truly enjoy. It shares many similarities to films like The Witch and It Comes at Night, requiring much interpretation to have a meaningful experience. If these movies aren’t really your thing, I’d stick with A Quiet Place, and stay far far away from Hereditary.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

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