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 subpar. 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

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