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

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