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

Bad Times at the El Royale Review: A Neo-Noir Masterpiece!

After a rather predictable year of predictable films, it sure is refreshing to watch something like Bad Times at the El Royale. A neo-noir/thriller film that prides itself on keeping you on the edge of your seat, biting your nails and guessing what’s going to go down next.

The movie begins with a fixed, locked-down shot of your average motel room. A man enters, carrying only a duffel bag and a loaded gun. We see this man, clearly agitated, meticulously pull back the carpet and furniture, carefully remove the floor boards, and hide the duffel bag underneath the ground. He then seals everything up perfectly the way it was before he arrived. Suddenly, another man barges into the door and murders the first guy in cold blood.

After this jarring sequence we flash forward to ten years later, as several unique individuals check into an isolated, poorly maintained motel known as the El Royale. Among these people are a kindly priest (Jeff Bridges), an outgoing vacuum salesman (Jon Hamm), and a struggling soul singer (Cynthia Erivo). None of whom are exactly as they seem.

Bad Times at the El Royale was the most fun I’ve had at a movie in some time. In theme and concept, it draws inspiration from the style of Quentin Tarantino’s works. Most notably, his isolated mystery/drama film The Hateful Eight. It’s mysterious, neo-noir genre directly contrasts with the upbeat, late 60’s soundtrack. Also artistic in nature is the overlapping sequence of events that we continue to jump between, all separated into different chapters. A neat touch that again hearkens back to Tarantino film’s like Pulp Fiction.

I love when a film can predominantly take place in a single location and still maintain the full attention of the audience. El Royale does this with ease, as the stakes are always high and the mystery always unfolding. But it never unfolds far enough as to give away its many secrets. For example, our character with the clearest, most established motives is killed off early on; taking the more active, investigative moviegoers back to square one in terms of why these events are taking place. We don’t really get “that character” to latch onto from beginning to end, because everyone is shrouded in mystery up until the final act.

To make a perfectly reasonable Jeff Bridges reference, by the end of El Royale I felt like The Dude from The Big Lebowski. Grasping for answers to a rather needlessly complex set of circumstances that our protagonist just so happens to be a part of. A bad case of the “wrong place at the wrong time”. And while the film leaves us with a satisfying conclusion, there’s still plenty of intriguing factors left unexplained for the audience to contemplate. My idea of the prefect ending to a movie.

And at the heart of El Royale we get a moving story about faith and redemption, and what those things can mean to a man. These themes are unmistakable to the right viewer, so long as you’re willing to look that far and read the writing on the walls. There’s also a healthy dose of sociopolitical commentary. It doesn’t slap you across the face and shove morals and messages down your throat till you choke, but those picking up what El Royale is putting down will surely walk away respecting the film a little more.

Bad Times at the El Royale isn’t the kind of movie I recommend skipping over. The complicated plot, long runtime, and moody genre may be enough to steer some people away, but those willing to stick around and invest their time and attention into this picture are sure to enjoy it.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

Venom Review

With only a few weeks till Halloween, I was expecting to review more seasonal movies this time of the year. Instead, I’m stuck reviewing yet another divisive superhero movie to split critics and audiences right down party lines. It comes as no surprise that this divisive movie was made by Sony and is their loose interpretation of the fan favorite Marvel character Venom.

Venom tells the origin story of Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), a renowned investigative journalist who hits rock bottom after doing a hit piece on a notorious businessman, Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). While investigating one of Drake’s scientific investments, Eddie becomes fused with an alien entity known as Venom. Now filled with a dark and twisted split personality, Eddie must try to control his new superhuman powers as Venom slowly consumes his identity.

The mood of Venom was a weird blend of dark and goofy, an immediate indication that this film wasn’t taking itself seriously.  Some scenes are frightening and given as much raw intensity as it’s PG-13 rating can muster. Police and criminals are thrown about, killed, and eaten, all in a somewhat mild manner. Other scenes simply have Tom Hardy going bananas. Throwing rage-filled tantrums and engaging in bizarre dialogues that were so perfectly timed that I couldn’t help but laugh. The tone of the writers tended to ape this humorous sentiment, leading me to assume that the film was supposed to be bizarre.

Major continuity issues plagued Venom from start to finish. Poor day and night consistency, unusual (or nonexistent) character arcs, and characters being in two places at once are just a handful of examples displaying the botched editing job. I’m not sure whether the studio or the filmmakers are at fault for these problems, but on several occasions they became a hindrance to the enjoyment of the film. I was left scratching my head when an important scientist in the film appeared in two back to back scenes in different locations, all with no indication of a time-lapse.

Venom was a bit of a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, I can see where people would be disappointed with the turnout of the film, it basically being one big comical farce. Nothing is taken seriously, some characters don’t have story arcs, and some people just duck out of the movie altogether.

On the other hand, I rather enjoyed the nonsense of Hardy’s “symbiotic” relationship with Venom. The unpredictable antics and wild outbursts of Hardy were laugh out loud hilarious, and the personality of Venom provided a nice contrast in the overall tone. I never found myself too bored with the film and I quite enjoyed some of the action, despite the sub-par editing that made certain scenes confusing.

I wouldn’t recommend that typical superhero movie fans go and see it, but Venom definitely doesn’t deserve the harsh feedback it’s received from critics. Venom differentiates itself enough from the Marvel “happy-go-lucky” blend of movies for those craving something a little unorthodox.

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 House with a Clock in Its Walls Review

Leave it to director Eli Roth (Hostel, The Green Inferno) to make a children’s fantasy film that’s full of bizarre humor and dark imagery. I didn’t even think it was possible to make fun of the disabled in a mainstream movie anymore Yet, Roth made it happen, and somehow the well-timed joke landed a perfect 10 in the process.

This movie begins where most movies are at the 30-minute mark. There’s no introduction to characters or the fantasy world they inhabit. No, we’re thrown right off the deep end without any floaties. Before you know it, our soulless protagonist is learning magic and is knee deep in what this film considers “plot”.

Why is the house alive? How is Jack Black a magical warlock? What is the extent of this magical universe? Who knows and who cares! Pretty much the perfect tagline for this movie.

I’ll attempt to summarize the plot; however it’s been only 24 hours since I’ve seen the film and I already forget several key plot details. Like a distant, hazy dream.

After a car accident kills both his parents, Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) goes to live with his mysterious kimono-wearing uncle Johnathan Barnavelt (Jack Black). Lewis quickly learns that Johnathan and his home aren’t as they seem, discovering that his uncle is in fact a wizard. And after Lewis accidentally raises the dead with a powerful spell, he must help his uncle save the world from a malevolent force. Mixed into the plot is a variety of frightening images and intense scenes fused with a whimsical message about family and magic.

The child actor in The Clock deserves an award for worst acting in a motion picture, period. It’s so awkward that scenes meant to be emotional and touching just come off as strange and unintentionally hilarious. In one scene, Owen is crying over the recent death of his parents, and Jack Black attempts to cheer him up by pulling an endless length of handkerchiefs from his pocket. An old magician gag. It’s supposed to be quirky and heartfelt, but the whole scene was just odd.

Yet, that’s kind of the unexpected charm of The Clock, as it teeters between predictable family adventure flick and unforeseen absurdity. Even with the many little idiosyncrasies and plot holes there’s something enjoyable to find in almost every scene. Whether intentional or not.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls is a good fall themed movie for families with small, brave children that don’t mind some oddball (and slightly offensive) jokes. If you’re laughing at the terrible acting, weird plot, or deliberately goofy scenes, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that you’re laughing and entertained, so I say mission accomplished.

The verdict: B-

-Zachary Flint

The Predator Review: An Inconvenient Truth

Apparently, the behavior of a Predator (one of the most iconic movie aliens of all time) doesn’t live up to its own animal kingdom namesake. In actuality, the predator acts more like a bass fisherman than an alien beast on the hunt for humans. Why is Predator on the hunt in the first place, you may ask? Well, because of global warming of course! At least, that’s what I was told by the latest installment to the Predator franchise.

Acting as a sequel to previous films in the series, The Predator features shoulder cannons, thermal scanners, and elaborate costumes and props. Yet, it can’t rise to the charm of previous Predator movies. A bad case of looking the part, but not playing the part.

Take the dialogue between our ragtag group of heroes as an example, which consistently came up shy of clever. Absent is the machismo attitude and testosterone-laced humor that defined the initial 1987 classic. Instead, The Predator gives off more of a carefree, Expendables-type vibe.

Our actors are having fun cracking jokes and messing around, occasionally making fun banter that got laughs from the audience. But when it’s time for characters to get serious, suddenly the holes in the writing start to appear. Point being, this movie isn’t cut out to be a laid-back romp. Where’s the suspense? The tension? The excitement? Three necessary qualities The Predator truly lacks.

The action boasts many scenes of Predator slicing and dicing people, as well as alien guns and technology blowing things up. The Predator seems content in this typical action movie formula, and less demanding moviegoers will be too. There’s plenty of “Ooo… ahh…” moments of Predator destroying things and cheeky comedy between our main cast to get the audience to the end. It will be up to the individual to judge whether it was all worth the time.

Ultimately, this film has no drive to tell a cohesive and well-rounded story. It may not sound like a lot, but it can mean the difference between getting a movie like Predator and one like Alien Vs. Predator 2: Requiem.

Part of the appeal of Predator is in the simplicity of its plot and characters, leaving plenty of time for sci-fi action and suspense. When you strip away the muscle-bound heroes and straightforward plot and substitute it for an overly complex and unfocused narrative, what you’re left with isn’t anything too thrilling for audiences.

The Predator is enough to satisfy two hours of popcorn munching, but not repeated viewings. Especially considering the many better alternatives within the genre and franchise. Most moviegoers will likely leave the theater indifferent, shrugging their shoulders saying, “That was okay.”

“Okay” indeed.

The Verdict: C-

-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