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Monthly Archives: October 2018

October 29, 2018

Review: Halloween (2018)

Director: David Gordon Green

Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Haluk Bilgnier, Will Patton

Run Time: 106mins

 

Believe or not this latest addition to the “Halloween” franchise, the 11th entry, is brought to us by the same people who brought us “Pineapple Express” in David Gordon Green (director/co-writer) and Danny McBride (co-writer). A combination we know can do comedy but what about horror? It turns out they do know their horror or at least “Halloween” as this movie is a fitting tribute to the original while managing to do its own thing for the most part.

It fits too that in a franchise with an incredibly convoluted history that this film adds to that confusion by ignoring all previous sequels and being a direct follow up to the original. So in this timeline, Michael Myers was arrested after the events of the original and has been in a secure asylum for 40 years. We first see Michael as two investigative journalists go to visit him. It is a very evocative opening scene as we see Michael chained up in a chessboard style courtyard with his back turned to us. The camera teases glimpses of his face but never shows his full face giving him an even more sinister air.

The investigative journalist’s angle is good as it gives us the audience a very easy to catch up on what has been happening in Haddonfield over the last 40 years particularly with Laurie Strode (Lee Curtis). It turns out she has two failed marriages, had her daughter taken off her and is now living as a hermit in a fortified house, seemingly waiting for Michaels return. In this opening section, we also get to see the strained relationship she has with her daughter Karen (Greer) and her better relationship with granddaughter Allyson (Matichak). The relationship between these three generations of Strode women forms the emotional core of the movie.

After this opening section, Michael inevitably escapes after a botched prison transfer and starts killing once again. Once the killing begins the film very much goes into traditional slasher territory. This element is one of the things that is likely to delight some while frustrating others as the movie feels like a slasher that could have been made in the pre-“Scream” era. As for the most part events are played with a straight bat, and there is little in the way of snarkiness or post-modernism here which may come as a surprise giving the creative talents involved. However, for the most part, this works well, but it does mean there are a bunch of characters who either you don’t care about or are actively happy to see bumped off by Michael.

As mentioned at the start of the review there are many nods to the original. While sometimes this seems a tad forced there are some instances of this that work well. Particularly the scenes that invert the original and highlight the oddly symbiotic relationship between Michael and Laurie. The other big nod to the original is that we have John Carpenter back doing the soundtrack the first time he has done a “Halloween” soundtrack since 1981’s “Halloween II.”

While there may be some skewy plot logic, annoying characters and some silly moments this latest “Halloween” does deliver some brutal kills, develops the relationship of Strode women well and has an absolutely barnstorming performance from Jamie Lee Curtis.

Overall: “Halloween” 2018 can’t compete with the original but is a never less than entertaining, pleasingly throwback slasher and ranks as one of the best entries in the franchise.

7/10

October 24, 2018

Review: The Witch in the Window

Director: Andy Mitton

Starring: Alex Draper, Charlie Tacker, Arija Bareikis, Carol Stanzione

Run Time: 77mins

 

“Witch in The Window” is Andy Mitton’s first solo directorial feature after previously making “YellowBrickRoad” and “We Go On” with his screen collaborator Jesse Holland. Much like those films, this film has picked up plaudits on the festival circuit after premiering at Fantasia Fest in July. The movie also sees Mitton reunite with actor Alex Draper who is a long-time acquaintance of Mitton’s and one of the stars of “YellowBrickRoad.”

The plot focuses on Draper’s character divorced dad Simon who takes his twelve-year-old son Finn (Tacker) on a trip to fix up a house he has bought to flip in rural Vermont. However, it is not too long before they hear of the previous owner who died there Lydia who was believed to be a witch by her neighbours. Of course, as this is a horror movie soon after creepy things start to happen.

That said while there is no doubt this a horror movie this is not your straightforward haunted house tale. For one the film is as much a family drama as it is a horror. As the central narrative is about an absentee father trying to reconnect with his son, a plot that could easily tip into lazy sentimentally but instead is beautifully built up here. A good part of this is to do with the acting both from Draper and Tacker who both create rounded, believable characters. Even if Finn initially does come off as your stereotypical sullen adolescent.

The movie also wrong-foots the viewer as most of the jumps and scares happen in the daytime instead of at night. Talking of the jumps and scares these are sparsely peppered throughout the films short running time. Probably too sparsely for quite a few horror fans. Even fans of slow-burn horror may find themselves wanting a few more jumps to have been thrown into the mix. The jumps there are though are well-executed.

While the movie is low on jumps, it is high on atmosphere. There is a certain claustrophobia about the film as we are rarely away from the house and everything about the house is made to feel sinister. Also, Lydia (Carol Stanzione) is a creepily effective villain. There is also a sequence towards the end where the film really lets loose which is very well done, but part of you wishes there had been a tad more of that in what is otherwise an impressive movie.

 

Overall: Some may quibble about the number of scares, but this slow-burn tale comes with great atmosphere, believable characters and an interesting spin on the old haunted house set-up.

7/10

 

Now Available on Shudder

October 19, 2018

Review: Mandy

Director: Panos Cosmatos

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache

Running Time: 110mins

 

It has been eight years since Panos Cosmatos eye-lacerating, mind-melting debut “Beyond the Black Rainbow” came out. While not a well-known film it is one that picked up a small but dedicated following that was eager to know what Cosmatos would do next. Anticipation grew further when this film finally hit at Sundance in January to rave reviews. However those who were not lucky enough to see it there had to wait until June to get even a trailer but now the wait is over, and “Mandy” has finally hit cinemas. Was it worth the wait? Well if you’re a fan of “Beyond the Black Rainbow” or Nicolas Cage almost certainly.

The movie is not the same as Cosmatos’s debut though as while it may be similarly visually intense, 80’s inspired, neon-soaked and trippy but it has much more of a plot throughline. In fact, in narrative terms, it is relatively simple. The film is set in 1983 where lumberjack Red Miller (Cage) is living out in the woods with his partner Mandy Bloom (Riseborough). Mandy is subsequently abducted and then murdered by a hippie cult led by Jeremiah Sand (Roache). These events inevitably lead Red on a path of revenge. This plot is the kind of plot set-up that will be very familiar to any action movie fan as it has been used innumerable times.

However, the plot of the movie is entirely beside the point here. No the magic of the film lies in its visual invention, atmosphere and a barnstorming performance from Nicolas Cage. As this is really Cage’s movie in many ways. With all the drugged –out madness going on you need a central figure to match that and Cage can certainly do that. It is often easy to disregard Cage given all the dross he stars in but this film reminds you what a talent he can be. As the performance he gives here is easily his best since “Kick-Ass” and should go down as one of his all-time best. That is not too disregard the other actors as the like of Roache and Riseborough give decent performance as well. Plus there is some decent cameos from Bill Duke and Richard Brakes.

If there is a weakness, it is it would have been good to see the character of Mandy fleshed out a bit. Due to Riseborough quality acting, you do get a sense of Mandy, but it would have been good to spend a little more time with the character. Also not unlike the films of Nicholas Winding Refn it is likely some will bristle against the film surface sheen and too-cool-for-school vibe. That may be a tad unfair though as you do sense this picture was a real labour of love for Cosmastos, and he is not just being cool for cools sake. There also no doubting his visual sense of flair from all the psychedelic interludes to the animated dream sequences to even the more naturalistic looking scenes early this is a stunning film to look at. Aside from his superb direction and the aforementioned Cage performance, the film also has a pulsing synth soundtrack provided by Jóhann Jóhannsson which fit perfectly with the films 80’s horror vibe. It is one of the year’s best and sadly the last one we shall hear from Johannson after he passed away earlier in the year.

 

Overall: “Mandy” is an intense, gory, eyeball-frazzling, atmospheric, mind-bending, weirdly beautiful audio-visual experience that is worth the price of admission for Cage’s tour-de-force performance alone.

9/10