Category Archives: Horror

Halloween (2018, David Gordon Green)

Halloween never met a MacGuffin it didn’t embrace. Jeff Fradley, Danny McBride, and director Gordon’s script strings together MacGuffins to make the plot. And if it’s not a MacGuffin, it’s something they’re not going to do anything with. With a handful of exceptions, Halloween is usually at least reasonably acted. Sure, everyone lives in a 2018 where smartphones aren’t omnipresent but the screenwriters probably couldn’t figure out how to update the set pieces they lift from previous Halloween sequels for new technology.

Real quick, just because I probably don’t want to dwell on it–Halloween (2018) recreates some of the previous sequels’ thriller or slasher set pieces. It amps up the violence considerably–the film’s nowhere near as violent after it starts homaging the original Halloween as when it’s trudging through its first act mire. These set piece recreations tend to be extraordinarily violent, like Green is trying to set his Halloween–a sequel only to first film–apart from all the sequels. It’s bloodier. It’s meaner. It’s maybe louder. When Green isn’t luxuriating in the physical graphic violence, he uses the sound for off-screen graphic violence. It’s left up to the imagination.

Only not the result, because he always shows the result.

It seems weird, because for a while Halloween seems to at least be pretending it’s serious. But when Jamie Lee Curtis calls Donald Pleasence-stand in Haluk Bilginer “The New Loomis (Pleasence’s character from previous films, including the original), it’s like Halloween feels comfortable dropping the pretense.

Back to the MacGuffin-filled opening–wait, there’s a third MacGuffin there too–anyway, Halloween opens with Jefferson Hall and Rhian Rees as these obnoxious British podcaster producers doing a “Serial” on Michael Myers and the first Halloween. They go see Michael (presumably Nick Castle when he’s got the mask off, but never shown clearly–maybe Green and editor Timothy Alverson’s greatest–and most effective–feat). They bring him into the movie. They go see Jamie Lee Curtis. They mention Judy Greer.

Greer is Curtis’s daughter, who lives in town (the same town from the other Halloween movies because even though both Curtis and Greer suffer from severe mental anxiety and depression, they never want to leave the town). She’s got bland “dad” husband Toby Huss and smart and capable daughter Andi Matichak. Matichak and Curtis ostensibly have a character development arc, but much of it either happens off-screen or when digetic sound is brought over it for effect. The screenwriters avoid the heck out of character for Curtis. With Castle–i.e. what’s happened to the slasher since the slasher movie ended forty years ago–it’s easy. He’s been tied to a stone, silent for forty years. No development whatsoever. Easy.

Curtis, Greer, and Matichak? Not so easy. Greer’s second-billed but barely relevant. She just gets to think her mom is crazy and tell her to get help. Over and over again. Huss should be there to support Greer and he gets more material than her. And, until she’s following in grandma’s final girl footsteps, Matichak gets less than her friends. There’s best girlfriend Virginia Gardner (who’s actually really good), Gardner’s boyfriend Miles Robbins, then Matichak’s boyfriend Dylan Arnold and his bro Drew Scheid.

Matichek gets less to do, outside being hunted by a quinquagenarian masked spree killer, than any of them. The other characters don’t get more development, but at least Gardner and Robbins get stuff to do. Gardner especially. She’s babysitting adorably foul-mouthed near tween Jibrail Nantambu. Another big change in Halloween as it goes on–somewhere in the second act it decides it’s going to do some comedy. The first act doesn’t have any except Hall being a dip and Huss being such a dad.

The frustrating thing about Halloween–not while watching it but while considering it–is how many weird, senseless plotting choices the screenwriters make, apparently for no reason. The film has spared down visuals. Green avoids establishing shots. Possibly because he’s shooting Charleston, South Carolina for mid-sized town Illinois. But probably not. When they’re most important, he’s avoiding them because he’s doing his whole Halloween (2018) is meaner and bloodier and realer.

That tone doesn’t fit with podcasters Hall and Rees. Either they’re jokes, in which case Halloween (2018) is a joke, or they’re serious. But the film kind of wants to take Rees seriously and not Hall. Only Hall’s the noisier one.

With the exception of Curtis, Halloween’s female characters tend to be silent sidekicks to their far less capable male partners. Patton and Curtis know each other–from the first Halloween night–but… it’s not like they get character development. Halloween (2018) doesn’t do character development, because it’s going to deliver an amazing finish. Jamie Lee Curtis vs. Michael Myers, forty years later.

It’s the point of the movie. Curtis has spent forty years arming and training herself to take out Michael Myers. And now she’s going to get to do it.

And the big finale… isn’t boring. It’s dumb. If it weren’t so visually flat, it might be worth some spoof value. Because Halloween (2018) plays like an unaware spoof of itself. Like the screenwriters had something else in mind and Green just sucked the laughs out of it. But Green’s one of the screenwriters.

Halloween (2018) takes itself way too seriously while seeming to know it shouldn’t be taken seriously at all.

Curtis is fine. She and Matichak have potential. She and Patton have potential. The movie explores neither. Matichak’s all right. She’s got very little. Patton’s fine but seems like he should be good. Greer–the movie avoids giving Greer character more than it does Curtis–Greer is hostilely wasted. Like she’s stunt-casted.

The teens–other than Gardner–are all thin, both part and performance; it doesn’t matter.

Gardner’s good. Nantambu’s funny. Not good, but funny.

Technically, nothing leaps out. Green’s direction is fine. It’s never terrible. The script’s weird, but not bad as far as dialogue. Usually. Except the podcasters. And the Donald Pleasence stand-in. Alverson’s editing is good. Simmonds’s photography is flat, visually and in terms of quality. The score–from John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter (yes relation), and Daniel A. Davies–sounds like a Halloween score. Nothing special.

Richard A. Wright’s production design is lacking.

Halloween (2018) is a curiosity. Even though it had the ingredients for something else. Something more. The film’s stunningly unambitious. It’s also passive aggressively hostile to those unfamiliar with the previous movies. While the podcasters fill in a bit, it’s more what’s been happening since the last movie, not what happened in the last movie.

And Curtis gets nothing. Nothing with any of it. Because the script can’t figure out how to make her a protagonist. It can’t figure out a lot of things.

The movie can’t figure out a lot of things. It’s really flimsy and kind of cynical–it’s like a one hundred minute exploration of why you shouldn’t try to make a “serious” movie sequel. To Halloween specifically, but also in general. Again, if it were a spoof–even a dark comedy one–there might be something here.

It’s not. And instead Halloween H40 just a lot of actors wasting their time and some remixed John Carpenter music.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by David Gordon Green; screenplay by Jeff Fradley, Danny McBride, and Green, based on characters created by John Carpenter and Debra Hill; director of photography, Michael Simmonds; edited by Timothy Alverson; music by John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel A. Davies; production designer, Richard A. Wright; produced by Malek Akkad, Jason Blum, and Bill Block; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie), Judy Greer (Karen), Andi Matichak (Allyson), Will Patton (Hawkins), Toby Huss (Ray), Haluk Bilginer (Sartain), Rhian Rees (Dana), Jefferson Hall (Aaron), Virginia Gardner (Vicky), Dylan Arnold (Cameron), Miles Robbins (Dave), Drew Scheid (Oscar), Jibrail Nantambu (Julian), and Nick Castle (Shape).


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Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995, Joe Chappelle)

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers doesn’t even run ninety minutes and gets boring fast; the last twenty minutes are completely mind-numbing. Nothing makes sense, characters act without motive, cults cult without purpose, it just goes on and on. At least Donald Pleasence is lucky enough to get knocked out for a bunch of it.

Pleasence isn’t in Curse very much. The scenes he does get are usually silly, sort of half expository, half bridging scenes to keep things moving. He has no narrative of his own, which is fine. He’s so uninvolved with the film’s events he shouldn’t have one. Of course, no one gets their own narrative in Curse. At least, nothing approaching a completed one.

Lead Paul Rudd doesn’t. His character survived the first Halloween as a kid, which makes him early-to-mid-twenties. He lives in a boarding house and obsesses over Michael Myers while peeping on new neighbor Marianne Hagan across the street. She’s a single mom moved back in with her family–mom Kim Darby, dad Bradford English, brother Keith Bogart. Devin Gardner plays Hagan’s kid.

So Hagan and Rudd don’t show up for about twenty minutes, maybe a little more–though Rudd does narrate the opening titles, which are set over J.C. Brandy giving birth and then running from Michael and a cult. From a basement. Director Chappelle likes his basements. He likes to poorly direct scenes in them; cinematographer Billy Dickson lights these basement scenes poorly, like everything he lights in the movie. It’s all poorly lighted. Dickson and Chapelle shoot their night exteriors with a lot of blue light. Bright blue light.

Back to Brandy. She’s from the last couple movies but it was a different actress. The movie introduces her in the Rudd voiceover during the titles and there’s no time spent establishing her character. Even though her escape subplot goes on forever, it’s filler. And badly directed. Chappelle badly directs everything in Curse. The movie doesn’t just not having anything to recommend it, it has nil positive elements.

Chappelle’s direction? Bad. Daniel Farrands’s script? Bad. Dickson’s photography? Bad. Randy Bricker’s editing? Bad. Alan Howarth’s music? So bad.

And none of the actors are any good. Once Rudd and Hagan take over the movie, it’s all about Rudd finding Brandy’s baby and then trying to find Pleasence. Meanwhile Hagan’s got a subplot about… nothing? She’s got a couple scenes showing she’s suffering–dad English is physically and mentally abusive, Gardner’s a weird kid–but no subplot. On one hand, it’s good Rudd and Hagan don’t have a romance subplot, but it’s also bad because it’d be so godawful it might be fun to watch.

Rudd’s really bad. Hagan’s better. Darby’s okay. English is bad. Bogart is bad. Mariah O’Brien–as Bogart’s girlfriend–she’s bad. She’s got this subplot about bringing Halloween back to the town. There’s a festival, which doesn’t appear to have actually been staged because Chappelle’s terrible at establishing shots. He, cinematographer Dickson, and editor Bricker are really terrible at tying scenes shot in different locations together. Sure, the plotting is herks and jerks along, but Bricker has no rhythm. There’ll be a bad establishing shot, then a second–longer–bad establishing shot, just on a first unit location. Curse is a visual mess.

Leo Geter is awful as a shock jock who figures in, but not enough.

Mitchell Ryan is in it a few times as Pleasence’s old boss, who wants to hire him back even before Michael Myers returns. Even though Pleasence is clearly not in shape for a nine-to-five.

The jump scares are all cheap, usually red herrings, usually with terrible Howarth music accompanying. But mostly there’s gore instead of scares. But the gore is often insert shots; obvious insert shots. Like Chappelle has something to prove. He can keep finding ways to make the move worse, even as every other “creative” impulse runs out.

Curse is bad. And it goes on too long to be amusing at all in its badness.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Chappelle; screenplay by Daniel Farrands, based on characters created by Debra Hill and John Carpenter; director of photography, Billy Dickson; edited by Randy Bricker; music by Alan Howarth; production designer, Bryan Ryman; produced by Paul Freeman; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Donald Pleasence (Dr. Sam Loomis), Paul Rudd (Tommy Doyle), Marianne Hagan (Kara Strode), Mitchell Ryan (Dr. Terence Wynn), Devin Gardner (Danny Strode), Kim Darby (Debra Strode), Bradford English (John Strode), Keith Bogart (Tim Strode), Mariah O’Brien (Beth), Leo Geter (Barry Simms) and J.C. Brandy (Jamie Lloyd Carruthers).


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Let Me In (2010, Matt Reeves)

Let Me In is ponderously stylized. Director (and screenwriter) Reeves approaches the film–about a twelve year-old boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who befriends the new girl in his apartment complex, also ostensibly twelve years old. Chloë Grace Moretz is the girl. She’s not just a girl, she’s a vampire. Reeves shoots it kind of like “She’s a Vampire, Charlie Brown,” with Smit-McPhee’s always present mom never actually seen (in focus) on screen. It’s similar with the other adults, except Moretz’s keeper (Richard Jenkins in a glorified cameo) and an investigating cop (Elias Koteas). The rest of the adults are mostly shown in long shot; they’re residents in the same apartment complex and Smit-McPhee is a bit of a peeper.

Yes, the distance does help make the audience understand Smit-McPhee’s isolation, but Reeves keeps a big stretch of narrative distance to Smit-McPhee too. Reeves has a distinct angle to Let Me In; look at these things, don’t look at these things. Within those constraints, the film’s an easy success. But those constraints are… really constrained. It’s like a fairytale… but not. It really is like a twisted Charlie Brown TV special. A beautifully made one, with an excellent performance from Moretz. Just no one else. School bully Dylan Minnette is really good. Smit-McPhee is fine. But he’s just got to be slightly creepy and very moody, which makes complete sense since his mom is a pass-out drunk. Not just a pass-out drunk, but also a Jesus freak.

Let Me In is based on a novel (and a Swedish film adaptation of that novel), so who knows how far Reeves wants to stray. But he sets it in 1983 New Mexico, with lots of pop culture references; so he’s definitely willing to stray. Whatever.

Jenkins, in that glorified cameo, might be fine. It’s very hard to say given he doesn’t have many onscreen lines; his most important ones are muffled through the wall, while Smit-McPhee is eavesdropping on his new neighbors. Similarly Koteas might be fine, but he never gets enough of a reaction to what’s going on around him. Person bursts into flames in front of Koteas? He’s great at acting in the crisis of the moment, but there’s no reaction from him.

So I guess the most impressive thing about the film is how Reeves basically has a bunch of caricatures but is able to make it not matter, not the way he’s telling this story.

Good, occasionally over-stylized photography from Greig Fraser. Decent cutting from Stan Salfas. Excellent score from Michael Giacchino. Reeves heavily relies on the photography, editing, and music to get Let Me In done. In almost every scene. Unless it’s with Moretz opposite Smit-McPhee. Those scenes Reeves handles differently, like he trusts the material more. Or he just trusts Moretz more, which is weird since Smit-McPhee’s the protagonist.

He’s just a very distant protagonist.

The movie’s exceptionally well-paced too. The first ninety minutes sail by. There’s a flash forward with Koteas opening the film (and kind of suggesting he might have a real part in the narrative as opposed to being a moveable piece in the plot), then backtracking to introduce Smit-McPhee and his situation. The present but out of focus mom (Cara Buono, who truly shouldn’t have been credited). Then in come Jenkins and Moretz. It all moves real smooth; it helps it’s not clear the opening flash forward isn’t just cutting to the end of the movie too (Koteas showing up in the flashback kind of gives that development away).

Reeves pretends Let Me In can make it just on being some kind of a tone poem and you can sort of pretend along with him (until the third act anyway).

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Matt Reeves; screenplay by Reeves, based on a novel and screenplay by John Ajvide Lindqvist; director of photography, Greig Fraser; edited by Stan Salfas; music by Michael Giacchino; production designer, Ford Wheeler; produced by Tobin Armbrust, Alexander Yves Brunner, Guy East, Donna Gigliotti, Carl Molinder, John Nordling, and Simon Oakes; released by Overture Films.

Starring Kodi Smit-McPhee (Owen), Chloë Grace Moretz (Abby), Elias Koteas (detective), Dylan Minnette (Kenny), and Richard Jenkins (guardian).


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A Quiet Place (2018, John Krasinski)

It’d be nice if A Quiet Place were exasperating. If, after seventy or eighty minutes of building tension, the finale somehow disappointed. It doesn’t. It’s not exactly predictable, but by the time it arrives, it’s been obvious for a while the movie’s not really going anywhere. The film’s split into three days. The first day is the prologue, about four months into some kind of invasion of Earth by giant monsters. Not like Godzilla giant monsters, but like fifteen foot tall giant monsters. Who apparently eat people? Doesn’t matter. They can’t see. They hunt by hearing. They kind of look like giant walking bats but without wings and Alien heads. The prologue introduces the film’s big device–no talking, no noise. The cast moves through the world, desperately trying not to make any noise. They’ve got to get some medicine for a sick child.

There’s dad John Krasinski, mom Emily Blunt, daughter Millicent Simmonds (who’s deaf), older son (Noah Jupe)–he’s the sick one, and younger son Cade Woodward. The prologue serves to showcase how important it is the be quiet and to give the characters some angst for later.

Fast forward sixteen months and the family is living in a farmhouse. There’s a new baby on the way, because even though Krasinski is dutifully trying to communicate via shortwave and he’s got the farm wired with closed circuit monitors and he’s working on a hearing device for Simmonds (teaching himself engineering), it apparently never occurred to him to rubberband his gonads. No worries though, because while Krasinski is working on his electronics stuff, Blunt’s making a covered baby crib complete with an oxygen tank for when the little tyke arrives, which is weeks off.

After that catchup with the family, the film cuts to another day. The cuts to days all have title cards giving the day. Except it’s just the next day. Most of the movie takes place on this third day, the day after the second day, when it becomes clear most of the time since the prologue hasn’t been making sure they’re prepared. Not for the baby, not for the monsters. As the film progresses, it just becomes more and more obvious–even though Krasinski is supposedly super-prepared, he’s really not. Sure, Woodward’s like three or something, but Jupe and Simmonds are tweens. And Krasinski has never come up with a plan for if they’re separated on the property?

The film gets away with not having much exposition–the family talks, with rare exception, entirely in American Sign Language (presumably they know it because of Simmonds) and rarely does it give the actors much emoting to do while signing. Outside Simmonds. It’s unfortunate because when Krasinski and Blunt have their first talk, it’s some really trite parenting responsibility nonsense. A Quiet Place has all the depth of a Disney TV movie as far as adult characterization, but without any of the charm. Oddly, the kids are fantastic. Simmonds has to do a bunch on her own, she’s great. Jupe’s the oldest male so he’s got to learn how to be a man in this new world and he’s terrified. He’s great. Simmonds and Jupe together (when they’re in trouble because Krasinski never came up with a plan for them getting across their farm to their house) are truly amazing. And a lot of it is how Krasinski, as director, works with the actors.

It’s kind of inexplicable why he doesn’t apply the same rigor to he and Blunt’s performances.

The script wants to get away with not having any exposition, which is fine. It kind of makes things more horrifying, but not really. The quiet device is about all A Quiet Place has got going for it; the monsters are nowhere near as terrifying as when the family gets into trouble because, usually, they’re exceptionally careless and unprepared for any common life occurrences. Contrivances are forecast–Krasinski’s not a subtle director, which is fine, he’s not trying to be subtle (Quiet Place is most effective in how it works as visual exposition, since no one’s talking the audience has to be able to understand what they’re seeing)–but also cheap. Lots of cheap contrivance. A Quiet Place is a comedy of errors; or a tragedy of them.

Good photography from Charlotte Bruus Christensen. Not bad but not special editing from Christopher Tellefsen. Marco Beltrami’s score is spare and only used–albeit effectively–for the film’s cheapest emotional moments.

Acting wise… Simmonds and Jupe impress. No one else does. Krasinski’s good with the kids. Blunt’s not bad with them but she’s not good with them either. Because of the short present action, she barely gets anything to do with Simmonds and her one big scene with Jupe is overcooked. Not even trying to establish the adults until an hour into the movie hurts; for some reason Krasinski thinks he can get away with them sharing headphones and slow dancing but… no. Especially not since their sole motivation is protecting their kids.

A Quiet Place is strongest in the first act. It declines from there. The film’s at its weakest point as it goes into the third act (at least its weakest point so far). It’s completely lost momentum, splitting between Blunt home alone and the rest of the family off in the world. And then it just keeps slipping.

By the end, A Quiet Place isn’t disappointing, just annoying. The quiet thing works in a horror movie. Who knew. Outside Simmonds and Jupe, there’s nothing to it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Krasinskip; written by Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, and Krasinski; based on a story by Woods and Beck; director of photography, Charlotte Bruus Christensen; edited by Christopher Tellefsen; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Jeffrey Beecroft; produced by Michael Bay, Andrew Form, and Brad Fuller; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Emily Blunt (Mother), John Krasinski (Father), Millicent Simmonds (Daughter), Noah Jupe (Older son), and Cade Woodward (Younger son).


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