Pet Sematary (2019)

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Stephen King’s ‘It’ was a box office smash and with Chapter 2 around the corner, his back catalogue is being mined for further cinematic attraction. This time we enter the land of the living dead, for a second go-around with ‘Pet Sematary’; an original came out in 1989. Thirty years between the two and this one has you calling out for it to be lowered in an unmarked grave.

Louis (Jason Clarke) and his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) have moved from Boston to a small town in Maine in the hope of slowing down a bit and having more time with their son and daughter. However, their new property means they own a huge amount of land, some of which is used as a local cemetery for pets and a place behind this could spell reanimated trouble for the family.

Jeff Buhler’s screenplay leaves you with so many why questions; not because the film is cleverly subjective, posing you thoughts about what can be taken away from it personally, but because the script is far from tightly written and chucks up numerous fur-balls of dumb oversights. A large portion of Buhler’s adaptation makes no sense and/or provide whopping plot holes to dive into.

I have no doubt that the authors work goes into way more depth and broaches the gritty context of our mortality with better attack, but in terms of the movie it winds up skirting around deep issues and tosses in jump scares and many, many predictable story beats. A hissing cat with matted fur and creepy kids are always going to be horrifying images but that does not mean you can constantly rely on that to pray you’re a solid horror film; you must contain a burrowing sense of something extra below the surface, which the film has to begin with, but swiftly loses.

A birthday scene outside their new abode is well executed and certainly grips you with shocking tension, even if it’s overladen with slow-motion. There are also some neat early discussions about death and the afterlife which shine like rare beacons in a film that is otherwise a faulty bulb in need of a burial.

It’s irritating because what it has to say and tries to say about grief are meaty talking points but this is never rounded out to become a compelling, and engaging movie about that subject matter. The fear of dying is replaced by misty woods, masked children and a tribal land that could easily fit into the bleak, dull world of ‘The Nun’. Instead of being a serious topic with scary aspects it becomes an increasingly laughable, mildly serviceable horror flick.

Some people may find the whole thing nightmarish and lap it up like a feline to milk but the majority of it for me and especially the final five to ten minutes were presented in an unintentionally hilarious manner. ‘Pet Sematary‘ is more like kitty litter than frightening catnip to lose yourself to.

5/10

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Escape Room (2019)

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Escape rooms as a concept are quite the mind-bending rage at the moment; the excitement of something different that both tests your brains and your friendships is a successful business model so surely this cinematic outing could gleefully mould the idea into a intelligent horror? Well not quite, however silly and fun it sometimes is.

Introverted student Zoey (Taylor Russell) is told to do something scary for once and along with five other people, she is sent a mysterious puzzle box which invites them all to take on a new, immersive escape room where the winner can gain $1 million. However things won’t be plain sailing as they realise the game has been tailored to kill them if they can’t get out.

From the outset this is a dumb flick, who would go to an escape room where the winner gets a cash prize? The whole point of them is that they are a team game so it already sounds like a dangerous scheme and generally speaking the story doesn’t get much smoother. The rules of this deadly game change at will which is a frustrating tact and as a games master myself; where I get to witness everyday folk do well, only to go and ruin their chances by making stupid choices as the stress of the 60 minutes whittles away, this film has many convenient points where characters just happen to work out stuff, even though all of them bar one have never played a room before and their panic levels are much higher than found in the place where I work. Obviously it’s a movie but don’t make their leaps to solving problems so sudden and uninspired.

It’s almost like ‘Escape Room’ views itself as smarter than it really is, it’s falls way short of the devilishly clever film it could have been. Mostly, this is a dumb narrative with a group of strangers missing any real pulls of tension which could help throw the audience into the game some more. The connection they have is more like some predictable, half-arsed writing decision and a lot of the film is a fun, yet stupid ride which isn’t majorly thrilling.

In terms of a series of distracting events, this is a great movie. There’s no doubt that the entertainment factor is there and though it is clearly a less than thought through screenplay feeling majorly like ‘Saw’ and ‘The Belko Experiment’, the actors get their teeth into the roles and convince us enough that the tests they’re facing are worthy of our time. The production design must also be praised as this Minos company has an epic scale and each nightmarish new room ups the threat, be it an upside down bar or a freezing cold landscape the look of this film is especially cool.

‘Escape Room’ never goes above and beyond the premise that was so ripe for the taking and it has a ridiculous conclusion but there are enough fairly neat puzzles and bursts of suspense to keep this from being a dud.

5.5/10

The Children Act (2018)

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This is a drama with a profound core revolving around a quandary of life and death. It’s very easy to say that Emma Thompson is the crowning aspect within ‘The Children Act’. There is a lot of weighty material going on in this plot and not all of it is as stirring as the film would believe it is.

The Honorable Fiona Maye (Emma Thompson) is a well respected judge but away from the courts she’s facing a communication breakdown with her husband Jack (Stanley Tucci). On top of this she is given a case about a 17 year old with leukaemia; his parents are Jehovah’s Witnesses and are refusing a blood transfusion which leaves Maye to make an informed choice on the teenagers welfare.

Richard Eyre; with a sturdy background in theatre and directing play adaptations for TV certainly knows how to facilitate strong performances for this thought-provoking story. It’s a shame then that he overdoes the melodrama and thrusts too much emotional manipulation onto the audience come the final minutes of this film.

Before that point, the first two acts are solid and methodically attentive to both the trials of court room lore and her marriage behind closed doors. The High Court of Justice scenes are gripping and tackle tricky issues of law and morals, family and love, death and life which are beautifully explored in Ian McEwan’s script. This sensitive development of healthcare versus dignity never backs down by taking one side and that makes the dialogue based within the court rooms very interesting to hear.

After the verdict is decided, it isn’t only the melodramatic nature that spoils the film but the scripted behaviour and actions of one character are apparently signs of a forced upbringing but are just strange and make the story a surreal ache to get through. I was totally out of the film by the midst of the third act and any chance of evoking a sad reaction from me was utterly in the wind.

Thompson is as sensational as you’d expect, she has such a great emotive range which is second to none. In her eyes, a thousand words are spoken even when she is just silently listening or contemplating. Tucci doesn’t have a large role but brings a subtlety to his turn as Jack, there’s definitely an interest he portrays of quiet, honest conflict for Fiona’s personal life.

‘The Children Act’ has a lot going for it and with a powerful duo of performances, the story especially in the first stages is dignified and absorbing but after a while, it views like a train coming to a halt but still with a mile of track left to go.

5.5/10

Hereditary (2018)

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The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. In this film, the apple is definitely not ripe for consumption with the family aspect whirled together with secrets and spirits, which makes for a truly alarming nightmarish vision.

Annie’s (Toni Collette) mother has recently passed and whilst trying to hit a deadline with her miniature artwork, she becomes struck with grief. This isn’t helped by a post-party event where Annie’s son, Peter (Alex Wolff) brings more devastation onto the family and things escalate from there.

That’s as much I’ll comment about the plot because it’s definitely best going into this experience with next to no information about what may or may not happen. I call ‘Hereditary’ an experience because it may be labelled as a horror but it’s more than that, it’s a deeply affecting story which immersed me into a troubling world of fraught family ties and emotional over-spill. The horror isn’t from cheap jump scares of which there are like a couple, but instead it’s rooted in the unflinching portrayal of a mother, father, brother and sister facing distressing events.

I tip my virtual hat to director Ari Aster, because for a debut feature length film this is absolutely phenomenal. The directing and writing chops he demonstrates are practically exquisite. He really knows how to hold a microscope over the family and set up a chilling and almost torturous patience in watching the film cleverly build up. A24 and their releases are ones I always eagerly await. Their back catalogue is exceptional and this is no different, they seem to understand fresh talent and provide unique stories in a cinematic landscape often filled with less than original material.

Sound production within this feature is superb, from some almost constant and never calm heartbeat sounding noises over scenes to the tongue clicking which is used in an effectively creepy way. The score itself by Colin Stetson swells in all the right places, which raised the hairs on my arm and made the film that much startling. The design itself and the way the camera moves throughout the house is brilliant. The tracking shots mirror the dolls house worlds Annie creates and the family as characters therefore come across like figures, manipulated by a sinister exterior force.

There are points when it goes a little bit far and odd but aside from this and a couple of slow-ish scenes I think the film is great. I think because it’s 100% something that will stick in my mind and I’ll need to mull it over to work out exactly what my final thoughts are, but I did like it, yes.

Collette is sensational in this movie and hopefully she won’t be overlooked come awards season because her performance is explosive. There’s times when she’s worrying, times when she gives subtle looks of care or something darker and her bursts of grief gripped me like hooks in my flesh. Milly Shapiro carries with her a quiet, haunted and evil feeling which works well. Wolff is so good, the tears, the stares, the frantic screams and concern for where he finds Peter are played perfectly.

It’s very close to being a mind bomb of a movie, leaving me internally screaming WTF but it works so well because of this and the smart way it plays on fear. The film is disturbing and is one I want to experience again.

8/10

Beast (2018)

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Stalking the screen with effective tension is this beastly feature. It certainly has bark and bite, as we see this dark thriller take hold and swallow you up, in a dangerously palpable mystery.

Celebrating her birthday is Moll (Jessie Buckley), who ends up dancing the night away before crossing paths with the possibly shady Pascal (Johnny Flynn), the next morning. There have been a series of grim murders plaguing the island and it isn’t long until people suspect Moll’s new connection, as the man behind the disappearances.

This is a debut work from Michael Pearce; who unarguably knows how to layer on the tension. The film almost sweats out a deep and engaging psychological tale, as if Pearce is allowing us to peer through a magnifying glass at all the worrying little details possessed by Moll and Pascal, details that keep us questioning their relationship and the trail of murders.

Coinciding with Pearce’s fantastically hypnotic visuals is a score from Jim Williams that drips with almost spine-chilling strength. The entire look of this movie is that of a frightening British drama, with a cold dirtiness and a somewhat fun immersion into thriller territory that is enhanced by the plot. The narrative is one that definitely kept me guessing and the end is one I could talk about for some time yet, it’s visceral, unexpected and almost reaches the realm of being powerful.

Saying all of this, I don’t know whether it’s a film I’d watch again and it’s a story that I was a little disappointed didn’t end up being darker or more twisted. The film also slightly suffers from feeling like a slow tick-tock aspect, which does make it feel a little bit long. I’d definitely say the film is strongest in the first two thirds.

The acting is blindingly great, some of the most captivating performances I’ve ever seen. Flynn excels at playing this secretive, maybe dodgy character that turns up in Moll’s life. There’s a great balance of masculinity and softer love he portrays as he gets wrapped up in the whirlwind of the flame haired Buckley. She is incredible, the emotions she goes through are numerous and each one is carefully performed, drawing you into her as a character. It’s almost a tour de force show that she puts on and Moll comes to vivid and horrific life thanks to this.

This could be bad or good but I still don’t really know how I feel with ‘Beast’ and perhaps that’s testament to how fearless and different it is. The movie is rife with tension and I can at least safely say that it’s two leading stars ensure you cannot look away.

7/10

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2018)

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Heating up the awards season with a tale of anger and conflict, this drama/thriller is one that greatly explores a small scale of America as a whole and the inner motivations of the people within that world.

Driven by the unsolved case of her murdered daughter; Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) decides to rent 3 almost dilapidated billboards, in a call for possible action against the police she sees as unhelpful in their progress. Sheriff Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) is targeted by Hayes and tries to make her realise the death of Angela is a tricky one, but a racist and hot headed officer, by the name of Dixon (Sam Rockwell) plus Mildred’s determined anger may make this whole saga come to blows.

I’ve always loved Martin McDonagh’s work; from his play-writing of dark and fairy tale tinged ‘The Pillowman’ to one of my favourite films…ever, ‘In Bruges’. This new release from the Irish/British writer is just as dark and clever as I expected. The black comedy involved is as sharp as a knife and works expertly against the numerous moments of well placed burning drama. It’s a film that balances tones well and keeps a strong willed, unrelenting female figure at it’s forefront in a quest for justice. This couldn’t be more suitable to the real world at the moment and McDonagh ensures this brutal track of wanting answers is funny and a shocking sucker punch to the gut as well.

There has been a recent surge in people hating on the film, for it’s attitude towards racism and the character that takes a swift turn to good. Though I can see that side of the argument because this shift in Dixon’s behaviour, just because a letter sees them act differently, is a somewhat unexpected and rushed change to make, it doesn’t completely endorse the views they have/or had. They’re still a dumb and corrupt individual just hoping to come good and this whole movie is about hope; the hope of a mother finding justice.

Aside from the midst of backlash it’s facing, there comes some serious weight from the consequences of this red backed billboards which definitely polarise the Ebbing community. The great quality of this film is that is a spiralling descent into violence and anger because of how far a parent will go to seek answers and get some kind of closure. The drive is fiery and thrilling and each and every character has a scene that conjures up either a respite of laughter or a dramatic kick of unexpected tensions.

Frances McDormand is sensational in this and is deserving of every award going. It’s not just the angry vengeance that she effortlessly sells. There is a necessary and believable anguish, pain and emotive guilt to her portrayal of the character that really makes Mildred a three dimensional force to be reckoned with. Woody Harrelson is great in this, handing a sheriff with a bullseye on his head more than just a working cop, he’s a family man, sympathetic to Mildred and his narrative takes some nice and surprising turns. Sam Rockwell is finally getting recognition after a heap of turns in previous films that have almost always been the best quality. The writing of his character may be the most obvious weakness I faced but if anyone can sell it then it’s the talents of Rockwell. Peter Dinklage and Samara Weaving are two almost backseat passengers but they bring a brilliant buzz of humour to the film.

I’d been eagerly awaiting to see ‘Three Billboards…’ for a long while now and I can confidently say I’m not disappointed by it. There may be a slight niggle of a character journey but it doesn’t take away from how dark and beautiful this movie is. McDormand and the film are a thrilling delight.

8/10

The Girl on the Train (2016)

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Shuttling out the tunnel of a disappointing summer of movies is this bleak-tinged film with a harsh microscope on human flaws. It isn’t a hugely predictable turn we witness but then it’s not much of a surprise either, leaving Emily Blunt to be the biggest saving grace in quite a tepid thriller.

Frequent train passenger Rachel Watson (Blunt) spends her travelling time peering into the lives of people who live in homes along the rail-lines. She becomes fixated on the world of Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett), who she follows one day. The next day she wakes up and Megan has gone missing leaving Rachel to try and figure out the truth whilst coping with her own problems.

Tate Taylor does ensure there’s a degree of captivation in this feature, the tone of the movie is dialled down to a greyish spectrum and along the way there’s a clear burrowing sense of danger which is great. Also the little moments where time seems to slow, people shudder just a smidge as the frame blurs and zooms are neat aspects that don’t just tie in with Rachel’s addiction but also build that level of unease and question of trust.

Author Paula Hawkins, of which this movie is based on, may be getting sick of the comparisons to ‘Gone Girl’ but when the marketing team releases a trailer that looks very much like the Fincher release then audiences/fans of that will relate the two. It’s no big issue relating the two as the stories both deal with dramatic relationships and the harsh nastiness people can hide within themselves. They also both harbour a mystery and twist narrative, perhaps this is where Hawkins’ plot falls down in contrast. Though the film tries taking us down tracks of surprise, it isn’t a massive twist that we get and overall the ending section of the movie becomes a lacklustre affair with scorn driving the way.

I doubt Hawkins is to blame, in translation I can imagine her novel lost impact and dramatic build up to the reveal. The movie seems to drip-feed more hints and though I didn’t guess the figure to blame, I wasn’t exactly stunned either. It’s the focus on Rachel and her problems that is the strongest story-telling quality. Just the way she tries struggling through existence and as we learn more about her, the routine she takes and her past, it’s these signs that keep the movie interesting.

Emily Blunt is by the far the best thing in this film, she utterly buries herself under the skin of Rachel and she looks like a shattered, damaged being. Depending on the following months of movies, I can see and also hope that Blunt is up for an Oscar, because she brings the tears, strength, broken self-belief and is a wonder to watch. Haley Bennett gets an interesting role also, trying to sink her teeth into a woman that’s trying to find something she doesn’t know what whilst being a temptress, mistress and wife. Justin Theroux gets more screen time than Luke Evans, but both men like Edgar Ramirez are nothing more than mysterious possibly bad guys who flit in between the lives of Rachel and Megan.

I was hoping the film would be more intense, or at least more of a bubbling pot of tension, instead it simmers slightly and only heats up thanks to Blunt and her incredible performance. The themes of addiction, abuse and depression don’t feel like the smart traits they should be, but mind this gap and sit down for an occasionally bumpy ride that has enough of the thriller genre to keep you seated.

6/10