The Secret of Marrowbone (2018)

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Produced by J.A. Bayona; this ghostly tale sees the writer of ‘The Orphanage’ step forward as a first time director and on the most part, Sergio G. Sanchez does a good job in bringing a level of intrigue to the forefront, but the characters and any horror scares get slightly pushed aside.

At a house in the middle of nowhere live a family called the Marrowbone’s. There’s some dangerous past that they’ve run away from and Jack (George MacKay), the eldest does his best to protect his sister and two brothers. After becoming friends with Allie (Anya Taylor-Joy), the children think life is just grand but a tragedy swiftly arrives and their home seems to harbour a menacing spirit.

It would be a disservice to call this film a horror because in terms of that genre this is not a very scary movie in the slightest. It’s way more effective as a paranormal thriller, one of those almost alarming psychological yarns that spin around in your mind and get you reeling. It takes a while to get there but when the events of what happened six months ago are shown, this story comes crackling alive. It’s also one of those films that once the secret is revealed I kicked myself for not realising the truth earlier. ‘The Secret of Marrowbone’ progresses in a clever way, drip-feeding clippings of the past to distract you from what every minute detail of the secret could be.

The house of Marrowbone itself is a neat character, the blackened ceilings, covered mirrors and locked doors all combine to make the building feel like a foreboding presence throughout the movie. Though there weren’t many times that the film provides scares and if it did they were through the cliche of jump-scares, I must admit that the most frightening points involve shadowy nooks and crannies.

I’m still thinking on the aftermath of the movie now and I probably still shall be in a couple of days time. It definitely is a ghoulish mind-f**k of an ending and I would compare the narrative and twist to another film but I won’t because that will spoil the drama. It’s a story from Sanchez that I’m not sure if I fully liked, it’s mysterious but also confusing and with deep thought would likely sway to the side of negativity because the melodramatic family angle feels like it doesn’t make sense as to what the ending shows.

The cast of home-dwelling siblings are good on the most part. Mia Goth has elements of the screaming Shelley Duvall about her but in the quieter moments her performance is quite stunted but gets better. Matthew Stagg plays the young lad and as all horrors utilise, he captures that creepy kid aspect well. Charlie Heaton possesses a lonely angst but doesn’t get to explore his turn as Billy that much. The true star is MacKay who deals with a lot as the leader of the pack and his acting progresses in more ways than one.

‘The Secret of Marrowbone’ will sit with me for a while and for now I can say I liked what it was going for, the characters may not be as interesting as the curvature of the narrative but for the last 20-30 minutes alone, this is a chilling feature that plays on shocks and family connections.

6.5/10

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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

Wildling (2018)

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It’s upsetting but no, this is not some adventurous flick starring Ygritte from Game of Thrones. Instead it’s a horror fantasy from Fritz Bohm, which serves little scares but provides just enough bite.

After finding herself freed from locked confinement, Anna (Bel Powley), learns about the outside world and her own self. Whilst under the supervision and care of Sheriff Cooper (Liv Tyler), Anna begins a drastic change of character which puts her in harms way.

There’s something magically rare about seeing a film that kind of appear without warning and this happened with ‘Wildling’, of which I’d only heard who was in it and avoided any posters, trailers or such story-like information. In that sense, this is a film that’s truly engrossing because I wasn’t waiting for something I’d seen in a trailer but it doesn’t mean it’s a winner.

It never felt like the film was too long in my eyes, in fact, the later stages of Anna’s opening eyes to womanhood and outside world civilisation came across as rushed and never built a scale or weight to her learning. It’s most definitely a wild and weird movie, the coming of age aspect like a cauldron of ‘Tales of the Unexpected’, Old Universal monster movies and ‘Raw’.

The film has this relentless feral look and Toby Oliver’s cinematography captures the twisted Brothers Grimm like world well. It’s like every darkly blue scene is splattered with dirt and keeps on track with the developing characteristics of Anna. Though the look of the film may be good, the story as said doesn’t feel fully realised and it’s not really that interesting to follow because from the outset it’s obvious who she is and I knew exactly where the lost shot of the film would be. The romantic entanglement is perhaps a bit dull and the story descends into generic Hollywood storytelling.

Powley is fascinating to watch; her commanding presence with the impressive runs, super hearing and ever reactionary eyes are nice quirks and she held my attention nicely playing this confused but sharply adaptable young lady. Tyler is not at all convincing as a sheriff and has little to do but she’s believable in wanting to make Anna feel settled and safe.

‘Wildling’ is a film I’ll forget about come the end of 2018, perhaps by the end of summer, but for the time being it’s a film I’m content I’ve seen and I found it to be an ambitious creature feature.

5.5/10

Truth or Dare (2018)

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Let’s pay a game to see how stupidly we can squeeze horrors out of anything shall we? Truth or Dare, the typical drinking excuse to unearth dirt and see friends make out, is taken by Blumhouse Productions and made with no real oomph to keep us scared senseless.

Whilst on a Spring Break trip in Mexico, a group of friends enter some ruins and begin playing truth or dare. Unfortunately for them, one of their group has involved them in a life or death version, wherein each player needs to tell their truth or finish their dare to stay alive. As the teenagers start dying, the remaining numbers hope to work out how to end the game.

It’s never a good sign when the trailer alone for a horror film, makes you shudder with sighs and groans and the movie itself does nothing to make that just feel like bad promotion. There are insanely high levels of expositional chatter and cringe dialogue amongst a plot that is impressively dumb and progressively boring. It baffles me that a story so lacklustre, with characters so paper thin were brought to life by 4, yes 4 screenwriters.

Once the cursed game takes hold, the films first half rattles through each person’s turn so quickly that any hope of tension is dialled to zero. Then the second half seems to take an age to get anywhere and finally wrap up this lame, evil motive of a freed demon, with the mentality of a sadistic freshman. I honestly yawned so much and someone was asleep behind me, this film feels like it goes on for way too long and ends on a resolution so pathetic and it staggers belief why they didn’t just do something similar from the offset.

This whole idea of people who gain creepily elongated smiles and killer eyes is laughably bad. One of the characters mentions that they look like they were Snapchat filters and they do, in such a way that deletes any sense of scariness and makes the visual rather cheap. It further proves my thinking that bad horrors are so, because they rely on some identifying visual over narrative and fall back on jump scares; which this movie definitely depends on for numerous occasions. I don’t get why they didn’t have the actors, you know, act. It would have been far more disturbing seeing them perform in a manner where they suddenly switch and become imposing smiley freaks instead of the hokey stretched mouths.

Lucy Hale plays the central part of Olivia Barron, who is barren of any charisma. The character is pretty much a wet drip and a pushover who makes stupid choices as final girls often do, but Sidney Prescott or Laurie Strode she ain’t. Hale tries hard to keep some injection of interest in her role but it doesn’t quite work. Generally the entire cast are devoid of engagement because they’re playing characters that are mostly jerks or two-dimensional that I couldn’t root for them even if I tried.

‘Truth or Dare’ is an unintentional comedy laden horror, that feels long, uninspired and cheap on every level.

3/10

Ghost Stories (2018)

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You are welcome to Grizzly Tales for Gruesome Adults, a series of cautionary tales for lovers of squeam. I call this tale a brilliant and effectively clever spin on the horror genre.

Psychic debunker Professor Phillip Goodman (Andy Nyman) is called to investigate three unsolved ghastly cases. Each story becomes stranger and perhaps, scarier than the one before and soon Goodman realises there may be reason to drop his disbelief in the supernatural.

Having the film told via one main narrative and three side-quest cases makes for an intriguing story. Horrors are great when they play around with the formula and/or provide a sense of genuine unease, for example ‘Scream’, ‘It Follows’ and ‘A Quiet Place’, this film fits nicely into that way of film-making too because it draws you in with this strange mystery divulged to the professor, that we too feel a part of. The narrative certainly distorts in front of your very eyes and happily subverts tropes of horror, to present this effective trail in unanswerable visions of the other side.

Starting out like ‘Lights Out’, the first section based in an abandoned asylum uses generic back and forth annoyances to amp up the unnerving atmosphere and becomes vaguely unsettling. The second part smoothly sails into the Satanic realm and becomes a late night tinged fear factory in the middle of the woods. Then all things get crazier as what seems like a rich and well-mannered businessman story, descends into ghostly occurrences and a shocking real life action that takes place whilst Goodman questions Mike Priddle (Martin Freeman).

If like me and you haven’t seen the 2010 stage play this film is adapted from, then all bets are off as this film, pardon my language, turns into a brain fizzling mind fuck leaving me open mouthed and loving the sheer cleverness and fooling around with which the writers revel. The plot and the engrossing dark method of each case is akin to ‘Inside No. 9’, a BBC show that is marvellously unique. I admit that one of the twists revealed in ‘Ghost Stories’ I guessed from the offset but it never distracted from a terrifying trek into the possible realm of evil spirits. I could see why some people wouldn’t be satisfied with the late stage twists and turns, but I found the ending to be unexpected, chilling and smart making me restore hope in horrors that can be good and not solely rely on villains with masks for merchandising and jump scares.

I also want to comment on the lighting used throughout, espicially within the trio of cases, where they look exceptional. The production team and art directors have created vivid worlds in each of the tales and as light and dark are toyed around with, I found myself as lost and maddened as Goodman, as I began seeing figures in off-screen spaces and being gripped by the great use of shadows and light movement. It’s definitely done in a way that I imagine alludes to the theatrical background the story comes from.

Nyman is great as he begins losing his hold on reality and the cases take hold on him but he’s never a hugely interesting protagonist to follow. Paul Whitehouse is superb as the begrudging and unfriendly night watchman Tony. He plays the mixture of comic timing and worried lonely guard well. Alex Lawther is just a brilliantly odd actor, I mean that in the best way possible. The stutters, his emotive looks and panicked fear are played so well that I felt every ounce of his situation. Freeman as Priddle is someone you never fully grasp and an extra dose of underlying terror comes from his shocking case and subsequent actions in the film prove what a talented performer he really is.

This is a nifty horror that messes you about in such a delightful and skin crawling way. The more it goes on, the more dark and yet interestingly fun it becomes.

8.5/10

A Quiet Place (2018)

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Cashing up at the box office and treating critics and audiences alike with great fanfare, is this almost deathly silent feature. I was hooked from the get go and felt fully interpolated throughout, finally mustering courage to breathe out once the credits roll.

Set in 2020; a world ravaged by blind monsters which strike by sound have driven the few survivors to adapt and learn to be quiet in order to survive. The Abbot family reside out on a farm but their usual silent routine will be tested by a new arrival.

John Krasinksi directs this horror with a great eye…and ear for building a landscape filled with fear. He’s careful to let the setting briefly feel understandable for the audience and then most bets are off, as the film screeches from one clever jolt to the next. Assisted by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, Krasinksi also writes a screenplay that focuses on the human side of proceedings, ensuring the character drives the plot forwards and not typical cliched horror tropes. The family ramp up the scary aura because we worry for their predicament and it’s not too often you care for more than one character in a horror, but here you most certainly do.

‘A Quiet Place’ is a movie with scares but smarts. It truly grips you from the start with an alarmingly peaceful world, initially unseen creatures and a small, simple family story which you can feel for. I felt drawn in effortlessly and then it continued worming around inside me, like a pang of pent up nausea whilst we see the unseeing beasts stalk their prey.

It’s not just a brilliantly smart horror, it’s a gorgeous one too. There’s beautiful cinematography from Charlotte Bruus Christensen as she brings this dusty, leaf ridden, barren environment to life. Marco Beltrami’s score is damn effective also, with the same rising sound used to confident effect in eliciting a sense of dread. Honestly, I felt like I was having multiple anxiety attacks watching this film but in the best way possible because it’s just wonderfully done. When talented individuals, including horror icon Stephen King begin singing your praises, then you know this is something special.

Fear is heightened in such a captivating way thanks to the minimal spoken dialogue. The majority of the film is divulged via sign language or subtitles, which is refreshing to see and is done in an engaging way, but an important way too, in sticking true to what it must feel like to be in that situation. It’s when music or diegetic sounds suddenly vanish and a wall of silence hits you, that the film enraptured me and made me swallow my breath. Adding the alien clicks and wails from the Demigorgon-like monsters is another chilling touch and their drip-fed reveal elevates the menacing presence they hold over this dystopian land.

Emily Blunt is a sensational force to watch, without a lot of speaking she conveys her part as Evelyn wonderfully. At one moment of dramatic irony, knowing she’ll hurt herself, she acts the visceral pain in such a way that makes you wince horrendously, her continued pain silence as she’s trying to stay out of danger is very powerful indeed. The children are great also and a scene within a silo is just another moment that added to my seat squirming anxiety.

It’s great to see a film like this, as a cinematic experience it’s something else because it frightens noisy eaters into silent submission and makes the film much more immersive. The scares pack a punch, the world and the angels of death are greatly realised in what I’d say is a quiet gem and a near masterpiece.

8.5/10