Suspiria (2018)

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Premiering at the Venice Film Festival, ‘Call Me By Your Name’ director Luca Guadagnino’s homage to the 1977 ‘Suspiria’ is a film that has vastly polarised critics and audiences alike and is definitely an example of a weirdly hypnotising film, whether it be good or bad.

Dancer Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) has always felt an urge to be where top choreographer Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) is. This desire takes Susie to the Tanz Academy in Berlin where she quickly grows accustomed to the methods of Blanc and other madams and their front as a dance school slowly disappears to reveal them as a chorus of witches.

Off the bat I must admit I have not seen the Dario Argento original but shall definitely seek it out after watching…whatever this was. The whole look of this update doesn’t go down the usual glossier redo but keeps the film in bland, bleak tones of browns, greys and whites which makes the bursts of red all the more alarming. The entire feature has this odd pull; like it’s drawing you into a state of hypnosis which nicely mirrors the inexplicable connection Susie has always had with Madame Blanc.

Guadagnino utilises on some neat shots and clever style choices throughout this film. Whether the frame rate is slowed right down or cameras suddenly whip and zoom toward someone, there’s definitely a smart tactic made by the director in presenting this strange horror with a flair of confidence and compelling curiosity.

People will likely be talking about the near final scene for a while. A carnival of Dionysus proportions with a river of red is outlandish and mad. This creepy coven shows off a beastly display of blood and ritual that is so horrific and over the top that it’s very nearly unintentionally amusing. Better flashes of horror comes from a dance section with the ladies draped in ropes of red which is amazingly choreographed and an earlier back and forth rite of passage between a debut rehearsal and a victim trapped in her own freakish hall of mirrors. This moment is squeamish and damn effective.

‘Suspiria’ does have an abundance of flaws though, a major one lies with the screenwriter’s choice to present the narrative in a 1970’s setting with too much room spent on the aftermath of the Berlin divide and post-war anxieties and grief. This theme is fine but on the whole it drastically takes away from what could have been a more focused look at just the dance academy and its witches. Thom Yorke’s soundtrack provides a heavy dose of piano which adds to the mesmerising quality but often makes the movie like a lullaby to rest your eyelids to. Also, that carnival explosion of gore and coven craziness has a great sinister sound backing the visuals and then Yorke’s vocals come in again and make the whole thing feel dreamy and ridiculous.

Johnson definitely knocks back anyone who says she can’t act because her turn as Bannion is a fantastic journey of passion, training and a personal core of unsettling change to where she ends up. Swinton is as strangely alluring and magnetic as always, just the way she delivers her lines like a precise poet carries a maternal yet worrying edge. The likelihood is that she also plays two other characters and one is of an aged male doctor which further proves what a brilliant chameleon Swinton is as an actor.

‘Suspiria’ to the uninitiated really goes places you won’t expect and feels like a mysterious yet slow descent into hell. It’s often too drab and floaty but has great attacks of visual horror along the way.

5.5/10

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Overlord (2018)

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Now this may not be the fourth instalment in the ‘Cloverfield’ world as people had speculated when word got around that J.J Abrams was behind this feature, but that’s truly for the best because this is a stonking great stand-alone movie that blows the roof off with tremendous energy and B-movie revelry.

It’s the day before D-Day and a squadron have orders to reach a church in a French village and destroy a German planted radio tower. A few of the men survive and band together, Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo) heads out and on his wanderings he uncovers a deadly secret concocted by a sinister doctor, who is carrying out a series of tests to produce a serum which could gift the Nazis some soldiers that can’t die.

This is only the second full length film to come from Australian director Julius Avery but it’s a blistering delight. The first steps of ‘Overlord’ are much more gripping and dramatic than you’d expect. The whole WW2 angle and the mission that these soldiers are given are dealt with by Avery with fantastic explosions of fear stemming from German-occupied France and amongst this you can find some softer moments in the script as the comradery grows and the humour rounds out the edges.

What works so well is the way the movie sort of reveals its true intentions as a zombie film, at first glance a spectator who’d seen no trailer, poster or any information would see the first half an hour as a solid war movie and it is. There is great mystery building amongst the horrors of this occupation, which culminates in a horror of a very different kind.

Once the gritty style of the war moves into the more gross out zombie-horror section you can expect large dollops of bloody prosthetics and gory VFX that might not shock but it certainly grabs the attention and pulls you into this extremely visceral genre piece. It is true to say that along the way the characters we follow are two-dimensional and their journeys are fairly predictable but these paper thin characteristics aren’t trying and in fact, the poor decision making and off character choices are very much the bread and butter of horrors so it can be forgiven.

There is a huge amount of fun to be had whilst watching ‘Overlord’, the entire feature may be brash but it’s brilliantly enjoyable and it feels like some science fuelled nightmare with moody Call of Duty visuals and twisted nastiness to boot.

8/10

Halloween (2018)

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October is rocketing into the latter half and soon All Hallows Eve will come around so what better mood setter than this film. There’s been a lot of expectation riding on this since its announcement back in 2016; the first is a personal favourite and the many sequels failed to capture the same magic. So, with Blumhouse taking over the reins and John Carpenter on board as creative consultant could this film restore hopes in the franchise?

Forty years after the Haddonfield murders, Michael Myers is visited in his sanitarium abode before he’s transferred to a more secure prison but on the way the bus crashes and Myers escapes hoping to track down the survivor of his spree, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis).

The fact that this film ignores everything that came after the 1978 movie is great, it keeps the story tighter and really hones in on the cat and mouse set-up of Laurie and Michael. Any fear that ‘Halloween’ would be awful are lost sharply; the opening scene is foreboding and sets the scene well and as soon as the revamped score blasts out and orange credits open on the screen, goosebumps prickle over the skin and a welcome smile covers the face as if a long lost friend is coming home.

David Gordon Green may not have a strong calibre of films in his back pocket but with Jeff Fradley and Danny McBride, he’s crafted a neat modern spin on the icon of slasher horror. The new stylistic choices never overshadow the simple but effective story of boy wants girl and vice versa and along the way there are fun, knowing winks to moments from the original. Green ensures that the most important factor remains after retconning the other sequels and that’s delightful thrills.

The Shape is as dominant as ever, this unstoppable force with just his trusty knife and mask still has a predilection for Halloween playfulness and this is darkly amusing to see. Michael is a powerful entity of evil, a version of us if we were to have every emotion drained from our being. He certainly lights up, or perhaps darkens the screen with the same spine-tingling sense of dread as his mission for Laurie escalates. No more can this be seen than in a superb but short-lived unedited trick or treat sequence in the suburbs where the camera follows Myers roaming along the sidewalk and through homes getting back into the murderous swing of things.

In a way, what’s more effective than The Boogeyman’s rampage is this movie casting a well focused eye on trauma and the prolonged aftermath it can rustle up for someone. This paranoia and constant living fear are explored really well and come to a head within Strode’s fortress in the woods. The house is a fantastic metaphor for her fearful nature concerning the ordeal 40 years prior but it doubles up as a nifty home of tricks mirroring her internal pulse to not let the past defeat her and take a further hold over her family.

Brilliant horror stereotypes rear their head, from stoner boyfriends to promiscuous babysitters who engage in premarital sex and each part are played appropriately. Andi Matichak is pleasing as Laurie’s granddaughter, a character framed as the kind, innocent pure final girl to follow in her grans footsteps. Laurie Strode is the ultimate bad ass scream queen and Jamie Lee Curtis is the ultimate, nobody can capture this scared yet brave duality like she does throughout the movie.

‘Halloween’ knows it’s a spooky romp and has great fun with the antics of building characters and their possible slaughters. It might be a simple sequel but a feeling of pin-point classic horror brilliance showers the entire film.

8.5/10

The Little Stranger (2018)

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British gentry and inflections of Gothic horror are to be found in Lenny Abrahamson’s recent feature. ‘The Little Stranger’ is adapted from a 2009 novel by Sarah Waters, a book that plays around with the themes of finance and evil, which the film attempts to do but doesn’t altogether get a handle of.

Doctor Faraday (Domhnall Gleeson) pays numerous visits to an estate out in the country to help with the physical pains felt by RAF veteran Roddy Ayres (Will Poulter). As his trips to the house become more frequent he starts feeling an unshakeable presence through the house which he pins down with rational answers but Roddy’s sister Caroline (Ruth Wilson) is sure something else is going on as is her their mother Angela (Charlotte Rampling).

Abrahamson; the man behind a musician in a papier-mache mask and a kidnapped mother and child, shows he can switch genres well, but there is a connection. The director always seems prone to keep focus on the story’s characters, his latest feature is no different. The characters create a large proportion of the odd mysteries but unlike with Frank or Ma and Jack, the figures roaming through ‘The Little Stranger’ lack a special something and in the end, that’s the main weakness for this film.

This drama does feel too long as well, it snails through the narrative and though it’s not a bore to sit through, the gentile pace is prone to uninteresting spells. A lot of the film comes across like a theatrical play, a drawing room scene especially feels that way and I’m sure this tone stems from scriptwriter Lucinda Coxon who has many plays under her belt. This quality is by no means a negative, in fact it does show off the great acting but it stifles the stride and the times when the film could be more scarily cinematic.

Perhaps if the film stayed in the confines of the home then the run-time would have some minutes shaved off but ultimately it would have kept up an unsettling atmosphere and curious character, of which the house most certainly is one. It almost breathes with a strange desire for trouble. What the film explores well is the air of something not being fully right, through creaking halls and scratched walls, Abrahamson ensures the ghoulish moments are all the more striking by utilising a calm approach to the tension, this is echoed by the slow-moving camerawork which floats in and around the rooms of the dilapidating country house.

You can’t quite put a finger on Dr. Faraday, this is thanks to the fascinating performance from Gleeson who is charming in an irregular way but also quietly threatening. The more he appears, frequently stopping by the big house, the more he feels like an unwelcome stranger. Wilson plays a nice balance of hope against meekness, a smart soul trapped by an event in the past.

This film reminded me of ‘I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House’, not because Wilson also appears in it but because both have great yet rare moments of spooky atmosphere stitched together in fairly quaint, hushed hushed settings and both carry intrigue which speedily vanishes to unwanted disappointment.

5.5/10

The Nun (2018)

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As the poster says, this is the ‘darkest chapter’, well it’s certainly a film devoid of enough daylight and interest that a little nap during the run-time could be very desirable. Without being harsh, ‘The Nun’ isn’t exactly a snooze fest but the story is so plodding that this horror becomes a nun entity.

Some priests at the Vatican send Father Burke (Demian Bichir) to an abbey in Romania in the hopes he can solve the mystery of a nun that committed suicide. Burke is ordered to bring practising Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) along and they soon discover the building is inhabited by a powerful evil called Valak; under the pretence of a nuns habit to blend in with its surroundings.

This is the fifth instalment in ‘The Conjuring Universe’ and it’s by far the worst out of the four I’ve now seen. Corin Hardy ensures to direct this film with a focus on keeping up misty, unnerving atmosphere but aside from the swirling mists of a creepy Eastern European building there’s nothing under the surface to really cause a terrifying reflex to what we’re seeing.

A lot of this movie sees us suffering to watch the same camera movements over and over. The lazy horror staple of a slow swipe to the left or right before it comes back and something has now appeared in the frame is just as boringly repetitive as the multiple times a character follows shadows. The frights themselves or tense set pieces are mostly predictable and rely on the jump scare tactic, which don’t utilise any creativity to elicit strong reactions other than a yawn.

Numbers 1 and 2 of ‘The Conjuring’ started off strong but now the additions are staining the impact of what would have been better had they just stayed as a couple of well made Warrens-led movies. The freaky nature of characters like Annabelle or this toothy nun were scary when seen as small sightings within the main film, whereas now they headline their own features and dramatically ruin their intrigue and spook factor. Even an in-joke within this recent movie feels like a dumb idea; you see a reg plate with Valak amongst the letters and numbers but considering how the demon is meant to be defeated in ‘The Conjuring 2’, why would some random Romanian villager have its name on their truck, it feels like a totally misplaced Easter egg.

Taissa Farmiga scrapes through the mire with dignity and talent in tact and is pretty much the only redeeming quality in this unnecessary and boring contribution to the supernatural franchise.

3/10

Upgrade (2018)

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All components of this machine are methodically oiled; the story, the action, the music and cinematography are well constructed parts which make a sizzling cool whole.

In the future where more things can be done with minimal effort, Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) still loves mechanics and does up cars for business. A drive home after a meeting ends up in tragedy and Grey is brought back from paralysis thanks to secret tech implanted within him. This upgrade could help him solve the crime that caused the accident but at what cost?

Whenever you have a movie with enhanced technology involved, there’s always going to be that moral question raised of how far the character goes with it. This film takes the usual crime and futuristic model and gives it an awesome face-lift. The chip called STEM, inside of Grey, is a character which hands this film elements of danger but dark humour also. The feel of this future on screen is a warm welcome into utopia before descending into energetic dystopia.

The world on show, from the auto-driving cars to the progressive healthcare is like something from a ‘Black Mirror’ episode, the narrative of this movie definitely fits nicely into the mould of the worrying rise of technology. What ‘Upgrade’ obviously has that Charlie Brooker’s series doesn’t, is a blinding cinematic explosion of action and violence. The fight scenes within this film are sensational, elevated even further by camera movements which follow Grey and shake, rattle and roll through combat, properly throwing you into the mix.

This action does not shy away from bloody grind-house carnage, excess body-horror playfulness and it lifts the moody, troubling growth of the AI element in the plot. It’s not just the hand-to-hand battles which are exciting and special. The lighting is incredible, there are warehouses back lit by yellows and greens and hallways soaked with blood red, these strokes of colour add a superb neon noir to this grim environment that Grey has to wade through in search of answers.

Betty Gabriel is a fantastic watch as a cop on the hunt for who was behind the tragedy but she starts pegging that there’s something else going on with the apparent disabled mechanic, her march forwards is an interesting watch as we know she’s heading into danger. Marshall-Green is great in this, there are times when he seems to degrade into schlock-type forced dialogue delivery but this works in developing his developing technological state.

‘Upgrade’ is an impressive movie to delight in watching, with an ‘Ex Machina’ like tale of humans vs robotics boosted by unique fight scenes and an excellent score, this is surely a sci-fi feature that’ll go down as a cult classic in years to come.

8/10

The Meg (2018)

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Swallow a load of this monstrous shark movie, which on trailer and prior buzz alone looked to be the perfect summer popcorn flick of ridiculousness, but upon viewing it doesn’t quite reach that fabled height of silliness but comes close enough to make ‘The Meg’, a grin-inducing creature feature.

Backed by the financial might of Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson), a diving team are hoping to discover an entire new layer underneath the Mariana Trench. As bad luck would have it they stumble upon the hungry jaws of Megalodon and the surface crew need to rein in the help of rescue diver Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham), who can hopefully stop the toothy villain from killing them and many more.

Director of the National Treasure movies, John Turteltaub sure knows how to call the shots with a rough and ready lead and provide fun thrills, so he’s a handy choice for this shark based feature. Once the film really gets kicking, then the enjoyment factor breaks through the shark cage roof but there are some moments that are, dare I say, a little slow and I wanted more blood-soaked action and some sense of silliness which the narrative set up sorely lacks.

Perhaps the 12A rating doesn’t help this movie either, if it had have been bumped up to a 15 it could have elevated the nastiness and nightmarish situation of a beastly water-dweller stalking populated waters but aside from this weakening classification and a mildly boring first act, this is a film that hints at deathly danger enough to whet the adrenaline-taste buds and survive as a dumb but fun family film.

Shark films obviously have a hard time living up to the famous dread which was sustained throughout ‘Jaws’, but as a B-movie sci-fi outing, this manages to provide two if not three sequences that are tense and have you fearing for the characters and fearing more the chomping nature of this gigantic prehistoric fish, for example, a beach swarming with happy go lucky people is a short but brilliant bite of joyful shark bait tension and features a true underdog!

Jason Statham on board is always a stonking good casting choice, if he’s knowingly setting himself up for meme culture and silly dialogue then it’s a film to revel in. Seeing The Stath taking on something, be it Cranky syndicates or the man-mountain that is Dwayne Johnson is never not a delight and in this movie he takes on something just slightly bigger than The Rock with great gruff determination.

This is a fun film that could have benefited from starting a little earlier in it’s knowledge of being a tongue-in-cheek blast, but once the fearsome creature surfaces than so does the entertaining ride.

7/10