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

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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

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

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