Ready or Not (2019)

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Getting hitched is a crazy big commitment but the bride in ‘Ready or Not’ is letting herself into a commitment that’s just plain crazy. This flick is a darkly humourous horror that escalates to hellishly entertaining peaks.

Grace (Samara Weaving) has married Alex (Mark O-Brien) and is now part of the lavish Le Domas estate; one founded on money-making games. After their vows, Grace is told to join her new family at midnight to choose a card and play til dawn. The unfortunate news is that her selection is hide and seek; where everyone is out to find her and sacrifice her before the sun rises.

Games within the horror genre are a tried, tested and mostly failed thematic, lest we forget the atrocity of ‘Truth or Dare’, but this movie flips the trope upside down and inside out, and any dusty expectations are blown clean away. Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy have paired up to forge a furiously fun script bristling with spikes of murderous terror.

Gathering together a group of wealthy a-holes makes the more grounded personality of Grace that much more likable and also has you laughing at the exploits and grisly exits of rich wrong-uns. It’s true to say this movie is never out and out scary and doesn’t stump for the jump-scare tactic but this only helps to enforce what a brilliantly effective creation it is. The crimson soaked tension is exercised masterfully with bursts of humour and attacks of flinch-worthy gore.

Going along, the film seems to take sick pleasure in giving Grace a new lease of life only for her dreams and wedding dress to grow more soiled and ruined. The constant push and pull of her almost escaping, then being cornered into possible doom is always engaging and hypes the plot with a fresh, crisp punch of giddy gruesomeness.

Goodness gracious, Samara Weaving is a stunning force of delight through the entirety of ‘Ready or Not’. She possesses this unquestionable magnetic presence, as if her ever-shifting facial expressions and retorts to her crazy night hypnotise you into the film. Weaving heroically ploughs through the bloody onslaught of her in-laws demented tradition, like Bruce Campbell in ‘The Evil Dead’ or Alison Lohman in ‘Drag Me to Hell’. Obviously these are both Sam Raimi productions and this 2019 movie does feel like the latter tinged with ‘You’re Next’ and ‘Game Night’ and your sister when she’s hell bent on destroying you at Monopoly.

Giving just a bit more explanation to the concept behind the Le Domas gaming madness and to why Alex even has her stay, when he knows what could be on the cards feels like it could have helped round out the conviction of the story. The finale might also be a moment too outlandish for some but I found it to be a joyful explosion of revenge revelry.

Grace is a hoot, magnificently portrayed by a star who, shall no doubt keep on shining. The purity of marriage and stuffy families are swiftly knocked on their head to have audiences gleefully led down the aisle of foul-mouthed, bloody delirium.

7.5/10

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It Chapter Two (2019)

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Every 27 years, a shape-shifting monster dwells in the town of Derry, Maine but we’ve only had to wait 2 years to witness the return of this child-eating creature. After the first chapter; which broke records and stands as the highest grossing horror, it’s clear expectations would be high, so is this second chapter a commendable climax or a flimsy finale?

Age-old beast It was weakened by the Losers’ Club in 1989 but 2016 sees the evil entity refreshed and drawing back the people that sent him scarpering. Novelist Bill (James McAvoy), fashion success story Beverly (Jessica Chastain) and stand-up comic Richie (Bill Hader) are just half of the former childhood friends who must band together again to take down the clowning of Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) once and for all.

What worked so well for the first half of this Stephen King adaptation was the coming-of-age angle. Knowing this feature would shift focus to the gang in their 40s could have been a loss to the charm coursing amongst the chills in 2017, but any worry of that is swiftly dispelled as the Losers’ Club reunite whilst dining out on Chinese food. Even with their fun homecoming, it’s fair to say this second helping would have been shakier without the presence of the original kids.

Some of the time the films’ focus on the grown-up side of things adds to the movie feeling somewhat heavy, the run-time can more often than not be felt whilst we stick with them but once it shifts back to their youthful days, the jokes and warming companionship help this become a pleasing yet terrifying watch. It isn’t just the length that is a mild issue, the supernatural element becomes a step much, even if it does preside in the novel, the film makes a ritual and token part of the narrative feel like an iffy side-step from the scares.

Those are the only issues I could find with the film, the elder club of misfits are perfectly cast and the quips and jokey attitude flitting in and out of the more horrific sights of shape-shifting nastiness work well to keep a balance of fun and fear. Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise the Dancing Clown is a creepily cool figure of sinister smiles and thankfully he gets more to do in this half, as he floats into all the characters’ pasts and presents providing more to say and do without being heavily morphed by CGI as frequently as before.

The transitions throughout this movie are sublime and do wonders in tying up two timelines with effortless grace. The characters see their past selves and the director makes sure to keep the bouncing between past and present interesting. One such moment is a beautiful shot of stars that closes in to reveal empty spaces in a puzzle. The camera work and flowing nature of the film are wonderful and during a dash through a carnival, the camera rotates 360 degrees as we pass a spinning wheel and follows Bill with frenzy around a mirror maze, which is a stylish sequence that never drops intensity and becomes a heart-racing freak-show.

It isn’t just It that serves as the horror of the story, Derry is itself a character; a place stuck in a timewarp of almost-decay with adults grimier than the monster itself. The town is a bubble of hidden secrets and the buried lives that eek out make for a good collection of movements between ’89 and ’16 and display Derry as the ideal hunting ground, where the tragic past can never be shaken and therefore it hasn’t changed.

If ‘It’ did well with coming-of-age and scares, ‘It Chapter Two’ does a grand job in racking up the messed up factor. The movie really rams crazy imagery down your throat, in a so much tone that becomes giddily enjoyable and less frightening, which is just as effective, in the same way that Sam Raimi made his name with the ‘Evil Dead’ franchise. The final act is true madness of pouring blood, earthy mud and Pomeranian psychotic entertainment which hammers down on loud music and flashing lights but retains a sense of doom.

‘It Chapter Two’ is a playground of fear, manifesting in the hearts of people with forgotten memories. The antics and friendships are energetic and the fantastical clown-led horror is bonkers but brilliant.

7.5/10

Crawl (2019)

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Splashing onto cinema screens from producer Sam Raimi is this taut, monster horror flick, which spirals out like a death roll of stress-inducing manic fun and showboats two actors and a pooch as pedigree performers.

In Florida, category 5 Hurricane Wendy is swiftly approaching but athlete Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario) rushes back to her family home when she realises her dad Dave (Barry Pepper) could still be in the firing line of the storm. Unluckily for both them and their dog Sugar, the rapidly rising waters means the arrival of snap-happy alligators that trap them in the house.

Alexandra Aja on paper looks like the dream director for this disaster/horror combo, after work on a remake of ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ and silly but entertaining gnashing delights of ‘Piranha 3D’. This time the watery foes have increased in mass and move through the murky waters like prehistoric mermaids and their constant hunger to attack are constructed very well by the director; in that you feel almost constantly on edge waiting for a possible splurge of teeth and blood.

The premise of ‘Crawl’ focuses in on flesh-mad gators and this could set itself up for a repetitive tale and whilst there is a modicum of the same old bloody frenzy throughout, this film mostly stays tight and becomes a neat compact zone of watery fright. Aja does a great job of mixing in jump scares with eye-averting gore but better than these qualities, the director and writers have constructed a brilliant level of apprehension, one which sustains its tension as the flood levels grow higher and higher.

Unlike ‘Jaws’; the monster movie to always be referred back to, which slowly reveals the visuals of its great white threat, this 2019 film whams in straight away with a beastly alligator submerged in a crawl space. At first it dampens the impact of any tension to the ongoing terror of the Keller’s but eventually constantly seeing their immense size and killer instinct works to throw us right into the heart of the agitating atmosphere, and we all know what they look like so why hide their face.

It’s a movie that can be viewed like a video game, levelling up in tension and monster-induced fear. The narrative goes from house basement and crawl space, to stairs, to outside to living room, bathroom and above which is wonderfully written because it keeps the setting in a mostly singular and therefore claustrophobic space and ups the stakes at each point the film threatens to become samey.

Kaya Scodelario is a swimstar who plays the plucky lead with believable skill in both her comfort of water, traversing the depths and handling herself in sticky situations. The sight of her dealing with injury, elevated disaster and numerous scaly scares are awesomely handled by the actor.

‘Crawl’ chomps at the bit to throw in waves of fun gator greatness but it’s within the character building of Haley and the quieter, tense breaks that this film is a stimulating watch.

7.5/10

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)

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Adapted from a children’s book and helped along by a screen story from Oscar winning director Guillermo del Toro, is this horror that says “some stories hurt, some stories heal”, but does this one scare or bore you?

In the late 60’s on Halloween night, a trio of friends prank a local jock as payback, which has them bumping into a new town dweller. As a foursome they check out a haunted house supposedly stalked by the presence of Sarah Bellows; a spirit that told stories to children who eventually wound up dead. After Stella (Zoe Colletti) takes her book from the house, a new set of stories appear in blood and spell literal death for them all.

Andre Ovredal, director of ‘Trollhunter’ grapples with more larger than life beasties and does so in a way that keeps the level of misty-filled, Thriller-esque paranormal chills at a steady pace. The main issue is that the film with a UK 15 rating feels neither approachable enough to link it back to the 12-13 year old-focused audience of the source material nor terrifying enough to be a great horror.

Perhaps with a toned down treatment this movie could have been a more fun and friendly Gothic ghost story, akin to the wonder of a cartoon show I grew up watching called ‘Grizzly Tales for Gruesome Kids’, but it veers off into ‘The Conjuring’ territory with names like the Pale Lady and the Jangly Man, who are nowhere near as scary as the film possibly thinks they are.

There are good moments where the tension reaches a fever pitch and a general old school haunted house vibe works nicely as if this creepy collection of tales bound in a dusty book could be narrated to you at bedtime but the reliance on the dull jump-scare motif and a dependence on off putting CGI severely yanks you out of any possible immersion that is built up just before the monster rears its ugly head. None more so than a really nicely set up sequence in ‘The Red Spot’ which sees a gross pimple on someone swell and redden with a nasty surprise inside, the visceral yuck nature of it is nightmarish and unsettling but is ruined by a tumble of computer graphics that makes the shivers seem like a distant memory.

‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’ is a fine film with bonafide moments of horror and it does indeed hold your interest for the duration but like an author bursting with a golden idea to start, yet lacking a solid middle or end, this story begins sagging with characters devoid of major likeability and it cannot quite lift itself out of the slump.

5.5/10

 

Midsommar (2019)

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Ari Aster made tongue clicking a sound to shiver at in ‘Hereditary’ and now, a year on, he’s back with ‘hoohah’ sounds and a folk horror which trickles with apprehension throughoutIt’s an astonishingly well-crafted film but not one the Swedish tourist board will be advertising I’m sure.

After a family tragedy, Dani (Florence Pugh) tags along with her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his mates to a festival in Sweden. Every year they celebrate, but every 90 years the white-clad commune take part in their ancestral rites for 9 long days and all manner of oddities begin bearing down on Dani and co.

Flower power and the hippy culture has never looked so shocking, forget the free love message and buckle in for a truly barmy yet glorious horror. The white linen clothes, the old school wooden buildings and lush green pastures north of Stockholm present this film like some fresh haven of hell. ‘Midsommar’ enraptured me so much so that I never wanted it to end, there’s this pleasing detail in the shots and a halo of sunshine cast over the movie which bathes you in an otherworldly glow, albeit one that slowly racks up in gore and unease but you cannot look away.

Aster just fringed the surfaces of cult-like madness in the final stages of the brilliantly chilling ‘Hereditary’, but this time he goes all out, in building a world of dread which shouldn’t but does draw you in. The antics of the Swedish elders, the rules and the celebrations are bonkers but stuffed with an unsettling nastiness. Aster directs in a way with devilish delight that won’t be for everyones tastes but he concocts one of the strangest and sinister horrors and weirdly it’s a fun thing to watch.

It’s entrenched in the soundscape of the movie that the real disturbing factor lies. The sound design for this horror is pure class. The terror elevates like a prickling feel of discomfort on the back of your neck as you watch. Heavy breathing, wails, laughter and an orgy of panting are just some of the aural elements which fill the story with an unrelenting atmosphere of dread.

Florence Pugh is sheer brilliance in the film, she brings a lot to the table by reigning in with more reserved, quiet emotion; this sense of her troubled life and shaky romantic connection spilling over from time to time and when she does let rip or when matters do become alarming, you’re pelted over the head with her stunningly engrossing performance. Reynor is class at making you feel hypnotised, sucked into a landscape of crazy and his descent into exhaustion and induced terror are well played; as is the necessary lighter tone put into effect by the great Will Poulter.

‘Midsommar’ possesses this hazy, rippled feel and you will feel like you’re having a bad trip in the best possible way whilst watching the horror and comedy unfold. This is a distressing film swaddled in a warm glow which wraps around you like a vine and won’t let go.

8/10

 

Child’s Play (2019)

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Leaving the dispatch pile and fresh out of new packaging, is ‘Child’s Play’, a reboot to the original from over 30 years ago. The day and age we are now in does mean there are changes for the killer doll but do the films’ upgrades flourish or malfunction?

Single mother Karen (Aubrey Plaza) finds it tough working and bringing up her teenage son Andy (Gabriel Bateman), who isn’t coping with their recent move well. In the lead up to his birthday, Karen gives Andy a returned Buddi toy; a doll equipped with a multitude of home and play features, but this specific model fosters a worrying connection to his owner and soon his system is replaced with a thirst for murder.

No longer part of the cult franchise begun in 1988, this redo has the red haired Chucky no longer possessed by a serial killer which is a shame and it goes some way in making the film feel like a ridiculous ‘Black Mirror’ episode. The screenwriter Tyler Burton Smith was clearly angling for a link to the current climate of new-fangled gadgets people are so accustomed to and along the way there are bumpy patches in the tone, either veering from dumb comedic aspects to more stalk-filled nightmare visions that wouldn’t be amiss in ‘Annabelle’. 

However, this is not a defect movie, on the most part the silly humour is wired finely to the mainframe alongside bloody horror coding and chips of tension. At times, the deaths caused by a faulty Buddi are reminiscent of the ‘Final Destination’ films, the fairly outlandish and gory kills racking up and providing 50/50 hilarity and squeamish fright. It goes without saying that this film won’t be for everyone but if you want to view something with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek and you enjoy madcap terror, then you cannot do wrong by watching ‘Child’s Play’.

Sure the plot is predictable from beat to beat but there is a nostalgic atmosphere throughout; the growth of a lonely child rising with new friends helps make this update on a late 80’s flick work well. Smoke, blue tinged back-lit sets and a playful score make this movie feel like it’s from the past in the best possible way, which is all the more surprising considering how much of a part technology has to play through the narrative.

There are a couple of great scenes gift-wrapped with tension and one driverless joyride will drive you to the brink of unease, a point where you’ll almost finish rooting for the sadistic toy and stop finding him oddly adorable. This weird response is down to the fun puppetry on display but also thanks to the wonder of Mark Hamill who provides a sharp knifes edge of murderous intent with soft pricks of amusement and unsettling cutesy vocals. Bateman is a delightful modern spin on the typical 80’s kid, he even looks the part in his red ‘E.T’ Elliott inspired top whilst Plaza impresses by stepping away from her trademark deadpan persona and playing a concerned mother with flexes of sarcasm.

Chucky is spiced up with a powerful checklist of AI infused aspects and his serious attachment problem make for a gleeful, enjoyable horror romp. It may not be the golden item to recommend at a Black Friday sale but it’s great, great fun.

7/10

Ma (2019)

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There’s ridiculous and then there’s ‘Ma’; a new feature from the Blumhouse brand. Sometimes loco is enjoyable but in the case of this horror, it never reaches the entertaining heights the premise deserves.

New to a town in Ohio is Maggie (Diana Silvers) who winds up with the popular gang. Due to their youthful age, they need an adult to buy them alcohol and in walks Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer) who is more than happy to help and way too eager to please by offering the school kids a party set-up in her basement but her obsession grows, leading Maggie down a dangerous path.

Tate Taylor who directs this barmy film has some thriller know-how in his back pocket as he was the man in charge of Emily Blunt-led ‘The Girl on the Train’. However, the good handling of thriller tones in the first two acts of ‘Ma’ are totally undone by an absolutely bonkers third act. Even though the plot and dialogue within the first hour can be dumb and less than engaging, there is a credible amount of taut tension but it speedily unravels by the finale.

The basement gatherings are frequent and are an excuse to load the cinema speakers with party tracks and ply the screen with typical teen drinking and revelry but they are fairly tiresome and the only celebratory aspect of these home parties is Octavia Spencer busting moves and cavorting with high school adolescents which suitably builds up the air of unease.

Spencer is a sensational actress and has won or been nominated for many supporting roles; so it’s great to see her stride out of the sidelines and be front and centre. She definitely doesn’t waste her spotlight moment, taking a gigantic bite of the role and slathering on layers of sinister chills to the character. The mumsy costume of Sue Ann; what with the animal patterned tops, her knitwear and then her veterinary position all do wonders in setting up a lovely, cosy American Mom which makes her descent into crazed anger all the more batty to watch.

The plot is silly which is sad, because if tackled well this could have been a dumb yet really creepy horror outing. Instead it doesn’t work as a so-bad-its-good film but feels rather hollow and shuttles into an insane third act. Not even the flashbacks help round out the story or justify Sue Ann’s choices, in fact all they do is provide a cliched attempt to deepen the lead character but it’s misplaced and does very little to have you sympathise with her.

‘Ma’ is very, very B-movie material featuring a crew of students that are neither interesting or quirky enough to like or root for. It’s a silly narrative with a fairly strong suspenseful start which crashes and burns into a fiery end. Only worth the watch for Spencer lapping up the screen-time and enjoying every second.

4.5/10