Movie review: Greta

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It would seem that in a post MeToo age, to make a statement about a female centric film (regardless of its genre) is to generate discussion of a lively nature from both sides of the sex divide.  From feminists with their shields permanently on high-alert to whiney little men pissed at the thought of having to give up a place at the table – it seems there’s not a stance that can’t get attacked.

So, if that’s the case, this review would like to get a few things out of the way before proceeding.  Wonder Woman SUUUUCKED. Based purely on storytelling that is trying to at least present something new (as well as good) it is a poorly written film – just listen to some of the dialogue, especially during the boss fight.  The (now) disgraced Joss Whedon wrote a version that is easily accessible and INFINITELY better.  I won’t go so far as to say it’s a better feminist take that is the Gal Gadot version (although it is, because it doesn’t disrespect WW by offering her substandard scenes and cringeworthy dialogue) but it is certainly a more compelling, wittier and all round better told adventure.

And sexual politics aside that’s what we strive to focus on here at SoH; the story. (And before you go making assumptions, The Ghostbusters remake is good.  Really good.  Don’t listen to the haters with their invalid “painting eyes on the Mona Lisa” bullshit.  Look at it objectively as a story.  It is well told and entertaining.  Female cast or no female cast – end of).

Anyway… where were we?  Oh yes Greta.  A film set in New York with 2 female protagonists and a single female supporting cast.  It’s not that there are no men in it.  There’s a dad and a private eye who are dudes, and they have stuff to do, but really the meaty stuff is for the ladies.

It’s not Bechdel immune, as the young female lead in it – Frances, played by Chloe Grace Moretz – talks about her father with her best mate Erica (Maika Monroe) pretty early on, but this is after the opening of the film which has Frances finding a green handbag on the subway during her work commute (she is a waitress at a high class restaurant).

Opening up the bag she finds that it belongs to an elderly French lady named Greta, and being the good-natured soul that she is, Frances knocks on Greta’s door to return it.

Out of gratitude the older lady invites her in and soon an unlikely friendship is struck.  Unlikely not because of their different ages, but because this is one of the few parts of the film that definitely feels forced.  The character of Frances has recently lost her mother, but even that fact seems clumsily written as Greta soon becomes a surrogate maternal figure to the happy-to-please Frances.

But early on things get flipped when one day whilst having dinner in Greta’s house Frances finds in a cupboard (in another clunkily written scene) a number of identical green handbags each with a different young woman’s name written on them, and each with the EXACT same contents.  It’s soon clear that Greta orchestrates these encounters, and that her interest in younger women lies in psychotic-ville territory.

From there what ensues is the usual cat ‘n’ mouse shenanigans associated with this sort of thriller – some executed well, others not.

Greta herself is admirably performed by veteran Isabelle Huppert – although as can almost happen every time with these sort of parts – she occasionally spills over into farce, as does the direction and the writing (seriously, leaving multiple handbags on the subway with your identity in there to entrap women? As schemes go it’s about as water tight as a colander trying to sieve lava). And one melodramatic moment involving Greta turning up to Frances’ work will hit you flush on the nose.

Yet despite all that you do want to see how it ends, and there are enough twisty moments (no matter how clumsy) to keep you engaged.

Especially the twisty twist, which is both predictable in nature, and admirable for the sheer fact it exists.

The Diagnosis:

At the end of the day, Greta is a female centric horror/thriller, but is it any good?  Well – as may have previously been mentioned – that depends on the quality of the story. End of.

Antony Yee

Movie review: The Curse of the Weeping Woman

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Taking place within the universe of The Conjuring, The Curse of the Weeping Woman (or The Curse of La Llorona internationally) is the first feature length work from director Michael Chaves. With strong casting choices throughout, what would be an otherwise typical film for the genre was transformed into a well-balanced, well-paced and thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Based upon the Mexican folk story ‘La Llorona’, or The Weeping Woman, who drowned her two sons in an act of revenge when jilted by her husband for a younger bride, La Llorona (Marisol Ramirez) was cursed to roam the Earth searching for children to replace those she lost. It is said that there is no escape from her once you hear her weeping and feel her tears against your skin.

Thus we find Anna (Linda Cardellini), a case worker and single mother to two children following the death of her husband, when Patricia (played by Patricia Velasquez who was Anck-Su-Namun in The Mummy Franchise… The Brendan Fraser Mummy Franchise… The good one) curses Cardellini’s children to be the next in La Llorona’s sights, leading her kids to get the fright of their short lives in a great little car sequence. Strong performances by Chris (Roman Christou) and his sister Sam (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen) who deliver noteworthy scenes throughout the film.

Many innovative effects make an appearance with a fun sequence near the pool involving an umbrella, using simple masking techniques that would make Georges Méliès proud, but in the critical eye of our 4k resolution era may come off a little cheesy, yet I find myself applauding the filmmakers for allowing creative risks to be taken. Another moment that stays with you is an eerie bathroom scene will see you bathing using the buddy system.

The pace of the film takes a turn when Anna seeks out the assistance of former priest Rafael Olvera (Raymond Cruz) who completely steals the show with his dry wit and deadpan delivery that make you want to come back for more.

With cinematography by Hollywood royalty Michael Burgess and James Wan in the producer’s seat you know you’re in for a good time. Paying homage to recurring themes within the universe to connect stories in a way that can only advance its reach while at the same time terrifying audiences.

The Diagnosis:

Not quite scary enough to provoke cardiac arrest but enjoyable, particularly with a deadpan dose of Raymond Cruz.

  • Surgeon Richard Lovegrove & Anesthesiologist Kelsi Williams

Us: Through the looking glass

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Jordan Peele’s follow up to his critically-acclaimed debut feature, Get Out has a lot of similarities to Lewis Carroll’s second outing with Alice as he not only puts a mirror up to American society and not only forces us to watch the horror as it unfolds but physically flips our perspective without us realising in an effective twist moment.

That’s not where there the similarity ends, as we also have some twins, a red queen, and placed is as pawns in our own game of chess. Only the colours are so blurred, it’s hard to know which side we should be on. We certainly should know and definitely root for our protagonists, but what if it’s revealed that we’ve been championing for the wrong side? Do we still pledge our allegiance?

Peele craftily weaves in all these images to subject his picture with pop culture images and references ranging from The Shining to The Lost Boys to C.H.U.D. and Michael Jackson and N.W.A. It’s a style that works in this instance as film and music have so shaped our worlds that we have become embedded in these Arts and in some cases schooled by them.

Essentially a home invasion turned country invasion, Us takes the audience on a journey where a family must unite in a bloody tale of survival, but in a world that is so fractured and broken, how can we truly know who to trust and survive without hiding behind the masks that protect us?
Can we really join hands across the globe and save humanity from itself by building a wall of protest, or will it merely be viewed as an art installation with no real impact at all?
Peele seems quite happy to leave that question unanswered.

The Diagnosis:

Peele is starting to make his mark on the film circuit with his second psychological horror and although it isn’t quite as impactful as Get Out, Us still offers an enjoyable, powerful punch.

Movie review: Pet Sematary (2019)

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Sometimes novels are better.

For those questioning that opening statement from a website dedicated to the horror movie genre, here’s the thing… Stephen King is so immersed in my discovery of horror as a pre-adolescent male and he opened up my eyes into the world of darkness and the recesses of the human soul, whether it was through a possessed Plymouth Fury or a disturbed entity from the dawn of time that takes on the form of a killer clown. King’s universe easily slipped into the corners of my imagination and lit them up like wildfire, so to emulate these visions and project them onto the big screen would always be a tough sell for this writer.

Maybe I am warped by these Stephen King tinted spectacles that I use in every facet of my waking (and sleeping) life, but in this instance I feel that I have good reason to have the bar set high. King himself was reluctant to release his novel upon completion and described it as his darkest novel to date. The reason it was eventually published fell down to contractual reasons as King was short by one novel with his publishers and so The Creeds and their cat Church saw the light of day.

During the 80’s when King was hitting his stride, Hollywood would snap up his novels, eager to put bums on cinema seats by trying to lure in his fans and to emulate his horror in celluloid form, so it was inevitable that Pet Sematary would also be adapted into film. Mary Lambert’s vision had haunted me in my youth from its depiction of the bed-riddled Zelda to Gage’s death and return from the grave. Another strength was that it was grounded in reality partly through the set design and scenery which was meticulously detailed and shot primarily in Maine, King’s hometown, which also added a level of authenticity to it. Having said all that though, it wasn’t flawless and watching it back now, it does feel dated, so when it was announced there would be a remake, there was a twinge of excitement at the prospect of what that would look like.
Early talks were of how it would be more of an inspiration piece and take some alternate directions on its journey beyond the dead lands and back. This did not deter me though, as I was open to a fresh take on the narrative.

The results though left me wanting. Whilst I admired directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer’s bold attempts in adding an alternate skew, I didn’t mind the gender switch with Ellie’s untimely demise and resurrection, I found that the choices they made were more based on ‘what if we did this?’ or ‘why not do that?’ without any rhyme or reason behind decisions. What’s more, the film relied too heavily on jump scares rather than genuinely frightening moments. The overall tone of the piece was a mess and never resonated with me. For a story that is ultimately about death and grief, it was strangely lacking in powerful emotion from the characters.

Grief is such a powerful feeling and evokes a range of emotions from sadness to anger, and that void or emptiness where one wishes to be whole again is absent in this film. I wanted to experience that deep level of despair but it never materialised. In facet, death became more of a comical component in this film from the awkward conversation that Rachel and Louis have with Ellie and even Church’s presence is one that sparks horror.

There was a lot of promise at the beginning when we witness a procession for a dead dog led by a bunch of kids in creepy animal masks that sparks the imagery of an occult and the town of Ludlow, which would have a really interesting take, but this is never really touched on again, which is a real shame.

There are some standout performances from Ellie (Jete Laurence), the always magnificent John Lithgow as Judd, and I really enjoyed the character development of Rachel Creed portrayed by Amy Seimetz (You’re Next), which just fell short at the last hurdle. It would have been really interesting if she faced up to her fears of death by confronting it head on. And one of the creepiest moments was presented by Rachel’s sick-ridden sister, Zelda even if it did evoke some Samara-type behaviour in its delivery.
The rest was just white noise.

The Diagnosis

A brave attempt at taking this story in a whole new direction, but falls flat on exposition.
The horror was lacking and comical with the emotion completely stripped away, leaving an empty vessel that is soulless and inconsequential.

For more thoughts and discussions on Pet Sematary, check out our podcast below:

Short movie review: The Tattooist

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Currently making the rounds at the festival circuit and turning more than the occasional head is this glorious short from independent film director Michael Wong.
Wong has a beautiful eye for detail with his short feature, The Tattooist, a movie that is rich in colour and texture, where the images leap off the screen and buries into the back of the audiences visual core.

In order to make a decent short, you have to go one of two ways, focus on narrative or provide a visual treat for the senses. Both are really hard to pull off and to execute well. Wong in this instance chooses to go with the latter by luring the audience into the dark and twisted mind of an ink specialist, who harbours a disturbing secret.

Whether it is within the tattooists’ mind as he imagines these harrowing depictions of brutal torment and gore that is reminiscent of Eli Roth’s Hostel movies, or genuine insight into these torture chambers, where he imprisons his victims is down to the audiences interpretation.
Either way, Wong provides a window into this disturbing underbelly of a tattoo parlour that taps into our fears of the uncertainty and sometimes taboo views associated with such places.

It’s an abrasive and voyeuristic vision that Wong delivers and in doing so makes him a director to keep a firm eye on.

To watch The Tattooist, check out the link here.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Happy Death Day 2U

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Here at the Surgeons School of Horror there are some key elements that make up a good sequel.

  1. It stays faithful to what was set up in (the spirit of) the original.
  2. It offers something new that adds to the original. It needs to feel right and makes you say, “Yeah, that fits!” without contradicting it.
  3. And the tipping point in shifting from a great sequel into an awesome one is that it must stand on its own as an individual film.

Highlander 2 for example completely ignored the rules as to why they were immortal in Highlander 1 = Bad movie.

Escape From LA is a literal rehash of Escape From New York = Bad movie.

Where as Aliens explored and expanded the mythology of the xenomorph whilst making a film that stands alone, which is fantastic and feels like it sits comfortably within the universe that Ridley Scott set up = Great movie.

So, where does Happy Death 2U fit into this equation?
Well, lets take a quick snapshot of our original review from its predecessor:

Murdered on her birthday, college student wakes up to find that she is stuck in a time loop in true Groundhog Day style and must relive the day all over again and can only break out of this vortex by finding her murderer.

It was a cool premise with some black comedy thrown in to boot to keep the viewer connected. Sure it had its flaws, particularly with continuity left, right, and centre. At the time I found it hard to connect with and treated it as a fairly middle of the road movie but it resonated with the younger generation who understood the humour and the college satire that was injected into the lead protagonist, Tree’s plight.

So with a successful first outing, Director Christopher Landon and producer Jason Blum felt that there was enough material there to warrant a second trip into the time loop with a sequel.

So going back to our rules for what makes a successful sequel how does it fair.

  1. Does it stay faithful to the original?
    Yes and no.
    Yes, because it does keep up with the rules applied with Tree finding herself, trapped in a time loop again and it amps up the comedy element this time around more successfully I felt.
    No, because it loses the horror element and steps firmly into sci-fi territory which may lose some of the original fans… but having said that and to use our Alien / Aliens analogy again, the original movie was a sci-fi horror, where as the sequel was more of a sci-fi action movie, so there’s no reason that you can’t shift genre and still make it successful.
  2. Does it add anything to the original that feels right?
    Hell yes! And this is HDD2U’s trump card. Where fans of the original maybe disappointed with the shift in genre, the writers stay within the boundaries of believability by throwing in the McGuffin of Carter’s roommate Ryan, who has invented a reactor that sucks Tree into said time loop with the added parallel universe jump to he mix.
    Tree still has to hunt down a killer, but this time around is faced with a few complex life choices.
  3. So, does it stand on its own as a stand-alone movie? Not really, as it heavily relies on the original to tie things together.

The Diagnosis:

The name of the game is fun in this movie. Whilst it steers away from the horror element, there is enough humour and drama in the mix to make this an incredibly entertaining feature that not only supports the original, but may even surpass it in some people’s eyes.
Oh and stick around for a mid credits scene that potentially opens up the universe even further.

– Antony Yee and Saul Muerte

Movie review: The Night Eats The World

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The Alliance Francaise French Film Festival is once again showcasing some excellent features this year, especially in the horror genre.
Alongside the glorious, hard-edged, rape revenge film, Revenge, comes the debut directorial feature from Dominique Rocher, The Night Eats The World.

The film embodies Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend with its token male protagonist, struggling with isolation in a post-apocalyptic world over run by zombies, but there the similarities lie.

Set primarily within the confines of a Parisian apartment block, our lone figure Sam (played by Anders Danielson Lie, who is simply divine in this movie in creating his character with charm, charisma, coupled with this awkward mix of inept social skills) wakes up in an apartment room, after seeking refuge from a house party, only to find the afore-mentioned apocalypse has hit and it would appear that there are no other survivors… at least not human ones.

Whilst The Night Eats The World is a bit of a slow burn, audiences are rewarded with the attention to Sam’s character and as the film plays out we warm to his quirks. Sam is clearly a guy who struggles at the best of times to mix with people and would prefer to be holed up on his own, without the company of others. So it’s with some sense of irony that his wish comes true with the zombie outbreak, but through it all, his sense of isolation is heightened and he realizes that even he seeks companionship, which at one point he finds in a zombie trapped in the lift.

Despite his growing agoraphobia, Sam must break down his barriers and leap out into this strange new horizon, if he has any chance to survive in the ‘new world’.

It’s Sam’s anxiety about what may lay beyond the comforts of his four walls that makes this such a refreshing film to watch.

It also contains a feeling of warmth and humour, which juxtaposes the climate that Sam is faced with. This too provides a rich attraction to the movie that allows The Night That Ate The World to stand out and claim its own identity in a crowded sub-genre.

The Diagnosis:

Director Dominique Rocher offers a quirky and delightful take on the zombie genre, by offering a slice of humanity, whilst shining a spotlight on how crippling anxiety can be.

It is a beautifully paced movie providing ample time for the main protagonist to shine, with dramatic moments to pulsate and keep the audience entertained.

– Saul Muerte

Catch the screening of The Night Eats The World at the Alliance Francoise French Film Festival.

Screening times below:

Sun 10 Mar8:10 PMPalace Norton St.
Tue 12 Mar8:45 PMPalace Central
Wed 13 Mar8:30 PMPalace Central
Thu 14 Mar8:40 PMPalace Norton St.
Sat 16 Mar9:00 PMPalace Central
Wed 20 Mar8:50 PMPalace Norton St.
Fri 22 Mar7:30 PMChauvel Cinema
Sat 23 Mar8:40 PMPalace Central
Sun 24 Mar8:30 PMPalace Verona
Mon 25 Mar8:30 PM
Palace Central
Thu 28 Mar8:40 PMChauvel Cinema
Sat 30 Mar8:45 PMChauvel Cinema
Sun 31 Mar8:20 PMPalace Central
Mon 1 Apr8:50 PMPalace Verona
Tue 2 Apr8:50 PMPalace Central
Wed 3 Apr9:45 PMPalace Norton St.
Thu 4 Apr8:45 PMChauvel Cinema
Fri 5 Apr8:30 PMHayden Orpheum Cremorne
Fri 5 Apr8:40 PMPalace Norton St.

Movie review: Hell Fest

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When released in the States back in September 2018, Hell Fest crashed out to a poor box office despite what promised to be a great premise with something that was reminiscent of Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse, (a forgotten gem) albeit with a more distinctive teen-slasher vibe in this instance.

There is a phrase that ‘Monsters don’t always lurk in the shadows, sometimes they hide in plain sight’, and what better way to hide and stalk your prey than in a nightmare entertainment theme park, built to scare and delight its customers.

As the teens enter The Dead Lands, an area of the theme park where the workers are allowed to physically touch you in their attempts to up the scare ante, a masked figure known as ‘The Other’ begins to circle and focus on his prey and inevitably picks them off one by one.

Hell Fest contains all the hallmarks of what should be a fun ride which it is including some brutal kills that have you grimacing in your seat, so why did it bomb and not resonate with its cinema going audience?

Most critics citied its lack of originality and that it fell to formulaic tropes within the genre with most of the characters presented as two-dimensional representations of what most horror fans have seen before. Although I did find Bex Taylor-Klaus’ performance of the wayward and rebellious Taylor, fun to watch.
I do find it hard to defend Hell Fest though, as it does appear to tread old ground and you never really feel connected to the characters. It’s a shame because director Gregory Plotkin’s (Paranormal Activity: Ghost Dimension) sophomore outing has a great playing field to draw out the horror and offer some unique approaches to the genre, but fails to deliver.

The Diagnosis:

Whilst Hell Fest is a fun ride, the ride itself becomes all too familiar all too quickly and the thrills whimper out with barely a flicker on the scare-ometer. And hey, it was awesome to see Tony Todd on screen as the theme park’s barker, despite his screen time being way too small.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Velvet Buzzsaw

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Now that the paint has dried and a few weeks has passed since Velvet Buzzsaw was unveiled on Netflix, it seems a good time as any for this Surgeon to dissect Dan Gilroy’s third movie from the director’s chair.

Gilroy’s debut, Nightcrawler was a disturbing vision of a violent, voyeuristic underbelly of US society as depicted by the media, so there was much anticipation ahead of his third outing.

Teaming up once again with stars Rene Russo and Jake Gyllenhaal, Velvet Buzzsaw promised to be another dark and twisted journey into the recesses of the art world, both of whom excel in their respective parts; Gyllenhaal as Morf Vandewalt (great name by the way), an art critic who’s mind begins to unravel as the true horror behind Arts latest discovery Vetril Dease unleashes an evil that threatens the fabrication of materialism and expression to its foundations and rip it to shreds; and respected gallery owner Rhodora Haze, who is every shadow of perfection, but has a her own demons lurking within.

Having shuffled off this mortal coil, Dease’s work is discovered by Josephina (who also works for Rhodora, and coincidentally is having an affair with Gyllenhaal’s Morf) in his apartment and seeking a chance to lift her profile, nabs the lot in search of fortune.

And therein lies the rub.

Every character it seems is in search of their own personal glorification and with each stride to ‘perfection’, they fall deeper into the labyrinth of sin and despair.
None more so than Toni Collette’s Gretchen, who gets so bitter and twisted as she distorts and manipulates her grounding in order to establish a firm footing within the Artistic community.

Interestingly though, it’s only those that feed off the creative types and promote their material in order to meet their own ends, are the ones that get popped off one by one. Some, in glorious fashion.

The artists themselves are deeply affected by Dease’s paintings but instead of utter destruction, it only empowers them to go and create again. As if to explore their own passions and free their souls to be reborn, or thrive once more. 

The only other exception is Coco (everyone’s assistant) who is basically everyone’s pawn and unfortunately is the discoverer of most of the victims.

So far so bloody fabulous. Gilroy does a stellar job at tapping into the heart of the savagery embedded in the Art world, and there are hints of Altmanesque style of direction, as he weaves a multi-layered character narrative.

Ultimately though, where Gilroy succeeded with Nightstalker with its transcendence into hell, with Velvet Buzzsaw, he seems to get lost in the vortex of disillusionment. The more Gilroy subjects his characters to the turmoil within their own psyche, the more fantastical and hyper realistic their world becomes, alienating the audience as a result.

The Diagnosis:

Velvet Buzzsaw like most works of art is subjective to the perception of its viewer or audience. Some may find it a stroke of genius that embodies the ugly psyche of the human mind; others will declare it a façade. When you lift the veil on the mania and manufactured lifestyle that the characters lead, all that’s left is circles in the sand… but then again, maybe that was Gilroy’s point.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Bird Box

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It’s been a couple of months now that Sandra Bullock’s Netflix vehicle was released and was strong enough among the Surgeons team to elevate it into the Top 5 horror movies of 2018, but not all of us had such a positive attraction to the film.

Until recently, Bird Box had remained on my Must Watch list and embarrassingly kept being pushed back when I found time to delve into a film. So, why did I keep doing this? What was propelling me away or not enticing me into the post-apocalyptic world where supernatural entities lead people to commit suicide?

Truth be told, I just found the concept uninteresting and perhaps too dark or deep. So every time I came to watch the film, I shied away to watch something else more upbeat or stimulating.

It doesn’t bode well to have these thoughts before watching a movie, but I still wanted to clear my mind and come into this fresh, but I was enticed by the fact that it was directed by Susanne Bier, who was behind the awesome The Night Manager.

Our first introduction to Bullock’s character, Malorie Hayes is a stern and strict one as she gives two children specific instructions of a troubled journey that lay ahead. It’s an interesting choice, as it doesn’t allow you to warm to her straight away. It does allow you to warm to her as you realize that our first window into her soul is a truly human one. As stark as it maybe it propels you through the narrative with her and Bullock’s performance on screen is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time.

In fact all the performances are significantly on point with all support acts given their chance to have “their moment” on screen, but particular nods should go out to Trevante Rhodes (The Predator), Sara Paulson (American Horror Story), John Malkovich who hams it up in a fantastically melancholic role, and Tom Hollander (Taboo).

Bird Box is also beautifully shot with cinematographer Salvatore Tottino exploiting ever inch of the canvas to project his vision.

Throw in a cracking score from the brilliant mind of Trent Reznor and you can fast see why my fellow Surgeons were chomping at the bit, especially with the split timeline narrative to provide the lead-up to the ordeal that Malorie faces in her blindfolded attempt to navigate the river to find sanctuary in a treacherous land that has been torn apart.

The narrative has to hang together on Bullock’s character and her performance, which it does… just. She weaves together a tumultuous tale of survival and eking out every possible emotion along the way, but ultimately the narrative does plod along and despite everyone’s best efforts feels strained and a fairly predictable outcome despite its best efforts to challenge your thoughts and opinions.

The Diagnosis:

Bird Box has all the ingredients to make an incredibly powerful movie with strong performances all round, especially with Bullock leading the charge. It boasts a director at her pique with a cinematographer who can tweak out the most stunning images, but like the creatures that invoke the fear, it is all fluff and no substance. Whilst the ride is enjoyable, it doesn’t leave you with any strong connection to the movie.

  • Saul Muerte