Movie review: Crawl

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I have to say that I honestly don’t think I’ve had this much fun watching a movie at the cinemas for quite some time. Sure, this little movie does a lot to stretch the realms of believability, especially bearing in mind that there is supposed to be a category 5 hurricane bearing down on our father-daughter duo battling for survival, and some of the actions of the killer crocs also fall into question, but by the time this all unfolds I’m willing to forgo these discrepancies and this has a lot to do with the time and care taken into building character and history, so that your focus is on backing them against the odds. 

The strength of the actors portraying the afore-mentioned father (Barry Pepper) and daughter (Kaya Scodelario) should also be acknowledged as they share the brunt of the on-screen time to portray the broken family dynamic that has formed between the two of them. Once inseparable as Hayley has been pursuing a swimming career, backed by her one-time coach, and father, Dave. Time and circumstances have allowed them to drift apart, but when crisis hits (in the form of that hurricane) Hayley ventures to find her father, who is failing to answer his phone. She soon discovers that he has had some kind of accident in the crawl space of the old family home, but that is the least of her worries, as Dave isn’t the only occupant lying under the house. Cue, giant croc. 

The screenplay allows the usual pitfalls and obstacles that stand in their way to fight for survival to appear believable, and the bond between the two leads strengthens as they literally find themselves in the foundations of their relationship, to not only find common ground, but also build/fight their way out to the top come hell or highwater. 

Hats off too to Alexandre Aja, who back in 2003 entered the horror genre with his hands firmly on the jugular with High Tension and then backed it up with the insane and gloriously over the top The Hills Have Eyes remake, before falling on the wayside with his outings since. Whether, it was working alongside Sam Raimi’s production team, Aja hits his stride once again in Crawl and positions himself as a director who can inject so much pain and torture in his characters that it’s a wonder that anyone can survive such an ordeal. The tension at times is intense and Aja, does enough to crank it to the max when it’s called for and dial it back to allow the characters and his audience to breathe.

The Diagnosis:

For its short running time of just under the 90 minute mark, Aja packs in enough grit, and determination, in this intense, blood-riddled battle for survival, that we can only enjoy the ride. 

Retrospective: Lake Placid (20 years on)

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There’s a lot to be said about the stellar work produced by director Steve Miner, having rubbed shoulders with the likes of Wes Craven and Sean Cunningham (on set of their respective experimental directorial debut features, Last House On The Left, and Friday the 13th) before giving charge to oversee the birth of Jason Vorhees in Friday the 13th Part 2. Despite its gimmicks, Miner’s sophomore feature would project Jason out of the screen in all its 3D glory, but more importantly witness the now infamous hockey mask for the first time. By the time he rolled out his third feature, House, Miner appeared to have hit his stride with an off-beat blend of comedy and horror. That is until the diabolically awful Soul Man was released and then Miner went through the wringer serving up mediocre comedy drama movies that seemed to leave him trailing in the dust of his glory years in the directors chair. Fast track to 1998, and Miner finds himself thrust in the limelight once again and in charge of resurrecting another slasher villain Michael Myers in Halloween: H20. It looked like Miner had found his niche once more and showed that he was more than able to slide into the slasher world with relative ease.

The following year, Miner would step into fairly new territory, the creature feature and look to subject horror onto the screen in the form of a 30-foot-long man-eating saltwater crocodile. It’s been 20 years since Lake Placid graced the celluloid art and my only memories of the film was of Bridget Fonda (who had already captured this young man’s heart in 1993’s The Assassin), Oliver Platt (who at the time was only known to me as the guy with the camera in Flatliners, and playing Porthos alongside Kiefer Sutherland in The Three Musketeers. So, does this film still stand the test of time today? I went into my most recent viewing with pretty low expectations, but I was surprised to find out that it’s not too shabby.

Before, you raise your quizzical eyebrows at me, let me present a few interesting points about the movie that lift it out of the quagmire of cheesy dialogue and one-note characters. 

Firstly, the cast are strong enough to mould some shape into their characters, starting with the afore-mentioned Fonda as a paleontologist called in to investigate the owner of a prehistoric tooth found embedded in a victim of an underwater attack. To begin with her frosty, cool demeanour is a little off-putting admittedly, but by the time she warms up, so does our reception of her, which helps with her flirtatious relationship with the charming Bill Pullman (playing the local Fish and Game officer). To round out our quartet of intrepid explorers, there’s Platt as mythology expert Hector (a sure thing to become croc fodder, but somehow survives the odds) and his own heated relationship with the often underrated Brendan Gleeson as the Local Sheriff. And let’s not forget Betty White as the batty old lady who’s been hand-rearing reptiles from a lakeside abode. 

The effects are actually pretty gnarly too with a man ripped in two, and a nasty decapitation scene, there’s enough to whet the appetite of your average movie-watcher, but the real hero is in the croc, which could so easily fall prey of poor results, but thankfully this beast still looks remarkable solid, and that has a lot to do with the late, great Stan Winston who oversaw the creature effects. Even the climax of the movie, despite its faults does enough to step up and deliver. 

Sure, Lake Placid plays it fairly safe, but it wins you over with charm and a bit of grit, a hallmark of Miner at his best. There have been other croc movies since that arguably have pushed the boat out and delivered a stronger film, but if you wanna just kick back, take it easy, and still be entertained, this croc movie more than holds itself above water.

As for Miner, he drifted away from the feature scene after this following a forgotten western starring James Van Der Beek (Texas Rangers) and a Day of the Dead remake, and has since been cruising the odd tv show instead. Who knows, he may well wash ashore again to resurrect a whole new franchise. Until then, we’re left with a few classics to measure him by.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Annabelle Comes Home

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Like a cabin in the woods filled with a basement of evil paranormal beasties, this latest edition to The Conjuring universe features good ol’ 70s style babysitter shenanigans along with fresh new souls to welcome the return as, Annabelle Comes Home.

First time director, Gary Dauberman, is no stranger to the franchise having been screenwritter for Annabelle (2014), Annabelle: Creation (2017), and The Nun (2018) as well as the co-writer for the remake of Stephen King’s  It (2017) and its upcoming sequel It Chapter Two (2019).

Annabelle Comes Home keeps audiences on the edge of their seats with an awesome sound design, some nice fake outs, creepy reveals, great gimmicks – providing you can look past a continuity error when one of the game pieces suddenly changes colour from red to green.

  • Richard Lovegrove

Movie review: Child’s Play (2019)

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The dust may have settled since the Child’s Play remake was released but the elephant is still clearly standing in the room. This is definitely not a Child’s Play movie.

The vague premise is still there, but there’s no Damballa VooDoo chant, and no rebirth of notorious serial killer, Charles Lee Ray hell bent on stealing a child’s soul and be reborn again. 

What’s more, there’s no Brad Dourif providing his nuanced vocal contributions that have become so synonymous with the Chucky character since he was first introduced to movie going audiences back in 1988.

As a horror fan who lived and breathed the golden slasher era of the 80s, it admittedly was hard to come into this modern interpretation without applying my own prejudices and even with the inclusion of the new hope, Mark Hamill to provide the voice, it somehow didn’t feel right to me and whilst I’m fairly open to creating new avenues in a well-established franchise, I struggled to connect with the producers and director’s interpretation this time around. It was as if the personality had been completely stripped out of it and ironically enough the soul of the movie was no longer present. The Damballa failed to inject a new Chucky into the horror mainstream.

With that aside, what are we actually left with? A bitter employee who deliberately sabotages a Chucky doll, in order to bring down the toy company who treated him so poorly, and does so by disabling the Asimov Law that robots can not harm humans. Cue anarchy and bloody mayhem as our new Chucky learns how to be human, including its darkest traits. With no filter, Chucky goes on a rampage in order to be Andy’s best friend. 

Speaking of Andy, actor Gabriel Bateman (Annabelle, Lights Out) more than holds his own as the lead protagonist and we do emote with his plight. It’s just a shame that tonally the movie doesn’t go dark enough for us to feel that he is ever in immediate danger. Nor does it inject any decent humour as the franchise has become known for despite the odd moments from Chucky and Detective Mike on occasion. I also would have loved for the creatives to allow Aubrey Plaza who plays Andy’s mum to instal her usual dry, deadpan wit into the proceedings to spice things up a bit.

The death scenes themselves were a little subpar too, whilst Shane’s skinned face moment was kinda cool, you can’t go past this glorious lawn mower death scene in the horror genre in my opinion.

And the whole Mike’s mum trapped in the car thing was just dumb.

By the time all this unfolds we get the climax at the shopping mall, when the Chucky dolls come out in a frenzy (and the bear dolls were kinda fun, but ultimately lacklustre), to orchestrate a face/off (No pun intended, sorry Shane) between Chucky and Andy in order to save his Mum… blah blah blah.

The Diagnosis:

No creator Don Mancini and it shows.

No Brad Dourif and it shows.

No dark and twisted humour to keep the horror fans satiated.

Just a soulless attempt bring the franchise to a modern audience with a vague attempt at commenting on the social media / connected world that we currently reside in and the dangers that lurk within.

But with no personality, we’re left wanting.

Roll on the Chucky tv series.

  • Saul Muerte

Retrospective: The Driller Killer – 40 years on

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My first entry into the world of Abel Ferrara came in the early 90s with his two features dedicated to the criminal underworld of his hometown; King of New York, and Bad Lieutenant. The latter resonated strongly long in my mind with Harvey Keitel’s powerful performance as a drug-addicted, corrupt police officer intent on changing his ways. Ferrara is clearly inspired by the unhinged minds of mankind and this subject is often the driving force of the lead protagonists in his movies, as we watch them spiral deeper into insanity and out of control.

The Driller Killer, (Ferrara’s debut feature in the director’s chair), is no exception, and follows struggling painter, Reno Miller (played by Ferrara), living in New York, as he slowly descends into madness and despair. His crazed mind, unable to contend with the reality of his dire situation, resorts to taking his frustrations and anger out on the streets and onto the homeless and impoverished, wielding his weapon of choice; a power drill.

Growing up in the UK, The Driller Killer had been thrown into the video nasties heap and wouldn’t see the light of day through legal means until 1999, when a cutdown version would make its way into the video rental market. It was shortly after this that I would finally get to watch the movie, which by now was so heightened in my mind as a dark and distressing feature, that I went in, fully wanting to be shook to the core and have my mind inflicted with some gross-out gore to the extreme.

So I huddled up in my horror haven at the time, a labyrinth of blood curdling wonder that hosted the classics and the downright disturbing delights, and let The Driller Killer wash over me. I have to admit my initial reaction was underwhelming, as I was confronted with a mish mash of a storyline, jumbled up with sparse and confusing dialogue, combined with really long jam sessions from the band living in the neighbouring apartment. True, when Reno lost control, it was suitably unhinged and the SFX were effective enough with its crimson palette oozing from his victims. The trouble was, I found the fractured nature of the narrative too jarring and the abrupt conclusion a little too complex. And yet somehow, something hung in my mind and stuck there to this day.

Abel Ferrara playing Reno Miller drenched in blood from the movie The Driller Killer

So, with its 40th Anniversary upon us, I thought that now would be a good time to dust down the dvd that was immersed in my horror film collection and take a look at The Driller Killer once again.

True, the same old flaws are apparent, but rather than seem like blemishes within the celluloid frame, they become moments of wonder, as we journey with Reno into his state of madness and social decay. I’d like to think that my older, wiser mind appreciates the disconnected and fractured storyline as a symbol of the human psyche, but it may also be that I too have cracked in the realms of reality and find that I am able to connect with the artists plight a little more, (although thankfully I haven’t picked up the nearest power tool to reek my vengenace on the world…yet).

The moments of rage are deliberately awkward and messy, which adds to the raw energy that Ferrara brings to his work, and by the time we reach the climax, the audience is suddenly snapped out of the macabre fantasy. This is something of an unpopular choice these days, as often audiences like to have their narrative sewn up and explained, but I prefer the ambiguity of the films’ closure, leaving us to wallow in the wake of Reno’s rampage. This feeling of desolation that hangs in the air is a stark reminder, that society may have come a long way, but we still have no direct answer to aid anyone with mental deficiencies. We’re quite content to let their actions go by and merely act as spectators, as long as it affects the impoverished members of society, but the moment it has an impact on someone deemed of class, then we feel appalled and react, which is why it seems fitting that Ferrara denies the audience the chance to witness Carol’s outcome. It’s for this reason that I feel The Driller Killer still resonates today and is a must-watch on any fan of the horror genre. It maybe a little rough and raw compared with some of the polished movies of today, but this only makes the impact of the film a much greater one.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Why Don’t You Just Die (Sydney Film Festival)

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I have to admit that when I first read the short synopsis about Why Don’t You Just Die, I loved the title, and I was intrigued by the idea of a crime thriller with the promise of gallons of blood, but I instinctively put it on the maybe pile. My reasoning was purely down to the film not quite fitting into the horror genre, rather than the context of the story, but as I watched, I instantly regretted my instincts as boy does this movie deliver.

The action and tension on screen is relentless with top marks to the choreography of each set piece as it unfolds. What tips this above your average pot-boiler though is that writer/director, Kirill Sokolov doesn’t provide any easy solutions or fixes for the characters to weave their way out of, but rather offers obstacle after obstacle, providing a gruelling and effective journey that keeps you guessing the outcome.

The plot is a fairly simple one as Matvei is steered to avenge his girlfriend Olga’s mistreatment by her father. Armed with only a hammer, Matvei enters the apartment, only to find his plan is far from straight forward, much to the delight of the audience.

Peppered with flashbacks and character reveals that lend weight to deception and mistrust, the players are forced to outwit, out-muscle and out-hustle each other in order to survive the bloodbath. It’s not just about guts and gore though, (although this does have some awesome effects to satiate the hardened viewer) as its trump card is the macabre humour that ticks along and has you laughing at the ridiculously glorious events as they unfold.

The Diagnosis:

This is a Machiavellian tale that beats along at fun and crazed pace. The characters hold their secrets close to their chest, but are forced to spill their guts (literally in some cases) with bloody carnage and mayhem. Every twist and turn is delivered with powerful impact that resonates off the screen and into the cerebellum. Prepare for an enjoyable ride from Russian director, Kirill Sokolov. I predict big things to come from this sharp young mind.

TICKETS

Thu 13 June 8.45pm: Event Cinemas George St 

Head here for tickets

  • Saul Muerte
Guy stands opposite woman who sits on the kitchen counter with her legs stretched out.

Movie review: School’s Out (Sydney Film Festival 2019)

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Leading the charge for the Freak Me Out Program Strand at Sydney Film Festival this year is French, Environmental, Fantasy & Sci-Fi, Horror film, School’s Out. Before I delve into the guts of the film, I have to remark on the strength of genre movies coming out of France at the moment that are both insightful and leveraged with deep integrity. This writer has been remarkably affected by the likes of Raw, Revenge, and The Night Eats The World in the last couple of years, that I’m becoming a huge fan of this new-wave of francophile horror. Despite not being an all-out horror, School’s Out is firmly can firmly sit side-by-side with these movies.

In its opening scene, director Sébastien Marnier sets out to deliberately disturb the viewer, by confronting the audience with a seemingly tranquil school classroom setting, only to witness the teacher attempt suicide by throwing himself out of the window. What is most unsettling about this scene is the manner in which some of the students seem unaffected by this traumatic moment, simply staring out of the window at the body of their teacher on the ground below. In this one moment, Marnier sets the tone for the remainder of the film. The audience has a feeling of distrust towards the six unempathetic, yet highly-gifted students, and when we are introduced to the lead protagonist, relief teacher, Pierre Hoffman, he carries our fears and animosity with him throughout the films narrative.

The theme is also spelt out fairly early on in the piece too using the sub-genre, environmental horror at its core, which could very well be a growing trend in this class, much like the underrated, The Marshes, which came out last year. After all, horror is supposed to tap into our greatest fears, and what is more horrifying to humanity at the moment than ourselves and our impact on this world?

The message isn’t rammed down our throats though, more rather, it looms large in the background, ever-present, and a reminder that the danger is all around us if we dare to open our eyes and see. The symbolism isn’t lost whenever Pierre is swimming in a nearby lake with a huge power plant filling the landscape behind him.

What makes this film stand out though, is that it cleverly weaves Kafka’s theory of existentialism into the fold with the notion that each one of us is responsible and free for the actions we take. Should we be bystanders in our own destruction, or hopelessly try to prevent our own undoing? Pierre sows this seed fairly on when he mentions that he is working on a thesis around Kafka, and yet can’t seem to find the momentum to complete what he has started. Kafka was known to explore themes of alienation and isolation in his work, fuelled by anxiety in a world that fuses fantasy with reality; all of which is on display in School’s Out and provides the film with the necessary structure in which to tell Marnier and his screenwriting partner Elise Griffon’s narrative.

The beauty of this movie is that in the way Marnier steers his audience into a particular focus, and like Pierre we become blinded by the this narrow approach that we neglect to look at the bigger picture, and in doing so poses some big questions about our responsibilities.

The Diagnosis:

Whilst not strictly a horror in the fullest sense of the word, Marnier’s movie reflects the horrors that humanity is capable of in this slow-burning movie, that lifts the lid and exposes our damning actions. The performances are particularly strong and effective in School’s Out, and in some cases are quite confronting, which only adds to the strength of the overall storyline. Like Kafka’s most known novel, Die Verwandlung” (“The Metamorphosis“), we must learn to adapt or transform our ways if we are to survive, or ultimately face the consequences.

TICKETS

Wed 5 June 6:30pm: Dendy Newtown
Tue 11 June 9pm: Event Cinemas George St
Head here for Tickets

Movie review: Here Comes Hell (Sydney Film Festival 2019)

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It’s that time of year again when Sydney is offered some horrifying and thrilling delights as part of the Freak Me Out program strand at the Sydney Film Festival.

Among the cracking lineup comes a directorial debut feature by Jack McHenry that speaks right to my heart as it cleverly crafts 1930s British decadence. With a cast of fops and socialites, Here Comes Hell injects a twisted and psychotic world of the undead into the depression era.

The tagline sums it up perfectly, “Downton Abbey meets The Evil Dead.”

I found myself drawn in seamlessly by the rich cinematography, which perfectly encapsulates the movies of that time, and you can tell that Jack McHenry and his cinematographer Rory McHenry are lovers of the craft as spend time drawing you in before twisting the knife abruptly as it spins into the unknown and thrusts the characters beyond their wildest imaginations.

The concept follows the recklessly rich, Victor, who invites gun-wielding American George, sharp-tongued Christine, tennis playing Teddy, and his new girlfriend Elizabeth (who is our entry point into the family unit and the only character not born of higher breeding). When Victor decides to host a seance in order to spice up the evenings gatherings, the night takes a drastic turn as they unleash the spirit of a former owner of the mansion who had a curious passion with the dark arts.

Here Comes Hell could so easily be sucked into a vortex of the absurd and unbelievable but thanks to some crafty dialogue and deliciously delectable humour, provided by McHenry again and his screenwriting partner Alice Sidgwick, we’re treated to a fun romp into the macabre with some killer effects to boot.

The Diagnosis:

Despite its slow start, the gears grind up and we’re given a fun ride into a dark world that combines a twisted humour with an homage to a decadent time.

  • Saul Muerte

TICKETS

Sat 8 June 9pm: Event Cinemas George St
Tue 11 June 8:30pm: Dendy Newtown
Head here for Tickets

Here Comes Hell

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