Yakov, is a young male Hassid, who has lost his faith and become isolated from his sect. When we first meet him, Yakov (Dave Davis) is socially awkward, out of his depth, and the last person you would expect to triumph over evil, should it raise its demonic head his way. The fragility of Yakov is partly what lures you into his world, and as a viewer we become intrigued by the journey he is about to undertake. The weight of his character is captured through Keith Thomas’ direction as he produces a slow-burn descent into Yakov’s personal hell, where he must confront his trauma head-on if he has any hope to survive through the night. Thomas’ care and dedication to creating atmosphere is The Vigil’s masterstroke and is truly captivating, but hey… I’m a sucker for the slow burn. Plus, it has a wealth of talent behind the films creation, from cinematographer Zach Kuperstein (The Eyes of My Mother), editor Brett W. Bachman (Mandy), and a score by Michael Yezerski (The Devil’s Candy) who combine to create a beautifully crafted film. So, what is this ordeal that Yakov must face?
Enticed by his Rabbi, Yakov agrees to become a shomer, a Jewish practice that involves watching over a recently deceased member of the community (seriously, who would do that? Feels far to eerie to me). Yakov takes up this charge with the promise of payment to protect the soul of the deceased by spending the night in his house, and receives a none-too-friendly welcome from the elderly widow. What we take as a frosty reception is actually, one of warning, but Yakov doesn’t take heed, and as such gets more than he bargained for.
The ambience generates a sense of creepiness and isolation that trauma survivors must endure to overcome their ordeal. This is a testament to the writing and direction of Keith Thomas which belies his status as a debut feature in the directors chair, and his smart enough to combine with some of the greatest artists in their field. While the scares maybe few and far between, the atmosphere and acting sure as hell make up for it, forging an incredibly unsettling movie about survival and once again Blumhouse have backed an impressive movie as part of their production canon.
A U.S. movie that came out with a trailer JBC (Just Before Covid) that looked “kinda interesting”, “might be cool” in a “popcorn/shut-off-the-brain & enjoy-the-carnage” sort of way. You know – like Ready or Not! (which is a good ‘un…).
But THIS film gets banned, and you hear it’s for reasons around politics (or some such) and you automatically assume it might have something to do with… umm… guns? I mean, it’s clearly a violent film, and let’s face it, if there’s one country that is insanely messed up around the issue of firearms, it’s blah blah blah.
So we all move on without giving it further thought, as there are plenty of other things to devote our daily quota of brain-focus towards. For example, for Aussie audiences at the time, it was all about trying to not catch on fire… (remember around Xmas when THAT was a thing?)
But we are in the now-now time, and in terms of entertainment stocks, pretty much any content today (see the date this review was/is posted) has a chance of finding an audience via a streaming service; whether it be old (Community), new (Tiger King) or banned…
If The Hunt was hoping to slot into that 3rd category, it severely misread the room. Because when you live in an age where a global pandemic can be politicised, releasing a film that pisses off the American President (and therefore a hoard of his followers) for INCORRECT reasons (he hadn’t seen it) and Snowflake Liberals (for fairly legit reasons) then you’re just being annoying.
And not in a cool “look at us – we’re so out there! We’re-provoking! We don’t care if-you’re-offended! You’ve-reacted-so-our-point-is-made! We’re-forcing-you-to-look-at-the-issue!” sort of way. (For a start, if any of those were true, you would’ve made a better film…).
So premise – and for this review we will be entering spoiler territory, so beware – we have a Predators-esque/Hunger Games style set-up where a bunch of random “everyday” Americans wake up in the countryside, bound, groggy and with no idea how they got there.
A cache of weapons is found, and as soon as they arm themselves the hunt is on.
They are shot/blown up and generally hounded in what these people called “Manorgate”. An extreme right-wing conspiracy sorta along the lines of Pizzagate (wiki that one!) that in this instance, claims rich Liberal elites kidnap people and hunt them for sport on the grounds of one of their mansions.
And considering every one of the hunties are right wing fanatics in some form or another (bloggers/vloggers/YouTube & Facebook Commentators etc.) this is both Xmas and Reverse Xmas at once.
The former because for all their nutjob ramblings, they have been proven right. And the latter because… well…hunted…
And the divide between the victims (The Right) and the bad guys (The Left) are underlined even more when it is revealed that some of the hunters are the sort of people who equate soft drink to poison (‘cause you know, sugar ‘n shit) and one of them admits to being (in effect) a Crisis Actor; one of THE MOST abhorrent things in the world to ever admit being real, let alone being one.
What’s more, these snowflakes are so useless (a term The Right love to label The Left with) they need to be taught how to kill by a military consultant who is not that qualified – again kneeling to the notion The Left don’t do their research or “check their facts”. Fakes news anyone?
So you get the idea. The victims are portrayed as mostly ineffectual and somewhat simple folk – apart from when they go on an Alex Jones-esque rant. But their horribleness (as determined by the Evil Liberals who selected them) is never fully explored because the majority of them get killed in the first few minutes.
But the Liberals haven’t even played their worst mistake card yet. Because here is another thing they didn’t fact check – the real identity of one of The Deplorables, Crystal Creasey (played by Glow’sBetty Gilpin. AKA Ghost Town’s ghost-nurse Betty Gilpin).
Crystal has the same name as one of the selected victims, but is in truth not her (‘cause, as established, Lefties get things wrong) so she’s worse than a Deplorable. She’s an innocent.
But not a helpless innocent. Oh no, she is ex-military – sour, quiet, smart, tough and resourceful. She scowls like a female Clint Eastwood, and kicks ass methodically and intuitively. She is not only cool, but she wins. She takes charge. And she doesn’t give a shit what anybody else does, or whether they need her help or not. Just so long as they don’t get in her way. (Remind you of any kind of person?)
So this Libertarian poster child kills her way to the Boss Fight, featuring the Mastermind behind it all, Athena – played by Academy Award winner Hilary Swank. Where it is revealed this whole murderball spree has come about because of a scourge act of the 21st century. Mob outrage over an inappropriate internet comment. In this case a private messenger conversation between the Liberal Elites about Deplorables that gets leaked, that – jokingly or not – sees them lose their careers because political correctness is clearly out of hand yada-yada-yada.
So as an act of revenge they create Manorgate for realsies…
Anyway, back to the final confrontation – where we also discover that not only has Athena made a mistake with Crystal, but she somewhat condescendingly is shocked to realise her would-be victim knows Animal Farm; an in-joke revolving around their codename for Crystal (it’s Snowball) which plays into yet another notion about The Left. They assume everyone outside their bubble is uneducated.
So where does this leave us – the audience?
Well – seeing as one of the writers is a man not immune to internet outrage – Damon Lindelof – you can expect to be annoyed (and you will be. Although to his credit he’s achieved this outside his normal modes. Ie: There are no spirals of logic leading to nowhere with this one).
In fact, it’s all pretty straight forward plot wise. Just the why & the what of it really hits you.
The set-up is unoriginal, which in itself is not a sin. But it’s outcome? All Crystal had to do was show that she was politically above or below all this in some way, and suddenly you have a palpable indicator of what this film is trying to say.
“BUT WAIT! Why does it have to say anything at all? Why does she have to take a political stance!?” To which the booming answer is – the filmmakers started it! But yeah, the film certainly didn’t HAVE to. A really great example how this type of movie can be a fun popcorn ride with no political lacing is the afore mentioned Ready or Not, where the only people it seems to slag off are rich ones who worship Satan. Which, as targets go, seems easy, but still pretty legit….
So Lindelof and co-writer Nick Cuse start a project that definitely wants to say something about the party divide in America. But the only 2 immediately obvious outcomes you can hope for is that they are against both, or they are on the side of the victims. Which is the right. And if Crystal – their avatar – does indeed sit somewhere on the elephant/donkey spectrum, it’s never revealed, as she’s a fairly shallow character whose only virtue is she can take an unrealistic knife wound to the gut and live.
So that leaves us with the “Aww – don’t be so wound up, it’s only a bit of fun” brigade.
And in a different time, that could be a fair enough point to let through the gate. But in a PC age (Post Covid, not the other one) idiocy is a virus more virulent than the one that’s currently killing a whole lot of people. And if there’s one thing today’s idiots don’t need, its misguided fuel in any way, shape or form. Even if it is silly entertainment.
Yes. This review is THAT condescending.
Because – and this is a reverse spin kick to contemplate – what if this movie actually says “Yeah! The Right ARE victims! This film shines a spotlight on how harshly and unfairly they are treated by The Left and their Big Government Ideas, fake media and social justice bullshit”. In which case I say to you…
STAY RIGHT THERE. Resistance is futile. We will find you. We will get you. We will make it painless. Probably. Just as soon as we finish implementing universal health care so we can inject you all with autism causing brain tracking lifesaving vaccines…
If you hate this film you are an uptight lefty elitist wanker. If you like it you are deplorable. Either way watch Ready or Not. It’s much better.
It’s taken a little while for this Blumhouse Productions feature to reach Australian shores but it finally gets the straight to Home entertainment treatment, but don’t let that deter you. At its beating heart is a cold, psychological drama that delves into the lengths and breadths of what a family will do to stick together no matter what the cost.
The surprise here comes with Seann William Scott’s performance of Evan Cole, a psychopath lurking as a school councillor. Scott is so removed from the “Stiffmeister” personna that we have become accustomed to through the American Pie franchise, as he produces a deeply disturbing personality, devoid of emotion except love and anger. Evan’s killer instinct is awakened shortly after the birth of his new-born son and to satiate his blood lust, he seeks vengeance for the troubled kids that come to see him to discuss their trauma. Slowly, he combines a kill list of rapists, and abusers, tracks them down and kills them. Think Dexter, but without the quirky feels.
Some of the stripped down emotions make it hard to believe the relationship that Evan has with his wife, Lauren (Mariela Garriga) and at times this can feel rigid and disconnected, leaving us to question how they got together in the first place. Despite this, their loyalty to one another is what is on the table, as Evan’s curious night time habits start to impact on their lives. Even more so, when a curious detective enters the scene suspecting foul play when some of the read bodies are uncovered.
At first Lauren puts Evan’s behaviour down to becoming a new parent, but soon feels isolated from her husband. It’s here that Lauren starts to rely on Evan’s mother (Dale Dickey – True Blood) who moves in to offer some nurturing support. This comes across as a typical mother-in-law relationship scenario that starts off as stifled but soon becomes a much-needed companionship, but there’s something not altogether right with her. Can she really be trusted and how solid are the foundations in this family? Can love truly conquer all obstacles?
There are some great dramatic moments and conflict, both externally and internally that fuels the tension and creates the division between all the relationships involved that puts everything to the test.
This dramatic thriller doesn’t necessarily push new boundaries, but its a solid little flick that will do enough to entertain and surprise you with a highly convincing turn from Sean William Scott to unnerve you to the film’s conclusion.
Beneath the surface, Sweetheart is essentially a retelling of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, except in this instance we have a young lady stranded on an island who cries monster.
The premise is a simple one that shows Kiersey Clemons as the afore-mentioned young lady, Jenn, who washes up on an island as pretty much the sole survivor from some kind of boating accident… the details on this aren’t exactly clear, but they don’t have to be. The only background from her past that we are provided with is that Jenn hasn’t exactly been truthful or forthcoming with those deemed closest to her, and therein lies the rub.
But hold on, I’ve cast myself ahead too much.
For the majority of the movie Jenn is on her own on this island in what initially starts off as a tale of survival and we witness some heart to her character as she tries to aid a fellow survivor who has been fatally stabbed by some coral. From the audience’s perspective, this allows us to warm to her and already we are on her side, wishing her to survive. This is amped up more so when the mysterious sea creature arrives and its entrance is a cracker.
From here the film tauts Jenn against this sea creature, which could easily have drifted in strange dark cloud territory ala Lost, but instead gradually introduces the monster as a force to be reckoned with and Jenn has no option but to pull from whatever little resources she has in order to survive, including the odd cadaver or two.
Admittedly Sweetheart has a short running time falling just shy of the 90 minute mark, but director J,D. Dillard crafts out enough tension to fill that time whilst also allowing for moments to breathe and develop the character further. Clemons is a natural in her role and harnesses every facet of her character as she is forced to endure a gruelling battle of endurance that in some ways reminded me of Dillon’s confrontation with the Predator.
The creature itself is convincing enough but once it is revealed loses some of its initial menace, but having said that, we are so invested in Jenn’s plight by this point that any slight flaw is forgivable.
We’ve seen tales of survival before but Sweetheart stares at typical concepts in the face and delivers a gritty and alternate take that peppers along at a decent pace with a solid performance from Clemons to keep us grounded.
If you’re looking for an entertaining journey to while away your isolation, this could feel some time without disappointments
A fun little movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously..
The Invisible Man brought the fear of the unknown to the forefront.
Playing harmoniously with the horror classic first seen on the big screen back in 1933, The Invisible Man involves many untapped elements of what scares everyone. Forget “there is someone walking behind you”, or that sound that suggests someone is next to you, what if they were right in front of you. It’s haunting enough to make you watch your every step but to couple that with an obsessed, abusive ex who is known for his manipulative gaslighting and violent rage, this quickly becomes a great narrative, if only the trailer didn’t reveal everything! AGAIN! I saw an awful cut of the new James Bond movie on television one night, and it looked bland and awful but then saw another trailer for it in the cinema and it looked like it has a great, engaging story. I was already halfway through the plot in my head, waiting for the movie to catch up, and it did just over halfway through the film.
Fantastic performances by the cast who all lead a stoic role in aid to the plot. I like the way films aren’t shying away from the kind of traumatic scares like in the recent Doctor Sleep and in this film, which were obviously showing off what the visual effects department could pull off.
I feel like this is one that can be enjoyed by all, there is an ambiguity that lends to the possibility of multiple outlooks regarding events and perspective, coupled with the intriguing use of technology and optics.
It was great to see the NSW funding in the credits
It’s a great movie to watch on a first date! Just try and avoid the trailer before you see it but yeah definitely one for date night.
100 years ago the Roaring Twenties came into effect with a social and economic boom that pushed the boundaries of experimentation and exploration dubbing it the crazy years.
Cinema has evolved greatly during this time and spawned Robert Miene’s silent horror in German Expressionism, which is still considered a classic among some critics.
While the tides have shifted and the boundaries of what is classified as horror has twisted through the years, moving numerous debates and discussions along the way, we come to a time when originality can be hard to come by, or perhaps the audience has become too critical and our perceptions have changed.
Can the films of today cause a deeper development in the genre that we’ve come to love and like the films that were born a century ago stir the insanity again and break new ground in the process?
Let’s look at what 2020 has in store and see if indeed it will deliver.
This film has led some early reports to compare it to Alien but in the ocean deep instead of the far reaches of space. It does boast Kristen Stewart in the cast who may divide audiences and has been a bit hit and miss of late in her film choices but she is supported in this instance by Vincent Cassel, who is known for choosing experimental films. Does this then mean that this team of underwater researchers will uncover not only a few beasties but also break new ground in the process?
Prediction: Neither sink or swim. A drifter that will entertain some but not cast anything new into the cinematic landscape.
Jan 24 – The Turning
Based on Henry James novel, The Turn of the Screw and produced by Steven Spielberg, it stars Mackenzie Davis (Terminator: Dark Fate) and Finn “Can my hair grow any longer?” Wolfhard (Stranger Things) and bears close scrutiny as director Mike Flanagan (Doctor Sleep) is set to release an interpretation of the novel in Netflix series, The Haunting of Bly Manor, his follow up to the successful The Haunting of Hill House.
Prediction: Director Floria Sigismondi will no doubt bring some artistic visual flair that is evidence from her music videos, but could possibly fall foul of “popcorn syndrome” – Light, fluffy with a bit of crunch and serves the masses, but ultimately has no substance.
Initially I was really excited about this release, being a fan of the Ju On franchise, plus Nicolas Pesce’s work with The Eyes of My Mother, and Piercing. Both movies have pushed the boundaries of comfort and shot in stylistic fashion that I was keen to see where Pesce would take The Grudge. Early reports haven’t been favourable however, so it could be another disappointment in the first month of the new decade.
Prediction: Could be another franchise instalment too many. The name alone will pull in the numbers, yet may not hit the mark on the scare front.
Jan 31 – Gretel and Hansel
It’s been over 200 years since The Brothers Grimm fashioned the fairy tale about a cannibalistic witch that kidnaps two children roaming in the woods. The fact that it is still resonates today is a testament to the strength of the storytelling and it will be interesting to see the story told from the perspective of Gretel played by Sophia Lillis (IT) who has already proved compelling as the young Beverly Marsh.
Prediction: Better than your average fair without necessarily offering anything new or compelling with the horror genre.
Some may argue its place in this list, but it is billed as a psychological horror and director Robert Eggers has already made a name for himself in the artistic expressionism world within the genre with his debut feature, The VVitch, a film that also divided audiences. American audiences have already seen the movie too as it was released there last year, but as yet Australian audiences are still to see Eggers’ sophomore outing which pits Willem Defoe and Robert Pattinson against one another in a battle of wills and sanity in a remote and confined island.
Prediction: Will wow audiences looking for the alternative and alienate those more into the mainstream. Either way, both audiences will applaud the performances and Eggers and cinematographer Jarin Blaschke will paint a stunningly beautiful canvas.
Feb 13 – Fantasy Island
Blumhouse Productions are about to shake things up again by breathing new life into a cult 70s tv series. With a star-studded cast – Michael Pena (Crash), Maggie Q (Nikita), Lucy Hale (Pretty Little Liars), and Michael Rooker (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer). On an island where your fantasies come true, only to turn into nightmares and the guests must figure out its mystery in order to survive.
Prediction: Another success for Jason Blum and the team which will connect with the cinema-going public. If it’s played right, it could offer a fresh take using a blend of fantasy and horror that could also spark a franchise
Feb 21 – Brahms: The Boy ll
This one is a bit of an oddity. Whilst its predecessor was a middle of the road affair and proved to be better than expected. It did feel like a one-off movie that didn’t necessarily warrant any further journey into the world of Brahms. A sequel is here though and will pick up with the doll being discovered by another family.
Prediction: A flop that will fall by the wayside and may not even make a blip on the radar.
Feb 27 – The Invisible Man
Another Blumhouse movie, this time in collaboration with Universal to resurrect their monsters franchise after the abysmal Tom Cruise vehicle from a few years ago. In what is potentially a ripe and current topic being explored in domestic violence as its central theme The Invisible Man boasts a cracking cast with Elisabeth Moss taking lead duties. It’s also in great hands with director Leigh Whannel steering the ship following his successful movie Upgrade from last year, plus Whannel is a storyteller, so expect a decent script to boot.
Prediction: The first big success of the year bringing the Universal monsters franchise back on track and paving the way for future projects with The Bride, Renfeld, The Invisible Woman, and Frankenstein.
Mar 20 – A Quiet Place Part 2
The question is whether director John Krasiniski can repeat the winning formula from the first movie. This War of the Worlds style feature with an audio twist is more sci-fi than horror, but with the family in plight scenario held a strong connection with the audience. How will this translate now that there is an absent father?
Prediction: Cillian Murphy will provide some much needed gravitas to the narrative which will be strong enough to lift the audience through with some decent ups and downs to wrench up the tension.
Apr 3 – The New Mutants
Since Disney took over Marvel operations, The New Mutants has been stuck in production, deemed a little dark for the House of Mouse questioning how to distribute it. The feature comes across as The Dream Warriors crossed with the X-Men and centres on 5 young mutants held in a secret facility against their will. It also boasts a cracking cast with Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones), Anya Taylor-Joy (The VVitch, Split), and Charlie Heaton (Stranger Things).
Prediction: Despite several delays I feel that this film is gonna connect in a big way and pull in a lot of people. It just depends on how dark Disney are willing to go with it.
Apr 17 – Antlers
Little is known about this movie other than it is based on a short story by Nick Antosca the creative mind behind the Channel Zero anthology series. The screenplay must have some potential to have caught the eye of Guillermo Del Toro and put his name down as producer.
Prediction: With Keri Russell in the cast to provide the fantasy elements in reality, this could well be the surprise hit of the year.
May 15 – Saw reboot
Currently titled The Organ Donor starring Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson and Max Minghella this reboot of the Saw franchise will see the return of the Jigsaw Killer, but without Tobin Bell… I think? With director Darren Lynn Bousman at the helm once more following his turn overseeing parts 2-4, he is no stranger to the world.
Prediction: Will put bums on seats for the shock gore factor alone, but will the buddy cop drama approach pay off? Time will tell.
Jun 11 – Candyman
This is gonna be a tough one to watch for me as I am such a huge fan of the original movie and like Freddy, Candyman would haunt my dreams for a long time after viewing. A lot of that has to do with the strength of Clive Barker’s short story coupled with Tony Todd’s personification of the titular character. Part of me is willing for this to be a success though as I can see room for the movie to be delivered to a modern audience using folklore and mythology at its core, and the storyline itself can transcend easily through the ages. It will be interesting to see a female perspective in director Nia DaCosta to follow Helen’s journalistic investigations.
Prediction: Jordan Peele has attached his name to this project and is clearly passionate about the story, but one can’t help but feel this is one step too far in rekindling the old flame that resides within the Candyman story.
Jul 2 – Ghostbuster: Afterlife
I know it’s technically not a horror film, but I’m including this in the mix for its nostalgic value in me the original movie paved the love of horror that I have and opened the door to many more glorious visions in the genre ever since. The original team will return in some shape or form, but primarily the film centres around a mother and her two children who set up on a farm only to discover something paranormal lurking in the town.
Prediction: Another film that will be resting on the merits of the first film, and while it’s great to see Jason Reitman take on the franchise following in his father’s footsteps, one can only hope that there will be enough comedy, horror and sci-fi to capture that old magic, but I think it will just be a glimmer rather than that sparkle.
Jul 10 – The Purge 5
Supposedly returning for the final instalment the 12 hour no holds-barred, crimefest ignited something in the movie-going audience. It has seen five feature length instalments and 2 seasons.
Prediction: More of the same, so if you’re a fan of the series, you’ll love it. I for one think the films are fun and enjoyable and it will be interesting to see how James DiMonaco will conclude things.
Jul 30 – Morbius
Sony has promised to take the Marvel universe into dark territory before with Venom and here they intend to do so again with Morbius, the Living Vampire. Jared Leto will no doubt bring the goods for the titular role and is in good company with Matt Smith, Jared Leto, and Tyrese Gibson.
Prediction: Director Daniel Espinosa provides great entertaining and solid movies, such as Safe House and Life, and I see no change here to his formula, but still question if they can go dark enough to make it compelling for horror fans.
Sep 11 – The Conjuring 3 aka The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It
The Conjuring universe has progressed in leaps and bounds since its initial release in 2013. There has been the odd blips, but essentially the films continue to entertain and scare audiences. This latest film will once again see the Warrens at the centre of proceedings, this time with one of their most publicised cases that bore witness to Arne Cheyenne Johnson claiming that he was possessed when he murdered.
Prediction: Solid acting, tight storyline, but may fall down with its delivery and exposition. Unfortunately Director Michael Chaves didn’t deliver with The Curse of La Llorona, so I fear that this may end up in a similar way, but am still willing to give it a chance.
Sep 17 – Last Night In Soho
Not much known about this one, but Edgar Wright has a knack for tapping the pulse of classic films and adapting their essence for a modern audience. This time around the psychological horror is inspired by Don’t Look Now and Polanski’s Repulsion both high in my all-time favourite lists
Prediction: A killer cast in Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Diana Rigg, and Terence Stamp, this could be the ‘big hit’ of the year.
Oct 15 – Halloween Kills
In 2018, David Gordon Green, Danny McBride and Jason Blum attempted the impossible, the resurrection of Michael Myers that would connect both fans of the original and connect with a new audience. By delving into the subject of trauma and the impact that this has on its victims, Myers became both topical and harrowing. His sheer brutality and the force in which he attacks his victims made his carnage all the more disturbing.
Prediction: The name and sheer presence of Myers will bring the audience to the screens, but can they still make him relevant? They can’t rest on the nostalgic nods this time around. It’s a fine line to walk on, for if they get it wrong, they could find their final instalment, Halloween Ends a tricky sell.
TBC – Army of the Dead
For sheer shits and giggles, and action-pumped mayhem from visual storyteller Zack Snyder, about a group of mercenaries who decide to rob a casino during a zombie outbreak, this film concludes our list.
Prediction: Starring Dave Bautista, Army of the Dead will be entertaining if nothing else. A perfect answer for those just wanting to get their kicks and not have to think too deeply.
“Tis the season to get rebooted, fa la-la la la la la la, No!”
This year, in our stocking, we got a modern day retelling of the 1974 horror/thriller Black Christmas, a classic of horror suspense about a hostile murderer hiding somewhere within the dorm of a university terrorising the group of young women living there.
Where as the 1974 original had an eerie feel with its point of view shots from the killers perspective, creepy phone calls from inside the house and a genuine sense of fear, this years remake/reboot/whatever plays out more like a student film with a bigger budget. Everything that made the original appealing and unique is stripped away and replaced with obvious setups (from the opening shots) and even more blatant star characters who you just know will be the antagonist. It’s set up to be a story about toxic masculinity and institutional indoctrination of their traditions, something succinctly put by Rick and Morty “Scientifically; traditions are a stupid thing.”
The film sets up a hidden society of male elitist pricks who are using black eye gunk magic to possess new recruits to their cult, of elitist pricks, most of these men being athletically inclined and spout the word “bitch” comically often. My main gripe, among so many others, was the final confrontation; The protagonist is about to die at the hands of said pricks when suddenly a group of her female friends burst through the door armed with bow and arrow and other useless shit and commence a big ol arse whoopin… I remind you that said pricks are jocks and possessed by black eye gunk magic. Putting the main characters in such an implausible position infuriated me as you only insult the position you are trying to emulate if there is no justification for their capability. In the original we didn’t know who the murder was, in this version we see Cary Elwes and know he’s gonna be the bad guy.
The modern telling of Black Christmas focuses on ‘toxic masculinity’ within colleges and educational institutions but also with black magic. The story of a female student who had been sexually assaulted by a male student and not taken seriously is told sympathetically and drives the story quite well. Finding her confidence to continue living her life among the constant slander from other students was the route that worked in this film. There was no need to include black eye gunk magic and a brawl of men vs women in the climax of the film.
If I had a choice twixt the two I would be watching the original over the new version which could have a better if you cut out the last 20 minutes.
A shame too as it had some really good messages that could have been more profound without the supernatural elements or the obvious disdain for men.
Ten years ago Blumhouse Productions took centre stage on the horror scene when they released what would become a cult classic, Paranormal Activity. Since then, they have become masters of their craft, tapping into the teenage pulses with the Insidious franchise, Sinister, the Purgefranchise, Happy Death Day, Upgrade, and the latest Halloween movie to name just a few of their hits.
With every win though, there have also been some failures. Personally, Unfriended, The Gallows, and The Darkness are all questionable, but some could argue that in order to stay relevant then Blumhouse can’t always have a 100% success rate. There have to be a few trips along the way as they continue to learn and create new ways to fright and delight.
So where does that leave MA? Released in the States back in May, and with a fairly average Box Office return, the rest of the world would have to wait for the On Demand release which wouldn’t come about until September this year. All this doesn’t bode well and deserves closer scrutiny as to why MA failed to resonate with its audience.
Firstly, let’s look at its strengths, or in this case its one redeeming feature: Octavia Spencer. There’s good reason that she has had three Academy Award nominations and one win to her name and thanks to her talents, the audience is able to stick with this film longer than its weak plot line deserves.
Octavia plays Sue Ann, a local vet who is extends a hand to a group of teenagers looking to buy some booze. “When Sue Ann obliges, the group are beside themselves by there’s more to the pleasant exterior, and Sue Ann slowly reveals her true methods in quite possibly the longest revenge act in history. Hell she waited a whole generation. It’s a shame as with a bit more effort and attention to detail with some depth of character, we may have ended up with a fairly decent thriller. It doesn’t matter how deep Octavia channels her inner psycho, there’s only so much acting chops to dish out before the audience realises that she’s hauling around a cadaver of a script.
The teenagers themselves are incredibly week and two dimensional, with Maggie – new girl to the neighbourhood and our lead protagonist seemingly the only one to see through Sue Ann’s facade. By which time, we couldn’t really care less and when the film tries to let everything off at the hinges, most audience members would have already bolted out of the door or stopped streaming by this point. The actions are tiresome and in some places laughable that we really don’t give a damn what happens anymore.
It does boast a couple of decent supporting roles in brooding Luke Ford as one of the kids fathers, Alison Janney as a grumpy boss, and Juliette Lewis as Maggie’s mother and potentially the second decent thing about this movie. You feel for her plight as a single mother trying to make ends meet and resorting to coming back to her home town despite trying to break free from her old shackles. And hey, it’s Juliette Lewis God Damn It! This lady is always a pleasure to watch.
Octavia Spencer steals the show as the unhinged Ma, but all that’s left behind is dead weight and a poor plot line. This has to go down as a misfire from the Blumhouse canon of work.
Here at the Surgeons School of Horror there
are some key elements that make up a good sequel.
It stays faithful to what was
set up in (the spirit of) the original.
It offers something new that
adds to the original. It needs to feel right and makes you say, “Yeah, that
fits!” without contradicting it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.