Crafted from the short novel by Joe Hill (Horns), The Black Phone has been given the feature length treatment from a screenplay by Scott Derrickson and C. Thomas Cargill. The novel itself is only 45 pages long, but the writing duo manage to expand on this to produce a descent film that embellishes the characters on display with great success/.
Derrickson (Sinister, The Exorcism of Emily Rose) also takes on directing duries and with this weighty script, manages to accentuate some cracking performances from his lead cast, two of whom are child actors. It is an area often remarked as problematic when working with young actors, primarily in capturing natural performances, but Derrickson shows no such obstacles in the final product.
Mason Thames deserves high praise for his portrayal of 13 year old Finney; a boy who falls into the shadows of American suburbia, often bullied reducing his frame further still. Finney isn’t completely invisible though, and there are those who are aware of his kind-hearted nature. Chief among them is his sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw, another fine performance) who also has a supernatural and psychic gift. She is even more than a one note mystique though as Gwen is a strong, defiant, physical and yet comical character, providing Finney with the crutch he so needs to survive. The question is whether he can survive when Gwen is not physically there to support him. Their relationship and this paranormal link between the siblings is integral to the movie, championing their individual strengths and providing the heart of the film, which beats steady and strong throughout hte narrative.
Once Derrickson spends quality time in allowing the audience to identify and connect with these characters, including a overbearing, drunk father (Jeremy Davies) who is struggling with his own demons, the rug is pulled from under our feet, as swiftly as Mason is swept into the back of a black van by child serial killer nicknamed The Grabber (Ethan Hawke) disguised as a part time clown. There are indicators here that Finney isn’t going to go quietly however, as he manages to cut The Grabber’s arm with a toy rocket.
Hawke is magnificently haunting as the antagonist, pulting out all the stops in making The Grabber a menacing figure. This is further supported by the manner in which he hides for the majority of the movie behind a sinister mask, designed by the great Tom Savini. Underneath his guise, he also harbours a fractured personality; a combination of sombre, playful and destructiive. This range needs to be in the hands of a master for the threat to have any nearing on Finney, and Hawke plays the fearful tune with heartfelt integrity.
When Finney awakens, he finds himself in a soundproofed basement, with just a mattress, a toilet, and the titular black phone. The master stroke to the narrative is through the twist in the tale. This is not a straight forward drama, but one firmly entrenched in a spiritual nature, as Finney soon learns that he is not alone in the basement, but is accompanied by the presence of The Grabber’s child victims. One by one, they make themselves known to Finney, providing him with the ammunition he may need to overpower his kidnapper, and maybe, just maybe win his freedom along the way.
This journey is filled with tension and hope, a balance that Derrickson flicks the audience between, sometimes with some much-need humour to juxtapose the weight of the situation. It is this dalliance that is Derrickson’s gift, keeping his audience hooked until the end.
Scott Derrickson once again proves to be a master of the macabre in his latest outing. In weaving together a spiritual tale about finding your inner strength in order to overcome aversity, with some incredible performances from its lead cast, he has produced one of the greatest films of the year.
So it comes to pass that the Blumhouse team attempt to breathe new life and awaken the magic that stirred genre-movie fans of yester-year whilst rekindling a whole new generation into the fold.
It’s a move they’ve done on several occasions now and more often than not their trick has succeeded. Whether it’s a straight up sequel/reboot such as Halloween, The Invisible Man or a reinvention of comedy gold with Happy Death Day or Freaky.
Among the successes there have been some misfires though. Notably the recent releases of Black Christmas and Fantasy Island. Despite this, Blumhouse continues to pull in the numbers and attract new blood into the folds of teen horror. So it’s no surprise that they should turn their attention to mid-nineties movie The Craft, which similarly tapped into the pulse of the young generation at the time and formed a cult status in the process. What’s more, the promise of a female coven of witches would similarly create further space into a story presented with a female gaze. The film itself, much like it’s namesake, would follow a teenage girl, in this case Lily (Cailee Spaeny) moving into a new school and feeling cast as an outsider only to form a friendship with three other misfits (Frankie, Tabby, and Lourdes) igniting their inner witchery, beginning with the power of telekinesis. As the rest of the film unfolds, it soon becomes apparent that they may have pushed things too far. There is further promise too as the momentum builds around a domineering paternal figure, Adam (a welcome performance from David Duchovny) who lords over his three sons and Lily’s mother Helen (Michelle Monaghan). So, it’s a shame that it falls short of this potential and fails to build on the shoulders of its predecessor. It could so easily lend itself to a tale of womanhood and an awakening of empowerment but instead the creative team feel content with a middle of the road narrative that is all sparkle and no shine.
There are some moments of glimmer in the performances, especially from Spaeny, who more than captivates in her lead role, but without that extra attention of plot and character development, The Craft: Legacy drifts away from the sphere of its audience’s attention.
A chance squandered to rejuvenate the tale of young witches coming into their own. We’re presented with a half-baked potion that never really lands with its delivery, coasting on the tailcoats of the original film and sadly lacking in any atmosphere or charm.
It’s only saving grace comes in the final scene with a wonderful nod to its predecessor, but by then, it’s all too little too late.
Once again director Christopher Landon proves his mark in the realm of teen slasher horror. Whilst Happy Death Day had its faults, Landon struck a vibe with the new generation of horror fans by taking a classic comedy film ala Groundhog Day and adding a slasher twist. The success proved such a success in collaboration with Blumhouse, a production company that have excelled in recent years tapping into the horror genre with great success, that would go on to produce an equally profitable sequel. Proving that the formula works to reinvent family-friendly comedies of yester-year, Landon hits his stride with the twist on body swap sub-genre and the Freaky Friday film, this time around seeing teen protagonist Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton – Supernatural) switching bodies with a serial killer, The Blissfield Butcher (a surprisingly good Vince Vaughn).
Landon’s language on screen has also come into his own as he projects great energy with his admittedly one-dimensional characters, (if there is one criticism to be held, it’s definitely here) but it’s the way Landon plays with these characters within his realm with the number one aim to have fun with it. I can not stress how much Freaky owns the comedy element, knocking around familiar concepts in the genre with some cracking nods along the way, notably Halloween and Friday the 13th franchises respectively and sure fire proof that Landon knows his craft.
What surprised me about this film was how the ‘camp’ elements played in favour of its narrative, which so easily could have bent in the wrong direction, tipping into painful territory, but manages to keep that balance in check. This also allows for some decent heartfelt moments especially for Vaughn to chew his teeth into and adding some nice beats in the more quiet moments in the film.
There are also some cracking gore moments to keep the horror enthusiasts thirst for on-screen blood satiated. It may not go dark enough to some, but to do so would be detrimental to the humour component that Landon was striving for.
This is a fun, enjoyable ride that does exactly what it says on the tin.
Landon excels in this environment, playing with the genre concepts with glee and producing a cracker movie filled with great energy and plenty of gore whilst keeping his finger on the pulse.
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.
A little over a year ago now Mercy Black was released on Netflix without any notification and little fanfare, and in doing so, remarkably, it sparked the intrigue of an audience eager to lap up new media from a company that was seriously threatening the “standard” format of film distribution (or so some would have you believe). Equally shedding light on the movie was that it was produced by Blumhouse Productions, a company who by now have more than proved that they are capable of knocking out some hard-hitting and engaging horror. Fast forward to present day though, and it isn’t even listed under the Netflix viewing. My surgical senses are tingling that we may be staring at a movie that didn’t hit its mark, but I’m a glutton for punishment and will always find myself delving into the genre for a taste of the unknown, even if I may regret those actions.
It didn’t take me long to find out that I should have taken heed of my reservations.
Mercy Black paves the story of Marina, who as a young girl stabbed a fellow classmate, supposedly as a sacrifice to awaken a ghost so that she could cure her mother’s illness. All of this is told through the use of a series of flashbacks as a device for the audience to piece together. Unfortunately, this just muddles the impact that this supposed apparition has and fails to haunt or scare.
What is perhaps more troubling is that we pick up the story some 15 years after the incident took place, learning that Marina has been in a psychiatric facility. Now released back into the general population, she moves back into her old home with her sister, Alice and her nephew, Bryce. I mean.you gotta have some quirky kid in there right?
The rest of the movie follows Marina attempting to settle back into a lifestyle and community that are only too aware of the story behind Mercy Black and how the mythology has bled beyond the folklore and into the ‘known’ world. Marina continuously questions where her illusions end and reality begins and we as an audience are supposed to be content in being taken along for the ride and the dots are all too familiar and obvious to resonate.
Definitely should have trusted my instincts.
Mercy Black is simply lazy writing and rests on tried and tested scares that are all too obvious.
It’s the same as there is a kernel of horror embedded deep in the true stories that inspired director Owen Egerton, but he gets lost in the formula rather than produce the unnerving and disturbing imagery from the child killer origins. Sometimes real life can be just as horrific and mind-bending at the depths that humanity can go to. For me the true psychology comes from how messed up that would leave someone and I would have loved to have seen them go there in the storytelling.
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.
“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.