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Crawl

Horror, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Alexandre Aja’s first real impact on the world of cinema was 2003’s High Tension, a visceral nail-biting thriller (saddled with a desperately stupid ending) that was part of the so-called New French Extremity movement. Since then, Aja’s output has been a little uneven. There have been good moments like 2006’s The Hills Have Eyes remake, and 2010’s Piranha 3D was a lot of gory, goofy fun, however 2013’s Horns was a bit of a mess. Crawl seeks to make Aja’s name synonymous with solid genre gear once again and does a pretty decent job of it, actually.

Crawl tells the tale of Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario), an aspiring professional swimmer with severe, mostly unexpressed, issues with her father, Dave (Barry Pepper). After being unable to contact her father, Haley pays him a visit in the old family home during a severe hurricane. She finds her dad trapped in the basement by a vicious alligator or two, and the pair must work together to avoid being a tasty treat for the toothy mongrels. And that’s it, the entire premise. It’s nothing if not efficient.

Crawl hews closely to the “female protagonist with family issues vs beastly nature” template set by films like The Shallows, and while it’s not quite as solid as that flick, it’s an enjoyable swampy romp. Kaya Scodelario is an agreeable enough heroine and Barry Pepper is always a welcome presence, however it’s the increasingly silly/awesome set pieces that are the star of the show. Aja’s knack for setting up stylishly cruel sequences is on full display here, and as the water rises so do the stakes, leading to a balls-to-the-wheel climax that whimsically disregards any sense of credulity whatsoever and is all the more enjoyable for it.

At its core, Crawl is 87 minutes of lean, tense suspense with lashings of gore and frequent human stupidity. It does everything it claims on the tin and not a skerrick more, and armed with that knowledge it can be a lot of fun.

 
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Annabelle Comes Home

Horror, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Annabelle the doll first appeared in The Conjuring (2013) and was subsequently spun off into her own starring flick, Annabelle (2014). It was a powerfully awful film that nonetheless earned several dump trucks worth of cash, so a sequel (technically a prequel) was made, Annabelle: Creation (2017) and against all odds it was actually pretty bloody good. It also netted groaning sacks of filthy lucre, so naturally a third chapter, Annabelle Comes Home was spawned. So, does the old doll still have some new tricks? Actually, kinda yeah.

Annabelle Comes Home features an appearance by the Warrens, Ed and Lorraine (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga respectively) but they’re less an important plot element and more a reminder of the larger cinematic universe. No, the real story of ACH revolves around Judy Warren (Mckenna Grace) and her babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman), the latter of whom is looking after the former while the elder Warrens are away for the night. Judy and Mary Ellen are almost somnambulistically wholesome, so it’s a relief when Mary Ellen’s friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) pops over to liven them up. Daniela is dealing with the recent death of her father, so when she gets a quiet moment, she decides to have a look in the Warrens’ room of evil aka The Spin-Off Closet. Naturally a certain almost comically ugly doll catches her eye and, well, you can probably figure out where this is going.

The striking thing about Annabelle Comes Home is its distinct tone, which sets it apart from other Annabelle films and The Conjuring series as a whole. While recent spin-offs like The Nun (2018) and The Curse of the Weeping Woman (2019) have felt like dollar store Conjuring knock-offs, Annabelle Comes Home embraces its logical position as safe horror for pre-teens. It’s low stakes, death-free, goreless, giggly thrills, full of goofy jump scares, wide-eyed teenagers and CGI ghosties that wouldn’t look out of place in the next Goosebumps film.

Director Gary Dauberman is clearly having a hoot with this flick, and the young cast – particularly Katie Sarife and Mckenna Grace – do solid work here as well. Ultimately, Annabelle Comes Home is a film that knows what it is and performs accordingly. It certainly won’t be for horror aficionados looking for something that transcends genre boundaries, but is highly likely to be a much shrieked at classic of pre-teen slumber parties.

 
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Child’s Play

Horror, Review, Theatrical, This Week 1 Comment

The original Child’s Play first lurched onto screens in 1988, introducing the world to a Brad Dourif-voiced killer doll, Chucky, and a surprisingly solid horror franchise. Six sequels followed, of varying degrees of quality (the best arguably being 1990’s Child’s Play 2 and 1998’s Bride of Chucky) and creator Don Mancini is currently working on a TV series, Chucky, due sometime next year. It’s something of a surprise, then, that while the original creators bring the Chuckster to the small screen, a remake of the original film is hitting cinemas. All ethical considerations aside, it’s a very 2019 thing to happen. So, with that backstory established, is the new Child’s Play any chop? Or does the curse of extremely ordinary horror remakes – including but not limited to A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), Carrie (2013) and Poltergeist (2015) – continue? The answer is somewhere in the middle, because while Child’s Play 2019 has some enormous flaws, it’s also got its rough charms.

Child’s Play (2019) tells the story of Andy Barclay (Gabriel Bateman) and his single mother, Karen (Aubrey Plaza). Life isn’t exactly grand for the Barclays, as the pair have moved to a dodgy neighbourhood where Andy doesn’t know anyone, and would rather spend time on his phone than attempt to socialise. Karen, who works at the rather grim looking Zed Mart, decides to acquire a new Buddi doll, a wifi-connected toy that acts like an exceptionally ugly Amazon Echo, to try and bring Andy out of his funk. Surprisingly, it seems to work, because while the doll who calls himself “Chucky” is “for little kids” according to Andy, it’s also malfunctioning in frequently hilarious ways. Chucky imprints on Andy, and slowly begins to learn the moppet’s likes and frustrations. While Andy and his new mates watch (somewhat inexplicably) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) and laugh uproariously at the gore, Chucky seems to believe that Andy and chums actually like violence and wields a knife accordingly. Later, when Andy expresses his dislike for his mum’s boyfriend Shane (David Lewis), well, Chucky has a neat solution for that little problem too…

The biggest aspect that’s lacking in Child’s Play is, weirdly, Chucky himself. The newly designed doll is so unspeakably ugly that it’s simply not credible it would be a valued item on the market. Further to that, short of an intriguing prologue that seems to criticise the capitalist abuse of third world countries (that is swiftly abandoned), he has a maddeningly inconsistent agenda. While the original Chucky was actually the spirit of serial killer Charles Lee Ray attempting to use dark magic to possess a small boy and get out of the doll’s body, 2019 Chucky is a toy whose “evil switch” has been turned on, which is just not a terribly compelling narrative. Mark Hamill’s voice work as Chucky is fine, but never feels integrated to the extent of Brad Dourif’s standout turn in the original series. The relationship between Andy and Karen is a lot better here, however, with Aubrey Plaza bringing her trademark snark and wit to a role that could otherwise have been thankless and dull, and young Gabriel Bateman is one of about half a dozen kid actors who isn’t hideously annoying.

The direction by Lars Klevberg is mostly effective, but its in service of a script that feels somewhat unfocused and almost certainly heavily rewritten and reshot. That said, there is fun to be had here. The initial reaction of the kid characters to Chucky is genuinely funny, a couple of the kill scenes are extremely well-staged and there’s a decent amount of gore and stoner comedy to amuse anyone looking for some amiable trash.

Ultimately, it’s apt that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 features so heavily here, because that film was rather famously criticised for being much less effective than its predecessor, relying instead on excessive gore and goofy comedy. So it goes with Child’s Play 2019, it’s less effective than the original Child’s Play movies (the first two in particular) but still delivers 90 minutes of mostly enjoyable, albeit thematically empty, gore and giggles. One can’t help but feel, though, that it would have been nice if they’d set their heights just a little higher than “evil wifi”.

 
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Trailer: Daisy Ridley in Scrawl

With The Rise of Skywalker release around the corner, there's never been a better time to exploit Daisy Ridley's early supporting role in this 2015 made British horror.
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Here Comes Hell

Comedy, Festival, Horror, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Screened at Sydney Film Festival, in the Freak Me Out program strand, Here Comes Hell is a genre mash-up debut feature effort from UK Director Jack McHenry and co-writer Alice Sidgwick. Having worked on music videos and short films before this, McHenry shows confidence in his style. His previous short film, Dungeon of Vampire Nazis showcases his crew’s filmmaking style and passion for cinema, which also shines through in Here Comes Hell.

Hell does a great job of capturing an early cinema aesthetic by paying homage to classic filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock and William Castle. From the opening shot, the mood is set, when the audience is greeted by a man talking directly to camera and introducing the film. To top it off, it’s also filmed in black and white and presented in the boxed 4:3 format.

This film knows exactly what it is and uses all the classic tropes of ‘50s B movies while mashing it with other genre film styles. The actors crank their performances up to 11 and at no point are they, or the film, afraid to be cheesy. The accents are hammy and over the top, just like the performances. If you can imagine a ’50s B movie classic with the slapstick gore of Evil Dead, this is what Here Comes Hell delivers.

The plot is familiar and simple, an old haunted manor house with a group of young people playing around with the occult and opening up a gateway to hell. There are plenty of laughs and scares, as the guests have to put down their wine glasses and pick up weapons with every man (and woman) for themselves in a fight to make it out alive before dawn.

Even though the runtime is short, it does take what feels like a very long time to get into full swing. Like two completely different movies, for the first 35 minutes you’re watching a social drama and for the rest it’s a 1980s horror flick, complete with one liners and crash zooms. The film becomes more entertaining once the gates of hell have been opened but before that there isn’t enough to cling to; the film would have benefited from spending the first act fleshing out characters, and there are plot points that are hinted at but never fully explored, such as the intertwined past relationships between the guests.

Mixing practical and visual effects to achieve a look that is both pleasing to fans of genre and general audiences, the filmmakers have made their modest budget work, and the passion behind the project shows on screen.

With its cheesy dialogue, hammy accents and stereotypical characters, Here Comes Hell does everything short of wink directly to camera. It’s refreshing when a director knows the ins and outs of the genre he’s trying to recreate, and McHenry shows a lot of promise with his obvious love for cinema and knowledge of its clichés and techniques. Parody films usually have a paper-thin premise and a style that is not unique, but Here Comes Hell is thankfully one of the exceptions.

 
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Short Film of the Week: They Can’t Hear You

Tapping into the horror of Filicide, Luke Creely's ticking clock, one shot film screened at Monster Fest and has won several international film festival awards, including Best Director and Best Short at the Sicily International Film Festival. Kudos to the mise-en-scene.
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Brightburn

Horror, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

The story of Clark Kent is a tender one, and you almost certainly know it already. A child from another world lands on a small Kansas farm and is cared for and raised by a sweet, childless couple. They instill their values in the little tyke and years later he grows up to be the heroic metahuman known as Superman. But what if that kid hadn’t come from an essentially good place like Krypton, and what if that boy, when he grew older, had zero interest in using his powers for good? That is, essentially, the premise of Brightburn and it’s a beauty.

The childless couple in this case are Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle Breyer (David Denman), who live in the small town of Brightburn and raise young Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) as if he were their own flesh and blood. For twelve years things proceed beautifully. Brandon is a sweet kid, and appears normal in every way, but once puberty starts knocking at the door, things turn nasty fast. You think adolescence is rough with a normal kid, try that same journey with a sullen superpowered pre-teen!

Brightburn, produced by James Gunn and written by his brother Mark and cousin Brian, is very much a dark and violent “what if” story. And the notion of a young superhero as a budding serial killer is darkly ironic and appealingly subversive in a misanthropic sort of way. The cast do a solid job, with Elizabeth Banks giving a typically strong performance, and director David Yarovesky manages to keep the tension high and really delivers on the squirmy gore when needed. One sequence in particular involving ocular trauma will have even the stoutest of gorehounds wincing.

In fact, the only really flaw that can be levelled at Brightburn is that it doesn’t do much with the premise other than what’s on the tin. The story proceeds briskly, and sometimes very nastily, but it never really offers much in the way of big surprises or twists once the conceit has been established. Still, if you’ve had a gutful of hopeful heroic adventures, and crave something from the darker side of the genre, Brightburn offers a jet-black look at a bad seed with super powers. And you don’t need X-ray vision to see that this is one story that’s going to get super bloody.