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Horror, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment


In 2017 Jordan Peele, an actor known primarily for his goofy, over-the-top characters on comedy show, Key & Peele, shocked the world with his directorial debut, Get Out. The deeply allegorical horror flick, replete with lashings of social commentary and wit, was an assured and confident effort showcasing a genuine and abiding love of genre cinema. It was also an enormous hit, pretty much guaranteeing Peele’s second film would be much anticipated and extensively scrutinised. Well, Peele’s sophomore effort, Us, is here and… wow, this film is a lot. Like, a whole lot, hey.

In its set up, Us seems, at first at least, to be a pretty traditional horror flick. Our hero family are the Wilsons, comprising mum, dad, daughter and son, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), Gabriel (Winston Duke), Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex). The Wilsons are heading to their family holiday house in Santa Cruz, where they intend to chill on the beach, relax a little and hang out with their vaguely awful friends, Kitty (Elisabeth Moss) and Josh (Tim Heidecker). It should be a relaxing time but Adelaide, haunted by strange, half-remembered events from her childhood, has a feeling something bad is about to happen. And then, one late night, a family appears at the end of their driveway and everything goes to hell.

Get Out, for all its layers of subtext, was at its core a very simple film. It was a genre flick about race and class inequality, a ’70s throwback that the Honest Trailers crew hilariously (and accurately) dubbed “The Stepford Whites”. Us defies such easy definition, which causes the film to linger long in your memory but offers less immediate satisfaction. You may have gathered from the trailers that this is a movie about “scary doppelgangers”, which is not inaccurate as such, however it’s barely a fraction of the story and honestly we’d rather not spoil anything further.

Suffice to say, Us is an extraordinary film that is buoyed further by extraordinary performances. Lupita Nyong’o, pulling double duty like most of the cast, offers two utterly transformative characterisations. Remember last year when the right-thinking parts of the world (excluding the Academy and their tedious genre snobbery) were blown away by Toni Collette’s performance in Hereditary? This year, it’s Lupita’s turn because she is deadset electrifying. The rest of the cast do well too, with Shahadi Wright Joseph giving a particularly chilling turn and Elisabeth Moss moving outside of her various comfort zones.

Ultimately though, Us is a director’s film and Peele’s confident, textured style carries this movie through some of its more flummoxing moments. And make no mistake, this gets weird, offering staggering, M. Night Shyamalan-esque twists and reveals with occasionally dizzying disregard for audience comfort. Us goes big and it’s not afraid to leave you behind when it does so, bursting at the seams with more ideas than it can deal with completely satisfactorily. And yet, it’s because of this surplus of big concepts that makes Us so unforgettable, the kind of film where the audience surges into the foyer afterwards exchanging thoughts and theories with a kind of giddy, excited confusion; like they’re trying to parse meaning from a particularly vivid dream.

Us is probably not going to be for everyone and it’s not really trying to be. Frequently tense, often funny, occasionally profoundly bizarre and ultimately a bit mystifying, it’s a truly original genre film that is unafraid to embrace big ideas and epic weirdness. If that sounds like your jam, you should run, not walk, to this jaw dropping flick. Be warned, though, this is the kind of film that could leave you feeling extremely… untethered.

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Pet Sematary

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In 1983, writer Stephen King published Pet Sematary, a pitch-black examination of grief hidden inside a fairly trashy horror novel featuring a zombie cat. In 1989, director Mary Lambert released a surprisingly faithful adaptation of the same, a quality flick that was let down by some ropey acting and moments of general ‘80s hokiness. Still, much like the source material, something of the dark and pervasive subtext shone through and made the film an uncomfortable watch, in a good way.

What with the current cinematic Stephen King renaissance, it’s no shock that Hollywood would eventually dig up Pet Sematary. In fact, the biggest surprise is that it’s taken this long. Enter Pet Sematary (2019), brought to us by directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer, the duo responsible for indie horror darling, Starry Eyes (2014).

The story setup remains pretty much unchanged from the novel/original film. The Creed family, comprising father Louis (Jason Clarke), mother Rachel (Amy Seimetz), daughter Ellie (Jete Laurence), infant son Gage (Hugo and Lucas Lavoie) and cat Church (various felines), have moved from Boston to the sleepy little town of Ludlow, Maine. In their new digs the family find they have an agreeable old man neighbour, Jud Crandall (John Lithgow) and a “Pet Sematary” in their backyard, where local kids bury their beloved deceased animal friends. Of course, there’s something even further in the woods, an ancient burial ground where things are said to return from death, but the Creeds need not worry about that. Until, that is, Church is killed and what a pity it would be if Ellie were sad about that…

For most of its runtime, Pet Sematary is an effective, albeit slightly redundant remake, going through similar motions to the original while offering better acting and more focused direction. However, in the third act the script goes rogue, abandoning most of King’s story beats, and pursuing a direction that is initially intriguing but ultimately a wee bit empty, even silly.

See, the book and original film, for all their respective flaws, had a great monster at the core: and that monster was grief. The entire point of the book was that grief unmakes us, tears away everything that matters and leave us as desperate, insane and unbearably alive. It’s why the actions of Louis in the original incarnations are so strong and desperately sad in their tragic inevitability.

Horror remakes are a dime a dozen, but that doesn’t mean they’re inherently bad. John Carpenter’s 1982 remake of The Thing introduced the concept of paranoia and distrust. David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake of The Fly introduced body horror and “insect politics”. The 2019 version of Pet Sematary introduces some surprises but ultimately feels like a series of effective scenes in search of an overarching theme.

Pet Sematary is a well-made, well-acted horror film that will likely delight younger fans who haven’t read many (or any) Stephen King novels and haven’t seen the 1989 original. It’s a pity, however, that the talented directors didn’t dig a little deeper into the material and unearth something authentically disturbing to amp up the horror for modern audiences.

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The Night Eats the World

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The zombie genre has become such an overused cliche that it’s even a cliche to talk about what a cliche it is, so we’ll spare you to the usual spiel. Point is, if you’re going to release a zombie flick in the year of our Dark Lord 2019, you’d better be bringing something fresh, unique and interesting to the table. Happily, The Night Eats the World manages at least a couple of those accolades and is an effective slice of genre filmmaking in its own right.

The Night Eats the World tells the tale of Sam (Anders Danielsen Lie), a vaguely misanthropic musician who is reluctantly visiting his ex-girlfriend, Fanny (Sigrid Bouaziz) to retrieve some audio tapes he left with her. However, when he arrives there is a party in full swing and Sam, unable to get Fanny alone, retreats to a backroom and passes out. During the night chaos reigns and when Sam wakes up the next day, he faces a world that has completely changed, and the surprisingly spry dead are frenziedly feeding on the flesh of the living.

Anyone who has seen 28 Days Later, Dawn of the Dead (1978 or 2004) or even Shaun of the Dead (or about six hundred others) will be familiar with the basic setup here. Where Night sets itself apart is through tone and perspective, which in this case is very French. Sam is a compelling protagonist, who reacts to most situations with an appealing sense of practicality, but he’s also troubled and possibly mentally unstable. This volatile mix adds a unique sense of tension to the proceedings, where we’re never sure how much to trust Sam’s perspective. The zombies, too, feel quite fresh, standing stationary until they see or hear something and then moving nightmarishly fast, similar to the Aussie undead in Cargo, but also completely silent; with nary a groan of a hiss to be heard from them. Combined with very little dialogue throughout the film, this imbues the movie with a curious sonic minimalism which is oddly effective and extremely creepy.

Ultimately, The Night Eats the World plays out like a French indie I Am Legend, with lashings of 28 Days Later-style fast paced action and surprising moments of existential rumination. It’s confidently directed by Dominique Rocher, extremely effectively acted by Anders Danielsen Lie and reminds even the most zombie agnostic why there’s still twitchy, toothy life left in this versatile sub-genre.

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Watch the first episode of Welcome to Daisyland

Starring Pepi Sonuga (Ash vs Evil Dead) as the temptress and ringmaster Daisy, with Jessica Amlee (Heartland), Tru Collins (Insecure), Kellan Rhude (The Axe Murders of Villisca), Aaron Groben (Face Off), Jarrett Sleeper (Stranger Than Fiction), George Todd McLachlan (Josie) and Sam Aotaki in support, and music and orchestration by hard rock outfit The Dead Daisies.
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Happy Death Day 2U

Horror, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

2017’s Happy Death Day was a fun, albeit flawed, genre romp from director Christopher Landon. Featuring the wonderful high concept pitch, “it’s Groundhog Day meets Scream”, the movie benefited from an extremely polished script and an absolutely stellar performance by Jessica Rothe. The film went on to do shockingly well at the box office so a sequel was inevitable, but it’s difficult to grasp what exactly they were going for with Happy Death Day 2U.

Happy Death Day 2U begins promisingly enough. We’re reintroduced to the time loop concept through Ryan Phan (Phi Vu), who finds himself in a situation similar to that of Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) in the first film. Through the zappy, obnoxious dialogue, lip service is paid to the multiverse, alternate realities and a number of intriguing sci-fi concepts. However, just when things are about to get interesting the movie shifts back to Tree’s point of view and becomes a fairly standard rehash of the first one, although this time set in an alternate dimension.

Tree’s journey in the first film was fun because she was a legitimately terrible person and watching her suffer was amusing. In the sequel, however, she’s lost her edge and apart from one pretty hilarious suicide montage the story lacks the calculated lunacy of the previous entry. Worse still, the slasher movie conceit has been all but abandoned, which leaves the central whodunnit mystery a thin and unsatisfying concoction. This wouldn’t be so bad had the new additions worked, but a streak of dumb, broad comedy (replete with zany French accents of all bloody things) has replaced the stabby shenanigans. Oh, and remember the sentimental claptrap from the first film? Well, it’s returned threefold and is truly painful.

On the upside Jessica Rothe is still fantastic, and honestly deserves to be in a better film than this one. She fully commits to every moment – even the wretchedly mawkish ones – and is a delight. The support cast are mostly fine, with the science nerds providing some chuckles, but it’s all in service of a script that seems unsure of what it wants to be and consequently ends up being a whole lot of noisy nothing.

Hardcore but undiscerning fans of the first film might find something to enjoy here, but the rest of you are probably better off skipping Happy Death Day 2U and staying in to watch Russian Doll instead.