In 1996, director Richard Stanley appeared to be on the edge of much-deserved mainstream success. After attaining a niche audience of fans with Hardware (1990) and Dust Devil (1992), Stanley booked his dream job: directing a big budget version of The Island of Dr. Moreau. What occurred during that shoot is far too complex to get into in any detail – and in fact forms the basis of the fascinating documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014) – but the short version is: Stanley got royally screwed by a number of factors and eventually fired from the production. After that bracing experience, Stanley stayed away from Hollywood in a kind of self-imposed artistic exile. However, 23 years after Moreau, Richard Stanley returns with an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s TheColor Out of Space, and the result is a solid addition to Lovecraftian cinema.
Color Out of Space focuses on the Gardner family, comprising dad Nathan (Nicolas Cage), mum Theresa (Joely Richardson), stoner son Benny (Brendan Meyer), witchy goth daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) and youngest Jack (Julian Hilliard). The family are pleasant, if slightly dysfunctional, but after a meteorite crashes in their backyard things begin to change in strange and alarming ways…
The Color Out of Space is a wonderful short story by Lovecraft, and possibly the tale of his most easily achieved on-screen thanks to its relative simplicity when compared to the likes of The Call of Cthulhu or At the Mountains of Madness. Stanley clearly understands he’s working with a limited budget here and shoots the gloopy horrors in the dark, or edits around them so we only get glimpses of the pink hued chaos, which is smart. The cast also acquit themselves well, with Madeleine Arthur and Brendan Meyer doing great work here, although some may find Nicolas Cage… a bit much.
Cage is a fascinating screen presence – and probably a big selling point for this flick, after all “Cage meets Lovecraft” is a fantastic elevator pitch – but his wild mood swings and inconsistent characterisation tends to be a distraction during the mood-building sections of the film. Don’t get us wrong, Nic Cage bellowing about alpacas or punching a car is objectively awesome, but it sometimes feels like an odd fit.
Happily, Richard Stanley hasn’t lost his touch, and Color Out of Space is filled with nice little touches and hallucinatory flourishes, with a couple of sequences being genuinely disturbing and trippy in the extreme. The pace is slow, but builds to an exciting climax, and while Cage’s wild-eyed bull fuckery can be a little trying at first, he’s completely at home in the third act.
Color Out of Space is a well-made, mostly effective slice of cosmic horror cinema, not to mention the welcome return of a director with a fascinating eye, and is well worth a look for genre fans in the mood for something a little different.
The Conjuring series has long since expanded from being a franchise and is now a legitimate cinematic universe, for good and ill. While few would argue with the merits of the main series entries The Conjuring 1 and 2 (and upcoming 3), we’ve also had to contend with the likes of Annabelle and The Nun, with Annabelle Comes Home, The Nun 2 and The Crooked Man all on their way. The latest spin-off is the barely-connected-to-the-main-series Curse of the Weeping Woman.
Proceedings focus in on the slight tale of social worker, Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini), who is working to support two kids after the death of her police officer husband. Anna becomes involved with a case involving two apparently abused children, who are terrified of the spectre of La Llorona, a ghost in Latin American folklore. Naturally, Anna takes the pragmatic view that ghosts don’t exist, but soon the crying lady’s evil intentions are fixed on our plucky heroine’s family and she may have to reevaluate some stuff… if she survives.
Originally titled The Curse of La Llorona (and inevitably released in the US under the title due to the large Hispanic audience), the film has a few things going for it, but it seems intent on squandering them all. Linda Cardellini is an agreeable lead and tries her best, but the material is so bare bones she never really gets a chance to shine. Similarly, Raymond Cruz, who was so unforgettable as Tuco in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, has nice moments as troubled ex-priest Rafael Olvera, but they never add up to anything. Hell, even the Weeping Woman herself, played capably by Marisol Ramirez, never gets to do anything other than lurch onto screen accompanied by loud noises or look creepy hanging around puddles.
The Curse of the Weeping Woman had a lot of potential, but like a lot of The Conjuring spin-offs, it feels like a lesser entity. Worse still, it’s not at all scary and frequently a bit dull. Hell, at least Annabelle was bad enough to cause a few unintentional chuckles, whereas mirth of any kind is in short supply here; as is tension, atmosphere or any compelling reason to keep watching.
Ultimately, TheCurse of the Weeping Woman is a forgettable dud, and that’s a crying shame.
Being a parent is hard work. That’s a statement with which even the most earnestly evangelical of breeder will agree, and being a parent of a difficult child is immeasurably harder still. But what if your child isn’t just a bit of a dick, what if your ruggie is actually supernaturally evil? This premise has proven fertile ground for horror movies throughout cinema’s history, with classics like The Bad Seed (1956), The Omen (1976) and Cronenberg’s The Brood (1979). More recently films like Insidious (2010), The Babadook (2014) and Hereditary (2018) have joined the ranks of this well-worn subgenre. Now, first-time feature director Lee Cronin brings his take, The Hole in the Ground, to the table to mostly effective results.
The Hole in the Ground tells the tale of Sarah O’Neill (Seana Kerslake) and her son, Chris (James Quinn Markey). The pair have moved to the idyllic, but isolated, Irish countryside for reasons initially unspecified, but clearly not ideal. Sarah is trying to be strong for her son, but she’s experienced recent trauma, both physical and mental. Chris is an odd, imaginative, kid who is unsure about the reasons for his life’s upheaval, and does take it out on his mum from time to time. However, he soon becomes fascinated by an enormous hole in the ground out the back of his new house, and wouldn’t that be fun to explore…
The Hole in the Ground spends the bulk of its 90 minute runtime building tension slowly, but effectively, as Chris’s behaviour gets more out of character and bizarre. His change from weird kid to ‘the other’ is conveyed effectively by both director and the young actor. Of course, these films depend in large part on the effectiveness of the pay off, and in that regard The Hole in the Ground doesn’t disappoint. The third act is tense, surreal and genuinely gripping, showing that Cronin haseserious genre chops.
In terms of its overall place in the subgenre, The Hole in the Ground is not quite as revelatory as The Babadook or Hereditary, treading more familiar genre beats rather than forging its own identity. That said, it’s still an effective, lowkey bit of allegorical horror with solid performances and a third act that crackles with surreal menace and effective tension. If that sounds like your cup of tea, you’ll find The Hole in the Ground has a lot to dig.
As if high schools staging adaptations of Alien - and being endorsed by Sir Ridley and Sigourney- wasn't enough, tomorrow we will be getting the first of 6 short films in the Alien Universe, all to celebrate the 40th anniversary of this sci-fi horror classic.
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.
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.