Tag Archives: movie reviews

Mike Flanagan’s Before I Wake

What if when someone went to sleep, whatever they dreamt of at night manifested in the space around them as real, tangible and sometimes very dangerous apparitions ? This concept and much more is explored in Mike Flanagan’s sensational Before I Wake, a film that somehow slipped past my radar back in 2016 but I caught up with it last night and, like most of Flanagan’s output, fell in love with this story. There’s just something so clear, emotionally resonant, palpably scary and well woven about this guy’s horror work in cinema and television, he’s my new muse in the genre. This tells the story of a very special young boy called Cody (Jacob Tremblay from Room and Doctor Sleep), who has the elemental power to project his dreams as reality when asleep. This can be both beautiful and terrifying because, like any human being, he has both good and bad dreams. His gift makes it hard to stay with one foster family for long before things get out of hand, until one couple (Thomas Jane and Kate Bosworth), already grieving the loss of their own child, decide to take him in. At first it’s just butterflies that inhabit their house when he sleeps, but he has a recurring phantom who won’t leave him alone, a gaunt, gnarly fiend he calls The Canker Man, and this dude is anything but harmless. Bosworth and Jane wrestle with their own suffering while trying to help him and figure out the esoteric properties of his gift before his demons spread. Bosworth is a quiet, observant actress not prone to dramatic histrionics or screen mugging, she has deep, soulful eyes and a drawn nature that hides emotional wells beneath and I enjoyed her work greatly here. Jane is the paradigm of gruff, alpha exteriors and doesn’t often get roles that showcase his vulnerable side but he’s fantastic here, laidback with emotion simmering on low. Tremblay is just pure talent, representing my hometown solidly and doing a terrific job here, as always. The cast is full of wonderful genre faces including Annabeth Gish as a compassionate social worker, Jay Karnes as a grief therapy counsellor, Courtney Bell and the always memorable Dash Mihok as a tortured former foster dad of Cody’s. I love films themed on dreams, especially in and around the horror genre and this is an exceptional piece. It’s scary, cerebral, character based, beautifully lit with splendid special effects and one gut punch of a twist ending that will get your tear ducts going in overdrive and is a showcase example of inspired storytelling. I have yet to see less than excellent work from Flanagan and his team, this being one of the best.

-Nate Hill

Amazon’s The Lie

I’d be surprised if another film came out this year that was worse than The Lie. It would take a serious, solid gold turkey to dethrone this thing. I want nothing more than to fill your timeline with positive reviews of films I enjoyed and I don’t try to focus on the negative but sometimes one comes along that just needs to be publicly shamed, if only to set an example. This is a truly awful, misguided, bizarre, tone deaf, incomprehensible excuse for a thriller and I’m sorry from the bottom of my heart that wonderful actors like Mireille Einos, Peter Sarsgaard and young Joey King (she was awesome in The Conjuring) and nice wintry Ontario locations got swept up into this thing’s toxic orbit. A young girl (King) and her father (Sarsgaard) are driving a long stretch of snowy road one day, when they stop off to pick up the girl’s friend. The two argue, the car stops, they run off into the woods to argue some more, and the girl pushes her friend off a high bridge into icy waters below, killing her. What to do? Well not what these people come up with as a plan, for starters. Dad and the girl’s lawyer mom (Mireille Einos) decide to cover up their daughter’s crime, lie to investigators, evade the poor father of the dead girl (Cas Anvar) and generally make the situation as shitty as they can for themselves, their kid and everyone putting in paid hours and stressing out trying to find this missing girl. What, and I cannot stress this enough, the fuck is wrong with these mentally deficient people? How, in any scenario on any planet, when the mom is a goddamn *lawyer*, is it in any way intuitively constructive to play their odds on trying to cover this up? I wanted to grab every character in this film, the daughter included, and roughly shake them by the shoulders whilst screaming at them to seriously just grow up. Don’t even get me started on the certifiably nuts twist ending that just adds an extra layer of asininity to a narrative with already zero credibility, integrity or realism. I realize that people make dumb mistakes, no one is perfect and situations can get out of hand real quick, but none of that excuses the mockery of human behaviour on display here, it’s like this script was written by.. I dunno man, not a human being with any sense of how people act or function. Avoid at all costs.

-Nate Hill

The Silencing

You would think that an alcoholic Jaime Lannister searching for the serial killer who took his daughter years ago in the misty Ontario woods would be a great premise for a thriller, but I couldn’t help feeling like something was missing in The Silencing, a certain spark or personality that would have made it really memorable. Nikolaj Coster Waldau is good in the role but he’s always got a welcome presence, I feel like it’s story that suffers here, from too many threads, none of which are tied up well enough save for the central killer plot. He plays this guy who is an ex big game hunting guru, now lives on a wildlife preservation sanctuary, drinks about 50 2/6’s of Scotch a day and gets real riled up when a body is found in the woods near his place, as it stirs up memories of his daughter and kicks up a drive to catch this killer. This is a role that dudes like Rutger Hauer, Michael Biehn, Dolph Lundgren or Lance Henriksen would have rocked in their 80’s heyday and if the film focused more on this one guy way out in the woods stalking a whacked out killer, I would have enjoyed it more. But there’s all kinds of dumb shit involving the local sheriff (Annabelle Wallis), her wayward young brother (Hero Fiennes Tiffin), the chief of tribal police (Zahn McLarnon), a First Nations crime boss (Gregory Odjig) and more. Why all this second tier fanfare? It clutters what would have been a streamlined, hypnotic tale of man versus man in nature and tries to do this whole True Detective ensemble whodunit thing that is just clumsy and tedious. Some of the chases and confrontations are fun, the killer wears a scary Cabela’s style onesie and uses a *truly* unique weapon to hunt his prey, while wild eyed Waldau fires his hunting rifle madly all over the forest trying to nail the guy. There’s one priceless moment where a schoolteacher brings a bunch of kids by the sanctuary on a field trip on a morning where Waldau is particularly sloshed. “Are you intoxicated?” She asks him horror, to which he slurs back “Don’t worry, the kids won’t notice.” They notice, and it’s hilarious. There are great moments and set pieces scattered throughout the film, but it’s not enough to save it from the weight of so much needless plot filler that I didn’t give a solid gold shit about. Give me Jaime Lannister hunting a killer through the woods for two hours straight and not much else, or don’t waste my time.

-Nate Hill

Creep 2

So there’s a sequel to this Creep film called, you guessed it, Creep 2! It’s actually a way better, richer, more interesting and creepy story than the first, mainly thanks to the fact that our documentarian avatar isn’t some flaccid film school dweeb this time around but someone who is almost as fascinating a character as Mark Duplass’s Creep. He sports a man bun here, and if anything this film escalates the events of the first quite considerably: Creep has switched up his MO from the same old killing ritual into something more… shall we say, elaborate. The person forced to observe his antics this time is Sara (Desiree Akhaven), a web series content creator who deliberately puts herself out there and tries to meet the wildest, weirdest human creatures she can just for those likes and subscribed. Well naturally she doesn’t know the half of what she’s wading into with this guy, and one must employ an unholy serving of suspension of disbelief to buy the fact that the literal army of red flags from this dude wouldn’t be enough to send her running to the hills sooner. However, there’s a certain… darkness to this girl, a magnetism towards danger that is apparent in her mannerisms and at times I almost felt like she subconsciously knew just what kind of person she’s dealing with and ran headlong into it anyways. In any case, he gets creepier and creepier and by the end the tension mounts to a respectable and appropriate level before the big WTF moment. Duplass has fashioned quite a character out of this guy, he’s this aloof, teddy bear dipshit who is almost benign enough to be a bro, and then subtly, carefully lets the crazy seep in between the lines and before we know it he’s gone full cuckoo bananas. This is the rare sequel that outdoes the first, and it would be nice to eventually see the trilogy completed. Maybe Creep goes to space? Freddy Vs. Creep?

-Nate Hill

Patrick Brice’s Creep

So I remember this actor Mark Duplass from the amazon prime show Goliath, where he did a great job playing a very, very creepy dude. It was fascinating to see that there’s actually a horror movie out there called Creep where he does an even better job of playing a very, very, *very* creepy fucking dude. It’s one of those simple, zero budget camcorder horror flicks like Blair Witch, where you basically rely on acting to get the scares across, which this one does nicely. Writer directer Patrick Brice also stars as amateur videographer Aaron, hired by apparently terminally ill Josef (Duplass) to film his last messages so that his future kid can see and hear him. Sweet idea right? In theory yes, but Josef is one seriously weird dude, which comes across subtly at first, until things escalate and it becomes clear that not only is nothing he’s told Aaron probably true, he’s a severely unstable man, and possibly very dangerous. The film makes good use of the found footage/camcorder style, a medium I’ve always been defensive of as you can pull off a lot of unique tricks, in terms of horror. This isn’t as hectic as some in the genre though and takes a slow burn, less is more approach to the story. Everything hinges on Duplass and his performance, which is pretty much as unnerving as it could be, he’s blessed with this super casual, charismatically likeable personality that always feels like it could teeter over into uncomfortable waters at any given moment. This proves to be quite suspenseful when our two leads are alone together which is, ya know, the entire film. My only criticism is that it’s a bit too minimalist I guess? Like, I got that restraint is key etc but it would have been nice to throw *just* a bit more ballistic/balls out horror elements in to tip the scales slightly. As it stands though, this is still an effectively disconcerting psycho stalker thriller that does just what it’s title promises.

-Nate Hill

Gareth Edwards’ Apostle

Gareth Evans, no matter the genre he’s working in, has a tendency to throw everything he can think of into the mix, and it’s a tactic that has won me over. In his monumental Raid films it was action sequences piled onto each other so fast and furious it left the viewer gasping and in his gorgeous, positively blood saturated pagan horror extravaganza Apostle it’s every kind of gristly, folk horror inspired, uber-gory piece of horror mayhem you could shake a bloody stick at. Dan Stevens and his eyes so intense they could melt steel play a haunted missionary sometime in the 18th century, tasked with infiltrating a spooky cult residing on a British Isle, the last known location of his estranged sister who has up and vanished. After a stormy, discomforting boat ride out from the mainland, he arrives to find a drab, bleak spirited colony full of whispers, shadows, brooding malcontent and the subtly felt presence of something… otherworldly. The tribes leader is a man of frothing fervour, played by the always excellent Michael Sheen in an impossibly implosive turn with a nice, unexpected arc. The villain isn’t who you think it’s going to be here and once the real piece of work antagonist rears their head, the film shifts from creeping uneasiness right into third gear of fucking maniacal, over the top horror mayhem that doesn’t quit until the exhale on the heels of one of the most jaw dropping third acts I’ve seen in a while. Stevens is a terrific actor in any role, I greatly enjoyed his work in the underrated Liam Neeson thriller Walk Among The Tombstones as well as the schlocky 80’s inspired bit of madness that was The Guest. He’s brilliant here, a picture of hell before he even arrives on the island, and progressively more fierce and despairing as each passing hurdle beats him down. Sheen turns on the wild eyed tenacity as the zealot chieftain who discovers that mutiny and past deeds aren’t even the worst things about to befall him and his freaky little community. This is a ruthless, mile a minute slice of horror and there’s some shitty humans doing terrible things to each other that one must bear witness too, but there’s also some darkly beautiful elements of earthen, witchy horror that balance out the crazed religious mania with something refreshingly more esoteric. Just wear a metaphorical raincoat though, because there’s so much blood n’ gore in this one that no matter where you sit you’ll feel like you’re in the splatter zone. A pretty magnificent horror film.

-Nate Hill

Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor

Lord help me, this is how you do filmmaking. I haven’t seen a SciFi horror this good since… who knows since when. Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor is a sensational, surreal, coldly animalistic, shockingly violent exercise in retro futurism, psychological netherworlds, jarring identity crises, lethal corporate espionage and unnerving body horror. Cronenberg, son of David, isn’t just a chip off the old block but outright surpasses most of his Pops’ work that I’ve seen with this stunningly original, unforgivingly oppressive piece. Andrea Riseborough gives a haunted, waif-like, primordial turn as Tasya Vos, a contract killer whose hunting ground is the mindscape, the price being she begins to lose her own mental footing amidst traversing that of others. She works for a shadowy firm run by spooky handler Girder, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh in another one off her increasingly unsettling, opaque turns. Tasya infiltrates the minds of chosen targets, takes over their cognition and motor function, using them as scapegoats to carry out high profile assassinations. Her newest target is a corporate pretty boy (Christopher Abbott) who is dating the daughter (Tuppence Middleton) of a powerful, mean spirited business magnate played by Sean Bean in some of the liveliest, boorish work I’ve seen from him in some time. This job proves difficult once Tasya’s mind begins to meld with her host’s, the lines blur and things get out of hand pretty quick. This is a punishingly violent film, and there’s a few genuine bury your face in someone’s shoulder moments, even for those with strong stomachs. Cronenberg flaunts the same fetishistic fixation on what practical effects can show in terms of physical decimation to the human body that run in the family, and the results of his creative exploration are nothing short of soul-disturbing. He also shows a flair for the surreal too, as you can see by the poster. There’s some otherworldly imagery, sound and tactility at play here that give this a nightmarish atmosphere that is pure and singular, thanks also given to a wonderful, elemental electronic score by Jim Williams. There are some themes that border on the taboo, or at least notions I’ve ever seen so bravely explored in horror, such as letting go of the familial/societal boundaries established in the modern world and reverting back to a predatory state of existence, I don’t know about you but that kinda makes my skin crawl in this context. I suppose my one issue would be that there are no characters to care about, the only one I felt sorry for was Tuppence Middleton’s unwitting girlfriend, her’s is the only performance with any warmth or genuine humanity in it. But I realize that’s kind of what Cronenberg & Co are going for here: this is a cold, pitiless piece of horror extremism that isn’t here to reinforce the core comforts of human nature, but rather to turn over every stone and dig up the long suppressed aspects of it that no one wants to admit are there. An arresting, darkly beautiful piece of trippy retro SciFi splatter bliss, and the best film of the year so far.

-Nate Hill

Mel Gibson in Force Of Nature

As we sat down to watch Mel Gibson’s latest direct to video flick Force Of Nature, we barely got halfway in before my roommate commented “whoever wrote this movie has serious cognitive issues.” I agree. This is a hurtin’ ass excuse for entertainment. It’s like one of those text posts where someone forces an algorithm bot to watch over fifty hours of any given genre or existing property and have it write its own skewed, bizarre version of said material. Well a bot would have done a better job writing a ‘hurricane heist cop thriller thing’ than whoever penned this. As a category 5 storm descends on Puerto Rico, various random characters with no sense of direction or personality converge around a waterlogged apartment complex, unable to leave, coexist or tell a story that makes sense. The world’s most sarcastic cop (Emile Hirsch) and his partner (Stephanie Cayo) are tasked with evacuating stragglers, including some dude caught trying to buy one hundred pounds of beef from a supermarket to feed a literal jaguar that lives in his closet. Meanwhile a gang of psychotic thieves led by a weirdo who calls himself John The Baptist (David Zayas from Dexter) prowl the building shooting anything that moves and looking for stolen Picasso paintings passed down through a family of nazis. Mel Gibson himself plays a super grumpy, terminally ill ex cop with an exaggerated Chicago accent who refuses to leave his apartment with his nurse daughter (Kate Bosworth). Everyone runs around chaotically from apartment to apartment doing nothing in particular, the rain pours outside but never really escalates beyond intense downpour into legit hurricane weather, and… fuck I dunno man, I don’t even feel like this deserves proper punctuation or attention in a review because it obviously doesn’t give two shits about it’s audience enough to even try. Nothing makes sense, it’s impossible to care about anything going on, all the plot points and characters beats are so off the wall and I found myself just really wondering why this thing was even made at all, much less why respectable folks like Hirsch, Zayas or Mel friggin Gibson would be attached. Bosworth at least has a sheepish excuse because she’s married to the director, but even then she’s pushing her luck. A solid contender for the worst film of the year and not something I recommend you waste ninety minutes of your precious life on. The only Force Of Nature to be found here is this thing’s compelling ability to make the viewer get up off the couch and leave the room.

-Nate Hill

Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond

If Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond is beyond anything it’s the borders of good taste, for the most part anyways. This is a slimy, gooey, sleazy, schlocky piece of ooze that functions on an inherently terrific central premise, but drags it through the muck of lowbrow, lurid horror, and without apology. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just not what I was expecting I guess, or not to that level. Gordon totem Jeffrey Combs plays a twitchy lab assistant whose piece of work boss (Ted Sorel) has patented a weird machine called the ‘resonator’ which uses psychic vibrations to enlarge the human pineal gland and open the doors of perception to whatever horrific beings lurk out there in other dimensions, which in this case is not as many as I’d hoped. A seemingly idealistic yet surprisingly corruptible psychologist (Barbara Crampton) and a cavalier police detective (the great Ken Foree) escort traumatized Combs back into the house where these experiments previously went berserk and wouldn’t you know it, someone pulls a whoopsie, turns the resonator thingie back on and it all goes berserk again! Thing is, I was expecting an impressive variety of ghoulies, icky aberrations and Lovecraftian hoo-hah to emerge and terrorize them, and the only thing that really does is a severely malformed new version of Combs’s boss, as you can see on the charming poster in my photo grid. He’s an admirably gross special effect, but where’s the variety, man? Where’s the whole zoo of disgusting unholy fuckers to rival something like… Carpenter’s In The Mouth Of Madness? Maybe this thing had budget constraints, lack of creative juices or what-have-ya, but I just felt like there could have been… more, given such a delicious setup. Also, there’s some trashy bits that were unnecessary, a weird, awkward S&M freak show vibe that didn’t need to be shoehorned in and take it from someone who appreciates the uber-kinky aura in something like Hellraiser (where it was appropriate) when I tell you… it was not necessary here, it cheapens and dilutes the potential for true otherworldly horror. By the film’s climax we get several folks running amok with their sentient pineal glands protruding from their foreheads like glistening head-penises and it lands squarely in WTF-ville. Anyways there’s scenes that are ok, with the neat 80’s effects, score and aesthetic, but something just feels… ‘off’ about this one. Like the freaky deaky aspects that are so much fun in other similar films just.. landed with a clunk here. I dunno, maybe it’s just me, but a film with such a cool concept just should have done more, and avoided being so trashy in certain key areas.

-Nate Hill

Issa Lopez’s Tigers Are Not Afraid

I love films that combine a childlike element of fairytale sensibility with the horrors of our world, and Issa Lopez’s Tigers Are Not Afraid does this almost flawlessly. Set in the slums of Mexico, recently orphaned Estrella (Paola Lara) navigates a run down part of town, pursued by the ruthless cartel gang that murdered her mother in cold blood and haunted by ghosts both literal and in her own mind. She joins up with a sort of Lost Boys troupe of fellow kids whose parents were also slaughtered, and together they face down the gang threat, survive by relying on each other’s trust and navigate a chapter of their lives that they are heartbreakingly too young to have to burden. This is a sensational film in every way, and I award it the elusive 10/10 rating, it fucking floored me more than I have words for. What makes it so special is how fluidly it blends genre, style and tone to the point where every element feels congruent with the rest and instead of a film discernibly fashioned together from different elements we get one that feels like it’s own lifeblood, free of comparison. The child actors are all brilliant, especially Lara who imbues Estrella with intuition and soul far beyond her years. She feels the spiritual presence of the dead around every corner, but the ghostly visions aren’t there for cheap scares, they have a very crucial part to play in our story and work seamlessly alongside and within her arc. The villains are a despicable breed, heinous cartel monsters and a brat political wannabe who calls their shots, brutalizing and breaking down this neighbourhood to the point of ruin and despair. But there’s hope! There must be hope, even in the darkest, most forgotten corners of the world. Estrella and her newfound friends are beacons of hope, resilience and the the unheard voices of the lost, the forgotten and the marginalized. Their voices and story are something so human, and so affecting I dreamt of this film last night after viewing it, as if it followed me into sleep with a few more narrative beats to give. It’s that important a piece, feeling at once like horror, fantasy and crime thriller but most importantly, a deeply character based, very personal story of human beings encountering unimaginable obstacles at the very start of their lives, and how their courage can find light even when things are darkest. Dare I say.. masterpiece.

-Nate Hill