Netflix and filmmaker Patrick Brice (the effective DIY Creep films) try their hand at a classic slasher frolic with 80’s influences for There’s Someone Inside Your House, a surprisingly grisly horror that works, for the most part, when the script isn’t trying to be too contemporary and ‘of the minute’ with tiresome buzzwords. It concerns a group of teens from one of those football, cornfield, jock jacket Midwest towns where the local high school has all the regular archetypes, here written through a prism of updated millennial banter that probably should have been dialed down. Someone is going around ruthlessly murdering people, each victim with a terrible, life changing secret that gets exposed alongside their killing, the murderer wearing a 3D printed mask of their prey each and every time. It’s a cool idea; a killer who uses secrets as lethally as blunt objects or blades, and when they come for you, you see an unsettlingly pristine prosthetic mirror image of yourself staring back at you. The film’s third act and Scream-esque revelations based on the killer’s identity reveal feel a bit anticlimactic, while the setup and ferocious midsection boast some truly inspired and gruesome kills, the opening murder involving severed Achilles’ tendons will be enough to make even the most seasoned gore hound wince. Much use is made of the cornfield setting, the locations have a desolate, wide open feel to them and of course they fucking shot it in Vancouver and Chilliwack and tried to pass it off as the States because they’ve got no imagination. It’s the sort of mid level, not classic but still pretty enjoyable slasher flick you’d see in the 80’s and 90’s, something like a tribute to Urban Legend or I Know What You Did Last Summer that isn’t destined for greatness or franchise notoriety, yet still does the trick. The woke stuff could have been toned down though, it takes you right out of the era they’re trying to place you in as it’s so obviously shoehorned in. Good kills and atmosphere though, and just check out that gorgeous poster.
No One Gets Out Alive is a hell of a title for a horror movie and the movie therein better live up to it, which in this case it sure damn does. This is a sensational film, one that has ghosts, body horror, Aztec lore, demonology, leering psychopaths, social commentary and some of the most chilling, effective scares I’ve seen of late. The story tells of young Mexican girl Ambar (Christina Rodlo) living illegally in the US and working for cash at a depressing sweatshop, trying to save up for a forged American visa. She rents a room in a spooky old converted mansion ran by weary, creepy Red, played by Mark Menchaca who seems to be carving out a nice little niche for himself these days in playing memorable horror antagonists. Something is very, very wrong in this house and no sooner has she unpacked her bags she’s seeing phantasms behind every corner, hearing weird noises all over the place and having terrifying waking nightmares. Is it haunted? Or something far worse? The film takes the already unfortunate and desperate situation of a woman of colour living alone and off the record in the USA, the danger of deportation always an element, and then whisks her right out of the frying pan into the fires of a dangerous supernatural predicament and the result is, intense to say the least. I won’t spoil what’s really going on in the house but I will say that the film offers up one of the most visually staggering, indescribably bizarre, nightmarishly breathtaking movie monsters I’ve ever seen in horror. Seriously, if you think that weird deer demigod thing in The Ritual was odd, just wait til you see this one, it’s truly imaginative nightmare fuel and took me right off guard. Director Santiago Menghini has his feature debut here and it’s one of the strongest I’ve ever seen. Spatially aware camera movements, optical tricks and careful layers of light, darkness and colour make this an unnerving haunted house to get lost in. The gore is truly shocking, the characters are well drawn and realistic and like I said, that monster is simply one for the books, in this case the Guinness Book of Coolest Horror Movie Monsters Ever. Great film.
The Scandinavians really seem to like their grim, chilly serial killer procedurals, The Chestnut Man being the latest Netflix offering from Denmark that gets about as grim, nasty and dark as these kind of narratives ever do. It’s a bit of a jumble to be honest, needlessly overstuffed with characters, subplots, hairpin turns, red herrings, dead ends and asides. As the story opens, police in a rural town outside Copenhagen discover a string of ruthless murders, each crime scene eerily decorated with a little figurine made from chestnuts. That’s their main clue going into an investigation involving a dozen different cops, social workers, a coroner, a bunch of old sealed records dating back to foster homes and adoptions and so many moving parts and dense plot content it made my head spin. I’m sure the story is in fact a concise series of events that check out logically and the reason I got so lost was because I binged this entire thing on a night where I was spectacularly exhausted and just could not focus. I will say that this production has some gorgeous spooky Fall vibes, they seem to have shot in autumn, which makes sense for a killer that needs a constant supply of chestnuts I suppose, but there are some truly breathtaking overhead shots of seasonal forests all steeped in golden brown and auburn hues. There’s also some razor sharp, terrifying suspense that’s extremely well orchestrated and effectively scary as well. Sometimes the material gets oppressively dark and so bleak it can be off putting, there are themes of child abuse that are directly depicted, and the murderer himself is one heinous motherfucker who doesn’t discriminate one bit in victim selection or brutal methodology, so just bring an iron lined stomach for this one. It’s got great atmosphere, thrills n’ chills that mostly work and it’s a quick six episode binge, but I almost feel like it could have been a two and a half hour feature film and in doing so, strip away a lot of the excess narrative clutter because at times I felt like I needed a big pinup board with photos of all the characters in relation to each other, just to keep track.
Single location thrillers seem to be the rage these days, intermittently anyways. Ryan Reynolds buried alive, Stephen Dorff locked in the trunk of a car, Tom Hardy in a vehicle winding its way through the UK to London, and now we have a severely stressed out Jake Gyllenhaal as a 911 operator in Antoine Fuqua’s The Guilty, an absolutely stunning film and the best of the bunch so far in this sub-genre. Jake is a decorated LAPD detective, now disgraced after a vague incident we gradually learn more about, stuck in an emergency call centre, apparently the proverbial doghouse for demoted cops. A routine evening turns disastrous when he receives a frantic call from a young woman (Riley Keogh) who has been kidnapped by her unstable ex boyfriend (Peter Sarsgard) and is somewhere out there. Using the resources he has he tries to track them down before inevitable violence ensues while processing the emotional turmoil of his own recent past, and how this terrifying new situation affects it, all set against the chaos of a hellish wildfire setting the LA hills ablaze and turning first responder services upside down. For a film where most of the actors are offscreen we sure get some big talent in here including Ethan Hawke, Christina Vidal, Paul Dano and even a brief Bill Burr. The film relies on Gyllenhaal’s performance to get the story and themes across and the man is just fucking sensational here in what may be his best performance to date. There’s an unearthly anguish, frantic mania and deep unrest to his portrayal (the title makes tragic sense as the film progresses) and he hits every note with intimidating precision and organic emotional truth. Keogh and Saarsgard have difficult tasks in creating two secondary characters who we never see but must feel, sound and affect us as real human beings and not just voices from a telephone, they both do unbelievably well, mining psychological depths and putting forth heartbreaking, haunting vocal performances. Antoine Fuqua is responsible for some of my favourite films of all time (Training Day, King Arthur, The Replacement Killers) and I’m glad he broke free of his tired Equalizer routine to bring us this. Working with an intense, visceral script from True Detective’s Nic Pizzolatto, he turns what could have been a gimmicky procedural into a showstopper of a thriller full of kinetic, anxiety fuelling energy, challenging moral themes and career best performances from Gyllenhaal, Sarsgard and Keogh. One of the best films of the year.
Mike Flanagan has done it again with his new Netflix limited series Midnight Mass, but at this point I’m pretty sure the man is incapable of making a misstep in his craft and is the front runner for consistency, quality and innovation among filmmakers working in the horror genre these days. Mass is the best thing he’s done since his now legendary foray into long-form Netflix storytelling The Haunting Of Hill House, a benchmark masterpiece that now sits alongside this equally breathtaking crown jewel in his career so far. Set on the tiny remote Crockett Island off the Canadian coast, it tells the story of many different townsfolk whose lives are all changed significantly with the arrival of a mysterious, unnerving preacher (Hamish Linklater), whose coming heralds other scary, biblically relevant events all over the island. Who is he? What has he brought with him from wherever he came from? The mysteries, revelations and narrative surprises here are too darkly delicious and exciting to spoil in a review so that’s about as far as I’ll go plot-wise. As is always the case with Flanagan, the human elements of character, dialogue, emotion and slow burn storytelling are just as important to him as gore, scares, horror elements and this is what makes him such a strong filmmaker. The acting sees uniformly career best work from Flanagan regulars and newcomers alike, with personal standouts for me including Robert Longstreet as the town drunk with a painful past, Kate Siegel as the deeply soulful schoolteacher, Zach Gilford as a haunted local returning after years and a guilt ridden tragedy, Samantha Sloyan in a terrifying showstopper as the world’s most despicable clergywoman and so many more, all excellent and all with their keystone moments to shine. Linklater himself is a force of nature, so horrifyingly effective as a serial rapist in the phenomenal Amazon Prime series Tell Me stout Secrets and again providing a masterclass here, he’s somehow perfected this acting vernacular and line delivery that is simultaneously as intense as a dragon staring you down but as gentle and lilting as a summer breeze, he’s an artist on another plane. The story and themes here are heavily rooted in Catholicism and Flanagan delves deep into issues of guilt, forgiveness, penance, reconciliation and delusional wayward souls mistaking evil for angelic salvation, but the material never feels preachy or aimed solely at the religious demographic, these are ideas, emotional arcs and universal concepts that are accessible for any viewer, simply refracted through the prism of an isolated town where Catholic values and practices are still a way of life. There are numerous monologues on life, death, the universe and the nature of the soul that are beautifully written and performed with aching soulfulness by several of the actors in Flanagan’s trademark patient, sedimentary long takes that allow words, conversation and emotion to flow freely and organically from the actors on their own time. The horror is at once human and otherworldly as we see this community descend into an escalating downward spiral that feels like the darkest nightmare, the atmosphere and tone straddling this sort of “Atlantic Coast Gothic” meets “Olde Worlde Demonism” type aesthetic that’s just the perfect flavour. This is the real deal; assured, immersive, eerie as all hell, humane, an emotional wrecking ball and one of the best experiences I’ve had with any show or film this year.
Home Invasion thrillers are pretty much their own genre by now, and another has entered the fold with Adam Salky’s Intrusion, a sleek, nerve wracking, fairly predictable yet really well oiled piece that Netflix funded and just added to their lineup last night with little fanfare or marketing. This film doesn’t necessarily spend too much time on the invasion itself, but rather on what comes after and the motivation behind the crime. Logan Marshall Green and Freida Pinto are an affluent yuppie couple who have moved into a swanky post modern home that seems absurdly out of place in the flat, humdrum prairie county they’ve moved to. One night a group of masked men breaks into their house and tosses the place, clearly looking for something. After they are shot in self defence by hubbie, it seems as if the case is closed and it’s time to move on… right? The suspicious local sheriff (always nice to see Robert John Burke) doesn’t seem to think so based on details from the investigation that don’t add up and soon Pinto doesn’t either as she notices her husband’s odd, elusive behaviour and secretive ways. Why did these guys choose their house, and just who were they anyways? That’s the fun, and if the unfolding plot veers frequently into easily predicted beats, that’s made up for with some truly breathtaking tension and innovative camera work, some fluid visual dynamics in shot composition that clearly echo the work of Brian De Palma and add layers of atmospheric dimension to the film. Pinto, beyond being one of the most drop dead beautiful women I’ve ever seen onscreen, is also a terrific actress and owns the role here, never devolving into hysterics or going into stoic autopilot mode and always coming across as a real human being in a terrifying situation. The score by Alex Heffes adds another layer of spooky electronic beats and pulses too, especially in breathless sequences set inside their large, spacious and inherently eerie home. It isn’t anything groundbreaking in terms of thriller material and you can pretty much guess where it’s going midway through the first act but it’s very well executed, slickly produced and suspenseful like nobody’s business.
Netflix has tried a somewhat innovative and unique experiment with their film adaptations of R.L. Stine’s Fear Street books, filming an entire interconnected trilogy and then releasing them week by week like a running serial of feature length films. The effect is genius both in terms of marketing and the stories themselves and the only thing that would have made it better is if we got to see them week by week on the big screen, like a triple dip multiplex experience. The films are wonderful, three different slasher flicks set respectively in 1994, 1978 and 1666 with a neat double-back to the 90’s again as the last film wraps up the multigenerational, complicated tale of an evil curse placed on the hard-luck town of Shadyside, OH. As a group of teens in 94 scramble to figure out what’s causing some townspeople to go on murderous rampages, the second film takes us back to summer camp 78’ as the generation before them experiences the same killers who seem to be controlled by some kind of powerful force, and the third goes even farther back to the pilgrim settlers that first came to the region as we finally get to the root of what’s causing these century long killings spurred on by what seems like an evil witch, until we learn the real reason which is far more scary and sad. 94 presents to us a stunning opening sequence set inside an appropriately retro shopping centre complete with neon decorations and a masked killer inspired by Ghostface, while 78 offers a nice riff on stuff like Friday The 13th and Sleepaway Camp and 66 goes for a devilish spin on Salem-esque cultish witchiness. Despite all these stylistic influences and homages and an appropriately nostalgic soundtrack lineup full of crowd pleasing anthems of their day, this trilogy strives to be its own thing and not sink too deep into the waters of retro fan service without having an original voice of its own. The characters here are all terrifically developed and wonderfully acted by a massive cast full of familiar faces and relative newcomers alike and the whole thing is as fun as a gong show Halloween house party, as insanely gory (some of the kills are downright shocking) as we like our slashers to get, as down to earth as our favourite social commentary horrors and as deeply tragic and heartbreaking as horror should often be. Great stuff all round.
You’ve heard of Snakes On A Plane now get ready for Vampires on a plane! Real talk though the new Netflix horror hybrid Blood Red Sky is a lot better, more vicious and effectively made than most gimmicky, chimera-like efforts of its kind. A sort of German American Scottish coproduction that seamlessly blends actors/accents from all three countries, it tells of a young German mother (Peri Baumeister, a dead ringer for Noomi Rapace) who finds herself and her son on a transatlantic flight that has been hijacked by multinational terrorists hellbent on crashing the plane in London and killing everyone onboard. There’s just one slight variable these assholes didn’t figure on: this girl is in fact a vampire, and not a slow, dramatic Dracula vampire either, she’s one of those sleek, terrifying, hyper-vigilant, high strung 30 Days Of Night Vampires, which when you consider the finite, constrained area of a plane interior, is just a nightmare waiting to happen. The big cheese terrorist is a sociopathic mercenary played excellently by Dominic Purcell but the real villain is a German maniac (Alexander Scheer) from his ranks that goes rogue, starts maliciously murdering hostages and is just downright nasty, if there was a German production of Batman he would land the Joker role for sure. The fights, chases, gore and intensity here are so well staged you barely get a moment to breathe and there’s genuine high-level suspense that had me on edge. What helps achieve that is that even amidst all the snarling, throat ripping, bloodletting and pandemonium and even under all that slick vampire makeup, actress Baumeister manages to give her performance a genuine maternal instinct and palpable pathos in caring for her son and protecting him from danger, she basically gives a multilayered, deeply effective performance as both a human being and a pissed off vampire. The film is built around a totally ridiculous premise and they could have made this just the cheesiest thing, but instead they’ve played the situation dead straight and approached this script with the very serious notion of “what IF a vampire found herself on a plane at the same time as a gang of evil terrorists,” and the result is something immersive, beautifully made, spectacularly violent and, in some scenes, surprisingly poignant. Highly recommended, streaming on Netflix now.
We don’t deserve a movie as outright cool, fun, entertaining and badass as Zack Snyder’s Army Of The Dead. Know how I know? Because of all the flagrant, inflammatory hate I’m seeing in discussion threads across the universe of social media, hate being doled out largely (not exclusively, before you lunge for my throat) by people who would have surely left this film alone and even enjoyed it if Snyder had nothing to do with it. Know how I know *that*? Just trust me, I know how these fuckwit Snyder hating trolls operate and I know it’s only because of his involvement that they are being this way. Anyways enough about them and onto the film, which is sensational and one of the best I’ve seen this year. Snyder sets the action in and out of a cordoned off Las Vegas where an undead outbreak several years before has decimated sin city and the zombies, unlike anything you’ve seen so far in the genre by the way, have taken up a sort of primordial tribal residence amongst the once glitzy landmark city. A Japanese billionaire (Hiroyuki Sanada) assembles a team spearheaded by Dave Bautista’ ex special forces short order cook to venture in and bust open a casino vault with millions inside, but is that what he’s really after? Bautista is wonderful and proves yet again what a talented presence he is on top of being a solid action dude. His character reconnects with an estranged daughter (Ella Purnell) who works inside the quarantine zone and here the film finds a pathos usually uncommon in this arena. Others in the cast make vivid impressions including Tig Notaro as a cavalier helicopter pilot, Mathias Schweighöfer as an adorably aloof safecracker, Theo Rossi as a despicably abusive government soldier, Ana de la Reguera as a fearsome warrior and perennial slime-ball Garrett Dillahunt as a smarmy private security expert with a shady agenda. My favourite was the lovely Nora Arnezeder as the aptly named Coyote, a highly trained scout who regularly ventures into the hot zone and serves as their guide, she brings a humanity and urgency to both her lines and action choreography that really struck a chord with me. The zombies are ruled by a sort of patient zero Alpha named Zeus, played ferociously by Richard Cetrome, who also played the leader of the pack Big Daddy Mars in John Carpenter’s Ghosts Of Mars, a nice shoutout to a similarly maligned flick that actually totally rocks. Zeus has a Bride (Chelsea Edmundson) who for me was the most striking character in the film, a serpentine zombie queen with fiery contact lenses, a shrieking battle cry and wonderful physicality provided by model Edmundson. And yes there is a zombie tiger too, and yes she is one incredibly badass and beautifully rendered creature creation that is a highlight of the film. Look, this is a torqued up, totally ridiculous, hyper-stylized B movie about an outbreak in Vegas, wherein lies an undead jungle cat, zombies who ride skeletal horses and can both breed and have little zombie babies all wrapped up in a heist flick with a father daughter relationship, anti government undercurrents and more action that you can shake a severed head at, so if you’re trying to poke holes of logic and burrow for plot holes in a film that intrepidly incorporates all of that under one two and a half hour tent, well babe the only person you’re fooling is yourself. So what the story isn’t a succinct high-wire act of pushpin writing beats and realistic arcs? It’s a kickass old school horror flick with a huge cast, buckets of beautiful and strikingly graphic gore (eat your heart out, Bear attack scene from The Revenant), wonderfully unique mythology, dark humour, tons of gorgeous twilight and magic hour cinematography, splashes of genuinely affecting emotional work and a fucking zombie tiger named Valentine! So chill out. My top film of the year so far 🐅 🐯
Joe Wright’s The Woman In The Window is one of those big, expensive, star studded thrillers you used to see in the 90’s a lot, ones that would have folks like Harrison Ford or Julia Roberts headlining, always backed up by a galaxy of impressive supportive talent. Here it’s Amy Adams, an actress I’m almost convinced can do pretty much anything she’s so good, playing an agoraphobic ex-psychologist who has been hiding away in her Manhattan brownstone for several months following some vague traumatic incident. She has regular sessions with an unhelpful shrink (an uncredited Tracey Letts, also adapting a screenplay from AJ Finn’s novel) and speaks forlornly with her estranged husband (Anthony Mackie, heard and not seen) over the phone, until her new neighbours across the way give her a real fright when she believes she witnesses a violent murder one night while spying from her window. The frantic husband (an explosively intense Gary Oldman with an accent I’ve never heard him do that I’m pretty sure doesn’t exist in the real world) insists nothing happened, his odd wife (Jennifer Jason Leigh) looks on, a shady mystery woman (Julianne Moore) lurks about the place, and the cop (Brian Tyree Henry) in charge of helping out doesn’t seem to want to do much of anything. This film is an obvious homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and this is apparent in not only the central premise but many of the shots, colour schemes, musical cues and even old school movies that Amy has crooning in the background as she gets absolutely torqued on booze/medication cocktails to drive out the memory of some horrific past. I was more engaged with the narrative when it was about her and this past that has caused her to become such a ragged recluse. There’s a genuine mystery there and it’s shot and presented in a surprisingly artistic, unconventional and kaleidoscopic fashion that shirks the standards of dry Hollywood glossy cinematography these films usually employ and had me thoroughly immersed. The mystery as to what’s going on next door regarding this troubled family is also engaging in a lurid, potboiler kind of way, a bit overblown and melodramatic for its own sake but every plot turn and explanation does eventually check out, even if the road getting there is a bit of a loopy one. The acting is all solid, with Adams going all out for a truly impressive performance, Oldman being the most fired up and scary I’ve seen him since maybe Book Of Eli, which is a nice change of pace from his usual restraint of late. It’s far from the most original thriller out there and feels a bit scattered at times, but there’s a lot to enjoy with standout work from Adams and the trippy, borderline surreal internal world of her mind, with intense visual cues probing at a haunting mystery the film deftly withholds from us for some time juxtaposed against the stark, steep geography of her apartment full of curling staircases, gaunt angles and one hell of a rooftop patio, all brought to life by a creepy score from Danny Elfman, of all people. Fun times, if a bit… overstuffed for a 100 minute film.