Home Video Round-Up: 10/25/2016 (Halloween Edition)

Hush (10/5/2016)


Going into Hush I wasn’t really sure what to expect.  On one hand it was directed by Mike Flanagan, who made the fairly solid horror flick Oculus, on the other hand the movie went “straight to Netflix” and that’s definitely a bad sign.  Netflix may have some great original programing when it comes to TV shows and documentaries, but outside of Beasts of No Nations it’s been little more than standard VOD platform when it comes to regular movies.  Between this, Green Room, and Don’t Breathe it’s kind of becoming clear that the whole siege/home invasion sub-genre just doesn’t really do it for me, but I think I might have actually preferred this one out of the three in its simplicity.  There are no convoluted plans to make wholesale massacres look like self-defense cases here, and the film doesn’t try to make the disabled person defending her home into the villain either.  Instead it’s this bare bones thriller about a deaf woman trying to survive the night when, for reasons that are unexplained, a crazy person with a crossbow and a big knife tries to break into her home with murderous intent.  There’s not a whole lot more to it than that and little to distinguish it from other similar movies, so it’s not likely to go down as one for the ages, but lead actress Kate Siegel does an admirable job of getting the audience involved and the few unexpected tricks the movie does try generally work.

*** out of Five

The Shallows (10/7/2016)

I’ve never really truly thought of Jaws as being a horror movie, in part because it’s mostly set in bright summer days and in part because I don’t really consider it all that “scary” per se.  Still, it’s certainly created a whole sub-genre of B-movies about shark attacks, the latest of which is a movie called The Shallows, about a woman stranded on a small bit of land off the shore in Mexico with a great white shark circling her location and waiting excitedly to devour her and any poor soul that tries to come to her rescue.  One of the amazing things about Jaws is that it works even though it has a profoundly ridiculous premise, which is a testament to Steven Spielberg’s profound skill as a filmmaker.  The Shallows is directed by a guy named Jaume Collet-Serra and needless to say he’s no Steven Spielberg, but he does make a stronger case for his stupid premise than most people making shitty shark movies do.  The behavior of the shark in this movie is beyond ridiculous.  The extent to which it seems intent on eating this one woman makes very little sense and the fact that he spends so much time just hanging around her rock is not very believable.  The movie’s visual effects are also pretty inconsistent with some of them being enjoyable to too many of them just being pretty crappy.  The film is pretty well shot overall though and it has moments that definitely work, but the film as a whole feels pretty insubstantial and as a pure work of tension decent but hardly special.

**1/2 out of Five


Darling (10/10/2016)

10-10-2016Darling Darling is a movie that has had a lot of commercial constraints, in no small part because it’s a psychological horror movie called “Darling,” but also because it takes a stylistic approach that is decidedly not designed for the masses.  The film is clearly a homage to Roman Polanski’s most paranoid works, particularly Repulsion, but also has shades of Pi and The Innkeepers.  The film depicts the mental collapse of a young woman after she’s hired to be the caretaker of an old brownstone in New York.  The film employs an unconventional filming style: it’s in black and white and employs a number of quick momentary cuts that reflect her mindset’s deterioration.  If I have a problem with the movie it’s that the main character’s decent into madness seems really fast.  It feels like she’s a full-fledged loon almost from the minute that she enters into the house and we never really get that arc of her losing her mind over time as either the ghost or her own personal demon takes over.  Also I can only support the movie’s crazy cutting to a certain extent, it’s interesting and effective, but at a certain point you do need to admit that some of these edits are basically just jump scares in the grand scheme of things.  I don’t think this movie is terribly deep or original in the grand scheme of things, but for the most part it does work and it’s certainly a bold film to make in this particular genre.

***1/2 out of Five

The Neon Demon (10/13/2016)

Nicholas Winding Refn is a filmmaker who is… interesting.  He reminds me a lot of Brian De Palma in that both of them are bold stylists almost to a fault and also in that both filmmakers’ tastes run towards the seedy and both filmmakers are very willing to fill their movies with unbelievably reprehensible characters and rather stilted dialog.  That’s certainly the case with his latest provocation The Neon Demon, which is about a young starlet who travels out to Hollywood to become a model only to find that the models that are already there see her as a threat and proceed to wildly over-react.  As one would expect from a Winding Refn movie at this point, the film is really well shot and has atmosphere in droves but its story is just nutty.  Clearly the film is supposed to be making some sort of point about the male gaze and about the obsession for fame and beauty but its message about these issues is muddled and ultimately feels more like a pretense for Winding Refn’s aesthetic obsessions.  The film is more original than Winding Refn’s overrated Drive and slightly more coherent than Only God Forgives but it would be fair to say that it’s very much of a piece with both, and I really would like to see Winding Refn move on and make something a little less unhinged like Bronson again.

**1/2 out of Five


The Conjuring 2 (10/16/2016)

10-16-2016Conjuring2 The original The Conjuring was to my eyes incredibly over-rated.  When it came out people were going nuts over it but I was a bit bearish on it in part because it just didn’t seem to be adding much of anything to the very familiar “haunted house” format that has been dominating contemporary horror.  I feel like the world is coming around on this because that film’s sequel was not seen as much of an event so much as just another movie where ghosts jump out at you and go “boo!”  Indeed, this is basically a complete retread of the first movie which was itself a retread of a pretty common formula.  It’s a series of jump scares and haunting clichés one after the other with nothing making it stand out aside from the fact that it pretends to be based on a true story with more conviction than most.  That having been said, my expectations were in the right place this time around and in some ways I actually enjoyed this more than the first movie because of it.  I guess it’s because I do see an end in sight to this goofy trend in jump scare movies and if they’re going to keep making them for another couple of years I’d rather they get someone like James Wan to do them because he does do it better than most and that does kind of make the Conjuring movies the king of a dumb fucking hill.

*** out of five

The Invitation (10/25/2016)

Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation is a horror movie of the “is this really a horror movie or is the protagonist being paranoid” variety and focuses on a bougie L.A. dinner party that may or may not be hosted by people with malevolent intent.  Our protagonist is a guy mourning the loss of a son who is attending a gathering hosted by his ex-wife, which is hard enough, but is made even more complicated by the fact that this ex-wife has started indulging in some freaky New Age Self-Help philosophy and everything about the way the night has gone just feels kind of weird… or maybe it isn’t, maybe he’s just making up paranoid nonsense out of a misplaced suspicion of his ex and her new friends.  The movie is pretty cagey about what exactly it’s going to be, certainly signaling that it will be some sort of thriller through its tone and occasionally its score, but perhaps that’s all a red herring meant to place you in the head of someone who’s delusional.  Personally, I’m in kind of a strange place with the film as I get what they were going for but I still don’t exactly know that I was down with it.  It spends a lot of time just being a movie about yuppies doing as yuppies do and minus the tonal trickery that is not something that would impress me, also when it finally does show its hand I don’t necessarily think it becomes a particularly interesting example of the kind of movie it becomes.  All that having been said I kind or really liked the reveal at the very very end and that kind of pushed the movie just into the “liked it” column for me.

*** out of Five


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