Home Video Round-Up: 10/11/2017 (Halloween Edition)

A Cure for Wellness (9/25/2017)

A Cure for Wellness was Gore Verbinski’s “one for me” after making four a whole lot of commercial Johnny Depp movies and was his long awaited return to horror after making his great remake of The Ring back in 2002.  It seemed like this really bold and original idea… so what went wrong?  Well before we get to that let’s consider what went right.  The film is in many ways feels like a slick attempt at making a modern Dario Argento film with its visual focus and a dreamy atmosphere but instead of focusing on gore it focuses on trying to find some fairly original horror imagery.  The basic production values here are really strong: Bojan Bazelli’s cinematography looks really sharp and the art department does a great job of making the Swiss spa that the film is set in look really cool.  The basic ideas that the film was built around were strong, unfortunately it had to be saddled with a rather meandering screenplay that never really kicks into gear.  The villains’ evil scheme really doesn’t make very much sense if you hold it up to even a little bit of scrutiny (Why are they keeping Dane DeHaan around? Why are they choosing as their victims rich and powerful people who will be missed?) and the protagonist doesn’t prove to be as interesting as the movie thinks he is.  I kept hoping for a twist that would make all of this seem worth it, but one never really came.  There is also the little fact that the movie bears a fairly strong resemblance to Scorsese’s recent film Shutter Island.  The two movies have their differences and Scorsese’s movie has its problems too, but the similarities that are there are just a little too big to ignore.  Having said all that I do still kind of like this thing, or at least I can’t dismiss it.  The atmosphere and visuals go a long way and even when it starts getting downright silly towards the end I was still largely entertained, especially when compared to other horror movies that don’t try nearly as hard.

***1/2 out of Five

The Belko Experiment (9/30/2017)

The Belko Experiment is less of a true horror movie and more of an exercise in violence mixed with what are at least attempts at a satire of office culture.  The movie it most closely resembles (to the point of basically being a ripoff) is the Japanese film Battle Royale in which a group of school children are dumped onto an island and forced to fight to the death for what are basically unknown reasons, and the usual tensions of grade school life are played out in rather extreme form in their fights.  Here we are instead focusing on office workers who are trapped in their building and told over an intercom that if they don’t begin killing each other they’ll all be killed by small bombs that have been implanted in their heads.  What follows is a movie where people who essentially like each other are forced to murder each other in fairly brutal fashion.  The derivativeness and general sadism of this idea probably made it unlikely to succeed no matter what anyone did, but there were additional mistakes it also makes along the way.  I feel like I would have liked the movie better if it had stuck to its guns and populated this office who were more or less average joes, but instead the movie take a pretty deliberate step to add a clique of “bad guys” and since everyone’s essentially being forced to be bad in this contrived situation the film needs to make them really just cartoonishly awful people, which kind of robs the movie of any nuance potential it might have had.  That and some routine bad performances and just a general lack of suspense make this a pretty nasty piece of work without a lot to redeem it outside of its decent pacing and occasional witty moments.

*1/2 out of Five

Colossal (10/5/2017)

Colossal is a unique little movie about a woman who is something of a functioning alcoholic and who is close to hitting rock bottom after she loses a job and gets kicked out of her apartment by her boyfriend and returns to her home town after years away.  Things start to get weird, however, when a giant Godzilla-like monster suddenly begins attacking Seoul, South Korea during her blackouts and she begins to have legitimate reason to believe there’s some connection between her behavior and the monster attacks.  I certainly give the film points for originality, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to come up with a way to combine a Sundancey indie movie with a damn Kaiju movie, but somehow it happened and the combo works better than you’d think for the most part and some of the monster effects are actually pretty impressive for a lot budget movie like this.  The problem is that, while the movie works as a metaphor, it kind of gets a bit ridiculous if you are just watching it as a regular narrative.  The film is meant to show a rather extreme example of how self-destructive behavior can actually be pretty destructive to other people as well and to show the danger in enabling such behavior.  That fits for the most part, but it also sets up the consequences for this kind stuff to be so extreme that it becomes hard to believe that anyone would continue to be as much of an unrelenting jerk as Jason Sudeikis becomes at the end of the film.  In some ways I kind of wish they’d made this thing as a short film or as an episode of an anthology TV series or something because I’m not sure there was enough material in the idea as a feature film warrants, but when the film is working it works quite well.

**1/2 out of Five

Raw (10/10/2017)

The influence of Roman Polanski on the horror genre is becoming more and more clear to me as I see more and more psychological freak-out movies in which the viewer follows a character as he or she slowly goes insane.  The new franco-Belgian film Raw is also one of these movies, but it also has elements from Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon and Claire Denis’ Trouble Every Day.  The film concerns a freshman student who is starting out at a truly out of control veterinary school that puts her through some absolutely wild hazing rituals, one of which involved eating a raw rabbit kidney, which really sets something off in the mind of this former vegetarian and sends her off in some rather murderous directions.  The film is plainly a metaphor which takes the anxieties that students feel when suddenly on their own and surrounded with various pressures to conform to the sometimes wild things that the people around them are doing and tells it from the perspective of someone who maybe can’t handle those things as well as the others.  Not the most insightful metaphor but one that certainly leads to some memorable moments like a very awkward scene about half way through the film involving Brazilian waxes, a pair of scissors, and cannibalism.  I’m not sure that it ultimately adds up to something profound and I also wasn’t a fan of the film’s ending, which offered something of a pat explanation for what came before, but there’s no doubt that it’s an interesting little horror film for the adventurous viewer.

*** out of Five

The Mummy (10/11/2017)

In response to negative criticism director Alex Kurtzman famously said “we didn’t make this movie for critics, we made it for the fans.”  The “fans” of what, exactly?  This is a movie that actually has less in common with the 1932 Boris Karloff movie than the 1999 remake with Brendan Frasier did and given that Universal’s “Dark World” doesn’t have any fans yet on account of this being its first entry and no one seems to have liked it.  The movie actually has more in common with the Hammer version of The Mummy than anything, but its relation to past movies isn’t really the problem here so much as its own failure to know what it wants to be.  It feels like there are about three different movies in this thing competing with each other: there’s the dark semi-horror movie that wants to mix Egyptian adventure with gothic imagery, there’s the jokey action movie starring Tom Cruise, and there’s the 21st century franchise/superhero movie.  That middle one is probably the biggest problem: Tom Cruise makes zero sense as the star of this thing and it feels like they adjusted the movie a lot in order to fit in with what people expect from Tom Cruise action movies and add in some really strange attempts at humor (including an element which is a blatant ripoff of An American Werewolf in London) that feel like they were added in at the last minute in response to a studio note.  The franchise stuff setting up a shared universe is also a problem of course, I can maybe envision a version of this where that stuff works better but it still seems like a mistake to have even tried to do that.  Hollywood, take a closer look at Marvel before you try to rip them off, you’ll note that they focused on just making good movies and kept that shit contained in the post credits sequences until they knew people were hooked and on board.  The Mummy does have its moments here and there, I don’t think it’s quite the disaster that its 16% Rotten Tomatoes score suggests, but it is a mess and a missed opportunity.

** out of Five

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