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Capsule film reviews: Four horror movies from 2017

‘Get Out’
Release Date: Feb. 24, 2017
Director: Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams and Bradley Whitford
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Rating: R for violence, bloody images and language including sexual references.
Grade: A+

Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Obviously, I loved “Get Out.” If you somehow have not seen and loved “Get Out” by now, I hope you do so immediately. What more can be said about this hugely successful movie? It’s easily the best horror film of 2017 and one of the defining horror films of our generation. So many things about “Get Out” are brilliantly executed, thanks to Jordan Peele’s excellent writing and directing talents. It’s frightening, savvy and thought-provoking — so topical it’s inspired countless analyzations, memes and major award nominations. The film follows Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a black photographer, who is going to meet his white girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) family for the first time. He quickly notices something off about the countryside neighborhood, the father who is swift to brag about voting for Obama, and the only two other black people present — a highly-strung maid (Betty Gabriel) and a silent groundskeeper (Marcus Henderson). As the visit goes on, the film’s clever twists and turns lead the viewer on a terrifying and all too real journey. Best of all is the brilliant conclusion and electrifying final scene that seems to succinctly sum up the film’s overall message.

‘XX’
Release Date: Feb. 17, 2017
Director: Jovanka Vuckovic, Annie Clark, Roxanne Benjamin and Karyn Kusama
Starring: Natalie Brown, Melanie Lynskey and Breeda Wool
Genre: Horror
Rating: R for horror violence, language and brief drug use.
Grade: C

Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

I enjoy horror anthologies for a lot of reasons. I appreciate the short story format, and I love the opportunity to see multiple directors’ takes on the genre. “XX” is a 2017 horror anthology featuring the work of only female directors, which is also cool. It would’ve been cooler if the shorts were better, but what can you do? The best piece is “The Birthday Party,” also known as “The Memory Lucy Suppressed From Her Seventh Birthday That Wasn’t Really Her Mom’s Fault (Even Though Her Therapist Says It’s Probably Why She Fears Intimacy).” This short was written and directed by indie musician Annie Clark, who performs under the stage name St. Vincent. Starring Melanie Lynskey as neurotic housewife Mary, “The Birthday Party” is the most put-together and well-acted story. It’s darkly funny, slightly creepy and thoroughly entertaining. The scariest piece is the anthology’s most simple, Roxanne Benjamin’s “Don’t Fall,” which is straightforward in its depiction of a group of friends who encounter a demonic creature while camping. They hear it, then it gets ‘em, and that’s it. The end. Karyn Kusama, who brought us “The Invitation” last year, presents “Her Only Living Son,” a complex piece that could absolutely be expanded into a full-length feature tackling the idea of Rosemary’s baby growing up to be Rosemary’s pubescent teenager. And, finally, Jovanka Vuckovic attempts an adaptation of a Jack Ketchum short story with “The Box.” It’s a thought-provoking and eerie story, but it’s poorly executed and the acting is abysmal.

‘Raw’
Release Date: March 10, 2017
Director: Julia Ducournau
Starring: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf and Laurent Lucas
Genre: Drama, Horror
Rating: R for aberrant behavior, bloody and grisly images, strong sexuality, nudity, language and drug use/partying.
Grade: A

Photo courtesy of Focus World.

“Raw” is a great horror film. It’s so disturbing and bloody that viewers reportedly fainted during early screenings, but it’s also very relatable! There are some really sick, depraved scenes that are all kinds of fun for gore aficionados, and some excellent character development to elevate the story beyond the surface level. Justine (Garance Marillier), a lifelong vegetarian raised in an all-vegetarian family, is heading off for her first semester at the same veterinary school her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) attends. She is shocked by the unfamiliar environment and struggles to fit in. During a hazing ritual for incoming freshman, Justine is pressured to eat raw meat and finally does so after seeing her sister do the same. Unfortunately, this small taste awakens a dark thirst inside her for more. Like “Ginger Snaps” before it (which equated girls’ coming of age to becoming a werewolf), “Raw” appropriately compares cannibalism to female adolescence. Despite the strict protectiveness of her upbringing, Justine eventually finds a way to become free and explore her own identity. She is no longer able to suppress her inevitable growing desires — both sexual desires and the desire to eat human flesh. It’s an interesting film and a nicely-done take on the monstrosity of young adulthood.

‘It’
Release Date: Sept. 8, 2017
Director: Andy Muschietti
Starring: Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård and Sophia Lillis
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for violence/horror, bloody images and language.
Grade: C

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

“It” was definitely the high-budget, must-see horror film of the year, but I wasn’t too impressed. I was hoping this remake would fill in some of the gaps where the 1990 Stephen King adaptation was lacking (there were a lot), but it didn’t really do that. The 2017 “It” mostly excelled in its visuals. Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise the Dancing Clown is fabulously constructed and aesthetically impressive with his creepy, lurky smile and a costume ruffled for the gods. Several of the film’s phenomenal sets seem ready to be transported directly to Universal Studios for a Halloween Horror Nights maze. But the plot was as convoluted as ever. Basically, a group of youngsters have to work together to defeat a mysterious evil being that lives in the town’s sewer system, dresses in a clown costume and kidnaps children. Why does no one mention how strange this story is? It’s super weird and makes no sense for this monster to appear as a clown. Like, WHY is it a clown? In the original novel, It is actually a shapeshifting demon that takes the form of your greatest fear, which is an important bit of explanation that is never, ever brought up in the film. I guess they’re just assuming everyone’s greatest fear is a clown with a gigantic forehead?

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Capsule film reviews: Four more horror movies from 2014

‘Starry Eyes’
Release Date: March 8, 2014
Director: Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer
Starring: Alex Essoe, Amanda Fuller and Noah Segan
Genre: Horror
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A-

starryeyes

Photo courtesy of Snowfort Pictures, Parallactic Pictures and Dark Sky Films.

This film borrows heavily from its predecessors: it’s got a bit of “Suspiria” (Alex Essoe, who stars as Sarah, even looks just like Jessica Harper) with a dash of “Eyes Wide Shut.” The body horror is exactly the same as 2013’s “Contracted,” which was itself borrowed from 2012’s “Thanatomorphose.” And yet I still really, really liked “Starry Eyes.” It follows Sarah’s struggles as a part-time waitress/aspiring actress living in Hollywood with a group of self-centered frenemies. She finally has some success at an audition run by an eerie-yet-powerful production company with strange Illuminati-esque ties that promises to “transform” her life — quite literally. “Starry Eyes” is pretty campy, and it’s great. At its core, it’s just a classic Hollywood story. How far are you willing to go for success? How much are you willing to sacrifice? How squeamish are you around maggots?

‘Oculus’
Release Date: April 11, 2014
Director: Mike Flanagan
Starring: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites and Rory Cochrane
Genre: Horror
Rating: R for terror, violence, some disturbing images and brief language.
Grade: D

oculus

Photo courtesy of Relativity Media.

The best line from this movie is, “Okay, what’s more likely: that you’re misremembering events from 11 years ago, or that the mirror eats dogs?” But, of course, the mirror really does eat dogs. It also manipulates people within its range to have vivid hallucinations that eventually cause them to commit horrifying deeds. In the case of “Oculus,” Kaylie Russell (Karen Gillan) is convinced that the antique mirror her father (Rory Cochrane) had in his office when she was a child used its supernatural abilities to drive him crazy enough to murder her mother (Katee Sackhoff). It’s really such a stupid premise, I started to wonder if we’ve literally made a horror movie about everything and now there’s nothing left. It would have been much more interesting if Kaylie really was remembering incorrectly and her father was just an insane murderer of his own volition, but no. It was the mirror.

‘The Town That Dreaded Sundown’
Release Date: Oct. 16, 2014
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Starring: Addison Timlin, Spencer Treat Clark and Travis Tope
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for brutal violence, grisly images, strong sexual content, and language.
Grade: D

townthatdreadedsundown

Photo courtesy of Orion Pictures.

As a sequel/remake/ reboot of the 1976 classic slasher film, “The Town That Dreaded Sundown” had a lot of room to play around with the story and the genre, but it really dropped the ball. The original is based on the true story of a masked serial killer who terrorized the small town Texarkana in the 1940s. The 2014 film picks up the story in the modern day with a return of the Phantom Killer at an annual Halloween screening of the movie at the local drive-in theater. I love meta horror, but “The Town That Dreaded Sundown” didn’t even try to do anything interesting with this reboot. With two horror powerhouses behind the production (Ryan Murphy of American Horror Story fame and Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions), I expected something more innovative. “The Town That Dreaded Sundown” is just another straightforward slasher without any particularly exciting gory effects and the most ridiculously disappointing resolution imaginable. In fact, it was such a letdown it made me angry.

‘Horns’
Release Date: Oct. 31, 2014
Director: Alexandre Aja
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple and Max Minghella
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Horror
Rating: R for sexual content, some graphic nudity, disturbing violence including a sexual assault, language and drug use.
Grade: C

horns

Photo courtesy of Dimension Films and RADiUS-TWC.

The “Horns” script seemed quite true to Joe Hill’s novel, but there’s a lot going on that had to be condensed into a 120-minute film. I wish “Horns” had focused on the areas in which it excelled: black horror-comedy and religious satire. Unfortunately, it had to take a lot of time for scene-setting flashbacks, character-building romance and, y’know, plot-progressing twists and turns. It centers on Ig Perrish (played by Daniel Radcliffe, whom I love), a social pariah who has been accused of murdering his girlfriend Merrin (played by Juno Temple, whom I love). One day, he wakes up with horns sprouting from his forehead and psychic abilities to draw the truth out of people, which he uses to his advantage as he seeks out Merrin’s true killer. Also he can command snakes to do his bidding. There’s a lot going on, most of which is at least entertaining. But I really am sick of the compulsory rape scene in every horror movie.