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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 horror movies from 2016

‘The Invitation’
Release Date: April 8, 2016
Director: Karyn Kusama
Starring: Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard and Michiel Huisman
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller, Horror
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B+

Photo courtesy of Drafthouse Films.

In “The Invitation,” Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) drive deep into the Hollywood Hills to attend a dinner party hosted by Will’s ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband David (Michiel Huisman) at the house Will and Eden used to share. The party is the first time any of their friends have seen them in two years — Will and Eden divorced following the accidental death of their son, and Eden left to join a grief support group in Mexico, where she met David. Throughout the course of the evening, Will becomes increasingly disturbed being back in the house he once shared with a happy family that is no more, and he also begins to grow suspicious of Eden and David, who try to share with the group their new spiritual philosophies that have helped them overcome grief. I like how “The Invitation” slowly turns up the suspense and leaves the audience unsure if there is really something sinister behind Eden’s cultish white dress and David’s calm demeanor, or if it’s just Will suffering from a mental breakdown when confronted with his past. It’s sufficiently creepy and even a bit thoughtful. All-in-all, “The Invitation” is a pretty good thriller.

‘The Neon Demon’
Release Date: June 24, 2016
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Elle Fanning, Jena Malone and Bella Heathcote
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for disturbing violent content, bloody images, graphic nudity, a scene of aberrant sexuality, and language.
Grade: B

neondemon

Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios, Broad Green Pictures, Scanbox Entertainment and The Jokers.

“The Neon Demon” is the most talked-about and most polarizing horror movie of the year. For the most part, I really liked it. Kind of a tired story: Jesse (Elle Fanning) is a young girl from a small town hoping to make it big as a model in Hollywood, but Hollywood is, unfortunately, full of Illuminati and lesbian necrophiliacs. It’s a higher budget version of 2014’s “Starry Eyes,” which is a much better film, plot-wise. But don’t come to “The Neon Demon” for the plot: come for the artistic visuals, evil female leads and the always excellent Jena Malone who steals the show as Jesse’s eerily too nice, there’s-gotta-be-something-wrong-with-her mentor Ruby. My main issue with “The Neon Demon” is the weird casting of Elle Fanning as the lead — she’s not charismatic enough to propel the movie on her own, and she’s cute, but the very embodiment of natural beauty? Eh. At least the costumes are fabulous.

‘Train to Busan’
Release Date: July 20, 2016
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Starring: Gong Yoo, Kim Su-an and Jung Yu-mi
Genre: Action, Drama, Horror
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A+

train-to-busan

Photo courtesy of Next Entertainment World.

“Train to Busan” is one of the best zombie movies I’ve seen in a long while. The Korean horror film expertly showcases comedic moments, high tension, family drama, romance and truly frightening zombie shots. It’s an excellent movie and one of the best horror films of the year. The story follows Seok-woo (Gong Yoo), an absentee father whose focus on his business has crippled his relationship with his 9-year-old daughter Su-an (Kim Su-an). For her birthday, all Su-an wants is to be reunited with her estranged mother, so Seok-woo begrudgingly agrees to accompany her on the high-speed KTX ride from Seoul to Busan. Unfortunately, the train departs just as the country begins to deteriorate into a zombie apocalypse. Only Busan, the country’s southern port city, is safe, and the survivors must fight to get the train to its final destination. The intense zombie action scenes are top tier (my favorite is a stop in Daejeon where the passengers are faced with a horde of zombie soldiers in military uniform charging up the stairs), but where “Train to Busan” really got me is with its heart. The evolving father-daughter dynamic will suck you in, and the supporting characters are all so compelling. “Train to Busan” is not to be missed.

‘31’
Release Date: Sept. 16, 2016
Director: Rob Zombie
Starring: Sheri Moon Zombie, Malcolm McDowell and Meg Foster
Genre: Thriller, Horror
Rating: R for strong bloody horror violence, pervasive language, sexual content and drug use.
Grade: B-

31

Photo courtesy of Saban Films.

As a diehard Rob Zombie fan, I enjoyed “31” and was pleased to find it more straightforward and accessible than Zombie’s last release, 2012’s “The Lords of Salem.” “31” follows a group of carnival workers who are kidnapped on Halloween 1976 and told by three strangers that they will be entered into a game called 31. During the game, they will have 12 hours to escape from a maze-like warehouse of rooms while various clowns will be sent to torture and kill them. The plot isn’t necessarily anything groundbreaking, but Zombie’s characterizations are always the most entertaining. His villains are excellent, particularly Malcolm McDowell as Father Murder, an aristocrat in a powdered wig who oversees the proceedings and announces the carnies’ odds for survival over a loudspeaker, and Richard Brake as Doom-Head, the final and most effective obstacle in the gang’s way of survival. As always, Sheri Moon Zombie is a badass and a delight, and I love that she’s still the ultimate scream queen, wielding chainsaws in barely-there crop tops at 46.