Tag Archives: Horror Movie

Crimson Peak Review

Crimson Peak

If you’re looking for spooky, look no further than Crimson Peak.

Guillermo Del Toro is somewhat of an anomaly in the world of Hollywood. He’s regarded, rightfully so, as one of the most creative, inventive and visually engaging directors to ever grace the medium. His masterpiece, Pan’s Labyrinth, won armfuls of accolades, awards, and forever cemented his imaginative place in the world of cinema. The tricky thing about Mr. Del Toro’s career, however, has been his lack of a box office success. The word “decent” is often used to describe his best box office grosses, while flop is used for the rest. What I find interesting is that in light of his middle-of-the-road financial successes he was able to make a film like Crimson Peak. It’s a haunted house film to rival the eeriest of gothic romance tales ever committed to film or otherwise.

The film starts off with Mia Wasikowsa’s Edith Cushing exclaiming that ghost’s are real. She tells of the death of her Mother when she was very young, and the haunted happenings that followed. Her deathly apparition of a Mother appears to her with a warning: Beware Crimson Peak. With an ominous light cast on this Crimson Peak very early on we then jump forward into Edith’s adulthood. She’s an inspiring writer of spooky fiction and gothic romances. Her works are scoffed at as tacky ghost stories, though she reminds her critics that they aren’t ghost stories, they’re stories with ghosts. That’s an extremely important bit to remember, and a line that played over in my mind as a left the theater. I’ll get to it in a second.

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From there we meet the Sharpe twins, played magnificently by Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain. For the viewer it’s clear from the get go that something’s just not right about this two strangers clad in black. The characters in the film seem to share the audiences misgivings, with of course Ms. Cushing being the exception. She falls madly in love and moves to the Sharpe estate in England where the bulk of the film takes place. Once there the creepy happenings pick up the pace and continue on until the end. The ghosts are unsettling to behold, and the atmosphere Del Toro places them in only enhances their spooky factor. Spoiler warning for those who care to remain fresh, but the ghosts are ultimately inconsequential to the plot. The evil of Crimson Peak is not of supernatural origin. The twist and finale of the movie can be seen coming from a mile away and unfolds as we’d assume it would. The plot isn’t really why one would see this film, however. The magic lies in the visuals.

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My biggest problem with Crimson Peak was how little impact these truly exciting and terrifying apparitions had on the story. If you took the ghosts out the plot would remain nearly unaffected. The mystery of the Sharpe twins is uncovered largely without the assistance of anything supernatural. The ghosts are not even integral to the climax of the film, even after their connection to the Sharpes is established. That felt like a huge missed opportunity. Like I mentioned earlier Edith Cushing states that her story is not of ghosts, but rather featuring ghosts. It’s curious to me that Del Toro would tell us what kind of film we’re getting, and that the impact of that line wouldn’t hold it’s full weight until after the credits roll. I guess this is one man’s opinion, but I would have liked to have seen the ghosts have a larger effect on the overall plot.

Guillermo Del Toro has a visual eye unlike any filmmaker I’ve ever seen. Nothing looks like a Del Toro picture. He takes every influence he’s ever had and mashes them together into something that feels truly original. Crimson Peak is no different. It’s dripping with his unique aesthetic. It’s a shame his story telling elements never line up with his visuals. Each English language film he’s done is masterful in it’s design. They look phenomenal. The stories and characters always leave something to be desired, however. These troubles aren’t found in his Spanish language movies. The story and visuals match up and make for really great films. Something about the English language holds Guillermo Del Toro back, and I hold my breath for the day he returns to Spanish cinema and delivers another masterpiece.

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At the end of the day I absolutely recommend Crimson Peak. It’s a perfect Halloween film. It’s a perfect film to turn the lights off and behold some spooky happenings. The plot and characters don’t hold up under scrutiny, but if you’re looking for some delicious eye candy, or rather what Del Toro would call eye protein, then watch Crimson Peak. If you like looking at cool stuff then this is the movie for you. Forgive the plot contrivances and weak characters and you’ll have a good time.

Maggie – Review

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The Zombie apocalypse is upon us! I, of course, am not speaking literally, but rather commenting on the sudden, and all together overwhelming appearance of so many Zombies appearing in movies, television, comic books and beyond. While it wouldn’t be too out of the question to place the blame, if that’s what you want to call it, on the shoulders of The Walking Dead, I believe this resurgence in the Zombie is speaking to something in culture at large. Perhaps it’s playing on fears of a nebulous danger lurking somewhere waiting to destroy society. Perhaps it’s a cathartic release, a rebellion against the bland, mundane, and ironically enough, zombie like culture our reliance on technology has give us. In any event the Zombie is bigger than ever and the latest Zombie romp in theaters is Maggie, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Abigail Breslin. I, like many, jumped at the idea of Schwarzenegger taking on hoards of the undead, but was the movie any good? Let’s take a look.

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Maggie is unlike any Zombie film I have ever seen before. It’s not action packed by any means, in fact quite the opposite. This is a small picture, somewhat introspective kind of film. At it’s core is a very intriguing premise. We’re introduced to a world where a virus induced Zombie outbreak is in it’s very early stages. Crops are dying, people are falling mysteriously ill, quarantines and strict curfews are in full effect. Wade Vogel (Schwarzenegger) finds his runaway teenaged daughter Maggie (Breslin) at a hospital and wouldn’t you know it she’s been bit. What’s refreshing here is that the characters all know what it means. Maggie has contracted this virus and will turn into a ravenous Zombie in a short amount of time. Wade is informed he only has a week or two before he needs to get his Maggie to quarantine, which we never see, but are lead to believe it’s like a gigantic holding tank for Zombies. Wade whisks his daughter away to his farm house where the vast majority of the film takes place. The idea of a family knowing their loved one has been bit and will turn into an undead cannibal and having to deal with all the grief and sorrow is very intriguing to me and what drew me to the film. Unfortunately I just don’t feel the movie hit the mark it was aiming for. All the quiet moments the director wants us to see and feel aren’t treated with any amount of nuance or subtlety. The characters paint big with big broad strokes when it comes to their emotional beats. I’m not talking so much of over acting or anything of that nature, but rather in tone. More often than not a character or plot point is introduced only for a “tear jerker” of a monologue to take place. Numerous occasions this happens and the first couple are OK, but after a handful of these Zombie apocalypse sob stories you just stop caring. In a film without any action beats to move us along we should be anchored and pulled in by the emotional content of the story and it’s just never compelling enough to keep full attention.

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What’s really interesting in Maggie is Arnold Schwarzenegger. For years Schwarzenegger has been the king of the action film. That’s his bread and butter. Sure, he’s done the occasional slapstick, goofball comedy, but for a guy so perfectly cast as an emotionless killing machine all those years ago it’s very surprising to see him turn in such a great performance. It’s also surprising to see Arnold Schwarzenegger acting circles around his costars. Going back to the troubles the movie had pulling me into it’s emotional arcs, I would say the leading cause of that is not enough of the performances are convincing, or compelling enough. Abigail Breslin showed great promise as a child star, but her delivery here is lifeless and dull (and that’s before she turns into a zombie). None of the other actors really have much more to work with outside of all those touching monologues so the bulk of the acting is placed on Schwarzenegger’s broad shoulders. It’s said that acting is reacting and Schwarzenegger reacts beautifully to the heavy situation his character finds himself in, while none of his supporting cast seem to really have a good grasp on what kind of movie they’re in. While Maggie may not be a great film, I do hope it doesn’t spell the end of Schwarzenegger’s foray into these meatier dramatic roles. He’s clearly got the chops.

It’s a shame that Maggie didn’t hit all the notes it should have. This concept has such amazing potential and I was so let down by the mishandling of it. Ultimately I would recommend watching it when it comes to VOD, Netflix or any other rental platform for Schwarzeneggers performance alone. Be warned, there’s not much to enjoy in the film other than that. The cinematography is so over-processed by digital color grading and desaturation that, like all it’s emotional beats, you get numb to the artificial images on screen. For a first time director it’s not the worst attempt, but it could have been so, so much more.

Zombeavers

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Zombie beavers. Zombeavers. That’s right folks, such a movie exists. Not only does such a movie exist, but it exists in theaters. What would have otherwise been a bargain bin B movie is playing on screens all across America and I can tell you all, without a shred of doubt in my mind, that it’s one of the worst films I have ever seen. I know what you’re thinking; I should go easy on it. I should let it slide. A movie about zombie beavers can’t possibly be good so why would I be so harsh? Allow me to explain.

Zombeavers starts off really well. I was actually surprised. The very first scene is two dumb, dopey guys in a truck doing what we can assume is a medical waste delivery. The two guys, played by comedian Bill Burr and, if you can believe it, singer/songwriter John Mayer, have some pretty raunchy, witty banter. It’s outrageous, doesn’t make a lick of sense and I loved it. That kind of zany character work always makes me smile so the movie had me hooked. Then we’re introduced to our three lead characters: Mary, Zoe, and Jenn (played by Rachel Melvin, Cortney Palm, and Lexi Atkins respectively). They’re on a weekend getaway to Mary’s Cousin’s cabin (of course) with a no boys allowed rule (of course). The girls have a day of fun splish splashing away in the lake and everything seems to being going their way (of course). Later that night things get spooky. Banging noises and other minor, but strange, occurrences happen but it’s all a ruse set up by the boys who came anyway (of course). From here we go on the “roller coaster” ride of a horror film. The zombeavers are introduced slowly at first until our plucky young college kids are completely over run. Zombeavers everywhere! Carnage, death, mayhem and more flies across the screen. Sounds exciting, right? That’s the problem. It’s not.

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Horror comedy has been done with varying degrees of success over the years. When it’s good, it’s really good (Shaun of the Dead) and when it’s bad it’s Zombeavers. It seemed to me the filmmakers wanted to let loose with the comedy, but were continually restraining themselves anytime they’d start to have some fun. I discovered online that the director is a writer whose work is almost entirely in the comedy genre. That makes sense. Anytime the movie wants to be funny it really is. Zombeavers can’t do horror well enough to scare, and it’s too afraid to comedy for fear of, I don’t know, not being taken seriously. It doesn’t even do gore particularly well. It’s hard to really know what the intention of the director was. The scares are non-existent and the creature effects are laughably bad. That wouldn’t be so terrible if it was played with a wink of the eye and even a hint of self-awareness. They try and play the zombie beavers straight and it does not work. The budget of the film is painfully noticeable as well. A character has his foot bitten off and they decided to remove the foot in post production. No biggie, that’s how it’s done these days. Trouble with that is there were multiple instances where they either forgot to remove the foot, or removed it very poorly. The sound design in the film is also glaringly bad. Most probably won’t notice it, but it became so grating that I wanted to flee the theater. If your budget can’t fully support the horror you want to create, then for the love of God be more creative or be funny.

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I feel bad being so critical to a film that was clearly trying to be dopey and “so bad it’s good.” A midnight, drunken viewing of the film might prove pretty entertaining. If you can watch it at a noisy get together with some friends where absolutely nothing on screen will affect your buzz I suppose I could recommend it. Otherwise forget it. Trying to be bad, but in a good way, is one of the big cinema sins. It’s as cringe worthy as someone trying to make a viral video. You can’t force it.

The Lazarus Effect

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It’s a long established trope within the world of horror for a wide eyed, eager scientist to be brought down by that pesky thing we call hubris. It’s a tried and true element of horror going back to the early days of the genre. Man dabbles in some sort of hokey pokey science common sense tells him he ought’a avoid and carnage ensues shortly thereafter. It’s been done before and will be done again. It’s up to the filmmakers and story tellers to find their version of that story, to find their unique spin on the concept. Some succeed, some fail, but you can never fault them for trying. That said, let’s dive into The Lazarus Effect.

The Lazarus Effect essentially boils down to a few plucky college scientists come up with a serum that can restore life. As is tradition, our team starts off with animal trials. They resurrect an already aggressive looking dog, with predictably terrible results. I don’t know why you wouldn’t start with something a tad safer like a ferret or a parakeet or something, but I’m no scientist. After this successful animal trial a scheming pharmaceutical corporation pulls a sneaky bureaucratic move that see’s our idealistic scientists losing all their research. Naturally they decide the only way to vindicate themselves is to repeat the experiment and film it to prove the work was their’s first, not that cackling villain of a corporation. By the way, that’s essentially the last we really see or hear from that pharmaceutical. Anyway, back the story. Our young heroes pull a dead dog out of the fridge and rig him up to be revived. Wouldn’t you know it things go sour and Olivia Wilde’s character drops dead. If only they had a magic serum that brought stuff back to life. Luckily for Ms. Wilde they do. She swaps places with the the frozen puppy dog on the table, then get’s the ol’ Frankenstein treatment.

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From here forward the typical bunch of cliched horror shenanigans take over. Lots of jump scares, lots of ominous music and lots of carnage. Well, maybe not carnage. Sure, people die. It is a horror movie after all and it’d be strange to not have people dropping dead like it’s going out of style, and drop dead they do. Fast. But by the time the horrific chaos kicks in we’re at the tail end of the movie and you can’t help but feel the director was looking at the film he had left over and just shouted at people to hurry. As a matter of fact, the supremely disappointing ending felt like the beginning of the third act. Things just kinda stopped. Had they followed the thread they laid down at the end and cut out some of the more extraneous elements (I’m looking at you Big Pharma) they could have had a solid horror story on their hands. They had a movie that could have tackled the science versus religious debate within the confines of the horror genre, but it felt like the filmmakers just gave up.

This movie is another in a series of horror flicks I’ve seen recently that have a really interesting concept but something during the production kept theses movies from truly achieving any sort of greatness. In The Lazarus Effect we’re presented with two ideas about the nature of death. We have one character saying the phenomenon of the afterlife and the so called “white light” everyone see’s as they pass is the mind releasing a flood of the chemical compound DMT. I guess that acts as some sort of hallucinogen in the brain that lessens the impact of death, or eases the whole experience. After Olivia Wilde dies and is resurrected she tells of a nightmare she had to relive for years during the few minutes she was dead. The movie suggests that Hell is where a person goes to relive the worst moment of their life over and over again. These two ideas, one science based, one religious based, are presented to the audience and then never expanded upon. There’s killing to get to and we don’t have time to deal with those kind of big debates. So it’s left hanging. Is Olivia Wilde tripping on DMT so severely that it’s given her demonic super powers, or has she returned with a demonic presence latched onto her soul. The movie never really tells us. She can do some crazy stuff, but the “why” is missing. If bringing back someone from the dead gives them super demon powers we as the audience deserve to know for sure which one it is, especially if you present two opposing ideas that make perfect sense and are supported within the narrative of the film. Don’t let an idea dangle there. Grab it and run with it or don’t bother giving it to us at all.

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On a technical side everything in the movie was fine. It looked good and didn’t have any wonky special effects. The performances of the main cast were typical of what you’d find in this kind of movie. The biggest problem with the cast was Mark Duplass. He’s a fine actor, but in this film his eyes were telling the audience he didn’t believe a single word that came out of his mouth. He’s supposed to be the smart guy in the room, but you don’t buy it for a second. Evan Peters, Donald Glover and Sarah Bolger all did perfectly fine jobs given the sort of film we’re dealing with, but none of the performances really drew you into the film.

This movie just doesn’t work. It had a lot of things it could have expanded on that it just didn’t, and spent time on elements it had no business worrying about. The opportunity to tell a good story took a back seat to a series of jump scares. If that’s your cup of tea give the movie a shot, but I can’t really recommend it.