FlixChatter Review – HALLOWEEN (2018)

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Directed by: David Gordon Green

2018’s Halloween follows Final Girl Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) 40 years after her traumatic run-in with Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney and Nick Castle) during his Halloween night killing spree. Now an agoraphobic survivalist, she prepares for Michael’s inevitable return, putting a strain on her relationship with her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). When Michael does escape during a transfer to a different prison, Laurie fights to protect her family and end things once and for all.

This is easily the best Halloween sequel in the franchise. It’s only really a sequel to the first film, thankfully ignoring the following 7. It feels nostalgic with plenty of little nods to the original film (including liberal use of the iconic score, which I love; it’s basically the soundtrack to the Halloween season, not just the movie). Even some of the lighting choices have a 70’s vibe. It’s still a classic slasher film that keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole way through, but it doesn’t feel like a rehash of the first movie. It’s definitely bloody, but it doesn’t feel excessively gory, keeping a surprising amount of the actual kills offscreen and keeping the ones that are shown pretty quick and straightforward, although there is one notable and horrifying exception toward the end of the film that makes me question the durability of the human skull.

Acting-wise, this movie has a strong cast. Jamie Lee Curtis is excellent as always, striking a good balance between hardened survivor and emotional victim. Judy Greer is delightful in everything she’s in, and this is no exception. Newcomer Andi Matichak gives a solid, likable performance. Despite not getting tons of screen time, Karen’s husband Ray (Toby Huss) has some funny moments. The supporting cast is good but not necessarily stand-out, with the exception of Jibrail Nantambu as Julian, the baby-sitting charge of Allyson’s friend Vicky (Virginia Gardner). This kid is hilarious and one of the best parts of the movie. Hopefully we’ll see more of this young actor in the future.

As with any movie, Halloween isn’t perfect. There are some questionable editing choices that don’t match the tone of the movie that they really only use in the first half. There are some weird character choices that don’t feel fully developed and don’t really go anywhere, especially with true crime podcasters Dana Haines (Rhian Rees) and Aaron Korey (Jefferson Hall), Allyson’s boyfriend Cameron (Dylan Arnold), and Michael’s doctor/Dr. Loomis’s replacement, Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer).

Overall, though, Halloween is an excellent addition to the franchise and a great horror movie overall. I would absolutely recommend checking it out if you’re looking for something spooky to watch for the Halloween season.

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Have you seen the latest HALLOWEEN? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review – The Nun (2018)

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While I’m a fan of horror in general, I prefer the supernatural/paranormal sub-genre, and The Conjuring film series is easily one of my favorites out of the more recent paranormal horror movies. I always try to go into screenings with an open mind, but I couldn’t help having high expectations with The Nun.

The Nun follows Father Burke (Demian Bichir), a priest who specializes in paranormal investigation, and Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), a novitiate about to take her final vows, to an isolated convent in Romania to look into the death of a nun. Joined by Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), the French-Canadian expatriate who discovered the corpse, the investigators discover an ancient and dangerous force of evil that manifests itself in the form of a demonic nun.

While The Nun is certainly a lot of fun, it’s hardly the best out of The Conjuring series. The biggest problem with it is its heavy reliance on CGI. While all the films in the series use CGI to an extent, they mostly achieve their scares through strategically shadowy shots and tense pacing. While they still utilize that method here, they place more focus on special effects to the point where it packs less of a punch. The demonic nun’s CGI face is especially silly.

The Nun also makes the mistake of beginning and ending with scenes from the first Conjuring movie, which just feels clumsy. Despite the films being connected, the scenes don’t blend well with the overall movie, and it’s confusing for people who haven’t seen the first film; the friend I attended the screening with had never seen the other movies and had to ask me what the scenes were about afterward. People who have seen the first movie would have still been able to appreciate the connection between the movies without having the scenes included, so there really is no good reason for having them there.

All that said, The Nun is still an enjoyable horror movie. A crumbling convent in the middle of a Romanian forest is the perfect setting for a story like this, providing a rich, dark atmosphere. Despite the cheesy CGI, there are still plenty of well-done and unpredictable jump scares. Lastly, the cast is excellent. Taissa Farmiga (sister of The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 lead Vera Farmiga) is no horror novice herself, and she shines in the role of Sister Irene, giving a likable and compelling performance. Jonas Bloquet is entertaining as Frenchie, providing enough levity without being just comedic relief, managing to portray a genuine, sympathetic character. Demian Bichir is fine as Father Burke; he’s not bad, but he’s not exactly memorable either, besides an unintentionally hilarious entrance in a flashback scene that cracked up my friend and me.

While The Nun isn’t necessarily going to be a horror classic, it’s still a decent addition to The Conjuring series, and seeing it is a nice way of kicking off the Halloween season.

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Have you seen ‘THE NUN’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review – Hereditary (2018)

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Directed By: Ari Aster
Written By: Ari Aster
Runtime: 127 minutes

Hereditary begins with Annie Graham (Toni Collette), her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), and her children Peter (Alex Wolf) and Charlie (Milly Shapiro) coping with the recent death of Annie’s mother. Strange and terrifying events quickly begin to occur following the family matriarch’s passing, hinting at a dark family secret that might not have died with her.

This is one of the most suspenseful and unsettling horror movies I’ve seen in a while, and that tone is maintained the whole way through. The pacing is excellent; it works so well in building the tension. The beginning takes plenty of time establishing the characters’ backgrounds, but it doesn’t feel like it drags, because the exposition all feels very natural, thanks to a combination of strong writing and and stellar acting, especially from Toni Collette. The real inciting incident of the film (which is horrifying) takes so long to build up and is so drawn out, but it’s so effective.

Visually, this film is very creative, and not necessarily due to over-the-top special effects. The majority of the effects are practical rather than CGI, and for the most part, they’re pretty understated. This, combined with a good use of lighting and clever camera work, makes for a terrifying viewing experience.

I only have a couple complaints about this movie. Firstly, there isn’t much to Gabriel Byrne‘s character. I’ve enjoyed him in other movies, and I know he can act well; he just isn’t given much to work with here. He doesn’t really interact much with the rest of the family, which makes his chemistry with them so awkward that I initially thought he was the stepfather and not the actual father. It’s not that he seems emotionally distant, which I could almost understand, because it would make the tone feel even more uncomfortable. He just feels unnecessary. I know Annie and the kids are the real focus of the movie, but his character could have been removed and the film wouldn’t have lost anything vital.

Secondly, the ending kind of gives me tonal whiplash. It’s not a bad ending- it’s foreshadowed well, and it has a Rosemary’s Baby vibe that I appreciate- but it also feels more bizarre than the rest of the movie does; still twisted, but in a different, kind of jarring way. It’s a weird note to go out on.

Overall though, this is a fantastic horror movie. It’s well-written, the acting is mostly excellent, the visuals are skillfully done, and it will stick with you long after you leave the theater. If you enjoy scary movies, definitely check out this one.

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Have you seen ‘Hereditary’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review – Happy Death Day (2017)

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Directed By: Christopher Landon
Written By: Scott Lobdell
Cast: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine
Runtime: 1h 36min

After lucking out with the last two horror movies I’ve reviewed (Annabelle: Creation and IT) being fantastic, I figured I was due for a disappointing one, and Happy Death Day looked like it would fit the bill. The title sounds like a D-list 90’s horror movie you’d find on Amazon Prime, and the synopsis is basically teen horror Groundhog Day. My hopes for this film were not high.

In Happy Death Day, sorority girl Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) re-lives the same day over and over, from waking up in fellow student Carter Davis (Israel Broussard)’s dorm room after a drunken night, to butting heads with frenemy Danielle (Rachel Matthews) and roommate Lori (Ruby Modine), to being murdered by a mysterious masked figure every night. Tree uses each repeat trying to discover the identity of her killer and survive their attack, hopefully escaping the loop.

Despite the trailers advertising this movie as straight horror, it’s actually more of a dark comedy. This made it more enjoyable, as it wasn’t just another teen slasher film. There’s a decent amount of physical comedy, and there’s some genuinely funny dialogue, especially from mean girl sorority president Danielle. While it’s not a typical horror movie, it has some good suspenseful moments and tense build-ups. Tree’s character arc is surprisingly well-done, incorporating her background into the story without the exposition being too clunky.

All of this isn’t enough to make this a great movie, however. The concept obviously isn’t original, and the one throwaway comment about its similarity to cult classic Groundhog Day they tack on at the very end doesn’t change the fact that the storyline is unoriginal and will be compared to the 90’s movie by most people who see it. While the identity of the murderer isn’t predictable, the reveal is forced and their reason for their actions is the product of clearly lazy writing. Lastly, the mask the killer wears throughout the movie is pretty ridiculous even by cheesy slasher movie standards. While I assume the oversized baby face mask is meant to be creepy and unsettling, it just looks goofy, and I cracked up every time I saw it on screen.

Despite its problems, Happy Death Day is a surprisingly fun movie, although if you’re looking for a more typical horror movie, you might want to skip it. If you catch it on TV or streaming, though, it’s worth a watch.

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Have you seen ‘Happy Death Day’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review – Annabelle: Creation (2017)

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Directed By: David F. Sandberg
Written By: Gary Dauberman
Runtime: 1 hr 49 minutes

I’ve never understood why people find dolls in horror movies scary. They can’t bend their limbs, they’re usually made of porcelain or plastic or something else not very durable, and they’re usually not any taller than your knee. You can just drop-kick the thing away from you. As someone who is thoroughly unimpressed by possessed dolls and hasn’t seen any of the other Conjuring series movies (I KNOW, I’m a bad horror fan; I promise they’re on my list), I didn’t expect this movie to be that scary. I was wrong.

In Annabelle: Creation, a group of orphans (Lulu Wilson as Linda, Talitha Bateman as Janice, Grace Fulton as Carol, Philippa Coulthard as Nancy, Lou Lou Safran as Tierney, and Tayler Buck as Kate) and the nun in charge of them, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) move into the house of Esther and Samuel Mullins (Miranda Otto and Anthony LaPaglia), who have opened their home to the girls after losing their own young daughter, Bee (Samara Lee), twelve years earlier. After Janice finds a mysterious doll hidden away in Bee’s old bedroom one night, things quickly take a turn for the horrifying.

What makes the Annabelle doll work in this movie is that it’s not overused to the point of being silly. It’s prominent, obviously, but it’s mostly shown in shadowy angles and blurry shots that make its presence even scarier. As Father Massey (Mark Bramhall) explains, the doll is a conduit- a tool for the demon to use to gain footing in the world of the living. As creepy a the doll is, the demon itself is even more frightening. The special effects in this movie are excellent. The few glimpses we get of the demon’s true form-specifically, the way it morphs and moves-are truly unsettling, and there’s one moment we see it in Bee’s old bedroom that left me really shaken. All of this, combined with superb pacing, keeps the suspense high throughout the whole movie.

That said, this movie isn’t flawless. Much of the dialogue between best friends Linda and Janice is so unrealistically cheesy it would make Little Orphan Annie cringe. It’s not the actresses’ faults-we already know Lulu Wilson has serious horror acting chops after last year’s Ouija: Origin of Evil, and all of her and Talitha Bateman’s non-verbal acting is great. It’s either a writing problem or a directing problem. On the subject of writing, Mrs. Mullin’s explanation for the supernatural ocurrences toward the end of the film is both heavy-handed and vague; if there had been a little more foreshadowing earlier in the movie, I might have been able to accept it more easily, but for a movie whose title implies we would be learning where the evil entity tied to the Annabelle doll comes from, it could have been more fleshed-out.

Overall, though, this is a fantastic, genuinely scary horror movie. I would definitely watch it again, and now I want to marathon the other movies in the series as soon as possible. If you like horror, you should absolutely check this out.

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Have you seen ‘Anabelle: Creation’? Well, what did you think? 

Guest Review: RINGS (2017)

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Directed By: F. Javier Gutiérrez
Written By: David Loucka, Jacob Estes and Akiva Goldsman
Runtime: 1 hr 45 minutes

I get scared pretty easily. Because of this, a lot of people are surprised when I tell them how much I love horror, but I think that’s why I love it: it doesn’t take much to scare me, no matter how cheesy the movie, so it’s easy for me to become engrossed in it. One memorable exception to this is 2002’s The Ring. I saw it for the first time in middle school and was severely underwhelmed. Maybe it was because I had waited until it was on DVD to watch it, and all of my friends who had seen it in theaters months before had overhyped it. Maybe watching it in the safety of my brightly-lit living room took away from the terrifying atmosphere that would have been created in a big, dark auditorium. Maybe it’s just a non-scary, overrated horror movie. Either way, because I was so unimpressed by the original, I didn’t expect much from a sequel released fifteen years later.

Rings follows Julia (Matilda Lutz) as she tracks down her boyfriend Holt (Alex Roe) at his college after he stops responding to her calls. She discovers he has been participating in an experiment run by his professor, Gabriel (Johnny Galecki), involving a mysterious video that causes its viewer to be killed by the ghost of a young girl named Samara after seven days. The only way to prevent this fate is to have someone else watch the video before the seven days are up. In an effort to break the chain, Julia and Holt embark on a journey into Samara’s dark, tragic past.

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Making a sequel to a movie that centers around an outdated piece of technology already sets Rings up for failure. The idea of a haunted VHS tape being scary in 2017 is pretty ridiculous- hell, even a haunted DVD or Blu-Ray would feel outdated, considering how many people stream video now. Granted, Gabriel adapts the VHS to a computer file for his research, but the idea that this VHS would have still been floating around after fifteen years instead of collecting dust somewhere is far-fetched even for a horror movie. Even if they had updated the story by putting the video online, my suspension of disbelief wouldn’t stretch so far that I would accept that something like that wouldn’t go viral, leading to a ridiculous amount of widely publicized mysterious deaths.

In addition to the problems with the video logistics, the plot in general feels kind of lazy. At first, it seems like it’s going to be a more scientific, analytical look at how this deadly video chain letter works, but that storyline is soon abandoned when Julia and Holt visit the town where Samara was buried in order to discover the significance of that location. The former could have been really interesting if it had been the focus of the film, but instead we end up with more of the same: exploring creepy old places full of the same creepy imagery. I can’t even really say if the acting was good, because the cast didn’t have much to work with.

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Even if you can overlook the problems with the plot, there is little visually impressive about this movie. Samara’s first appearance is completely CGI’d, which looks surprisingly bad for 2017 animation. The same reveal could have easily been done through practical effects, which would have been much creepier and less jarring than CGI. Most of the movie has the same overused blue tinge seen in countless horror movies, making it feel even more unoriginal. Many of the images used in the movie are directly recycled from the first film. There was one scene I really liked at the beginning of the movie, a wide shot where Gabriel is facing wall-to-wall/floor-to-ceiling windows, looking out at a storm, and the view outside the window briefly flickers to a scene from the video. It was beautifully shot and wonderfully creepy, and there were a couple other short scenes involving Julia being trapped in small, dark spaces that were genuinely suspenseful, but one good shot and a couple decent scenes aren’t enough to save the movie.

I don’t even know why this got a theatrical release. The entire feel of this movie is “direct to streaming/digital download.” If you’re easily scared and very bored, maybe check this out once it’s on Netflix or Amazon Prime. Otherwise, don’t waste your time or money.

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Have you seen ‘RINGS’? Well, what did you think? 

TCFF 2016 Indie Horror Spotlight: Lake Runs Red – interview w/ director Jason Riesgraf + producer Jeff Fuller

Those who read my blog regularly knows I have such feeble nerves that I can’t handle most horror movies. But I’m always up for supporting indie films, especially Minnesota-made films! So when I got the chance to interview the filmmakers behind Lake Runs Red, I jumped at it. It’s a home-invasion horror + psychological thriller produced & filmed in the state, specifically in Atkins, which is about 2 hours north of the Twin Cities.

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Two college girlfriends go to their parent’s secluded northern Minnesota lake cabin to prepare for final exams. An uninvited visitor stops by. He isn’t there to study.

Director: Jason Riesgraf
Writers: J. Dan Moores and Jason Riesgraf
Cast:
 Kaci Wegleitner, Lauren Morris, C.J. DeVaan
Runtime: 66 min

Check out the trailer:


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Q: First of all thank you Jason and Jeff Fuller for chatting with me about your film. Talk about that title. I love that it has the word ‘lake’ in the title, the fact that we’re in the land of 10000 Lakes. So how did you come up with that?

Jason:  Yeah it was a very difficult process to come up with it. When I started writing it was actually called Panic, and that was kind of the title. And then that ended up sticking for a while. And then we did we kind of did with Jeff, our marketing director. We kind of did some you know some Google searches and realized that that wouldn’t be the best way to hit a target audience. So we kind of we kind of left it at that for a little bit and as we left it, we spent a while coming up with what would signify this film…  you know, lake is an obvious choice. You know in Northern Minnesota, everybody knows that… and then you know it’s because it’s a horror movie, we kind of played some with some words and then we came up with Lake Runs Red.

Jeff: Yes, in fact I spent about nine hours researching and coming up with those titles. We have this gigantic list, but yeah, this one works well in our favor. We love it.

Pictured: Lauren Morris | Photo Credit: Mike Ascher
Pictured: Lauren Morris | Photo Credit: Mike Ascher

Q: Indeed it’s a great title, I love it too. So what inspired you to this story?

Jason: The biggest inspiration, I mean the [sub] genre of the film is actually home invasion, and home invasion to me is my biggest fear. Home is where he feels safe home is where you feel comfort, and when somebody invades that it’s not a fun feeling. And so I kind of played out my own fears and wrote it you know, from my perspective of what a home invasion would feel like. And coincidentally enough we actually, my wife and I had our house broken into while we were filming. So it kind of you know, I actually lived that what that fear is. And I’m hoping that that’s what the audience sees when they see it in the picture.

Q: Is this from the perspective of the invader or the invadee, if there’s such a word, I mean the people who were invaded?

Jason: Well, it’s not really from anybody’s perspective. It follows two college seniors and what happens after these traumatic events happen to them at the cabin.

Jeff: But the invader is one of the main characters.

Jason: So yeah, we have one main villain and then we have two college seniors.


Q: The reason I’m asking is the recent box office home-invasion horror/thriller Don’t Breathe starring Stephen Lang was from the perspective of the invaders. 

Jason: Yes I saw and it was worked very well. So yeah you can kind of use that spin on it if you want to. Except that this is in a cabin, so ours is a lot more secluded.

Q: Which in a way is scarier I think. I was just telling someone earlier, I’m actually not a big horror fan. I don’t have nerves of steel like most people, I get scared very easily. I also get really a headache if I watch those found-footage type movies. So what’s the filming style of this one?

Jason: We had very minimal very minimal tripod, we only used tripod where it was appropriate. We we don’t have the found-footage, shaky cam, we do run on a steady cam. So the steady cam we use was weighted, but it still showed kind of traumatic camera shots.

Q: So you wouldn’t categorize this film as a found-footage film then? 

Jason: No, no, I won’t categorize it as that at all. It’s not like Blair With where the shots are very shaky. You know my plan going into this is I don’t want to make people sick by the camera. It can take too much focus out of the story. You have to be wired for that kind of stuff.

Pictured: Kaci Wegleitner | Photo Credit: Mike Ascher
Pictured: Kaci Wegleitner | Photo Credit: Mike Ascher

Q: Ok, make sense. Now my question for you Jeff. You wore multiple hats here, you were the producer, art director, camera department and editor. What’s that experience for you?

Jeff: It’s been an amazing experience. You know I’m so glad to do this with one of my best friends Jason. And he was nice enough to bring me on this film. It’s a funny story, like when we started this it was like ‘Oh, so we’re really doing this! Let’s go for it!’ I think it’s probably the best experience to wear these different hats, from editor to producer to all that, you get such a ingratiated role into the whole process. It’s just been absolutely tremendous.

Q: Now, question for both of you. What’s your most memorable experience from making this, whether good or bad moments from filming?

Jason: Well, probably the most memorable is when we were actually at a production meeting and my house was burglarized. I mean that’s life imitating art you know. That was probably the most traumatic for me, and most unique experience that we had while filming.

Jeff: Oh, relive that experience when you drive home from the shoot one night and you got stopped…

Jason: That’s a great one too yeah. We actually we’re wrapping up from a quick little couple pickup shots up in Northern Minnesota. Getting up there you actually take a lot of very secluded roads, which if anyone knows northward it’s always the case. You know you take a left here and you go out the gravel road for 14 miles and that’s kind of it. And it turns out for some reason that night, it was I think it was maybe mid August, beginning August. My alternator went on my car and I was stranded on a the world’s most disgusting road, literally next to a barn for three hours waiting for a tow truck. I’m by myself and I had no cell service to look anything up. So all I had was my dying battery because I had no battery left in my car enough to call my wife and tell her you’ve got to give me a tow truck and I’m in the middle of nowhere and trying to explain to them where I am. I mean if it’s going to happen to anyone, it’s going to happen to me.

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Q: Oh my, well I’m glad to see you are okay! Now, last question… I was on your Twitter and you have a huge following on social media (12.3K followers). Is that a big part of your marketing and how did you build that huge following prior to the film opening?

Jason: I knew more about the physical parts of making a film. Marketing I didn’t know much about it. When I talked to Jeff about how we’re going to market this film, it’s like I don’t know. Then he said, I tell you what, I’ll take care of your marketing for you. I think within a year we were already have like 6 or 7000 followers. And I don’t know how he did it or what he does, but he handles most of that. I don’t watch him do it because that’s not really my thing.

Q: I feel like Twitter is sort of the water cooler, the internet water cooler, so it’s good to have that presence for your film. 

Jason: I’d say Twitter is our biggest success, by far.

Jeff: Yeah, I would say that social media has been the cornerstone of our marketing right there. It’s kind of the greatest equalizer on the Internet which Twitter was smarter our number one just because you can have conversations with the fans directly. Correct. We’ve had so many friends and some of the particular fans who still to this day constantly ask us hey how’s the movie going and stuff.

Jason: We’ve been on YouTube channels doing interviews me and some of the cast and crew, my co-writer and some of the cast and crew we’ve been on. We were featured on some humongous horror websites, Modern Horror, Movie Pilot, etc. So that was all Jeff, he took what we talked about marketing with a grain of salt and he took it as far as he could with it.

Q: So are you both horror fans yourself?

Jason: I am. I’ve been since my first four movies and really when I was nine or so, Nightmare On Elm Street, it has been in my blood. I mean there’s nothing really that I can’t handle. I mean there’s some stuff that makes me squirm, which is what I love. So Jeff, I actually brought him, so the last one he ever saw was when he saw with me and he couldn’t really handle it.

Q: What is it?

Jason: It was Hostel. After he saw that he kind of like you know what, I’m done watching horror movies with you. Yeah, you have to take that on your own.

Q: Oh slasher flick is a whole other genre entirely that I avoid.

Jason: Ours is more psychological thriller. It’s the home invasion aspect, about not knowing really what’s going on in our head.


THANK YOU Jason and Jeff for chatting with me about Lake Runs Red!

Check out some behind-the-scenes photos of the film:

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What’s in store for Day 10 of TCFF!

Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews and interviews…
and the finalists of TCFF Awards!