FlixChatter: MALIGNANT (2021)

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Directed by: James Wan
Written by: Akela Cooper (screenplay)
Story by: James Wan, Ingrid Bisu

It’s officially spooky season! Okay, maybe it’s a little early to start carving pumpkins or hanging up fake cobwebs, but for me, as soon as September hits and the weather dips below 75 degrees, I go into full Halloween mode. To kick that off, I decided to check out the new James Wan horror film, Malignant, and while it was very different than what I was expecting, it was still a great way to start my favorite time of year.

Malignant-Wallis

In Malignant, Madison (Annabelle Wallis) begins having visions of violent murders following a traumatic event of her own. She quickly realizes the visions are not just in her head but actually happening in real life- and could be connected to a terrifying repressed secret from her childhood. 

Based on the few commercials I saw before seeing this movie, I never would have expected Malignant to be campy, but that’s the word that kept popping into my head the whole time I was watching it: the acting is melodramatic, there are lots of borderline-cheesy zoom-ins on characters’ faces and overblown musical stings, and the big reveal toward the end of the movie feels like something straight out of a 1950’s horror/sci-fi B-movie. It’s a unique combination with the modern setting, the dark glossy style we’re used to seeing in a lot of today’s supernatural horror, and the industrial score, but I liked the mash-up of styles. There are a couple moments where the camp feels unintentionally funny, but for the most part, it’s effective in keeping the tension high and bringing a new tone to a modern horror movie.

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Despite the camp, there’s plenty for lovers of modern horror to appreciate. The movie doesn’t shy away from blood and gore, and there are some very creative and shocking kills throughout the film- unsurprising, considering Wan is the writer/director who brought us Saw. Despite there being some especially violent scenes, it doesn’t feel gratuitous. There’s some CGI that feels a little dated in a big fight scene toward the end, and there’s a bit at the movie’s big reveal that looks a little silly, but overall the special effects look great.

Lastly, the cast is stellar. Annabelle as Madison and Maddie Hasson as her sister Sydney have excellent chemistry, as do George Young and Michole Briana White as cop partners Kekoa Shaw and Regina Moss. Ingrid Bisu as CST Winnie is funny, likable, and memorable despite having such a small role. And Marina Mazepa, the physical performer for Gabriel, must be made of rubber, because the way she contorts her body in this movie is impressive and horrifying. 

I know a lot of people didn’t enjoy the unusual tone in Malignant, and while I can understand that, I personally loved the blend of styles. It’s not like any other horror movie I’ve seen, and in the wrong hands, it could have felt like a bad straight-to-streaming movie, but with excellent writing, directing, and acting, as well as plenty of creative body horror, this might be one of my favorite new original horror films, and I’m already looking forward to watching it again. 

4/5 stars

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Have you seen MALIGNANT? Well, what did you think?

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FlixChatter: The Night House (2021)

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Directed by: David Bruckner
Written by: Ben Collins, Luke Piotrowski

In The Night House, Beth (Rebecca Hall) begins to experience unusual things in her secluded lake home following the tragic death of her husband Owen (Evan Jonigkeit). As she digs for answers, she begins to discover his dark secrets.

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This isn’t a traditional haunted house movie, which I love. While it does lean toward the more supernatural side, it has its own unique lore and way of conveying it. I’m a sucker for a classic ghost story, but I appreciate that this movie is a supernatural horror movie that doesn’t feel like any other I’ve seen (while still managing to scare me several times). This is mostly achieved through creative camera work and lighting; there might have been some CGI, but if there was, it was so subtle that I couldn’t tell if I was looking at a special effect or a cleverly composed shot. 

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The cast feels just as sparse as the special effects, but it’s still strong, especially its lead. Rebecca Hall is often the only one on screen throughout the movie, but she’s so engaging, and she does some truly impressive physical acting. The other stand-out performance comes from Vondie Curtis-Hall as Mel, Beth’s kindly old neighbor; he comes across as genuinely warm and likable while still showing hints of something potentially dark just below the surface.

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My only gripe with The Night House is about the ending. Firstly, it feels a little heavy-handed. The evil entity throughout the movie is clearly a metaphor for Beth’s depression, and while this is handled well throughout most of the movie, the last five-ish minutes hit the audience over the head with it a little too hard, which is extra noticeable when it was fairly subtle up until the end. Secondly, the ending is very abrupt. I generally don’t have a problem with open-ended movies, but after how tense most of this one was, the ending felt, for lack of a better word, deflated.

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Overall though, I would absolutely recommend The Night House, especially if you want to watch something scary that’s not bloody or gory. The cinematography is beautiful, the performances are excellent, and the suspense is high throughout the whole movie. It’s a shame there hasn’t been a ton of advertising for this one, because it’s definitely worth checking out.

4/5 stars

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Have you seen THE NIGHT HOUSE? Well, what did you think?

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FlixChatter Review: The Conjuring – The Devil Made Me Do It (2021)

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After watching movies at home for about a year and a half, it was so nice to make my return to the movie theater to see the latest in what is probably my favorite modern horror franchise (with the exception of a couple of the spinoffs). I love The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2, and while the third installment’s subtitle is a little silly, it’s probably my favorite one of the series. 

In The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) find themselves entangled in a satanic curse conspiracy as they attempt to prove that a young man accused of murder, Arne Cheyenne Johnson (Ruairi O’ Connor), was under demonic possession at the time of the crime. The more they dig, the more they realize this isn’t an isolated incident; this particular entity has claimed other victims, and the Warrens may be next. 

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The reason I like paranormal/supernatural horror movies more than other sub-genres is because the danger isn’t something physical; you can’t just double tap a ghost or demon or run and hide from them, and this movie does an especially good job making it feel like there is no escape from the evil terrorizing the protagonists; nowhere feels safe, and nearly every scene is filled with tension. It immediately starts with the violent exorcism of 8-year-old David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard), and that intense, frenetic scene sets the tone for the rest of the film; my heart rate was instantly up and stayed there for the next two hours. While there are obviously several jump scares, they mostly all feel earned; the build up to some of the particularly scary moments is exquisite. 

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Like the previous films, one of this movie’s biggest strengths is its stellar cast. As usual, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga have excellent chemistry. Other standouts include John Noble as Father Kastner, who gives a wonderfully eerie performance, and Eugenie Bondurant as the mysterious occultist, who, despite not having a lot of screen time, is memorably spooky in her role. 

I only have a couple complaints about this movie, directed Michael Chaves. The first is that there’s a good amount of sappy, saccharine dialogue that made me roll my eyes more than once and made several of my fellow audience members groan. The other is that there are a couple moments where characters who are otherwise intelligent and level-headed make absurdly stupid decisions that put them in danger, which feels like such lazy writing choice; the same outcome could have easily been reached through other actions. It might seem nit-picky, but it’s a big pet peeve of mine in horror movies.

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Overall, though, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is an excellent addition to the series, and I’m already looking forward to watching it again, along with the first two, as a triple feature once it’s available for streaming.

4/5 stars

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Have you seen the latest from THE CONJURING franchise? Well, what did you think?

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FlixChatter Review: Netflix’s The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020)


HALLOWSTREAM Series

Sorry for the delay on this one! Turns out watching 9 1-hour episodes of a mini-series is difficult to do quickly when you have a full-time job, and for some reason my boyfriend didn’t want to stay up until 3am watching every episode back to back (what a killjoy).

However, I have finally finished The Haunting of Bly Manor, Mike Flanagan’s follow-up to 2018’s The Haunting of Hill House, and am eager to share my thoughts with you. Unlike Hill House, I haven’t read the book this series is based on (Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw) yet, but I plan to, and I’m looking forward to re-watching after reading it and hopefully catching more connections and references.

Victoria Pedretti

The Haunting of Bly Manor follows Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti) as she starts a job as an au pair to two young orphans, Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) and Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) at their enormous mansion in the small English village of Bly. Their previous au pair, Rebecka Jessel (Tahirah Sharif), died tragically not long before Dani’s arrival, and her memory, along with Dani’s own dark past, loom over her.

Tahirah Sharif

While I didn’t like Bly Manor quite as much as I liked Hill House, I still think it’s an incredibly well-done series. It’s even more of a slow burn than its predecessor, so people hoping to be scared a lot in each episode might be disappointed, although there are still plenty of suspenseful moments and creepy imagery; like Hill House, there are several hidden ghosts throughout the series, and I only managed to catch a few of them on my first watch. There’s much more of a focus on the ghosts’ lives (er…afterlives) and how their existence on the grounds of Bly Manor works, which is an interesting concept that I really appreciated.

Like Hill House, Bly Manor has an incredible cast. There are several actors from the former that appear in the latter; in addition to Victoria Pedretti as Dani, we have Henry Thomas as Henry Wingrave, Flora and Miles’s tormented uncle, Oliver Jackson-Cohen as Peter Quint, Henry’s manipulative and conniving valet, Katie Siegel as Viola Lloyd, the original lady of Bly Manor, Katie Parker as Perdita, Viola’s sister, and Carla Gugino as the storyteller. It’s a lot of fun seeing these familiar faces in different roles getting to stretch their acting muscles, especially Jackson-Cohen, who goes from this heartbreakingly vulnerable character you want to hug in Hill House to a villain you want to punch in the face in Bly Manor.

Rahul Kohli and T’Nia Miller

But while seeing the returning actors in this new season is great, the new cast members are the ones that really shine. Rahul Kohli as Owen, the cook at Bly Manor, is delightful; I adored him in his role in iZombie, and he brings the same humor and likability from that performance to this one. T’Nia Miller as Hannah Grose, the housekeeper, gives a beautiful and gut-wrenching performance, and her chemistry with Owen is so lovely. Tahirah Sharif as Rebecka Jessel is absolutely haunting. Amelia Eve as Jamie, the gardener, is so engaging. And, like Hill House, the child actors in Bly Manor are spectacular. Amelie Bea Smith as Flora is so sweet and funny, but Benjamin Evan Ainsworth as Miles gives the most impressive performance, especially considering how complex his role ends up being.

Amelia Eve

My only serious gripe with Bly Manor is that it seems to have some pacing problems. This series is one episode shorter than its predecessor, which makes it even more difficult to fit in all the backstory and subplots without it feeling messy. Because there’s less time to flesh out some characters, their character growth feels unearned (specifically Peter Quint), some exposition feels clunky and rushed, and some subplots that were built up as more important are dropped altogether (seriously, what happened with SPOILER [highlight to read] Dani’s confrontation with the ghost of her ex-fiance at the end of episode 4?! They spend the first few episodes hinting at this dark part of her past, and we finally get this moment that might resolve everything, and then it’s just dropped for the rest of the series! Why?! I can understand potentially not having enough material for 10 full episodes, but if they had maybe made each episode a little longer, the pacing might not have been as much of an issue.

Despite the pacing issues, and despite it being less straightforward horror than Hill House, I would still recommend checking out The Haunting of Bly Manor. It’s visually stunning, beautifully written, and expertly performed, and I’m already racking my brain for other classic ghost stories that Mike Flanagan could possibly adapt for season 3. If you have any you think would work, let me know in the comments!

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Have you seen The Haunting of Bly Manor? Well, what did you think?

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FlixChatter Review: Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House (2018)


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Shirley Jackson‘s 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House is a classic work of horror literature. Eerie, atmospheric, and poignant, this ghost story has been adapted on more than one occasion with varying degrees of success: the 1963 film The Haunting is a mostly faithful adaptation and a classic in its own right, while the 1999 version with the same name is…to put it nicely, a product of its time. And while Mike Flanagan’s 2018 Netflix mini-series is pretty much an “in name only” adaptation, it still manages to capture the tense, beautiful, heartbreaking tone of its source material.

Victoria Pedretti

The Haunting of Hill House sees the Crain family forced to confront memories of their old home after the youngest sibling, Nell (Victoria Pedretti), dies there, seemingly having taken her own life. Flashing between the past and present, we see how trauma they endured at Hill House has followed them throughout their lives- and how hard it is still trying to pull them back.

Because this show premiered two years ago and was wildly successful, resulting in tons of articles and videos reviewing and analyzing it, I doubt I’ll have any new hot takes, but because its highly-anticipated follow-up, The Haunting of Bly Manor (loosely based on the Henry James novella The Turn of The Screw), is coming out next month and will be covered in my HallowStream series, it seemed like a good idea to revisit Hill House in preparation for the new season.

Henry Thomas as father Hugh

While the mini-series isn’t a retelling of the novel, there are so many little references to it that fans of the book can appreciate. The most obvious are the names of the Crain family members: father Hugh (Timothy Hutton/Henry Thomas) is the name of the house’s original owner in the novel; siblings Nell (Victoria Pedretti/Violet McGraw), Luke (Oliver Jackson-Cohen/Julian Hilliard), and Theo (Kate Siegel/Mckenna Grace) are the names of the three guests of Hill House; and Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser/Lulu Wilson), of course, is a reference to author Shirley Jackson. Besides the names, there are smaller details- Nell’s cup of stars, the “Welcome home, Eleanor” message written on the wall, the phantom hand holding, Olivia’s story about rocks falling from the sky, and probably several others that I missed during both times watching. My favorite nod to both the book and the ’63 film is a cameo from Russ Tamblyn, who played Luke in the original film, as Nell’s psychiatrist, Dr. Montague- the name of another character from the book. Despite the show not being a direct adaptation of the novel, there’s clearly still plenty for book fans to nerd out about.

The Haunting of Hill House not only appeals to book nerds, but theater nerds, because so much of the show feels like a play- unsurprising, as the novel lends itself well to theatrical adaptation. Each of the main characters gets at least one beautifully written monologue in the series; Theo’s monologue toward the end of episode 8 is gut-wrenching, Luke’s eulogy in episode 7 will break my heart every time, and Nell’s farewell to her siblings in the last episode has already become an iconic television moment. Even some of the supporting characters (Mrs. Dudley, played by Annabeth Gish, Poppy Hill, played by Catherine Parker, and Leigh Crain, played by Samantha Sloyan) have some juicy monologues that I kind of want to borrow the next time I audition for any community theater productions. Episode 6 feels especially theatrical thanks not only to some excellent dialogue, but to the nearly 16-minute-long uncut and unedited take at the beginning of the episode. It’s done so seamlessly and so skillfully that I didn’t even notice it during my first watch, and I had to keep reminding myself of it during my second watch.

The eponymous Hill House

Obviously such rich dialogue and such demanding scenes wouldn’t be nearly as impressive without a talented cast, and The Haunting of Hill House absolutely has that. The actors playing the five siblings-both in the present and in flashbacks- have such fantastic chemistry, especially Elizabeth Reaser as Shirley and Katie Siegel as Theo (my sister and I have definitely had the “Did you just punch me in the boob!?” fight from episode 8 on more than one occasion). The young actors playing the siblings in flashbacks are unbelievably good, but the standouts for me are Lulu Wilson as Shirley, who had already started making a name for herself in horror before this (in Flanagan’s Ouji: Origin of Evil-which, incidentally, was the first movie I ever reviewed for FlixChatter- and Annabelle: Creation), and Violet McGraw and Julian Hilliard as twins Nell and Luke, who, besides being incredibly cute (Violet’s reading of “Maybe it’s a cotton candy machine!” in episode 2 melts my heart), are given some seriously heavy scenes to perform and do so spectacularly; their nightmare speech to Olivia (Carla Gugino) in episode 9 is especially chilling. Speaking of Carla Gugino, she gives a captivating performance throughout the series; seeing her go from a warm, loving, free-spirited mother to an unhinged wretch is magnificent.

Carla Gugino

Of course, I can’t end this without talking about the real reason I’m including it in my HallowStream series: the scares. While The Haunting of Hill House has more of a slow burn than other horror series, being half family drama, it is still a ghost story. There are several jump scares throughout the show, but they all feel earned. The hidden ghosts all over the house add a level and tension and unease, because you’re not sure if you saw something. The production design of the enormous, decrepit, labyrinthine mansion is everything you could want in a haunted house. My only real critique is that the CGI can look a little cheap and unimpressive at times, but those moments are few and far between.

Even after watching The Haunting of Hill House twice, I can easily see myself returning to this show, finding new things to appreciate, and still jumping out of my skin at the scary parts. It’s a great one to watch this Halloween season, and I can’t wait to see what Mike Flanagan has planned for The Haunting of Bly Manor.

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Have you seen The Haunting of Hill House? Well, what did you think?

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FlixChatter Review: SHORTCUT (2020)


Directed by: Alessio Liguori
Written by: Daniele Cosci

In Shortcut, five students (Jack Kane as Nolan, Zak Sutcliffe as Reggie, Sophie Jane Oliver as Bess, Zander Emlano as Karl, and Molly Dew as Queenie) are thrown into a nightmare when, after their bus is highjacked my an escaped criminal (David Keyes), they break down at the entrance of an abandoned underground military base, where they are menaced by a terrifying and bloodthirsty creature.

When I first read the description of the movie, it sounded like a rip-off of Jeepers Creepers 2. Fortunately, Shortcut is a unique and genuinely entertaining horror movie. The production design is great. The creature design is cool and creepy; it’s mostly kept in the shadows or shown in quick flashes, keeping the tension high and making it look more realistic. There are a couple full body shots of it where it just looks like a person in a cheap homemade costume, but they’re mercifully brief. The score is eerie, intense, and really helps create an unsettling tone throughout the movie.

Acting-wise, the cast is small but solid. The five main characters are teenagers, and the young actors all do an excellent job with their roles; they’re fun and realistic, and even the ones who are meant to be obnoxious are kind of endearing. There’s some dialogue that’s too cheesy to even pass off as teenagers trying to sound cool, but that’s more the writer’s fault than the actors. Terence Anderson is delightful as Joe, the bus driver, and it’s a shame he’s not in more of the movie. David Keyes as Pedro Minghella, the escaped convict, is spooky, unhinged, and will probably give me nightmares with his performance.

Overall, Shortcut is an enjoyable horror movie, and with the focus being on a group of kids and the film not being too bloody or gory, it would be a good one for young viewers just getting into the genre. Shortcut will be released in both theaters and drive-ins on Friday, September 25th- just in time to kick off the Halloween season.

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Shortcut is currently playing in 600+ theaters
VOD Release: December 22, 2020


Have you seen SHORTCUT? Well, what did you think?

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FlixChatter Review – CENTIGRADE (2020)

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines centigrade as “relating to, conforming to, or having a thermometric scale on which the interval between the freezing point of water and the boiling point of water is divided into 100 degrees with 0° representing the freezing point and 100° the boiling point 10°.”

So this definition made sense when I clicked on the link to watch the new IFC Midnight movie Centigrade, directed by Brendan Walsh, who is making his feature directorial debut after working previously on numerous television series such as Nurse Jackie. Water, mostly at its freezing point, takes center stage in the movie, starring Vincent Piazza (Jersey Boys) and Genesis Rodriguez (Man On A Ledge). The survival thriller takes place in the year 2002, when a young American couple, Matthew and Naomi, travel to the arctic mountains of Norway.

Naomi is eight months pregnant and very moody, being in Norway to promote her book tour with her husband Matt. Just prior to the start of the movie, the couple is said to be driving back to their hotel, when they decide to pull over during a bad ice storm/snowstorm. The movie starts as Naomi wakes up the next morning and quickly realizes that she and Matt are trapped in their SUV, buried underneath layers of snow and ice. Matt quickly assesses that they only have a minimal amount of food and water, with a small survival pack in the SUV trunk, consisting of several candles and matches. Naomi also has a cellphone, but it doesn’t pick up a signal and is almost out of battery.

Both Matt and Naomi do their best to stay calm, but they occasionally have arguments, mostly related to Naomi’s pregnancy and their decision to pull over the side of the road to ride out the storm. But as time goes on, they also argue about their strategy to get out and what the best way to survive their situation is. One time Naomi forgets to tightly put on the cap of their only water bottle and some of it spills out, unleashing an outburst from Matt which quickly deescalates as both realize there is nothing to be gained from their argument. As Naomi’s pregnancy quickly turns into a “giving birth while trapped inside an SUV” situation, Matt does his best to comfort her and make sure she is nourished and warm as much as possible, while also taking a toll on his own personal well-being.

While I am not going to spoil what happens in this survival thriller, Centigrade does lead its audience to a logical outcome, while also briefly showing us some of the beautiful winter countryside and snow-covered mountains in Norway. Having been inspired by real events, the movie does pretty much rely on its two actors Vincent Piazza and Genesis Rodriguez to carry the movie, with the latter also responsible for the pregnancy/childbirth. Both do their best to showcase the strife and struggle to maintain composure while not completely freaking out by their unimaginable situation. The actors both seemed believable and fragile in their own way. The dialogue might not have had much going for it but it made sense for what they were experiencing. Director Brendan Walsh and Director of Photography Seamus Tierney both do a nice job making the audience feel trapped inside the SUV with Matt and Naomi.

Overall, Centigrade is a well-made survival thriller, but it doesn’t go much beyond that. Sometimes I felt as I was trapped myself, watching the couple argue for days inside the SUV. Having lived through many Minnesota snowstorms myself and very bad winter weather, I can relate to their predicament as when it’s safe to drive though a winter storm and when it’s not. That’s why it’s so important to have winter survival gear in your car for emergencies. As far as the movie’s ending, I would say that it goes as well as one could have predicted. So, I was satisfied that the movie didn’t take any strange or unnecessary twist and turns.

– Review by Vitali Gueron


Have you seen CENTIGRADE? Well, what did you think?