Left Behind (2014) – Film Review

Awkwardly combining religious proselytising with a number of well-worn tropes from the disaster genre. Left Behind, released in 2014, is an apocalyptic thriller with a fascinating idea at its core, depicting the events that would transpire if millions of people suddenly vanished off the face of the Earth. A brilliant concept that is utterly squandered due to its horrendous execution, with subpar production values, bewildering dialogue and appalling performances being just some of the many issues this overtly religious film suffers from. As such, Left Behind presents one of the most unintentionally hilarious depictions of the apocalypse ever committed to film, which more often than not, devolves into enunciated Christian propaganda.

Plot Summary: When millions of people suddenly disappear without a trace, throwing the world into disarray as unmanned vehicles crash, planes fall from the sky and mass riots break out. Airline pilot, Ray Steele, struggles to keep composure aboard his proceeding flight to London as he and his passengers try to comprehend the inexplicable scenario they find themselves within. Meanwhile, Ray’s daughter, Chloe Steele, braves the chaos of the city streets below in search of her mother and brother…

If the Left Behind title sounds familiar, that’s likely because the film is actually a reboot of a relatively well-known series, with Left Behind: The Movie, Left Behind II: Tribulation and Left Behind III: World at War being released prior in 2000, 2002 and 2005, respectively. All of them are based on the best-selling series of apocalyptic novels by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye; a series that is essentially a modern-day rendition of the biblical rapture, where all Christians are transported to Heaven as divine forces decimate the Earth. 2014’s Left Behind adapts a small portion of the first book in the series, setting the majority of the story aboard an airliner piloted by Ray Steele, which for an apocalyptic thriller, isn’t the most exciting location to view a large-scale catastrophe from.

Speaking of the protagonist, despite the uproarious actor, Nicolas Cage, portraying the central character of Ray Steele. Left Behind never manages to get an entertaining performance out of the actor as for most of the runtime, Cage, who in interviews has stated that he took the role at the urging of his pastor brother, seems practically sedated, even when his character is convinced that the plane is heading towards certain doom. Regrettably, none of the supporting cast are much better, with Chad Michael Murray, Cassi Thomson, Nicky Whelan and Gary Grubbs (among others) all portraying one-dimensional characters continually reciting unnatural dialogue. From the Southern entrepreneur, Dennis Beese, to Cameron ‘Buck’ Williams, a renowned news reporter who inadvertently becomes Ray’s co-pilot, none of the characters throughout Left Behind are indelible or significantly developed outside of their lack of devotion to Christianity.

In regard to the visuals, Left Behind doesn’t exhibit much improvement over its dialogue and performances as the set pieces appear small and chintzy, the lighting is flat, Jack Green’s cinematography is largely styleless and the editing between the drama on-board Ray’s flight and the disorder on the ground below is a monotonous back-and-forth of plot points with no scene being given enough time to sink in. Moreover, the CG effects for the airliner itself are rather poor, particularly during one of the film’s final moments where Ray is forced to land the plane on a makeshift runway.

Likewise, the original score by Jack Lenz has no identity or anything even remotely unique about it, subsequently causing the soundtrack to dissolve into the background where the majority of audience members will forget it even exists. Quite surprising considering that Lenz has proven himself to be a capable composer in the past, penning many respectable scores, including the theme for the Goosebumps television series.

Yet even when overlooking all of Left Behind‘s shortcomings in terms of filmmaking, the film continues to stutter as there are plenty of moments within the film that can be mocked. But by far the easiest scene that illustrates just how uniquely awful Left Behind is would be the moment in which Irene Steele stares adoringly at a terribly photoshopped picture of her family. It is possible, however, that the film’s flawed execution could be a result of a lack of experience on the part of director Vic Armstrong (Joshua TreeA Sunday Horse), as Armstrong is best known for his work as a stunt coordinator/stunt performer rather than a director.

In summary, while Left Behind‘s narrative is undoubtedly an interesting one and could’ve made for a compelling apocalyptic thriller if placed in the hands of the right director and screenwriter. The version of Left Behind we did receive is far from compelling as its flaws are nearly endless, consequently leading the film to be panned by critics and perform poorly at the box office. Still, this wasn’t the end for Left Behind as not long after, the producers of the film decided to finance the sequel through an Indiegogo campaign simply titled: “Help Us Make Left Behind 2.” The campaign received £61,558 out of the half a million asked, with the last update on the project being on May 7th 2015. So, more than likely, the project was cancelled, which I’d say is for the best. Rating: 2/10.

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Jack and Jill (2011) – Film Review

After releasing a handful of lethargic comedies near the end of the 2000s, Adam Sandler and his production company, Happy Madison Productions, reached their lowest point in 2011 as Sandler was offered over £14 million to co-write and star in Jack and Jill. A rarely amusing, oddly boring and so gratingly sophomoric comedy that much of it plays with the same level of enjoyment as a high-pitched vocalist screeching into your ear. Packed with cringe-worthy jokes and overt product placement, in many ways, Jack and Jill feels like the result of Adam Sandler using an entire film to express just how cynical and contemptuous he has now become towards his famed comedy persona.

Plot Summary: Living his perfect life in Los Angeles with a beautiful wife and children, successful advertising executive, Jack Sadelstein, dreads only one thing each and every year; the Thanksgiving visit of his passive-aggressive twin sister, Jill. But as Jack eagerly awaits for his sister to depart, renowned actor, Al Pacino, whom Jack desperately needs to star in a project, takes a shine to Jill, forcing Jack to reluctantly extend his sister’s visit…

Co-written by Steve Koren and Adam Sandler, and directed by Dennis Dugan (Happy GilmoreBig DaddyI Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry). The screenplay for Jack and Jill is often so leaden and formulaic that nearly any audience member will be able to predict where the story goes next as the film follows the typical plot of a dysfunctional family coming together with a sprinkling of pop culture references and numerous offensive gags parodying Indians, Mexicans and Jews, for good measure. Going off the film’s title, it’s also understandable that many would assume Jack and Jill has some kind of relation to the 18th-century nursery rhyme of the same name, which focuses on a boy named, Jack, and a girl named, Jill, as they embark on a journey to collect a pale of water. But, in actuality, the film has no relation to the nursery rhyme beyond its protagonist’s names, which begs the question; why is the film even called Jack and Jill aside from the simple use of alliteration?

In regard to the cast, Adam Sandler portrays Jack Sadelstein similar to how he portrays many of his characters, being a hassled family man whose needy, obnoxious twin sister, Jill, has come to stay for Thanksgiving and subsequently ruin his peaceful existence, once again portrayed by Sandler in profoundly unhilarious drag. What makes this worse, however, is that Sandler is at his most irritating when portraying Jill, raising his voice to be annoying as possible and further fit with her incredibly unlikeable characterisation, being self-absorbed and idiotic to an unbelievable degree. She’s an entirely overbearing character completely oblivious to social cues and seemingly has unresolved incestuous feelings for her brother, which is frequently played for laughs yet is an exceptionally strange choice on behalf of the screenwriters. Then there is Katie Holmes as Jack’s wholesome, good-natured wife, whose performance is dull and generic much like her character. And lastly, there is, of course, Al Pacino, who gives a surprisingly committed performance, continually mocking himself and his lengthy career for the sake of a cheap gag.

Sadly, even legendary cinematographer, Dean Cundey, who has worked on many iconic films from Back to the Future to Jurassic Park and Apollo 13, among many others, isn’t at his best here as the camerawork throughout Jack and Jill is relentlessly uninteresting, being nothing but mid-shot after mid-shot. Moreover, poor editing choices and terrible CG effects (of which there are a startling amount) are very frequent, distracting from much of the ‘comedy’ on-screen.

Placing most of the auditory focus on well-known songs such as I Got You Babe, Vacation and I’m a Believer, it’s easy to predict that the original score for Jack and Jill by Rupert Gregson-Williams and Waddy Wachtel isn’t very memorable. In fact, the score is barely even noticeable in the majority of the scenes it’s featured in.

If all of this wasn’t enough, Jack and Jill was actually the first film in Razzie history to win in every category in a single year, this included: Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Screenplay, Worst Actor, Worst Actress, Worst Supporting Actor, Worst Supporting Actress, Worst Screen Couple, Worst Screen Ensemble and even Worst Prequel, Remake, Rip-Off or Sequel as many believe that Jack and Jill is a rip-off of the exploitation-drama; Glen or Glenda from 1953. This record was previously held by the psychological horror, I Know Who Killed Me with eight awards, including Worst Picture of 2007.

In summary, Jack and Jill is a truly unbearable comedy. With the exception of a few humorous moments and the genuinely charming interviews with real-life twins that bookend the film, this modern comedy has so little to offer it’s frankly impossible to recommend on any level. Still, undoubtedly the most disappointing part of Jack and Jill is that only three years before its release, Adam Sandler headlined the delightful comedy-drama; Funny People, a film that actively poked fun at Sandler’s long list of appalling comedies. This lead many to believe that Sandler was finished with these slothful releases once and for all, but evidently, this was far from the case. Rating: 2/10.

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Beneath (2013) – Film Review

Directed by Larry Fessenden (HabitWendigoDepraved) and distributed by the horror-centric production company, Chiller Films, a now-defunct television network responsible for many low-budget supernatural horrors, including SirenAnimal and Dead SoulsBeneath, released in 2013, may have sounded like an estimable idea during its conception, being pitched as a minimalist creature feature that explores the direful outcomes of human behaviour under the influence of extreme isolation and fear. But as a result of its overemphatic performances, mindless screenplay and frequently mishandled visuals, whatever little tension and intrigue Beneath manages to build up is completely capsized by the time the end credits roll.

Plot Summary: Following their high school graduation, a group of friends decide to spend one last summer outing together at Black Lake before going their separate ways. But when their rowboat is struck by an amphibious creature, subsequently killing a member of the group and destroying their oars, the five remaining friends find themselves trapped in the middle of the reservoir, contemplating whether one of them should be thrown overboard as a distraction…

While the original screenplay for the film had flashbacks that further developed the characters and explored their individual journeys throughout high school, Fessenden ultimately decided to remove them. This allowed the entire film to be shot in a mere eighteen days, which certainly shows as Beneath is a largely dull affair, following the usual formula for a creature feature outside of one or two subversive moments. Given Fessenden’s past work, it would also make sense that the film could go so far as to suggest that the creature in the lake doesn’t actually exist, and is, in reality, just a physical manifestation of the characters’ ulterior motives. Yet, regrettably, this is not the case, and Beneath opts to play things relatively straight, with the characters being devoured one by one in equally idiotic ways.

On a similar note, the title of the film doesn’t just refer to what lurks in the tranquil water, but is also a guide to where Beneath‘s substance lies. With the film’s unbearable roster of characters, compromising of Johnny; a brooding, long-haired loner, Kitty; the rotating object of desire for practically every male character in the film, Matt; the golden-boy jock whose prospects seem to be going downhill since graduating, his younger, less athletic but more intelligent brother, Simon, along with Kitty’s best friend, Deb, and the hyperactive filmmaker, Zeke, each having a respective outburst as simmering high school grudges, rivalries and romantic betrayals factor into the survival stakes. But as a result of the exceptionally awful dialogue, the prospect of any tension within the story soon becomes virtually non-existent, even with the cast of Daniel Zovatto, Bonnie Dennison, Chris Conroy, Jon Orsini, Mackenzie Rosman and Griffin Newman having their brief moments of promise in a film brimming with atrocious performances. Moreover, the friendship between the characters feels so unnatural from the outset considering their vastly different backgrounds and personalities.

Cinematographer, Gordon Arkenberg, tries his best at keeping the solitary setting of a stranded rowboat visually interesting, which beyond some oddly framed shots and sequences that can only be described as ‘visual disarray,’ is a goal he somewhat succeeds in, particularly whenever the camera is pointed towards the beautiful scenery, where the stillness of the lake accentuates the ominous threat of the creature prowling just beneath its surface. Nevertheless, these shots are soon defaced by harsh shadows and a bleached colour palette due to the whole film being shot using natural light. Judging by the editing, you would also be forgiven for thinking that Black Lake is the largest lake in America as the characters spend hours upon hours rowing with their broken oars (and eventually hands) only to make zero progress in a poor attempt of elongating the runtime.

Even though there is next to no emphasis placed on the original score by Will Bates, the score for Beneath is competent if very forgettable, making a fair effort to enhance the supposed tension on-screen. Except for the track: Last Stand, that is, which sounds as if it’s from another soundtrack entirely, mimicking the score from a light-hearted romantic comedy more than anything else.

As for the film’s main feature; the creature itself closely resembles the appearance of a giant anglerfish. And whilst I can respect this decision given the anglerfish is one of the most naturally frighting animals on the planet, this choice also displays a great deal of laziness on behalf of the filmmakers as taking what is already an intimidating-looking animal and simply enlarging it is a rather indolent approach to designing your marketable monstrosity. Having said that, the combination of puppetry and animatronics that brings the creature to life is impressive despite their range of movements.

In summary, while some may get an ironic laugh out of this ninety-minute trainwreck, I feel most will agree that Beneath is above all else just a frustrating experience, with one of the film’s only positives being its commendable reliance on practical effects over CGI. But truthfully, the effects alone don’t even come close to rectifying what are the film’s many, many other shortcomings, distinguishing Beneath from other films within the genre solely on how moronic and tiresome of a horror/thriller it is, paling in comparison to Fessenden’s other low-budget efforts. Rating: low 2/10.

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Slender Man (2018) – Film Review

Releasing years after the internet icon had long since passed his popularity, the first mainstream film for the supernatural entity: ‘Slender Man,’ was released to little praise from critics and audiences alike in 2018, not only due to the film’s abysmal quality, but also as a result of the negative publicity surrounding the ‘Creepypasta’ creation following the attempted murder of a twelve-year-old Wisconsin girl in 2014, which was supposedly catalysed by the urban legend. The negative reception to the character got so severe that production companies Sony and Screen Gems were reportedly nervous about releasing the film, sequentially leading the companies to release the occult horror with hardly any promotion and no critic screenings. And yet, despite having all that backstory, the actual film is nothing but forgettable, as ‘Slender Man’ sands away virtually all of the mystery and subtlety that made the character so intriguing, to begin with.

Plot Summary: In a small town in Massachusetts, a group of teenage friends, fascinated by the internet lore of the ‘Slender Man,’ attempt to disprove his existence by summoning him with an online ritual. But, one week later, after a member of their group mysteriously disappears, the teens begin to realise that the urban legend of the ‘Slender Man’ is all too real…

Directed by Sylvain White (Stomp the Yard, The Losers, The Mark of the Angels – Miserere), ‘Slender Man’ himself first appeared on the ‘Something Awful’ forums in 2009, emerging in a series of photographs edited to depict a tall, humanoid entity unnoticed by others but almost always surrounded by, or near, children. Since then, many have speculated regarding the origins of the internet icon, the earliest reference to a similar creature being in ‘Der Großmann,’ a German folk tale written in 1702. But, of course, none of this captivating history was used for the film. Instead, ‘Slender Man’ simply just ignores all of the character’s rich history from the ‘Marble Hornets’ web series, the fan-made video-games and the bottomless trove of fan-fiction, in favour of telling a formulaic and derivative story surrounding a group of teens watching an ‘ominous’ video online before then vanishing one-by-one.

Naturally, this issue could’ve been concealed with a strong cast, but while Julia Goldani Telles, Joey King, Jaz Sinclair and Annalise Basso try to make their presence felt, especially King as ‘Wren,’ a soulful waif in a punk choker, and Sinclair as ‘Chloe,’ who beams with life until she watches in unflinching horror as ‘Slender Man’ records himself entering her house. The teens are so poorly defined that they’re practically interchangeable, so when ‘Slender Man’ starts abducting them, you may not even realise that any of them are gone. And even though the teens do try to protect each other, it’s obviously to no avail, and means nothing to the audience as they are entirely disposable protagonists.

The film’s cinematography by Luca Del Puppo, fortunately, fairs a little better, as the camerawork allows for a reasonable amount of attractive shots, particularly in the first act. Nevertheless, this is soon spoilt by the film’s atrocious colour palette, as there isn’t a single shot throughout the film not drenched in drab blues and greys. By that same token, even though I strongly subscribe to the idea that darkness perfectly lends itself to the horror genre, shots in ‘Slender Man’ are often layered with so many coats of black that it becomes almost impossible to tell what’s occurring in some scenes, which is only made worse by the film’s dreadful CG effects, repeatedly uninteresting set-pieces and collection of deafening jump-scares.

Surprisingly composed by Brandon Campbell and Ramin Djawadi, the original score for: ‘Slender Man’ does manage to be far eerier than the visuals through its heavy use of string instruments, creating as daunting of an atmosphere as it can through tracks like ‘Him’ and ‘Library.’ The sound design also effectively adds to the film’s soundscape with thundering cicada buzzing and woodland ambience, both of which are efficacious even if repetitive.

Considering that ‘Slender Man’ is infamous for tragically invoking an attempted murder, in addition to being blamed for many suicides. It’s almost inconceivable that a high-risk film such as this could also be so inaccurate when it comes to the character it’s based upon, as the mythology for this incarnation of the character almost seems to be fabricated on the fly, as ‘Slender Man’ is given multiple abilities he was never known to have had previously, such as mind control, world manipulation and more.

In summary, the inherent creepiness of: ‘Slender Man’ never comes across in this cinematic interpretation, which despite having a runtime of only ninety-one-minutes, feels as if it lingers on for over three hours. Having said that, it’s not as if more resources would’ve improved the film, as the main fault of: ‘Slender Man’ lies within its portrayal of the titular character, as the story ultimately loses sight of what made the internet icon so unnerving in the first place; the trepidation in what you don’t see him do. And, as a result, the film gives you plenty of reasons to put your hands over your eyes, but almost no incentive to peek through your fingers. Final Rating: high 2/10.

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Secret Obsession (2019) – Film Review

Other than providing the viewer with plenty of unintentionally comedic moments to laugh at, ‘Secret Obsession’ fails to do much of anything as a thriller, a mystery, or even a drama. Being incredibly predictable and formulaic from start-to-finish, in addition to lacking in both interesting characters and a real sense of dread throughout. ‘Secret Obsession’ remains to this day Netflix’s attempt at an ominous thriller that was quickly swept under-the-rug shortly after its release, only being known now as a poorly thought-out thriller that would seem more at home on the Lifetime Channel.

Plot Summary: After being brutally attacked by a mysterious stranger at a rest-stop one night, newlywed: ‘Jennifer Williams’ awakens in hospital healing from her injuries. Now unable to recall her past, her husband: ‘Russell Williams’ is simply thankful she’s alive and is eager to get her home. But as he reintroduces her to their secluded mountain estate, ‘Jennifer’ begins to realise she may not be as safe as she initially believed…

Even though ‘Secret Obsession’ received nearly universally-negative reviews upon its initial release, in just twenty-eight days, over forty million viewers watched the thriller, placing it in the top ten most viewed Netflix Original films in the history of the streaming service, (despite the film’s absence of anything truly unique). This is even more surprising considering the film wasn’t the only psychological thriller released on Netflix in 2019, as another entry in the genre titled: ‘Fractured’ appeared on viewer’s accounts months later, sharing many similarities in story and set-up to ‘Secret Obsession.’

Brenda Song and Mike Vogel are both fine within the film, delivering serviceable performances with the exception of the occasional corny line which can feel quite over-acted. Neither one of these performances improve the film much, however, as ‘Secret Obsession’ is anything but subtle in terms of both its dialogue and its characterisation. A perfect example of this is the character: ‘Detective Frank Page,’ portrayed by Dennis Haysbert, as not only is this character very cliché and only in the film to serve as a plot device later down the line. But ‘Detective Frank’ also has a character-arc which receives almost no development and makes little sense, in spite of Haysbert possibly giving the best performance of the film without being anything extraordinary.

The film’s cinematography by Eitan Almagor does manage to be at least somewhat visually interesting for majority of the runtime. With that said, much of the film’s visual style doesn’t fit with the actual narrative, as the film’s main setting of the Colorado Mountains feels like a far too beautiful and scenic location for a dark thriller such as this. This also goes for the film’s colour palette and lighting, which are both overly bright, resulting in the film sharing a similar visual appeal to a modern comedy rather than a suspenseful thriller/mystery.

Just as bland as it is cheesy, the original score by Jim Dooley doesn’t fare much better either, usually landing on either side of the scale: immensely generic or overly loud and extravagant. Almost giving the impression it’s taken from the soundtrack of a live-action ‘Scooby-Doo’ flick at points with how aggressively its orchestral score alludes to danger. But considering this composer hasn’t worked on many well-known films throughout his career, I feel Dooly is still yet to create a beloved (or even memorable) original score for a film.

But the film’s main hook is, of course, it’s signature plot twist, as even hinted at by the ‘Secret’ part of it’s title. Yet, in my opinion, the story’s ‘twist’ is revealed far too early on within the runtime as a result of the film’s extremely blunt hints and clues, which leave little to the imagination, as while you could argue the film intends for the audience to know what’s going on so early in the narrative in order to build tension, the lack of any likeable or engrossing characters makes this a mostly fruitless effort, and with the film never delving much into the details of its twist, it soon leaves the viewer pondering the believability of its story. Alongside the obvious fact that a continuous and overarching mystery always helps to make a story more compelling, with iconic thrillers such as: ‘Seven’ and ‘Shutter Island’ knowing this full well.

In summary, ‘Secret Obsession’ is a film no one is likely to obsess over, with its unfitting location and colour palette, dull characters and constant illogical moments throughout its story, the film has little to offer for fans of psychological thrillers. Whilst some may see the film as a ‘so bad it’s good’ flick, similar to other comically awful films like ‘The Room,’ ‘Battlefield Earth’ and ‘Batman and Robin.’ I personally just find the film a very forgettable and occasionally irritating experience. So, unless you’re on the hunt for a thriller that soon evolves into an unintended comedy, definitely give this dreadful Netflix Original a miss. Final Rating: high 2/10.

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The Open House (2018) – Film Review

Netflix has always enormously ranged in quality when it comes to their original films and the horror genre, as despite films such as: ‘The Ritual’ and ‘Gerald’s Game’ displaying some great promise for the streaming service, many horror duds like ‘Cam,’ ‘Eli,’ ‘Rattlesnake’ and ‘The Silence’ just to name a few, leave ‘The Open House’ feeling like just another bland and (sometimes even moronic) entry into this ongoing trend.

Plot Summary: Following a recent family tragedy, an athletic teenager (Logan) and his mother (Naomi) find themselves besieged by a threatening force when they temporarily move into a new house currently up for sale…

By far the worst element of: ‘The Open House’ is its writing, as in addition to the film’s extremely dim-witted characters and bizarre misdirections. ‘The Open House’ almost feels as if it has a disconnect from reality at points, as the main antagonist of the film, ‘The Man in Black,’ lurks within the mother and son’s home unbeknown to them, usually hiding in their basement. Yet somehow, also manages to navigate through the house without ever being seen, even going-up and down the single staircase to the basement constantly. The closest ‘The Man in Black’ ever comes to being found is through the noises he makes at night, and although these moments do give ‘The Man in Black’ the perfect opportunity to depose of his victims, he never does for reasons that go unexplained.

Dylan Minnette and Piercey Dalton portray the main duo of the film: ‘Logan’ and ‘Naomi Wallace,’ a mother and son broken apart by the recent death of their father/husband, and although neither of the two actors give a truly bad performance throughout the film, none of the characters ever really feel that likeable or interesting, this even continues on to the supporting cast of Sharif Atkins, Patricia Bethune, Paul Rae and Aaron Abrams. Who all attempt to give each one of the small-town residents a distinct and out-of-touch personality, which usually fall quite flat. ‘Logan’ and ‘Naomi’ also suffer from one of the biggest issues for horror characters, that being their nonsensical decisions, as during many points within the story, the characters don’t react to situations how most people realistically would, sometimes even missing very obvious signs of danger.

Surprisingly, the cinematography by Filip Vandewal does allow for a number of attractive shots. Whilst still fairly dull overall, usually not really adding much to any of the film’s tension-filled moments (what little there are) through the film’s strong over-reliance on its static shot-reverse-shot formula during many scenes. ‘The Open House’ does at least attempt to use a variety of wide-shots and focus-pulls to make effective use of its isolated yet beautiful location in the snowy mountains of Ohio, despite the story itself barely utilising this location aside from a scene nearing the end of the film.

The original score by Joseph Shirley is pretty much exactly what you’d expect, being the usual generic and sometimes even overbearing strings score composed for the majority of horror flicks. From the opening scene to the end of the film’s credits, every track is very forgettable and is barley distinct from each other. So much so, that it seems that the soundtrack is barley even findable online, as it actually took me quite a while to locate the score afterwards.

Another poorly-executed aspect of the film is its many misdirections, as already mentioned, as despite hinting at numerous different paranormal events throughout its runtime, ‘The Open House’ is actually a mostly grounded modern horror. As whilst the film constantly alludes to supernatural occurrences, the film then always undermines itself by completely ignoring them. This also isn’t just limited to the paranormal aspects, however, as the film also introduces a variety of loose-ends which the film never ties-up, and whilst some could see this as setting-up a layer of mystery, I personally feel its just lazy writing and bad red-herrings. This is most notable when it comes to the character of: ‘Martha’ portrayed by Patricia Bethune, who repeatedly refers to her dead husband throughout the film and always acts very unusual. Yet nothing ever comes of his, and by the end of the narrative, her character is almost completely forgotten about.

All in all, ‘The Open House’ is a truly dismal Netflix Original, with some weak performances, a forgettable original score, atrocious writing and an enormous amount of clichés. Aside from the occasional piece of decent cinematography, ‘The Open House’ simply feels like a ‘nothing’ experience, as for me, these kinds of low-effort and low-budget horrors are only dragging the genre down further than it already has been in recent years. Final Rating: 2/10.

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After Earth (2013) – Film Review

‘After Earth’ attempts to be a thrilling sci-fi adventure following a father and son as they crash on a hostile planet, surviving together, and bonding every step of the way, and with real-life father and son Will and Jaden Smith as the main two cast members, the film should be a recipe for success. But due to its awful CG effects along with plenty unexplored story ideas and even some surprisingly poor performances, ‘After Earth’ is far more of a comedy than it is the exciting science fiction flick it set-out to be.

Plot Summary: In the far future, a crash landing leaves ‘Kitai Raige’ and his father: ‘Cypher’ stranded on Earth, a millennium after catastrophic events forced humanity to abandon the planet, with ‘Cypher’ injured, ‘Kitai’ must embark on a perilous journey alone to signal for help. Little do they know, ‘Kitai’ is being hunted by a deadly creature every step of the way…

Co-written and directed by the once great M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs), ‘After Earth’ is just another one of the many duds Shyamalan has directed in recent memory. As while many scenes throughout ‘The Sixth Sense’ will always be iconic and beautifully crafted alongside some of his other work, many feel that this director has simply had his day. As aside from the semi-sequel to ‘Unbreakable,’ ‘Split’ back in 2016. Shyamalan has directed nothing but dreadful attempts at horrors and thrillers, before now turning his eye towards the sci-fi genre.

Unfortunately, the majority of the performances throughout ‘After Earth’ range from very bland to simply laughable, as although not quite as bad as some of the unintentionally hilarious performances in director M. Night Shyamalan’s other film: ‘The Happening,’ the film isn’t far off this standard, with one scene in particular where ‘Kitai’ is bitten by a poisonous insect coming off as purely comedic. What makes this so surprising, however, is that this acting duo have worked well together previously in ‘The Pursuit of Happyness.’ Yet this time around, the two seem to have very little chemistry with each other throughout most of the film’s runtime in addition to feeling very miscast in their respective roles. As Will Smith who is usually known for being incredibly charismatic and funny portrays: ‘Cypher Raige’ as a cold, emotionless warrior. Going completely against his best qualities as an actor.

Throughout ‘After Earth,’ the cinematography by Peter Suschitzky is just serviceable, as whilst the film doesn’t really contain many inventive or memorable shots, the cinematography does make great use of many of the film’s spectacular natural locations. As the large variety of wide-shots do effectively display the true scale of the newly formed forests, waterfalls, and mountains that now inhabit this new era of Earth.

The original score by James Newton Howard is another dull aspect of the film, as the film’s score is barely recognisable from any other action or sci-fi film despite this composer actually crafting many wonderful soundtracks in the past, including the original score for: ‘The Sixth Sense.’ The film’s problems even extend into its narrative structure, as during the early stages of the film, ‘After Earth’ bombards the audience with information regarding the story’s world, cutting rapidly between an enormous array of different clips, often leaving the audience with far more questions than answers as the film forces exposition down the audiences’ throat through one overly long scene.

The film’s CG effects sadly don’t show much improvement either, as the huge variety of creatures within the story ranging from tigers to birds, to savage monkeys, all look less than mediocre. However, to give the film credit, the film’s main antagonist known as the ‘Ursa,’ does have a pretty interesting design. As although the creature does share some weak CG visuals similar to many of the other creatures, the ‘Ursa’ simply has more of a presence within the film, and does feel somewhat intimidating and unique despite barley being utilised or developed. The film’s underdeveloped ideas are even more bizarre considering originally, the film wasn’t even supposed to be a sci-fi, as Will Smith’s first concept for the film focused on a farther and son on a camping trip in modern-day, which I personally think sounds far more interesting and enjoyable as opposed to viciously morphing the project into a science fiction story.

In short, ‘After Earth’ is a complete disaster of a science fiction blockbuster, as the film’s terrible performances alongside its abysmal CG effects and mostly bland filmmaking, all result in the film being extremely boring and even sometimes laughably bad. Another unfortunate flop for director M. Night Shyamalan, and definitely a huge dint in Jaden Smith’s acting career, as the young actor hasn’t appeared on-screen since. Despite some great ideas here and there, ‘After Earth’ is certainly a low-point in Will Smith’s film catalogue, Final Rating: high 2/10.

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Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) – Film Review

Based on the romantic novels by E. L. James, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ was the first instalment of the now-enormous franchise, as despite myself definitely not being the film’s target audience, the film itself is a near-complete disaster in regards to both it’s writing, acting and general filmmaking. As unless you’re looking for a weak romantic story with bland performances, uninteresting characters and one of Danny Elfman’s weakest original scores to date, this is not the film for you.

Plot Summary: When literature student: ‘Anastasia Steele’ goes to interview billionaire: ‘Christian Grey,’ she discovers an attractive yet troubled man, soon leading her to reveal more of herself, as she later desires to be with him, despite his stalker-like tendencies…

‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is one of those few films that turned itself into a successful series purely though pulling in its specific type of audience. As the film doesn’t really have has nothing to offer besides the occasional sex scene or mundane romantic moment, which really left me pondering what many viewers actually got out of the overall experience, as take those elements away, and the film truly has very little left, and I can’t really say I feel compelled in any-way to continue on with the series after watching the first instalment.

Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan portray the main couple of the film: ‘Anastasia Steele’ and ‘Christian Grey,’ with the supporting cast of Eloise Mumford, Jennifer Ehle and Victor Rasuk. All of which give very dull performances throughout, especially with the lack of characterisation between them other than ‘Christian’s overly dramatic backstory. This is also where one of my biggest issues with the film comes into play, as Jamie Dornan as ‘Christian Grey’ could easily be seen as a dangerous psychopath throughout the film, as his performance genuinely gave me a feeling of unease whenever he is on-screen. Unfortunately, however, I don’t feel this is what the filmmakers intended, and I couldn’t help but think of the huge shift in tone if ‘Christian Grey’ was older and less attractive.

Seamus McGarvey handles the cinematography throughout the film, which despite not being anything incredibly impressive, the film does have the occasional pleasing shot throughout its runtime, this also applies to the lighting throughout the film. However, this doesn’t improve the film much overall, as the writing within ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is without a doubt one of it’s worst aspects. Resulting in many scenes becoming unintentionally hilarious or extremely cheesy, especially when the film is attempting to catch the viewer off-guard with its dialogue. Interestingly, during the filming of the film’s various sex scenes, remote-controlled were utilised so that the set could be more private for the actors, which is actually quite a creative way around the problem of the cast feeling incredibly awkward due to the huge number of film crew watching nearby.

Despite being a composer I usually adore, the original score by Danny Elfman is also very bland, as the score throughout the film always feels out-of-place and isn’t memorable in the slightest. The film also uses a variety of songs throughout its story, many of which being remixes of modern pop songs, which again, usually don’t fit the tone of the film even remotely. Yet this could also be due to the film’s minimal direction, as director Sam Taylor-Johnson (Nowhere Boy, Districted – Segment: Death Valley, A Million Little Pieces) hasn’t directed anything extraordinary of note either before or since ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’s release.

Although only a small element, one slightly redeeming aspect of the film I actually did enjoy is the film’s colour palette, as throughout the narrative a variety of locations are given grey walls and floors, with ‘Christen Grey’ also wearing grey clothes alongside some other grey-coloured furniture within his apartment. All of which plays into the theme of: ‘Christian Grey’ being in constant control of: ‘Anastasia’ whenever she is in his apartment. But given the rest of the film, this was more than likely accidental.

In conclusion, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is a film that will only appeal to the audience that has most likely already seen the entire trilogy, as the direful performances, awful writing and forgettable original score all leave the film with very little to offer. As the constant sex scenes and sufficient cinematography and lighting simply aren’t enough to carry the story through, resulting in a film that soon doesn’t even understand what its purpose was to begin with. So, I suggest you definitely give this one a miss, as this boring experience simply isn’t worth its your time. Final Rating: 2/10.

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Mom and Dad (2018) – Film Review

I was very disappointed upon my initial watch of: ‘Mom and Dad,’ as I originally went into this one anticipating an extremely funny, gory and over-the-top dark comedy. Featuring an equally over-the-top performance by the infamous Nicolas Cage. However, I soon found out this wasn’t the case at all, as the film didn’t deliver enough on most of the elements I was expecting, resulting in an extremely weird film for all the wrong reasons.

Plot Summary: When a teenage daughter returns home after a day at school, she and her younger brother must try to survive a twenty-four-hour period in which a mass hysteria of unknown origins causes parents to violently kill their own children…

Although it’s never fully explored, I personally feel this strange yet unique idea for a narrative is one of the best elements of the film. But with a plot sounding this insane, and of course featuring Nicolas Cage (a man known for his crazy and very memorable performances) I expected something truly special for the comedy-horror genre. But I was very underwhelmed. As the film didn’t really deliver on any of it’s best aspects for me, with the story is very simple and barely getting any development beyond the initial idea, with the same sadly being said for the characters.

The film also gives nowhere near enough screen-time to Nicholas Cage, as although he does have a few memorable moments throughout the story. It’s his co-star Selma Blair who takes up the majority of the scenes, and considering his name is all over the marketing, and his over-the-top style of acting would suit a film like this perfectly, it’s not unfair to have expected more from him. The children in the film portrayed by Anne Winters and Zackary Arthur are both decent but very forgettable.

In regards to the actual filmmaking, the film is nothing too impressive. As film contains mostly bland cinematography by Daniel Pearl, relying on large amounts of shaky-cam for the majority of the runtime. The editing in the film is also very distracting, as aside from the opening title sequence of the film which is framed very similar to the opening of a family sitcom, which I found quite amusing. Unfortunately, everything after this intro I did not. As the film’s editing comes off as very messy and out-of-time at points, as it feels to me like director Bryan Taylor was trying to capture a similar tone to his ‘Crank’ series of films. With the film feels very energetic and fast-paced, but it simply comes off as unusual to me.

One of the element of the film I did sum-what enjoy however is the original score composed by ‘Mr. Bill.’ As the film’s soundtrack does help to build tension during many of the chase scenes. However, although I do like this score for its’s originality, it doesn’t always fit within the film or it’s pacing. Alongside this, the film also seems to shy away from more violent scenes, as we only see a few actual deaths on-screen. The remainder of the violence is usually off-screen, only showing small bits of blood to the audience now and then, for a fun comedy-horror like this, I believe that’s a huge mistake. As I feel the film should have gone all-in on the gore/fun factor.

Overall, I wasn’t very impressed with ‘Mom and Dad,’ I feel a film like this would’ve been extremely entertaining if done correctly. But the film really falls short of being the fun gore-fest it set out to be. If the film was more along the lines of something like: ‘Shaun of the Dead’ or ‘Tucker and Dale vs. Evil’ I think it could’ve been something really enjoyable. As I do believe director Bryan Taylor is somewhat talented, being both the director and writer of this film, I could see him directing another strange comedy like this in the future, but hopefully one that’s a little better. Final Rating: high 2/10.

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A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) – Film Review

This modern remake of the classic Wes Craven horror flick: ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street,’ unfortunately lacks any of the charm or creativity of the original, as Samuel Bayer’s bland direction and Jackie Earle Haley’s eerie but not incredibly memorable portrayal of the beloved character leaves much to be desired.

Plot Summary: A group of suburban teenagers all share one common bond, they are all being stalked by ‘Freddy Krueger,’ a horribly disfigured killer who hunts them in their dreams. As long as they stay awake, they stay alive…

Whilst the film definitely isn’t the worst remake I’ve seen in recent years, it most certainly is one of the most forgettable. As the film never really does anything super interesting of note to give a reason for its existence (other the production company wanting to make a large profit of course). As everything from the cinematography, to the acting, to even some of the CG effects, all really just come off as something from your standard low-budget slasher.

As mentioned earlier Jackie Earle Haley’s version of the ‘Freddy Kruger’ character is most certainly one of the better elements of the film, as although it definitely isn’t as memorable as the original (as Robert Englund will always be the true nightmare in my opinion). Jackie does a decent job at giving his own take on the iconic character, making him more menacing and extremely creepy when on-screen, he still does have the occasional quip every so often however. The rest of the cast aren’t fantastic, as due to their limited direction and weak characterisation as well as the poor writing. Rooney Mara, Kyle Gallner and Katie Cassidy have very little to work with.

The cinematography throughout the film by Jeff Cutter is decent overall, as while not as impressive as his work on ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ for example, is it most certainly not terrible to look at through most of the runtime. One aspect of the film that is awful however, is the horrific colour palette the film goes for. As the film uses an over-saturated blue and orange colour palette very similar to a Michael Bay film, which not only doesn’t fit with the style of the film at all, but also simply gives the film a general ugly visual appeal.

Even the original score composed for the film by Steve Jablonsky, is a very bland horror soundtrack with nothing really interesting about it, even with the classic: ‘Elm Street Jingle’ in the background, the score really doesn’t add anything to the already boring atmosphere. The only element truly fresh to this remake, is the enormous amount of jump-scares throughout the narrative, which is pretty much to be expected from any modern horror nowadays.

As technology and filmmaking techniques have greatly evolved since the release of the original: ‘Elm Street’ film in 1984, I was really expecting the film to get extremely creative with the ways ‘Freddy Kruger’ can invade people’s dreams and kill them. Similar to the way they did within the sequels to the original film over the years, but sadly the film pretty much recreates many of the iconic scenes from the original film almost exactly, without much thought or creative effort put into it. I did personally enjoy the new look for: ‘Freddy’ though if I had to focus on a positive element of the film.

To conclude, I was very disappointed with this remake, even with going into it initially with very little expectations. As aside from a few interesting CG effects here and there, the film simply isn’t memorable in the slightest. Using the ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ name without understanding what actually made it such a popular and iconic franchise in the first place, leaving the film feeling like nothing more than a cash-grab. Final Rating: high 2/10.

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