Please Stand By (2017) – Film Review

While in years gone by many films surrounding the subject of autism have been seen as overly simplistic or even offensive, with Hollywood often treating characters with ASD like an immeasurable burden upon their entire family, every now and then we receive a film which presents its autistic character (or characters) with respect and authenticity alike, with 2017’s ‘Please Stand By’ being one such example. Directed by Ben Lewin (Georgia, The Sessions, Falling for Figaro) and based on the 2008 play of the same name by Michael Golamco, ‘Please Stand By’ may hit many familiar beats for a coming-of-age comedy-drama, but with an excellent cast and a subtle sci-fi twist thanks to its focus around all things ‘Star Trek,’ ‘Please Stand By’ manages to keep its story diverting throughout its brief runtime.

Plot Summary: When ‘Wendy Welcott,’ a young autistic woman with a gift for writing, learns that Paramount Pictures is holding a screenwriting competition to celebrate ‘Star Trek’s 50th anniversary, she swiftly writes her own screenplay for submission. But on account of her condition and a great deal of ignorance from those around her, ‘Wendy’ is unable to submit her screenplay in time. So, seeing no other option, ‘Wendy’ decides to leave her group home in Oakland and travel to Los Angeles to deliver her screenplay in person…

Although the film’s screenplay (which is actually written by Michael Golamco) rarely breaks the mould of your typical coming-of-age narrative, ‘Please Stand By’ still has more than its fair share of heart-warming moments. And whilst some may argue that the film’s continuously upbeat tone robs the story of any real stakes, ‘Please Stand By’ isn’t really a film that aims to paint an incredibly dramatic tale of self-realisation, family, and belonging, but instead a film that effectively balances all of those themes through a charming and light-hearted story of a woman embarking on a journey across California in dedication of her favourite science fiction franchise.

In what would’ve been the film’s most criticised performance should it have been executed poorly, Dakota Fanning’s performance as ‘Wendy’ is one of the more thoughtful and accurate portrayals of on-screen autism in quite some time. From her social awkwardness to her flailing arm movements and stiff dialogue readings, Fanning successfully captures the functional spectrum of autism in a delightful and intriguing expression of independence and passion, as due to ‘Wendy’ having few experiences outside of her sheltered routine, the road-trip she embarks upon makes her feel truly unconstrained for the first time in her entire life, both for better and for worse. Meanwhile, her caregiver and older sister wonderfully portrayed by Toni Collette and Alice Eve respectively, attempt to track her down and bring her home, fearing for her safety and greatly doubting her abilities.

When it comes to visuals, despite the ceaselessly vibrant colour palette, the cinematography by Geoffrey Simpson hardly ever veers away from immobile close-ups and/or mid-shots. But where the camerawork truly shines is during the scenes where the film attempts to recreate shots from classic ‘Star Trek’ episodes, as the Mediterranean climate of Los Angeles is quickly swapped-out for the strange alien worlds of: ‘Wendy’s imagination, all the while we hear ‘Wendy’ as she reads excerpts from her ‘Star Trek’ screenplay through calming voiceover.

In a similar sense to the visuals, the original score by Heitor Pereira rarely does anything exceedingly innovative as far as soundtracks go, with the majority of the runtime relying more on the use of lesser-known indie songs such as: ‘Take Me as I Am,’ ‘All or Nothing,’ and ‘Waves.’ Yet the score once again becomes much more interesting once we are transported into ‘Wendy’s screenplay, as the original score morphs into something that wouldn’t seem out-of-place in an actual ‘Star Trek’ film.

Along with recreating shots, ‘Please Stand By’ also pays homage to ‘Stark Trek’ history in nearly every aspect of its production. Firstly, the name tags of: ‘Wendy’s work collogues use the same font as the opening titles of: ‘Star Trek: The Original Series.’ Moreover, the mountain ranges seen in the background of the screenplay sequence are the Vasquez Rocks located in Agua Dulce, California, this area has been an extensively used location for many ‘Star Trek’ films and series, but most notably, for the 1966 episode: ‘Arena.’ Lastly, the suits worn by ‘Captain Kirk’ and ‘Spock’ during this same sequence are similar to suits worn by the characters in the 1968 episode: ‘The Tholian Web,’ visibly proving that the filmmakers did their research when it came to the franchise and its ardent followers.

Overall, whilst Golamco’s admittedly predictable screenplay does place the film more in the mid-range of coming-of-age comedy-dramas, by letting the talented actors simply do what they do best, director Ben Lewin does make ‘Please Stand By’ palatable even in its most commonplace moments. And although I obviously can’t speak for everyone in regard to how well the film truly portrays autism given my position, in my eyes, this low-budget flick handles the potentially challenging concept adroitly, displaying the challenges of a life with ASD without ever devolving into a exaggerated collection of tics and quirks, insulting those who may be on the spectrum. Final Rating: 7/10.

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The Mummy (2017) – Film Review

When Universal Pictures first announced their plans to build a cinematic universe based around their gallery of iconic monsters, general audiences seemed to roll their eyes at the idea, seeing the forthcoming franchise as nothing more than a shameless attempt to copy and paste the formula of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the hopes of making the same box-office returns. Nevertheless, Universal continued with their plan, releasing the first instalment of the series in 2017 with ‘The Mummy,’ a film which even with the star-power of Tom Cruise, failed miserably both critically and commercially, instantly destroying any plans for the future of the franchise and embarrassingly leaving the Dark Universe with a single film to its name.

Plot Summary: Once destined to rule all of Egypt, the beautiful princess: ‘Ahmanet’ sees her birth-right stolen from her when her father begets an heir. Knowing this boy would be the Pharaoh’s new successor, ‘Ahmanet’ turns to a dark deity, selling her soul for an unholy power, for which, she is captured by the Pharaoh’s priests, mummified alive and buried in a tomb far from Egypt. Five-thousand-years later, opportunistic U.S. Army reconnaissance sergeant: ‘Nick Morton,’ accidentally discovers her tomb during a firefight in the Middle East, and once venturing inside, inadvertently sets her free…

According to a number of reports, Tom Cruise not only starred in ‘The Mummy,’ but also has an excessive amount of control over the film, having creative oversight on nearly every aspect of the production. So much so, that Cruise even had influence on the film’s screenplay, as it’s been stated that Cruise had his personal writing team rewrite certain scenes to give his character more screen-time and a more dramatic character-arc, and even though most Universal executives weren’t thrilled about the rewrite, feeling it was disjointed and insipid, they reluctantly agreed to keep Cruise on-board. Regardless, Universal Pictures soon saw the fallacy in their blind faith towards Cruise, as despite ‘The Mummy’ earning nearly £300 million worldwide, it was still considered a financial flop when taking into account its immense marketing campaign, which promoted the film purely as the franchise-vehicle it is as opposed to a riveting blockbuster.

Having both her design and gender altered to avoid any similarities with the titular villain of: ‘X-Men: Apocalypse,’ which released just a year prior, ‘The Mummy/Ahmanet’ herself portrayed by Sofia Boutella, is remarkably forgettable, never developing into a compelling or even threating antagonist, which should be nearly impossible considering ‘The Mummy’ fills over a quarter of its runtime with extensive exposition regarding her backstory and sinister motives. Likewise, the actual protagonist of the film: ‘Nick Morton,’ rarely benefits from Cruise’s natural charisma and wit, as ‘Nick’ is simply an unlikable character, emerging as a foolish, self-centred adventurer and leaving in the exact same manner, in addition to being miraculously skilled with/in every type of firearm and hand-to-hand combat, of course.

When it comes to visuals, the film’s cinematography by Ben Seresin is generally visually pleasing, resulting in a fair share of alluring wide-shots, yet much of the film’s beauty is consequently hindered by its ghastly colour palette, which hardly ever strays away from greys, blacks and beiges, an issue that is only worsened by the prosaic setting of modern-day London. Furthermore, the film’s action sequences (which are less frequent than most would expect) are fairly unimpressive, with many of the story’s thrilling moments having an overreliance on apace editing and CG creatures. That is, with the exception of the stunt work, which due to Cruise’s heavy input on the film, is mostly practical and just as awe-inspiring as the stunts in the ‘Mission Impossible’ series, no thanks to director Alex Kurtzman (People Like Us).

Built around two central themes with various less significant tracks cropping-up in-between, the film’s original score by Bryan Tyler is serviceable for the most part, balancing its two main tracks of: ‘The Mummy’ and ‘Nick’s Theme’ before then switching to far more dramatic orchestral tracks like ‘Sandstorm,’ ‘Enchantments,’ and ‘World of Monsters’ for the film’s larger-scale set-pieces and handful of brief horror/dream sequences.

Interestingly, ‘The Mummy’ wasn’t actually Universal’s first venture into crafting a cinematic universe of monsters, as the company originally envisioned 2014’s reboot of the renowned vampire: ‘Dracula Untold’ as the first instalment in the series. There was even early talk of: ‘Dracula’ appearing in ‘The Mummy,’ but this idea was ultimately scrapped, and the film was eventually cited as non-canon. However, there are still several Easter eggs alluding to other monsters within the film, as a vampire skull along with the ‘Creature from the Black Lagoon’s hand can both be seen in ‘Dr. Jekyll’s headquarters.

In all honesty, I feel it’s easy to see why many avoided ‘The Mummy’ when it first released back in 2017, as this film was merely Universal’s first attempt at revitalising the many well-known creatures locked away in their vault by lazily repackaging them for a new generation. The issue being that general audiences had little interest in this concept, and those that did quickly lost their engrossment as the film failed to capture even a fraction of the adventurous spirit present throughout the 90s reboot. Instead, it seems ‘The Mummy’ will simply be lost to time, unremembered and disregarded. Final Rating: low 3/10.

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The Ritual (2017) – Film Review

Based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Adam Nevill, 2017’s ‘The Ritual’ is possibly one of my favourite horrors from Netflix’s extensive list of original films, as although its story revolves around a scenario that many horror fans will likely be familiar with, ‘The Ritual’ effectively uses its sound design and adept visual obfuscation to create an immensely unsettling atmosphere. All the while, developing its characters and exploring themes of grief and manhood in equal measure, turning what could’ve been a wearisome adaptation into an efficient and discomfiting low-budget British horror.

Plot Summary: Haunted by the death of his best friend who was killed during a liquor store robbery six months prior, ‘Luke’ and a group of his former university housemates reunite to mark his passing, hiking across the Scandinavian mountains as a tribute to their lamented friend. But when one of them sprains their ankle, the group are forced to take a short-cut through a nearby forest in order to arrive at their lodge before nightfall, a forest which undenounced to them, is actually the domain of an ancient evil…

Directed by David Bruckner (The Signal, Southbound – Segment: The Accident, The Night House) and executively produced by well-known motion-capture performer Andy Serkis, ‘The Ritual’ takes a large amount of inspiration for its story from classic 1970s horror films in addition to the obvious influences of: ‘The Blair Witch Project’ and ‘Deliverance.’ Yet ‘The Ritual’ helps itself stand-out amongst these other ‘lost in the woods’ films predominantly due to its implementation of Norse mythology, as the film continuously integrates many of the darker, more disturbing elements of Norse folklore into its plot, linking back to the film’s Scandinavian setting.

In a refreshing turn for a modern horror, the four central characters of: ‘The Ritual’ frequently act as if they have actually seen a horror film before, but the film doesn’t use this self-awareness to simply indulge in cheeky one-liners and pop-culture references. Instead, the characters use this perspective to make insightful decisions, almost immediately realising there is something trailing them. The group of friends, led by Rafe Spall as ‘Luke,’ are all in fine form when it comes to their performances, even if the other three members of the group portrayed by Robert James-Collier, Sam Troughton, and Arsher Ali all receive less characterisation when compared to ‘Luke,’ which in a way also makes sense, as ‘Luke’ is the cause of the lingering tension among the quartet, with group seemingly believing if ‘Luke’ would’ve intervened as oppose to being frozen in fear, their friend would still be alive. And this resentment comes boiling to the surface over time, giving Spall the perfect opportunity to convey a real sense of frustration and guilt as the group begins to splinter.

The film’s forest setting is utilised incredibly well throughout the film, as the cinematography by Andrew Shulkind treats the vast wilderness as a formidable presence, crafting a sense of pervasive doom with each step the characters take. From extreme wide-shots to uncomfortable P.O.V. shots, the camerawork remains both inventive and visually appealing until the end of the runtime, almost luring viewers in with its breath-taking locations before putting them on edge through the abnormal emptiness. Additionally, more observant viewers may be able to spot many minor details hidden within the background of certain shots, some being far more frightening than others.

The original score by Ben Lovett expertly and artfully taps into the film’s arboreal vibe of Norse mythology, as aside from a handful of tracks which more on synthwave to add to the story’s various dream sequences, most of the soundtrack makes marvellous use of strings, horns, and a small choir, giving the film an old-world feel in the same spirit of modern horrors like ‘The Witch.’ With tracks such as: ‘Four Tents,’ ‘The Ritual,’ ‘Through the Trees,’ and ‘Fear God’ all reflecting the horror elements of the story as well as the fractured relationship between the characters.

As mentioned previously, ‘The Ritual’ heavily leans into many of the dourer aspects of Norse folklore when it comes to its story, as the film explores ritual sacrifices and ever lasting life following the reveal of the film’s antagonist, who is a towering elk-like creature known as ‘Jōtunn,’ one of the children of: ‘Loki,’ the God of mischief and mayhem. And whilst ‘Loki’ is famously known to have fathered a multitude of strange beings, including a giant wolf named: ‘Fenrir’ and the colossal sea serpent: ‘Jörmungandr,’ ‘Jōtunn’ is an ideal pick for the film. Being brought to life through some above-average CG effects and an exceptional design by renowned concept artist Keith Thompson, ‘Jōtunn’ is a fascinating and distinctive creature, even having many of its attributes further relate back to other stories within Norse mythology.

To conclude, ‘The Ritual’ is a solid entry into the horror genre for more reasons than one, as despite its story not being anything revolutionary and occasionally falling back into skilfully delivered horror tropes. ‘The Ritual’ still manages to construct a mature and slow-burning narrative, only elevated by its fantastic filmmaking, mythological influences, and strong directing from David Bruckner, playing upon the Scandinavian tales of old to deliver something truly alluring. Final Rating: low 8/10.

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Logan (2017) – Film Review

Even though many comic book fans weren’t delighted when it was first announced that the then-unknown Australian actor Hugh Jackman, would be taking on the pivotal role of: ‘Wolverine’ for the first live-action ‘X-Men’ film, nowadays it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role, with Jackman appearing in multiple films as the regenerative superhero. But when it finally came time for Jackman to sheathe his claws in 2017 with ‘Logan,’ the foreboding task of bringing this beloved character’s cinematic story to a close fell to director James Mangold (Walk the Line, The Wolverine, Le Mans ’66), who suitably crafted a brutal, bloody, and surprisingly thoughtful final-outing for the iconic hero.

Plot Summary: In a bleak future where mutants are nearly extinct, a weary ‘Logan’ leads a quiet life as an undercover limo driver, caring for an ailing: ‘Charles Xavier’ at a remote outpost on the Mexican border as he awaits his inevitable death, slowly being poisoned by his adamantium skeleton. But ‘Logan’s plans to hide himself away from the outside world are swiftly upended when he meets ‘Laura,’ a mutant child on the run from a sinister organisation…

Very loosely based on the ‘Old Man Logan’ comic book series, ‘Logan’ is a film free of the baggage that comes with being a part of the ‘X-Men’ franchise, as beyond a couple of nods/references the film essentially ignores much of: ‘Logan’s past, which is definitely a decision made for the better, in my opinion. As the now-discontinued franchise was only ever consistent in its lack of consistency, jumping from entertaining entries such as: ‘X-Men: First Class’ and ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past,’ to greatly disappointing ones like ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’ and ‘X-Men: Apocalypse.’ ‘Logan,’ however, takes a very different route, focusing on a straight-forward road-trip narrative that explores ‘Logan’s struggle between his human compassion and animalistic killer instinct.

These ideas all massively benefit from the film’s performances, as ‘Logan’ is without a doubt Jackman’s finest performance as the titular character. As when placed alongside Patrick Stewart, who returns as ‘Charles Xavier/Professor X,’ the pair of actors portray far more broken versions of their respective characters, as ‘Logan’ grapples with alcoholism and the immense guilt for all those he has hurt, while ‘Charles’ is now a delusional shell of the man he once was, battling dementia with all the pharmaceuticals that ‘Logan’ can afford. Boyd Holbrook also delivers a praiseworthy performance as ‘Donald Pierce,’ the leader of the merciless security team tasked with capturing ‘Laura’ (portrayed brilliantly by Dafne Keen). And whilst it’s no easy task to stand toe-to-toe with Jackman’s ‘Wolverine’ and seem like a sincere threat, Holbrook does exactly that. For me, the only out-of-place casting choice is Stephen Merchant as ‘Caliban,’ as although Merchant isn’t awful by any means, I never felt his performance quite matched-up to those around him. Though this is somewhat redeemed by the parental relationship between ‘Logan’ and ‘Laura,’ which in many ways, is the true heart of the film.

Taking heavy inspiration from a number of classic westerns, the cinematography for: ‘Logan’ handled by John Mathieson gives the film a vastly different appeal than any of the films the character has previously appeared in. As director James Mangold keeps the film grounded in reality as much as possible, having the story take place primarily in remote towns, barren deserts, and wide-reaching woodlands, in addition to filming on-location and utilising a large number of practical effects to avoid becoming too CGI-heavy similar to some of the other entries in the ‘X-Men’ series.

The film’s original score by Marco Beltrami is also incredibly effective at building tension and evoking emotion, as the score combines almost horror-esque tracks with far more dramatic pieces to deliver a varied yet still fitting soundtrack, with tracks such as: ‘The Reavers,’ ‘X-24,’ and ‘Farm Aid’ being almost uncomfortable to listen to, while the score’s final track: ‘Don’t Be What They Made You’ is a beautifully sombre piece that will undoubtedly bring a tear to any listener’s eye.

Yet the highlight of: Logan’ for most viewers will surely be its thrilling action sequences, as due to ‘Logan’ being the second ‘X-Men’ film to have a higher age rating behind 2016’s ‘Deadpool,’ the film never shies away from displaying graphic violence, having scene-upon-scene of criminals and security alike being slashed and torn apart by ‘Logan’ and ‘Laura.’ Finally giving in to comic book enthusiast’s demands and allowing ‘Wolverine’ to exhibit his animalistic nature and fully unleash his berserker rage, resulting in innumerable moments of blood-spattering, barbarous fight choreography.

Altogether, I feel ‘Logan’ earns the gut-wrenching reactions it initially received from ‘Wolverine’ fanatics. As despite the ‘X-Men’ franchise as a whole being extremely inconsistent, ‘Logan’ is a film that proves blockbuster franchises should save their best film for last, as Hugh Jackman’s long-running portrayal of the character will no doubt go down in cinematic history. And I truly have pity for whichever Marvel executive will tasked with recasting ‘Wolverine’ when the day eventually arrives for a reboot of the character/franchise, as finding another actor to fill Jackman’s shoes will be no easy task, but for whoever does, I’m sure most fans will need an adjustment period. Final Rating: high 8/10.

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The Babysitter (2017) – Film Review

Originally filmed in 2015 with the intention of playing in cinemas, the horror-comedy: ‘The Babysitter’ wasn’t seen by any horror fanatics until it released late 2017 after Netflix acquired the rights to the film for streaming. And although ‘The Babysitter’ doesn’t exactly break any of the rules we’ve come to expect within the horror genre, this horror-comedy with splatterings of style must’ve been entertaining enough for those who decided to watch it, as the film would eventually spawn a Netflix-exclusive franchise with two later sequels.

Plot Summary: Riddled with anxiety, twelve-year-old: ‘Cole’ has always been bullied and picked on due to his constant panicking, only finding comfort around the one person who understands him, his attractive babysitter: ‘Bee.’ That is, until one night, after ‘Cole’ secretly stays up past his bedtime to discover she’s actually part of a satanic cult, forcing ‘Cole’ to spend the rest of his evening evading ‘Bee’s band of killers who will stop at nothing to prevent him from spilling their dark secret…

Directed by Joseph McGinty Nichol (Charlie’s Angels, Terminator: Salvation, This Means War) or ‘McG’ as he most commonly goes by, ‘The Babysitter’ is a film that has received a number of alterations (both big and small) since even the early stages of its pre-production. For example, in the original screenplay for the film, ‘Sonya’ was actually a cheerleader, ‘Allison’ was a journalist for her high-school newspaper and ‘Max’ had dreadlocks, but eventually it was decided that ‘Bee’s cult followers should be reimagined to more closely reflect the stereotypical characters seen in classic slasher flicks, only in this film, they’re the antagonists. And this idea is one of the film’s best aspects in terms of its writing, as it gives the film a real sense of self-awareness in addition paying respect to what came before it. Most notably, the ‘Friday the 13th’ series, which ‘Max’ references directly at one point when he chants: “Ch-Ch-Ch-Ah-Ah-Ah” whilst chasing ‘Cole.’

Judah Lewis does manage to leave an impression in his first film role, portraying protagonist: ‘Cole’ as an innocent twelve-year-old with few friends aside from ‘Bee,’ even if a large portion of his anxious characterisation feels far too over-the-top. Then there is also Samara Weaving as the titular babysitter: ‘Bee,’ and her cult followers: ‘Max,’ ‘Allison,’ ‘Sonya’ and ‘John’ portrayed by Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne, Hana Mae Lee and Andrew Bachelor. Who are all wonderfully devilish throughout the film, having plenty of dark comedic moments between them making their deaths quite unfortunate, as while I’m sure most could’ve guessed their characters do die at some-point within the narrative, we don’t get to spend enough time with any of them to get a strong grasp on their exaggerated personalities or any understanding of their malevolent cult.

In spite of the usually dull cinematography by Shane Hurlbut, ‘The Babysitter’ still manages to be one of the more visually-interesting Netflix Originals through its unique style, as the film continuously implements different text, graphics and colours to give it a distinct stylistic appeal, not too dissimilar from (although nowhere near impressive as) ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’ from 2010. Many of these editing decisions also help to redeem the film’s humour, which is extremely inconsistent, bouncing from hilarious cut-aways and meta horror jokes to embarrassing lines of dialogue which try far too hard.

Whilst composer Douglas Pipes has crafted some great scores in the past like ‘Monster House’ and ‘Trick ‘r Treat,’ ‘The Babysitter’ is certainly not one of them, as even with the film having many serviceable tracks. The overall soundtrack just lacks anything overly-distinctive, and I believe that if it was ever compared to any other score from Pipes, or even just a couple of random comedy/horror scores, I doubt most would be able to tell it apart. The film also throws-in the iconic ‘Queen’ song: ‘We Are the Champions’ nearing the story’s end, which feels immensely out-of-place and comes-out of nowhere.

For a large duration of its tight runtime (which the film breezes through as a result of its unrelentingly fast-pacing), ‘The Babysitter’s story is predominantly just one long chase sequence, and whilst occasionally tense, I couldn’t help but feel that the film’s screenplay could’ve taken better advantage of its evil babysitter concept or its few supernatural elements, despite the series second entry: ‘The Babysitter: Killer Queen’ delving much further into the latter. Yet the film doesn’t disappoint when it comes to its violence, having plenty of fantastically gruesome gore effects which are all successfully played for comedy.

Overall, I could see ‘The Babysitter’ being an enjoyable experience for some and possibly just a boring viewing for others. As when ignoring the film’s graphic gore and fun stylistic choices, the story leaves a lot to be desired, and can often feel derivative of horror classics even if this was the film’s intention to an extent with its focus on horror tropes/clichés. For me personally, although I do admire the film’s ridiculous tone and dark humour, the disappointing story can often feel sluggish, diminishing the film’s memorability and rewatchability. Final Rating: 5/10.

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Happy Death Day (2017) – Film Review

Another horror flick from production company Blumhouse Pictures, ‘Happy Death Day’ released in 2017, does at least extend-out of the usual range of Blumhouse horrors to become more of a horror-comedy than just a straight-forward teen slasher. But similar to the rest of their associated franchises e.g. ‘Insidious,’ ‘The Purge’ and ‘Paranormal Activity,’ both ‘Happy Death Day’ and it’s sequel definitely have their fair share of issues, with some being far more severe than others.

Plot Summary: Waking-up in the dorm room of a boy whose name she can’t remember after a night of heavy drinking, self-centered college student: ‘Tree Gelbman’ intends to continue her trend of avoiding her birthday, but little does she know that later that night on her way to another party, someone is waiting to murder her. Only after being killed, ‘Tree’ awakens in the same dorm room, soon realising she is being forced to relive her brutal night of murder over-and-over again until she discovers her killer’s identity…

‘Happy Death Day’ similar to many other day-repeating stories in the past, takes most of its inspiration from the comedy classic: ‘Groundhog Day’ from 1993. Yet unlike many of the other films that are inspired by this beloved comedy flick, it becomes clear over-time that ‘Happy Death Day’ is quite derivative of: ‘Groundhog Day.’ As the film’s story not only utilises the comedy’s plot without much innovation (only throwing a killer into the mix). But the film even steals the main point of the narrative, that being its main character and their correlating character-arc, using the time-looping concept to in a way punish the protagonist for their cruel behaviour towards others.

In spite of this however, the protagonist: ‘Tree’ portrayed by Jessica Rothe, is by far the best element of the film. As while ‘Tree’ does go through a character-arc that is all-too-familiar as previously mentioned, Rothe makes a fantastic first-outing as an actress through her very enjoyable performance. Then of course, there is the killer, whose identity remains a mystery throughout most of the runtime. Known as ‘The Babyface Killer,’ the killer’s outfit is actually the mascot of: ‘Bayfield University’ where the film takes-place, and although the costume itself is far more goofy then intimidating, the mask/costume was actually designed by Tony Gardner. The costume designer behind the now-iconic: ‘Ghostface’ costume from the ‘Scream’ series, which does help redeem to the killer’s undoubtedly petty motivation.

The film’s cinematography by Toby Oliver isn’t anything amazing overall, but does still back-up the story effectively in a variety of scenes. Whether that’s through its use of wide sweeping-shots when the characters are in an intense chase, or when more shaky hand-held camerawork is used to reflect ‘Tree’s break-down when she first realises she is stuck in her current crisis. Yet similar to much of its story, the film never leans enough into a more outlandish/experimental nature when considering what the film could accomplish with its cinematography.

Talented composer Bear McCreary handles the film’s original score, which isn’t very distinctive from most of his other work within the horror genre. But despite the score’s lack of memorability, it still does feel as if there is a decent amount of effort put into it, as the soundtrack actually has quite a lot of range even if some of the tracks don’t always fit with the tone of the film. This also goes for many of the songs used throughout ‘Happy Death Day,’ as nearly all of the film’s song choices massively differ in both genre and general popularity.

But still, the biggest problem ‘Happy Death Day’ suffers from is the inconsistency of its tone. As although the film does attempt to have scenes featuring both scares and humour alike, many of the film’s jump-scares and jokes range in quality, and occasionally even cancel each-other out. Additionally, the film also takes an unusual approach to its violence, as while ‘Tree’ dies countless times throughout the film in a number of different ways. The film never allows for any creative or darkly amusing deaths due to its lack of any blood or gore. Yet this wasn’t always the case, as the original screenplay for the film did actually include more violence, so much so in fact that it would have gained the film a higher age-rating, with plenty of scenes having much grislier deaths that were later altered by director Christopher Landon (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse) during pre-production.

Altogether, whilst the signature performance from Jessica Rothe does help to make ‘Happy Death Day’ a far more enjoyable viewing, in addition to the film’s idea of a protagonist being repeatedly murdered having plenty of potential for a horror-comedy. The film just doesn’t do enough with its story, feeling almost as if its a little restrictive on-itself, never delving enough into being either funny or freighting respectively. So, if you desire an amusing horror-comedy to stick on one evening, maybe just go back to your more accustomed choices over this mediocre slasher. Final Rating: 5/10.

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The Bye Bye Man (2017) – Film Review

Simply from the laughably-atrocious title of the film alone, I’m sure many can guess why 2017’s ‘The Bye Bye Man’ fails so miserably as a horror flick. Coming-off more as a student film project rather than a feature that actually made its way into cinemas (mostly due to its amateurish acting and filmmaking alike), ‘The Bye Bye Man’ is an incredibly lacklustre and mindless horror down to even its last few minutes of screen-time.

Plot Summary: When three college students move into an old house just off-campus, they unwittingly unleash a supernatural entity known as ‘The Bye Bye Man,’ a dark creature that preys upon any victim that discovers its name. Now withholding this knowledge, the group attempt to keep the existence of: ‘The Bye Bye Man’ a secret whilst also trying to save themselves…

Despite the film’s title implying otherwise, the actual antagonist of the film hardly appears in-full throughout the runtime. In fact, the story on which the film is based: ‘The Bridge to Body Island,’ actually has a much more complex mythology for the creature than the film itself. Originally being born albino in New Orleans in 1912, who eventually ran-away from home and began murdering people and cutting-out their eyes and tongues, which he would then sew together and bring-to-life using voodoo. The original story of: ‘The Bye Bye Man’ is far more interesting and disturbing than what appears in the film, which is nothing short of undeveloped and even fairly boring in terms of both his design and his abilities.

Relatively new actors Douglas Smith, Cressida Bonas and Lucien Laviscount unfortunately, all lead the film with quite poor performances. As while the cringy and often moronic writing certainly doesn’t help, their performances are lacking in both urgency and charisma, so it becomes quite difficult to care about them once the supernatural occurrences begin. Surprisingly though, the actor behind: ‘The Bye Bye Man’ himself is Doug Jones, known for his fantastic creature/character performances such as: ‘Abe Sapien’ in the ‘Hellboy’ series, and ‘The Amphibian Man’ in ‘The Shape of Water.’ Yet even though Jones may seem like too much of an accomplished actor to be in such a minimal role as this, with talented actress Carrie-Anne Moss also making an appearance, its possible that at one point in time the script for this film may have actually contained some creative ideas.

James Kniest’s cinematography is another area in which the film lacks, as the bland camerawork only allows for a couple of visually interesting shots throughout, usually resulting in the film having a very flat and occasionally cheap look. However, one shot the filmmakers must have been pleased with is the shot of a large industrial train traveling at night, as this shot is continuously reused at multiple points. But what’s confusing here is that this shot’s inclusion is never explained, nor does it having any bearing on the plot whatsoever, only appearing at random within the protagonist’s dreams and once in the real-world nearing the end of the film.

The film’s original score by the Newton Brothers isn’t memorable in the slightest, simply being a standard piano/strings-focused horror score with the exception of the track: ‘The Bye Bye Man,’ which feels very out-of-place when compared to the rest of the film’s soundtrack. As the creature’s main theme sounds like something ripped straight from an episode of: ‘Goosebumps.’ Also worth a quick mention is the film’s corny use of the recognisable 50s song: ‘Bye Bye Love,’ which is just far too on-the-nose for me.

From its constant jump-scares to its many typical horror clichés (e.g. a group of college teens, creepy scribbled drawings, an old foreboding house, the protagonist looking-up the creature’s origins in a library), the film is teeming with much of the usual problematic writing that floods many modern horror screenplays. Only this time, the film has simply nothing else to set itself apart from others within the genre. The only aspect of the film that could’ve been remarkable would’ve been ‘The Bye Bye Man’ himself and his ‘Seeing-Eye Hound,’ made from pieces of his victims. But as already mentioned, the film does nothing with its antagonist or his hound, only utilising the dog-creature to stand alongside ‘The Bye Bye Man’ through some truly abysmal CG effects.

In conclusion, ‘The Bye Bye Man’ is one of the last films I’d recommend to any horror fanatic. Completely absent of any likeable characters, an intriguing/threatening antagonist or any sense of an eerie atmosphere, its hard to believe that the film has any positive reviews at all. And yet somehow, it does. All we can do is hope horrors such as this fade into obscurity and never receive a sequel, prequel or anything else of the sort. As this genre has already suffered enough in recent years with the likes of: ‘Truth or Dare,’ ‘Chernobyl Dairies’ and ‘The Gallows’ just to name a few. Final Rating: 1/10.

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It (2017) – Film Review

Finally, after many years of waiting, horror and literature fans alike got their wishes granted as director Andy Muschietti (Mama) signed on to direct a remake (or readaptation) of one of Steven King’s most iconic and beloved horror stories, this, of course, being: ‘It.’ And due to its excellent cinematography by Chung-hoon Chung and incredibly memorable performance from Bill Skarsgård as the demonic clown ‘Pennywise.’ ‘It’ is certainly one of the better Steven King adaptations in recent years, even with the array issues the film still suffers from.

Plot Summary: In the summer of 1989, a group of unpopular kids known as ‘The Losers’ Club,’ band together in order to destroy a shapeshifting monster known only as ‘Pennywise,’ a creature which has been terrorising their home town of: ‘Derry’ for decades and can disguise itself as whatever it’s victim fears most…

Following the film’s incredibly successful release in 2017, ‘Pennywise’ has quickly become a modern horror icon despite only having about four minutes of dialogue in the entire film. But its easy to see why this is, as not only does ‘It’ share the familiar fun tone of classic films of the 1980s such as: ‘The Goonies’ and ‘The Monster Squad,’ but ‘It’ also manages to adapt the novel’s antagonist: ‘Pennywise’ fairly closely from the original source material, resulting in a mostly entertaining novel-to-screen transition.

The main cast of: ‘The Losers’ Club’ features Jaeden Martell, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Jack Dylan Grazer, Chosen Jacobs and Wyatt Oleff who all share pretty great chemistry with each other, as alongside the film’s terrific writing, the children truly feel like an actual group of kids, with the group constantly cursing and sharing in plenty of quippy banter with each other. In addition to the younger cast, ‘Pennywise’ is this time around portrayed by Bill Skarsgård, and while I have always loved Tim Curry’s cheesy yet menacing portrayal of the iconic clown. Bill Skarsgård is a stand-out aspect of the film for sure. Capturing the eerie qualities of the character as well as his unworldly nature perfectly, really embracing the idea that ‘Pennywise’ isn’t just a psychotic clown, but something far stranger…

The cinematography by Chung-hoon Chung is surprisingly brilliant for a modern horror, featuring a number of attractive shots which blend extremely well with the film’s story. The film does have one recurring shot which is quite irritating, however, as during many of the scenes where ‘Pennywise’ appears to his victims, the film utilises a shot in which the sinister clown approaches the camera straight on, sprinting directly towards the screen, and while I understand what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish with this shot, I feel it only comes-off as fatuous and looks very out-of-place when compared to the rest of the film’s visually enthralling camerawork.

Admirable yet flawed, the original score by Benjamin Wallfisch ranges from being your typical horror soundtrack to eventually becoming more emotional for the more character-focused scenes. The main issue I take with the original score are some of the tracks which feature deep bass-like sounds, as I feel these tracks really don’t fit with the film’s tone or time-period. Regardless, the tracks: ‘Paper Boat’ and ‘Derry’ do serve the film’s story delightfully, with one of the film’s final tracks: ‘Blood Oath,’ also being a beautiful send off for these characters before their inevitable return.

From ‘Pennywise’s uncanny appearance to the abandoned house ‘It’ lives within on ‘Neibolt Street,’ many of the film’s designs are also pretty memorable despite their limited screen-time. These fantastic designs are dragged down by the film’s poor CG effects, however, as the film always seems to resort to CG visuals during many of its more tense moments, which can take away from their impact. This is also where ‘It’s most substantial problem comes into play, as ‘It’ has really split audiences down the middle when it comes to its focus on horror. As while the film does have a few eerie scenes and creepy visuals, this adaptation seems to be more focused on being the coming-of-age story the novel mostly is. Although many viewers may be disappointed by this, desiring a narrative based more around the story’s darker elements, I feel the film’s distracting CG effects and constant barrage of jump-scares are made-up for by its interesting delve into its themes of childhood fears and growing-up.

In my opinion, ‘It’ is a pretty solid Steven King adaptation, as while certainly let-down by its weak CG visuals, over-reliance on jump-scares and occasionally inconsistent tone, the film still is a pretty enjoyable watch throughout its two-hour runtime, mostly due to the film’s great performances and general memorability, and with ‘It: Chapter Two’ turning-out to be an underwhelming experience for most. I’d say it further proves that this film is the direction to go when it comes to adapting King’s work. Final Rating: 7/10.

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The Snowman (2017) – Film Review

Despite being directed by Tomas Alfredson, head of some great films in the past such as: ‘Let the Right One In’ and ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,’ ‘The Snowman’ is a complete mess of a thriller from start-to-finish. Mostly as a result of the variety of issues it faced during its production, from a rushed shooting schedule to plenty of scenes and story elements being left on the cutting-room floor. Although the film’s isolated location alongside the visually pleasing cinematography by Dion Beebe may be very effective at points, they simply aren’t enough to save the film from its weak writing and boring/confusing narrative, even with the film’s decent source material.

Plot Summary: As a rough detective (Harry Hole) investigates the disappearance of a woman whose scarf is found wrapped around an ominous-looking snowman, he begins to fear an elusive serial killer may be active again. So with the help of a brilliant recruit, ‘Harry’ must now connect decades-old cold cases in the hopes of outwitting this threat before the next snowfall…

‘The Snowman’ is based on the novel of the same name by Jo Nesbø, also known as: ‘Snømannen’ in Norwegian. However, although this is the first time audiences are seeing the character of: ‘Harry Hole’ portrayed on-screen, ‘The Snowman’ is actually the seventh entry in the character’s novel series. Making the narrative itself feel very underdeveloped and even a little out-of-place, almost as if the viewer hasn’t been informed of any of the film’s in-world events before the current story begins (this may also be why the film is brimming with overly-long flashbacks).

Michael Fassbender portrays the protagonist: ‘Harry Hole’ within the film, which is unfortunately one of his weakest performances to date, not only due to his poorly-written character (who is incredibly cliché as an uncaring alcoholic detective) but also as a result of his fairly bland line delivery. The rest of the cast featuring Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jonas Karlsson and even a short appearance from J.K. Simmons, are all decent with what they are given, although they also suffer from similar poorly-written characters. Many of the characters throughout the film also never seem to react very realistically to situations, as characters usually just shrug-off horrific sights with ease. Never really delving into how traumatic these experiences would actually be for a person to witness.

The cinematography by Dion Beebe is undoubtedly the best aspect of the film however, as the beautiful yet isolated locations of the story really add to the film’s enormous array of wide-shots and uncomfortable close-ups. Needlessly to say, this doesn’t really help with the lack of tension within the film, as although the film makes more than a few attempts at crafting tension-filled moments when ‘Harry’ investigates various crime scenes, the film never quite manages it, usually failing to build-up much of an eerie atmosphere.

Marco Beltrami handles the original score for the film, and although this composer usually does terrific work, his score for: ‘The Snowman’ is mostly very dull. As with the exception of the tracks: ‘Main Titles’ and ‘Down the Harry Hole,’ the entire soundtrack feels as of it could’ve been taken from almost any other generic thriller, which is a huge shame, as I personally feel a more impactful score could’ve really helped with the film’s total lack of tension.

The film’s location probably intrigued a large number of viewers just on itself, clearly taking inspiration from films such as: ‘Deadfall’ and the dark comedy classic: ‘Fargo’ from 1996, the film’s snowy Norway setting really gives the film a distinct look, with the bright red blood from many of the killer’s victims standing-out immensely amongst the white snow. These visuals also help to distract from the film’s slow-pacing, as the film’s main mystery usually feels like quite a drag, with clues only being revealed very slowly over the course of the film.

In conclusion, ‘The Snowman’ definitely fails in more categories than one, as despite its interesting location and pretty fantastic cinematography, the film’s messy story and bland performances make the film pretty unappealing when considering it’s over two-hour runtime. Whilst I’m sure ‘The Snowman’ had the potential to be a great semi-Noir thriller at some-point in time, especially considering it was initially going to be directed by the legendary Martain Scorsese, who eventually left the film to pursue other projects. ‘The Snowman’ is still far from the chilling crime tale it attempted to be, and overall, is a complete disappointment. Final Rating: 3/10.

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Kong: Skull Island (2017) – Film Review

Jordan Vogt-Roberts directs his first major film with ‘Kong: Skull Island,’ another reboot of the iconic monster this time set within a different time-period and featuring plenty of vibrant visuals. Resulting in ‘Kong: Skull Island’ being a pretty entertaining monster flick overall, despite the film still being plagued with a range of issues throughout its two-hour runtime.

Plot Summary: Shortly after the Vietnam war in 1973, a team of scientists explore an uncharted island in the Pacific, without knowing it, they soon venture into the domain of the mighty: ‘King Kong,’ and must fight their way through an onslaught of dangerous creatures to escape the deadly: ‘Skull Island.’

Just from a quick glance at the film, it’s obvious that the film takes heavy inspiration from the war epic: ‘Apocalypse Now’ when it comes to its visuals, which is by no means a bad thing, as ‘Kong: Skull Island’ really embraces its 1970s time-period. Making every set, costume and piece of military equipment fit well within the world the film builds on, which really gives some style to what could’ve just been your standard action blockbuster.

The all-star cast of Thomas Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Corey Hawkins, Tian Jing, Thomas Mann, Toby Kebbell and my personal favourite, John C. Reilly, are all decent in their respective roles despite their characters not being given much depth beyond a few short scenes, as due to the enormous size of the cast, many characters end-up becoming nothing more than clichés through their rushed introductions. Aside from Samuel L. Jackson and John C. Reilly as ‘Preston Packard’ and ‘Hank Marlow’ however, as both of their characters receive the most development and play into the film’s main theme of the damage war can have on the mind, which I personally found very interesting and wish the film explored further. Rather than focusing so much on many of the awful comedic moments the film crams into the story, which aside from a few improvised lines from John C. Reilly, fall mostly flat.

The cinematography by Larry Fong is fairly creative throughout the film, as in addition the film’s very ranged colour palette. ‘Kong: Skull Island’ does have an array of visually interesting shots, many of which contain plenty of movement and give the viewer some stunning views of: ‘Skull Island.’ The cinematography also lacks many of the shots that made the ‘Godzilla’ remake from 2014 so impressive as a creature-feature, that being shots that display the true scale of: ‘Kong,’ yet the lack of these shots may also be due to the ‘Kong’s ever-changing size, which did begin to irritate me after a while, despite ‘Kong’ still managing to feel pretty imposing and powerful throughout the film.

The original score by Henry Jackman does help to make-up for this however, it being of his better scores, in my opinion. As throughout the narrative, the soundtrack always adds to the adventurous tone of the film, utilising large tribal drums to give each character’s confrontation with ‘Kong’ genuine weight. The film also uses a number of classic songs from the 70s to further push the film’s time-period, and whilst this does sometimes work effectively, with an early helicopter scene featuring the iconic: ‘Fortunate Son’ being the most memorable. It can also feel very forced at points, mostly due to the sheer amount of songs featured within the film.

One of the film’s best aspects, and most likely the main thing most viewers will gravitate towards when it comes to ‘Kong: Skull Island,’ is its action scenes. As throughout the story, the film constantly throws its characters into plenty of intense encounters with the terrifying (and equalling unique) creatures of the island, and whilst the film does have a few too many scenes which feel overly-cheesy due to an overeliance on slow-motion. Each action set-piece is entertaining in its own way, usually making effective use of each monster’s various abilities and their surrounding locations. My personal favourite definitely being the sinister and brilliantly designed: ‘Skullcrawlers,’ ‘Kong’s main adversaries. All of these creatures are obviously displayed through the film’s CG effects, which are decent enough throughout the runtime, yet certainly aren’t flawless.

To conclude, ‘Kong: Skull Island’ is enjoyable, as whilst the film is undeniably filled with a number of problems, mainly in regards to the film’s weak characterisation and fairly simplistic story, the film still manages to be exciting through its fantastic use of CG effects and thrilling action scenes, all backed-up by a great original score and a constructive use of the 1970s time-period. So, although its in need of some improvements, I feel you can still get something out of this creature-feature. Final Rating: low 7/10.

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