IT

New Line Cinema (2017) 135 min. R

Director: Andrés Muschietti

Screenplay: Gary Dauberman, Cary Fukunaga & Chase Palmer; Based on the novel by Stephen King

Cinematography: Chung-hoon Chung; Editing: Jason Ballantine; Production Design: Claude Paré; Set Decoration: Rosalie Board; Costumes: Janie Bryant; Score: Benjamin Wallfisch

Stars: Jaeden Lieberher (Bill Denbrough), Jeremy Ray Taylor (Ben Hanscom), Sophia Lillia (Beverly Marsh), Finn Wolfhard (Richie Tozier), Jack Dylan Grazer (Eddie Kaspbrak), Wyatt Oleff (Stanley Uris), Chosen Jacobs (Mike Hanlon), Bill Skarsgård (Pennywise), Nicholas Hamilton (Henry Bowers), Jackson Robert Scott (Georgie Denbrough)

Consisting largely of extended flashbacks to the Eisenhower era, Stephen King’s novel IT was such a colorfully jumbled calliope of atomic age sci-fi (It! The Terror from Beyond Space, It Came from Outer Space, It Came from Beneath the Sea, It Conquered the World), and ‘50s creature features (like Them!, Tarantula, The Creature from the Black Lagoon), there’s poetic justice in the author’s hair-raising tale having wormed its way back into the sort of summer movie popcorn fare that originally inspired it, courtesy of director Andrés Muschietti’s big screen adaptation. 

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King Kong

Universal (2005) 188 min. PG-13

Director: Peter Jackson

Screenplay: Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson & Fran Walsh based on King Kong by Merian C. Cooper & Edgar Wallace

Cinematography: Andrew Lesnie; Editing: Jamie Selkirk; Production Design: Grant Major; Set Decoration: Simon Bright & Dan Hennah; Costumes: Terry Ryan; Score: James Newton Howard

Stars: Naomi Watts (Ann Darrow), Jack Black (Carl Denham), Adrien Brody (Jack Driscoll), Andy Serkis (Kong/Lumpy), Kyle Chandler (Bruce Baxter), Jamie Bell (Jimmy), Evan Parke (Ben Hayes), Colin Hanks (Preston), Thomas Kretschmann (Cpt. Englehorn), John Sumner (Herb), Lobo Chan (Choy), Craig Hall (Mike), William Johnson (Manny)

When reigning Best Actress Brie Larson began absenting herself from the award show circuit last season, I was aghast to learn it was due to her prior commitment to Skull Island, the latest contribution to standing King Kong lore. Like most movie monsters Kong just doesn’t want to stay dead, so considering that Peter Jackson’s prior 2005 adaptation just passed its 10th anniversary, the time has come to revisit a modern classic.

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The Witch

the witch (179)A24 (2016) 93 min. R

Director: Robert Eggers

Screenplay: Robert Eggers

Cinematography: Jarin Blaschke; Editing: Louise Ford

Production Design: Craig Lathrop; Set Decoration: Mary Kirkland

Costumes: Linda Muir; Score: Mark Korven

Stars: Anya Taylor-Joy (Thomasin), Ralph Ineson (William), Kate Dickie (Katherine), Harvey Scrimshaw (Caleb), Ellie Grainger (Mercy), Lucas Dawson (Jonas), Bathsheba Garnett (The Witch), Sarah Stephens (Young Witch), Julian Richings (Governor), Wahab Chaudhry (Voice of Black Phillip)

A true sleeper creeper, promos state The Witch is like watching something we shouldn’t be seeing, but see it for goodness sake! Having kept a low profile, the appeal of this movie should spread by word of mouth, the same way witch hunting hysteria did back in the day. One of the few horror films of recent vintage to genuinely unnerve viewers had to reach all the way back to the foundations of the country to find its scares.

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Crimson Peak

Crimson Peak (2015) posterUniversal/Legendary (2015) 119 min. R

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Screenplay: Matthew Robbins & Guillermo del Toro

Cinematography: Dan Laustsen; Editing: Bernat Vilaplana

Production Design: Thomas E. Sanders; Set Decoration: Jeffrey A. Melvin & Shane Vieau; Costumes: Kate Hawley; Score: Fernando Velázquez

Stars: Mia Wasikowska (Edith Cushing), Tom Hiddleston (Sir Thomas Sharpe), Jessica Chastain (Lady Lucille Sharpe), Charlie Hunnam (Dr. Alan McMichael), Jim Beaver (Carter Cushing), Burn Gorman (Mr. Holly), Javier Botet (Ghosts of Pamela, Enola & Margaret), Doug Jones (Ghosts of Edith’s Mother, The Dowager Lady Sharpe)

Well-cast, sumptuous reimagining of the classic ghost story, Crimson Peak is classy entertainment, so we can forgive it the many delirious, unapologetic excesses into Gothic melodrama. There’s something decidedly refreshing about a film that accepts itself for what it is, as this one does, rather than striving to convince us it’s anything grander than that. Embracing the conventions of the genre wholeheartedly, the director Guillermo del Toro revels in his own richly absurd, deliciously overripe camp scares. He has no qualms about crafting a movie that’s a throwback to the most Victorian of haunted house humbugs.

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The Visit

the-visit-movie-poster Universal (2015) 94 min. PG-13

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Screenplay: M. Night Shyamalan

Cinematography: Maryse Alberti; Editing: Luke Franco Ciarrocchi

Production Design: Naaman Marshall; Set Decoration: Christine Wick

Costumes: Amy Westcott; Score: Paul Cantelon

Stars: Olivia DeJonge (Rebecca Jamison), Ed Oxenbould (Tyler Jamison), Kathryn Hahn (Paula Jamison), Deanna Dunagan (Nana), Peter McRobbie (Pop Pop), Benjamin Kanes (Robert Mendelsohn), Celia Keenan-Bolger (Stacey)

When director M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense was originally released, way back when, playing concurrent with The Blair Witch Project, the two movies went head to head in a standoff to determine which path horror would head down in the new millennium. The Sixth Sense was professionally put together and stylistically innovative, with a pull the rug out from under you sensibility that toyed with its own narrative form and the concept of visual storytelling itself. The Blair Witch Project on the other hand swung to the opposite extreme with its amateurish, low-budget, hardscrabble approach paring both horror and cinema down to their bare essentials in order to play on viewers’ most primal fears of the unseen and the unknown.

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The Gift

the gift posterSTX/Blumhouse (2015) 108 min. R

Director: Joel Edgerton

Screenplay: Joel Edgerton

Cinematography: Eduard Grau; Editing: Luke Doolan

Production Design: Richard Sherman; Set Decoration: Matthew Flood Ferguson

Costumes: Terry Anderson; Score: Danny Bensi & Saunder Jurriaans

Stars: Jason Bateman (Simon Callen), Rebecca Hall (Robyn Callen), Joel Edgerton (Gordon “Gordo” Mosley), Tim Griffin (Kevin Keeler), Allison Tolman (Lucy), Adam Lazarre-White (Ron), Beau Knapp (Detective Walker), Wendell Pierce (Detective Mills), P.J. Byrne (Danny McDonald), David Denman (Greg), Busy Philipps (Duffy)

For some reason, I kept getting The Gift mixed up with The Box, which also used the Pandora concept as a basis to explore the untapped potential for darkness in seemingly ordinary, unthreatening people. In an overheated summer full of typically hotheaded action blockbusters, this low-key, largely introspective psychological thriller is the real surprise gift to moviegoers and it’s not even close to Christmas yet. Despite being riddled with horror movie clichés and transparent script convolutions which allow audiences to anticipate most of what’s coming, this remains an intriguing, quality sleeper attractively wrapped for our predilection.

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It Follows

IFposterRADiUS-TWC (2014) 100 min. R

Director: David Robert Mitchell

Screenplay: David Robert Mitchell

Cinematography: Mike Gioulakis; Editing: Julio C. Perez IV

Production Design: Michael Perry; Set Decoration: Joey Ostrander

Costumes: Kimberly Leitz-McCauley; Score: Disasterpeace

Stars: Maiko Monroe (Jay Height), Keir Gilchrist (Paul), Olivia Luccardi (Yara), Lili Sepe (Kelly Height), Daniel Zovatto (Greg Hannigan), Jake Weary (Hugh), Bailey Spry (Annie), Leisa Pulido (Mrs. Hannigan), Mike Lanier (Giant Man)

A dangerous sexual encounter results in teen Jay Height (Maiko Monroe) contracting a paranormal form of STD. A shape shifting apparition that only she can see attaches itself to her, shadowing her every move and threatening to slay her with its touch unless she can place the curse on someone else through another unsafe sexual encounter. Plagued by the hold hormones have over their lives, It Follows knows what scares most horny teens, the cause of most of their angst. Here, certain death is transmitted the same way it was in Larry Clarks controversial Kids, thematically returning us to the psychosexual roots of the horror film.

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The Sacrament

sacramentMagnolia Pictures (2014) 99 min. R

Director: Ti West

Screenplay: Ti West

Cinematography: Eric Robbins; Editing: Ti West

Production Design: Jade Healy; Set Decoration: Adam Willis

Costumes: Wendy Moynihan; Score: Tyler Bates

Stars: A.J. Bowen (Sam Turner), Joe Swanberg (Jake Williams), Kentucker Audley (Patrick), Amy Seimetz (Caroline), Gene Jones (Father), Kate Lyn Sheil (Sarah White), Talia Dobbins (Savannah), Donna Biscoe (Wendy Johnson), Lashaun Clay (Robert Evans), Dale Neal (Andre Evans), Shirley Jones Byrd (Lorraine Davis), Christian OJore (Pilot)

Personally directed, written and edited by Ti West, The Sacrament is very much an auteur piece and like his earlier, equally unpleasant House of the Devil, West has again returned to an ’80s milieu for inspiration. Despite its contemporary setting, The Sacrament is actually a none too thinly disguised reworking of the 1978 incident at Jonestown, Guyana in which the parishioners of a religious commune known as the People’s Temple committed mass suicide following the assassination of visiting Congressman Leo Ryan and several of his aides seen as outside threats by loyalist sect members.

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Mama

mama-poster01Universal (2013) 100 min. PG-13

Director: Andrés Muschietti

Screenplay: Neil Cross, Andrés Muschietti & Barbara Muschietti; based on short film Mamá (2008)

Cinematography: Antonio Riestra; Editing: Michele Conroy 

Production Design: Anastasia Masaro 

Costumes: Mark Bridges

Score: Fernando Velázquez

Stars: Jessica Chastain (Annabel), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Lucas/Jeffrey), Megan Charpentier (Victoria), Isabelle Nélisse (Lilly), Daniel Kash (Dr. Dreyfuss), Jane Moffat  (Jean Podolski/Mama [Voice]), Javier Botet (Mama)

Jessica Chastain has proven herself a character acting chameleon over the last few years and her ubiquitous presence gives Andrés Muschietti’s feature-length adaptation of his 2008 Spanish-language short Mamá an aura of class that really isn’t warranted. You never know what hair dye the actress is going to be colored from one role to the next, and after her failed previous nomination, Chastain has gotten the Oscar formula down pat. On competing screens in the tony, high-concept, CIA thriller Zero Dark Thirty, for which she’s nominated for the Academy Award, she’s opened wide for more democratic appeal in the audience pleasing shriek fest Mama, about two feral girls whose adoptive parents discover they’ve brought something equally untamed back out of the wilds with them. Continue reading

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

dragon_tattoo_posterColumbia/MGM (2011) 158 min. R

Director: David Fincher

Screenplay: Steven Zaillian; based on the novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Cinematography: Jeff Cronenweth; Editing: Kirk Baxter & Angus Wall

Production Design: Donald Graham Burt; Set Decoration: K.C. Fox

Costumes: Trish Summerville; Score: Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross

Stars:  Daniel Craig (Mikael Blomkvist), Rooney Mara (Lisbeth Salander), Christopher Plummer (Henrik Vanger), Stellan Skarsgård (Martin Vanger), Steven Berkoff (Dirch Frode), Robin Wright (Erika Berger), Yorick van Wageningen (Nils Bjurman), Joely Richardson (Anita Vanger), Julian Sands (Young Henrik)

Sometimes I feel as though the only American horror stories that still seem worth telling anymore are remakes of Asian films such as The Ring, The Grudge, One Missed Call, The Eye, Shutter, and Insidious, an American original which qualifies by default (it was directed by the Malaysian Chinese-born James Wan, who grew up in Australia). Upon seeing David Fincher’s version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, one of the most eagerly anticipated releases of 2011, I’m willing to make the same assertion for American remakes of unsettling Scandinavian psychological thrillers. The movie was based on the same source as the 2009 Swedish film directed by Niels Arden Oplev and starring Noomi Rapace. Continue reading