Wednesday, May 27, 2020

A Plea to Reconsider the Timely IT COMES AT NIGHT

In 2017, It Comes At Night was royally screwed by A24 (the studio behind The Witch, Hereditary, Midsommar, and The Lighthouse) when it issued a horror-packed trailer, lauded soundbites, and released the movie alongside the summer blockbusters. The studio was likely trying to capitalize on the prestige horror wave aimed at adult audiences clamoring for mature horror films (most mainstream wide-release horror films are targeted to teens). Audiences, myself included, hated the movie and walked away incredibly disappointed. Expectations are the death bell of a horror movie experience.

The director, Trey Edward Shults, had previously worked on a stylish, intimate character piece called Krisha, and It Comes at Night follows further down that dark path. It seems Shults set out to make a grounded, atmospheric, psychosis-driven horror movie without conventional horror elements – a sinister drama, perhaps. And just to be clear there are several very frightening moments, and a tense, gruesome sequence. 

The story revolves around a highly-infectious viral outbreak that possibly turns people into zombies and this plague decimated a nearby city. That’s it. We know only tidbits about the characters as they treat each other with suspicion and distrust so there’s not much exposition. The rest is an exercise is harrowing paranoia, bleak terror, horrible dreams, and a savage, emotional climax. It’s all presented vaguely but it’s not too difficult to decipher what’s going on.

I’m fortunate to have waited 3 years to revisit this film, and it’s especially timely and almost prescient now during this pandemic when our kind neighbors are met with cautious uncertainty. It Comes at Night is very well-made, exquisitely shot, and effectively ominous. The cast honestly portrays the madness of claustrophobia, the anguish of life-and-death decision-making, and the brutality of scared humans. 

It's a shame that I, and so many other horror fans, dismissed this film for not living up to the expectations that A24 set up (The Lodge met a similar fate earlier this year). The studio could have treated It Comes At Night better, promoted it more honestly, and given it a modest rollout to see if audiences responded. Word of mouth with limited availability is a solid, time-tested strategy. Now is the time to revisit this shunned gem and give it another chance. Perhaps my home isolation prompted the new sentiments, but I was surprised at how effective the film is and how genuinely real it feels. The resolution is unequivocally haunting.

Coincidentally, as a result of the way A24 markets its films, I made the decision in 2017 to NEVER watch trailers again, and unsurprisingly, I haven’t had a movie ruined since then (The Invisible Man trailer gave up many of its jawdropping moments). It's tough to avoid them, especially if you watch network TV or subscribe to the cheaper tier of Hulu, but I've embraced an awkward trailer stance (eyes shut tight, finger-plugged ears) to combat terrible marketing.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Quick Takes: Z, Porno, Why Don't You Just Die, The Droving

When this works it has some great tension, well-staged scares and overall eeriness. Eyes staring back from the darkness of a child’s bedroom is particularly effective, as is one vicious moment that I had to rewind to accept. The third act completely drops the ball, becomes repetitive, and it’s clear they didn’t know where to go from the premature climax. Just for once I’d like to see both parents on the same side. The level-headed, doubting man, hysterical woman routine is such a tired, insulting trope. As Shudder originals go, this is above average.

Admittedly, there is some juvenile fun to be had in the tawdry PORNO, but it’s just not a grower. The pace is clunky and the action spurts out in fits and drabs. Thankfully, the likable ensemble cast holds the film firmly together, and they help us through an intolerably gratuitous scene that would burst any man’s bubble. But things wither the moment you realize the big bad is nothing more than boobs and a mask. It’s supposed to be a sleaze-fest and it’s more of an uninspired snooze-fest.

WHY DON'T YOU JUST DIE! is a gleefully vicious little film that is so damn bloody, implausible and action-filled. I loved every minute of it! It's dark humor coupled with brutish performances and even a little bit of heart make it all work, even though the majority of the film takes place in one room. There's some very vibrant artistry on display with impeccable production design, colorful lighting, and fun, energetic camerawork. You can clearly see the Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, and Park Chan-wook influences. I'm very excited to see what director Kirill Sokolo has coming next!

THE DROVING upholds its bargain, promising a woeful tale of loss & revenge entwined with a regional folktale. Beautifully shot against stunning U.K. vistas with dynamic sound, wind practically whips around you. Adept performances with surprising character developments & a chilling ending land the devilry of this indie horror.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Quick Takes: Extra Ordinary, Sea Fever, The Wretched, The Turning

Extra Ordinary blends rom-com with the paranormal to produce a snort out-loud giddy #horror comedy. Between the ectoplasm collection, satanic absurdity & lampooned tropes lie great performances that ground the shenanigans. It's the best time I've had "at the movies" this year.

Sea Fever is a grim nautical horror thriller that draws heavily from The Thing, The Descent, and Alien. With themes of isolation and infection, it’s resonates but it quickly loses momentum in the second half. The characters are well-rounded but all fairly unlikeable keeping you detached. And the ambiguous creature design seems interesting but leaves you wanting much more. It’s harrowing and frustrating at the same time.

The Wretched is old-school #horror with a Fright Night template (a teen knows there's an evil witch next door but no one believes him!). It’s a witch instead of a vampire & not the pretty, pouty lipstick kind. This is a more terrifying, volatile creature. Sadly, the lore is not explored & it moves along predictably but solidly enough to entertain.

The Turning starts well-enough with a rich, gothic atmosphere, some ghostly scares & great performances. But the it rambles towards an abrupt and maddening non-ending. This was so off putting it ruined everything that came before it. The problem lies in how the director attempted to pay homage to the original novella’s debated ambiguity. Here it’s confused, clumsy, unsupported, and a serious embarrassment.