Archive | October, 2019

Looking Back at 2010s Films: The Visit (2015)

24 Oct


By Tanner Smith

“The Visit” was a moderate success, but for M. Night Shyamalan, “moderate” was MUCH better than what he faced with his few previous movies. (Then, over a year later, he would release an even more impressive achievement with “Split”–better than moderate.)

And it was even enough to grant him a nod for the Razzie Redeemer Award, after being nominated for (and winning) a few Razzies for said-few previous movies. (Not that the Razzies are to be taken seriously, anyway.)

I remember, it used to be fun to make fun of Shyamalan. But I never lost faith in him. I mean, this is the same guy who made three of my personal-favorite movies (“The Sixth Sense,” “Unbreakable,” and “Signs”)–I never even lost faith in him when he made one of my LEAST favorite movies (“The Last Airbender”). Even lesser films like “The Village,” “Lady in the Water,” and “The Happening” still showed many signs of a director who kept trying different, inventive things, despite what people were thinking of him. But by the time “After Earth” came around, marketing execs were so nervous about the general public’s opinion of Shyamalan that they didn’t include his name in the trailers.

Thank God it was only a rough patch. Shyamalan wanted to go back to his roots, the times of making his first films (“Praying With Anger” and “Wide Awake”) with so little money and so much faith before he got his big chance with “The Sixth Sense” and even bigger chances since then. So, he came up with a small budget and made a horror film for Blumhouse. That became “The Visit,” and thankfully, it paid off and made everyone interested in Shyamalan again.

I really like “The Visit.” It’s a fun, entertaining horror film that blends terror and comedy really well, probably better than most horror-comedies. I mean, in most horror-comedies, the laughs are there but the scares aren’t very effective–“The Visit” had a great, unique balance. But here, especially in the final act, I’m laughing loudly at what’s going on and yet at the same time I’m genuinely concerned for these two poor kids who just wanted a pleasant visit with their distant grandparents!

I know with these long movie ramblings of Looking Back at 2010s Films, I’ve been giving away endings and analyzing them…I won’t do it here. I didn’t see the twist coming, and nearly everyone in the theater with me upon first viewing didn’t either–I remember hearing everyone gasp loudly, one woman exclaim “Oh no…”, and as for me, when the twist came about, I suddenly felt the world expand around me as everyone was coming together. But even if you DO know the twist, it’s still an entertaining thrill ride–“The Visit” is yet another one of those movies you have to see more than once, which you know I love.

The faux-documentary approach (yes, faux-documentary–NOT found-footage, as everyone labeled it) works…for the most part. It seems like a documentary a young, aspiring filmmaker would make. But the problems with it are that it doesn’t always FEEL like one. The most important reason for that: the video & audio are WAY too good for what these kids supposedly have to film everything. So while I think it would be more effective if it was more realistic in that sense, I still admire the overall spirit of it.

“The Visit” wasn’t a huge success, but it was just what Shyamalan needed at that point in his career. Audiences dug it and critics liked it (well, for the most part–sheesh, Richard Roeper, calm down with the one-star review, will ya!?). And then after “The Visit,” Shyamalan made “Split,” also for Blumhouse, which was so good it certified his status as a filmmaker worth following again.

Looking Back at 2010s Films: The Invitation (2016)

24 Oct


By Tanner Smith


Sure, Tanner. Don’t analyze “The VVitch” because it scares the hell out of you. But “The Invitation?” No problem at all. Let’s just do it…

First, an excerpt from my review: “It requires a lot of patience and attention to get to where “The Invitation” ultimately builds up to, and I’ll admit my patience was tried a little with each possible answer they could give us to rising questions (without giving us the actual answers most of the time). But somehow, I knew the answer wouldn’t be as rational as characters would like Will to believe (or the audience to believe, for that matter), so I stayed with it, wondering what would happen, when it would happen, and how it would happen. And as much as I would love to talk about the back half of the film, when everything in the story goes to hell, I will leave it for you to discover, because believe me…it is worth it.”

Screw it, I’m gonna talk about the ending of “The Invitation” now. So, SPOILER ALERT and all that. Here goes…

All throughout the film, there are talks about how pain is optional and can easily be taken away. The hosts of this dinner party are part of a cult that two other guests (whom the others never met before) also belong to. They claim this isn’t a conversion, but it sure feels like one, especially when they bring up uncomfortable subjects that are obviously brought on by the cult’s teachings. They even show a video about the cult which features an onscreen death. But it’s no big deal, they say, because the person’s pain went away with her–but the guests are unnerved, because it’s A FREAKING DEATH ON-CAMERA!

Will (Logan Marshall-Green) is worried the more the night goes on, but when he addresses concerns, there’s always someone there to make them unwarranted. One of the party hosts, Will’s ex-wife Eden, seems happier now that she’s part of the cult, which itself is strange considering the emotional wreck she became after something terrible happened with their son. (But even she has her moments, such as when one of the guests labels her new philosophy about pain as “bullshit” and she slaps him harder than I’ve seen anyone slap anyone even in a comedic film.)

Will has pain inside him because of the incident, and he’s learning to control it and not let it define him or drive him insane. He seems to have a nice relationship with Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi), who helps him keep his feet on the ground, so it can be argued he’s doing much better than Eden…that is, until the climax, in which it’s painfully clear that she just could not take living with her pain anymore and wanted to take everyone with her…

That brings us to the finale, in which the hosts propose a toast. Even though Will has been proven wrong and was chewed out for his suspicions, he still believes something is terribly wrong. He snaps and takes everyone’s glasses of wine and breaks them all, shouting “DON’T DRINK IT!” Of course, people are arguing with him again, so this might be just another one of those things in which he’s not going to come out looking good…and then one of the cult members attacks! “You’ve ruined it!” she exclaims before lunging at him and scratching him crazily.

This chick was already seen as crazy before (walking around the house naked, for example), so it may not be anything to prove Will was right…but then, it turns out Gina (Michelle Krusiec) has collapsed and died, having drank the wine. Will was right. The wine was poisoned and everyone was meant to drink it and die. The hosts, the guests, everybody–this whole night was not meant to be a conversion for the cult; instead, it was meant to be a mass suicide (or, actually, a mass homicide, since only four of these people were willing to die and they gave the others false pretenses).

This is when everything goes to total sh*t, with the apparent Plan B being to attack and kill all of the guests that resist (so, when we think one of the guests left the party early to go home…I don’t think she’s alive anymore). Thus, we now have a fight to survive, as Will, Kira, and everyone else tries to find a way out of the locked-up mansion before it’s too late. This is what the film was building up to, and by God, did it deliver the goods. This is one tense thrill ride with a ton of suspense and even a lot of drama, when Eden realizes everything she’s done has been for nothing, despite her new husband David reassuring her that they’re doing this for a good cause (to free people of pain…by killing them…).

And then, after Will and Kira and Tommy (Mike Doyle) survive and make it outside, we get…one of the most disturbing final shots I’ve ever seen in any movie! You see, earlier, Will noticed a red lantern hanging over the front of the house, which seemed odd. But now, he and Kira look over the Hollywood Hills and find that there are SEVERAL red lanterns lit at various different houses. Los Angeles is in chaos, with helicopters roaring and sirens escalating. What does this mean? It means that this was not an isolated incident. Other cult members must have been in on the same plan Eden and David tried to pull off, making this a night of death…

That…is incredibly disturbing.

And it made the film all the more memorable and scary. Just when I thought I was getting tired of the buildup “The Invitation” was giving me, it gave me one hell of a payoff that I will never, ever forget.

Looking Back at 2010s Films: The VVitch (2016)

24 Oct


By Tanner Smith

I can’t bring myself to watch Robert Eggers’ masterful horror film “The Witch” (or “The VVitch” as it’s more commonly labeled) more than once a year. Why? Because it always scares the hell out of me.

No, I’m serious–the first time I watched this film (on DVD and on a small TV screen, no less), I had trouble sleeping that night.

It’s a real slow burn with gloomy atmosphere and many disturbing implications and subtle imageries that just makes the final act all the more terrifying. It’s a good thing I went in as much detail in my original review as I did (without spoiling anything), because that’s really as much energy as I would like to put into describing “The VVitch.”

I even began the review by stating how proud I was of the many terrific horror films that came out in 2016 (many of which I already talked about in this Looking Back series). “The VVitch” came out much sooner than the rest (and was already labeled by critics as the best horror film of the year if not the whole decade), but I waited until late in the year to check it out. Even in my “2016 Review,” I couldn’t argue that “The VVitch” was the best horror film of 2016 because it was the only one that truly got under my skin…but “Hush” was still my favorite simply because it was entertaining. (There’s a difference between “best” and “favorite.”)

See? What new material can I add to my review of “The VVitch” that I didn’t already cover? (I mean, aside from I can only watch it once in a long while…) Well…let’s look to the IMDb Trivia:

-Stephen King was terrified of this film.

-Corn can be seen with signs of ergot, a hallucinogenic fungus that many attribute to real-life stories of possession and witchcraft.

-Most of the film’s dialogue and story were based on writings from the time.

-It is widely believed that a witch cannot recite the entire Lord’s Prayer, which makes it all the more uncomfortable when the two younger siblings are unable to.

Oh boy, I just read one about why the baby was taken in the beginning of the story…that just makes me feel even more unnerved, so I’ll just leave it alone. The scene is scary enough as is.

It’s always nice to know after admiring a film that the writer/director actually did his homework, and that the master of horror himself (King) praised it as a result.

I have nothing else to add here, except I look forward to seeing Eggers’ next film “The Lighthouse” very soon.

My original review for “The VVitch” can be found here:

Looking Back at 2010s Films: The Gallows (2015)

22 Oct


By Tanner Smith

Continuing my series of Looking Back at 2010s Films…I didn’t say all the films I look back upon had to be the ones I liked.

I mentioned I’m a supporter of the “found-footage/fake-documentary” angle, but I also mentioned there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it…with that said, I hate “The Gallows.”

Not only does it have the most forced explanations possible for why this film “needed” to be seen through the perspectives of the characters’ video cameras (seriously–it didn’t add a thing), not only is the writing atrocious, not only are we subjected one of the most forced plot progressions ever (for the sake of “twists” that hardly make any sense anyway)…but making Ryan the main character made this one of the most unpleasant experiences I ever had watching a movie. I detested this snot-nosed little pissant from the moment he first appeared on-screen to the moment where he finally gets his comeuppance–in a horror film, that’s a very bad decision!!

OK…let’s TRY to be fair here.

To be fair, none of the other characters are relatable or likable either. Even Reese, the typical bland, shy, charming, awkward teen we’re supposed to sympathize with, isn’t so charming after all. I would give props to the directors for not making him the lead, but…Ryan?? F**king Ryan??? WHY??

OK, enough Ryan-bashing. I did enough of that in my original Smith’s Verdict review already.

I mentioned in my review that I like the idea of a horror story taking place in a school, but I will admit there IS actually something else I like about the film. Switching from camera to camera is a given lately in found-footage movies, but the way they do it here (showing the other camera’s perspective to show what happened EARLIER, when we only heard sounds based on something that may have happened off-camera) is actually mildly effective.

Maybe I’m just jealous of this film. It was made for a small budget, independently, and then New Line Cinema picked it up for distribution, some changes were added, and it was released to theaters. And I don’t mean limited-release. I mean wide-release, multiplex, seen nationwide. That baffles me… I mean, kudos to the filmmakers who obviously had a dream, but…

Screw it, I don’t want to be too mean. And the film was already critically panned, pretty heavily.

Except from Richard Roeper, one of my favorite critics still writing today…you know what, I’m gonna look up his review of “The Gallows”…

“One of the strengths of ‘The Gallows’ is it knows how a cheery, bustling place during the daytime can become a creepy hall of horrors in the dead of night.” …That’s the opening paragraph, and I agree 100%. But let’s keep going…

“This is the kind of movie where you can anticipate the next big shock and it usually arrives right on cue, and yet it still gets you right in the gut.” Well, good for him, but when I “anticipate” the “next big shock,” it’s because I know it’s setting up for a predictable jump-scare, followed by a loud musical sting that shouldn’t even be there if it’s found-footage.

“Even with some plot holes as gaping as the Grand Canyon – OK, as gaping as POT holes in Chicago after the spring thaw – its effectiveness cannot be denied.” I disagree, but that’s the kind of Richard Roeper biting dialogue I’ve always loved.

He goes on to describe the plot and thankfully, he agrees that putting on the same play that still got a student killed years ago is a REALLY stupid idea. But… “This is the first of about 30 stupid decisions made by key characters, but what horror movie DOESN’T feature the leads doing really dumb things?”

Roeper, what are you doing to me, man? I’m starting to agree with your positive review!

“At times it makes no sense for any camera and/or phone to be recording the madness as characters shriek and run and howl and cower and yell at one another, but ‘The Gallows’ stays true to the ‘found-footage’ rule of never once stepping outside the conceit that all of this was recorded by participants in the story.” There are better found-footage movies that have better explanations as to why the cameras are consistently rolling…I can’t get into this one.

OK, so clearly, Roeper liked this movie for the same reasons I did not. (He didn’t even seem to mind Ryan as much as I did.) Film is subjective, and there are no exceptions. it would’ve been easy for Roeper to pretend he didn’t find any sort of entertainment value in this thing, just as it would’ve been just as easy for me to claim I liked it.

I will NEVER like this movie. And if I ever go see its sequel (which is already on-demand at Amazon Prime, last I checked), I’d be doing so kicking and screaming my way in. But if you do…I won’t mind.

Happy Death Day 2U (2019)

22 Oct


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Two years ago, “Happy Death Day” was a pleasant surprise—a slasher film that was actually good.

OK, that statement may seem mean, but the point is I had a lot of fun with the movie. And especially for an era when our best horror films tend to stray away from slasher-killers and moves more toward ideas and imagination, it’s refreshing to see a film about a slasher-killer written with ideas and imagination.

It was a success, and so a sequel was inevitable. Would it match its predecessor in any way, shape or form?

Yes. It. Would.

Brief recap: A college sorority girl, nicknamed Tree (Jessica Rothe), experiences a time-loop that causes her to repeat her birthday over and over again…and it’s also her death-day, as each time, she’s brutally slaughtered by a masked killer. Did I mention the killer wears a creepy baby mask? Believe it or not, that’s the campus mascot. She eventually solves the mystery of who the killer is and thus, she’s finally able to live and see tomorrow. It was the story of a total bitch who became a better person under unbelievable circumstances.

“Happy Death Day 2U,” the sequel, contains more of a sci-fi edge to it (though there are still some horror aspects left over—it is a Blumhouse production after all) and kind of reminds me of the zany, goofy fun of “Back to the Future Part II.” (And yes, that title is dropped here, just as “Groundhog Day” was in the previous film.) We get an explanation for the time-loop this time, and we’re also taken into a parallel dimension and reminded of the possibilities of a multiverse.

Tree is dying again and again…again. Why? Because, this time, she’s in another universe, in which her new boyfriend Carter (Israel Broussard) is now dating the bitchy sorority queen Danielle (Rachel Matthews), who seems nicer this time around, her roommate Lori (Ruby Modine), who turned out to be the killer in the previous film, is now Tree’s closest friend, and HER DEAD MOTHER IS ALIVE!!…oh, and that damned baby-masked killer is on the loose again. Poor Tree just can’t catch a break. But who is it this time?

A trio of science-student stereotypes—Ryan (Phi Vu, reprising his brief role from the original film as Carter’s roommate), Samar (Suraj Sharma), and Dre (Sarah Yarkin), thankfully reminding us of “Real Genius” rather than “Revenge of the Nerds”—are responsible for the time-loop. You see, they’ve created a machine that is intended to slow time down. Instead, not only has it caused people (or maybe just Tree—I’m not really sure) to relive day after day but it also opened up a door to a parallel universe. So now, Tree, in the new world, has to convince the trio that their machine works so that they can create new algorithms in order to test the device again in order to send Tree back home, but it will take several tries, and so, Tree has to come back again with the previous equations memorized…meaning she has to die again and again (again, again) in order to convince them again in order to finally get it right.

Sounds confusing, but…OK, it is a little confusing—keep a notepad handy if you watch this one. You thought “BTTF Part II” was loaded with paradoxes? Whew!

Usually, I have a real beef against sequels that cause me to repeat the very things that characters have done in previous installments because…they are doing it…AGAIN. But thankfully, “Happy Death Day 2U” has every bit as much of a sharp script as its predecessor, with a lot of wit in a “Scream” sort of way and surprisingly, a great deal of heart.

I mean it, too. For as funny and creative and twisted as “Happy Death Day 2U” is, it can also be very heartwarming as well. As I mentioned, Tree’s mother (Missy Yager), who died in an accident on Tree’s birthday long ago in Tree’s universe, is alive in this universe. This gives Tree a hard choice to make, as she sees her as a reason not to go back. The character of Tree is able to grow some more this time around (hah! Tree? Grow? I get it.), and Jessica Rothe handles these scenes rather beautifully.

But of course, as with the first movie, her comedic moments are definitely on-point. She’s fantastic here.

Oh, right. We have the killer again. Did we really need him/her for this one? Eh, maybe not. But we expected the return.

The characters we’ve seen before are welcomed back and worth rooting for (and Carter in particular is one of the few horror-movie boyfriends I can tolerate), the mix of sci-fi, comedy, and horror is uniquely handled, and if there’s another sequel to be made with these capable hands (which also include writer/director Christopher Landon), I’ll be interested in seeing it. And I’ll surely watch “Happy Death Day 2U” as many times as I’ve watched “Happy Death Day.”

But that still doesn’t answer the question…what school has a baby for their mascot??

Looking Back at 2010s Films: Happy Death Day (2017)

22 Oct


By Tanner Smith

“Happy Death Day” is a time-loop movie, in which a character has to repeat the same day over and over again in order to right some wrongs and possibly save some lives. But unlike “Source Code” and “Edge of Tomorrow,” this time-loop movie actually has the guts to reference “Groundhog Day” at least once. In this case, it’s a college sorority girl, Tree (Jessica Rothe), who gets killed by a masked killer (actually, the mask is of the campus’ mascot…a baby…wtf?), and…wakes up to repeat the day over again. Then she gets killed again…then she wakes up again…then she gets killed again and again and again, until she ultimately finds out who did it…or keeps doing it!

I was surprised by how much I liked “Happy Death Day.” It was a PG-13 slasher film that actually worked. It had a good sense of humor about itself, which made it fun, and it also benefitted from a really solid character arc for our main character, Tree, who starts off as bitchy and unlikable and then earns our sympathy by the end of the movie.

Much of the film’s success is because of Jessica Rothe’s performance as Tree. Tree is a mean-girl type who is harsh to pretty much everyone she meets, lets a lot of people down, turns down nice guys, and is pretty much a horrible person; thus, this time-loop she’s trapped in gives her ample opportunity to change herself for the better…if she lives through the day for once! Rothe has to portray the character in many different ways that show her progression–she’s mean, she’s picky, she’s confused, she’s scared, she’s regretful, she’s a fighter, she’s sweet–and it never feels forced! She can even be funny too–there’s a scene in which she gets away from the killer, only to be pulled over by a patrol cop, and she realizes she can escape death if she gets arrested and spends the night in a jail cell…so she straight-up tells the cop she’s drunk, stoned, under all kinds of influences (“You name it, man, I’m on it!”). I love that–she plays it so well. This is a good example of character development, when a character I start out disliking gradually turns into someone I wouldn’t mind revisiting again in the future.

SHE is the reason I saw “Happy Death Day 2U!” (I’ll get to that one soon.)

As a little foot-note, I’ll add that I liked Carter, the nice, awkward romantic-interest (played by Israel Broussard). I’m at that point in the horror film genre where if the main character is an average, bland, shy, awkward geek with a heart of gold, I immediately don’t care anymore. But thankfully, Carter’s written with a little more wit and intelligence than several other characters of the sort, the actor’s simply likable, and he and Tree have good chemistry together. (“Oh hey. You’re up–” “SILENCE!”)

Not bad for a movie from the director of “Paranormal Activity 5” and “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse.”

Looking Back at 2010s Films: Sorry to Bother You (2018)

19 Oct

Image may contain: 1 person, text

By Tanner Smith

Continuing my series of Looking Back at 2010s Films…so I’m more than halfway through Boots Riley’s satirical social-commentary “Sorry To Bother You,” and I think I know where it’s going to go…MAN WAS I WAY OFF!!!

I mean…WOW! I am so sorry I ever considered calling “Sorry To Bother You” “predictable.” Even as it makes its solid and thought-provoking arguments about racial issues, this film becomes totally freaking crazy! I have to give credit to writer-director Boots Riley for taking risks.

And no, I’m not going to give it away here, because that would not be cool.

Now I need to be honest…I’m not quite on the “love” train with people who sang the high praises of “Sorry To Bother You.” As much as I admire the film, “liking” it is another thing. Some of the running jokes don’t really do much for me and moments that are supposed to provocative instead feel forced. But there are still many big laughs, an effective social satire, and like I said, some insanely creative (and just straight-up INSANE) twists that I can’t help but admire. I mean…they went there. (And besides, other people love it, so I figured I should talk about it.)

The film stars Lakeith Stanfield (who keeps showing up in recent films even when I don’t expect him to) as Cassius “Cash” Green (get it? “cash is green”?), who wants to move up in the business world. He gets a job at a large telemarketing firm and isn’t very good at making sales…until a veteran (played by Danny Glover) advises him to use his “white voice” when making a sales pitch. And so, he does (with David Cross dubbing as his “white voice”), and thus, he becomes successful and gets a major promotion, joining the higher-ups in the firm and scoring highly illegal multi-million-dollar deals. He’s having such a great time that he can’t tell he’s headed somewhere he doesn’t know he doesn’t want to be…

Yes, it sounds predictable, and I bet you think you know where it’s going…but you’re wrong.

I mean, obviously, it’s a given that Cash will see the error of his ways and focus on what’s truly important, like his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) and the labor movement led by Squeeze (Steven Yeun). You don’t have to be a genius to figure that one out…but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about Armie Hammer as the super-rich, smug, racist, totally full-of-himself billionaire that…well, I already said I wouldn’t give it away, so I’ll just stop here.

“Sorry To Bother You” is the kind of film where you have to show it to a close friend just to see what they think of it because it IS that crazy and you just have to wonder what other people make of it!

Seriously, Stanfield’s character in “Get Out” has seen some crazy sh**, but I think THIS would be too much for him!

Looking Back at 2010s Films: Oculus (2014)

15 Oct


By Tanner Smith

Continuing my series of Looking Back at 2010s Films, my favorite thing about the 2005 dramatic thriller “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” is that it left everything up to the viewer’s interpretation, giving us different possibilities as to why something happened the way it did. Was it the supernatural or was it something simpler?

Mike Flanagan’s “Oculus” did something very similar in its first hour. It involves two siblings who both went through a traumatic experience involving the death of their parents. The brother has been living in a mental institution since then, convincing himself that it was a violent domestic issue and not the cause of something supernatural he now believes his traumatized mind came up with as a coping mechanism. What was it he thought caused the tragedy? A haunted mirror that manipulates people’s minds. He’s now released and welcomed back by his sister…who now has the mirror and still believes it was what caused the horrible ordeal that killed their parents. So, she decides to bring her brother in as she documents her experiments with the mirror before she attempts to kill it.

(Why she doesn’t bring other people in as witnesses to this apparent supernatural presence, I don’t know, but…never mind.)

I love the first hour of “Oculus,” as the sister is dead-set to prove that her parents were victims of something that can’t be explained that dwells within the mirror itself and brother has spent years proving to himself that it’s not real. Now he has to convince her that things they went through did not happen the way they remember it, but she’s shocked to find that he has no recollection of what she believes truly happened. This is great stuff!

The rest of the film is good too (and you can even make the argument that what happens in the final act isn’t actually what happens). There are some very good chilling moments (including one involving an apple…yecch), some more insight into our main characters slowly but surely going crazy, and an effective way to show flashbacks and have them intersect with present-day events. But that first hour, which allowed us to consider one thing when another thing seemed too obvious from the start, is so damn good, it kind of feels like a different movie. But I still like “Oculus” overall, for challenging me as well as scaring me.

And it was the first film to give filmmaker Mike Flanagan some much-needed attention (he had another film before, a low-budget thriller called “Absentia,” but that hardly went anywhere). Little did he know that it would lead to more projects that would cement his status as one of the very best horror directors working today.

Looking Back at 2010s Films: The Final Girls (2015)

15 Oct


By Tanner Smith

Continuing my series of Looking Back at 2010s Films…I want a sequel to “The Final Girls!” Why is there still not a sequel to “The Final Girls”?? People will see it!…Or somebody will!…I will!

“The Final Girls” is a satirical horror film about a group of modern-day young adults who are magically teleported into a 1980s slasher film–think “Last Action Hero” meets “Scream.” And now, in order to see the end of the film and hopefully get back home, they have to help the ’80s protagonists fight off a mysterious masked killer. What complicates things is that one of the ’80s kids was played in reality by the deceased mother of one of the millennials, and she’s not ready to lose her again.

The film was co-written by Joshua John Miller (along with M.A. Fortin), whose father is Jason Miller, who was best-known for playing Father Karras in “The Exorcist.” I can’t help but feel like writing this screenplay was like a form of therapy for him. (And another fun fact: Joshua Miller was best-known for acting as the little punk from ’80s cult classics “River’s Edge” and “Near Dark”–I know he plays different characters, but c’mon, he’s still the same little jerk in each film.)

But even with its heart, it’s still a horror-comedy. Does the comedy work? Yes…for the most part. The deconstructing of the slasher-movie tropes is very well-done, including how even being genre-savvy doesn’t always save your life. The killer, named Billy, is obviously molded after Jason Voorhees and the “Black Christmas” killer (also named “Billy”). They try to work in as many types as possible for the disposable teens–the Stud, the Sexpot, the Virgin, the Final Girl, and more. And it’s also nice to see these millennial youths play parental roles to these ’80s stereotypes.

What I don’t like so much about the film is that the ’80s stereotypes don’t feel even like “’80s stereotypes.” They feel like millennials trying to play ’80s so they can have an excuse to be as impolitically correct as possible. Did they really expect me to buy Adam DeVine as a jock stud from the ’80s? Bullsh*t. I have the same problem with Angela Trimbur as the ’80s Sexpot–again, I’m not seeing as much of a type as much as someone trying to perform community theater. Even for an ’80s slasher film, you gotta try harder than this.

Though, I will say…they are more memorable than most disposable teens in real ’80s slasher films.

Speaking of which, the main characters themselves are likable enough for me to want to follow them. It’s not really an actor’s movie, but it is important to have appealing players in any film, no matter how satirical it may be. Taissa Farmiga is a fun protagonist, Alexander Ludwig is convincing as a sensitive jock, Nina Dobrev is funny as a conceited slutty type, Alia Shawkat is also funny at being Alia Shawkat, and Thomas Middleditch is irritating without being ear-numbingly so. Also, Malin Akerman as the ’80s Virgin who doesn’t know her character is played by someone’s late mother is very sweet and effective.

Again, not an actor’s movie. But give credit where it’s due.

And judging from the entertaining blooper reel at the end, it looked like everyone had a fun time making this flick. If I were involved, I’d probably have a blast too. I definitely had fun watching this film…and I’d undoubtedly have fun watching a sequel if they would just make one already!

Looking Back at 2010s Films: Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)

15 Oct


By Tanner Smith

How did this happen? How did a prequel to a subpar horror film turn out to be so good? It’s as if the first “Halloween” movie to be released was “The Curse of Michael Myers” (the sixth, and arguably worst, of the franchise) and then it was followed up by John Carpenter’s “Halloween.”

That’s how impressive “Ouija: Origin of Evil” is.

This is the prequel to 2014’s “Ouija,” which was about a group of teens who play a Ouija board game to communicate with spirits, and of course, evil demonic forces take hold of their lives and slowly but surely kill them off. “Ouija” was overwhelmingly panned by critics, calling slow and nonsensical.

“Ouija: Origin of Evil,” its follow-up, was given the opposite reaction, with highly positive reviews from critics who noticed the significant amount of improvement over its predecessor.

Here’s how I think it happened. Director/co-writer Mike Flanagan (who had already impressed me with quality horror films such as “Oculus” and especially “Hush”) was focused on making a good movie as well as compromising with the studio system. What did the executives want to see?

They wanted to see kids playing the board game, like in the original film. Fair enough–so, Flanagan wrote in a scene in which one of the leads, a teenage girl, plays with her friends and introduces the audience to the rules of the game.

They wanted a jump-scare early into the proceedings. Ugh, fine–but Flanagan, who hates fakeout jump-scares as much as I do, used it for comedic effect.

And he had to tie up all loose ends from the original. How do you do that, when it seemed the ending twist of the original “Ouija” didn’t seem to make sense? Well…Flanagan found a way to fix that too.

And surely there were more studio notes like that, but Flanagan chose not to fight against them but to use them as a benefit. You know what? Freaking KUDOS to this guy!

So, now that Flanagan used the studio notes, what was he going to give us in “Ouija: Origin of Evil?” Story! Characters! Atmosphere! Caring! He thought of giving us all of that before throwing in the terror! By God, it’s A MOVIE!

Thus, what started as a deplorable work-for-hire turned into one of the most surprisingly good horror films of the decade.