Archive | February, 2021

The Wretched (2020)

28 Feb

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Man, I wish I had seen this in a theater with an audience!

“The Wretched” has all the moments where something scary happens, such as when the Nun pops up in “The Conjuring 2,” and some woman sitting near you exclaims “OH SH*T!!!”

But also, this movie gave me CHILLS!

“The Wretched,” directed by the Pierce Brothers (Brett and Drew), is about a teenage boy, Ben (John-Paul Howard), who notices strange goings-on in the house next door. The more he looks into it, the more convinced he becomes that there is an evil witch taking the form of the neighbor…

The creature itself is a scary creation, and the makeup is truly impressive. But it’s what it can do, and what we learn she can do as the movie progresses, that truly put me on-edge. How many people can the kid save from this thing? How many are going to fall victim? And late in the film, it becomes a one-on-one as the witch becomes all too aware of the kid’s suspicions and manages to make him to be the one to fear. I love stuff like that, especially in horror films, when you don’t know who’s safe and who isn’t. Certainly, this main character, who has enough teen angst that it’s like he’s in a YA novel interrupted by an ’80s horror movie, isn’t safe from pure evil.

This movie also taught me a very valuable lesson–if I hit a deer with my car, I won’t take it home to prepare it for dinner. (I couldn’t do that in an apartment anyways.) Pro tip: hit a deer, just leave it…because there’s a chance there’s a monster living inside of it that will take you over and destroy everyone around you. (Also, the guts might spill out over your driveway.)

Also, this horror movie has a real good twist!…I just wanted to bring that up because so many horror movies lately lack a real good twist!

I truly dug the hell out of “The Wretched.”

Happiest Season (2020)

28 Feb

Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

There’s a sappy, sugary holiday romcom exclusively on Hulu called “Happiest Season”…and I guess I have a soft spot for certain B-movies of this sweet, innocent sort because this one definitely worked for me.

Or maybe I just love the actors. Whatever the case, “Happiest Season” is a seasonal treat.

Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis play Abby and Harper, a lesbian couple happily in love–so much so that Abby decides it’s time to pop the question after getting Harper’s father’s blessing first…but there’s a problem with that: Harper is still in the closet. It’s not until they’re en route to a holiday get-together with Harper’s conservative family that Harper drops the bomb to Abby that she never came out to her parents.

Annnnnnnd the mother (Mary Steenburgen) is this super uptight, extremely passive-aggressive type, and also the father (Victor Garber) is running for mayor, and ALSO Harper told everyone that Abby is her roommate (and an “orphan,” which practically translates to everyone as “alien from another planet”–I’m not joking; they keep referring to Abby as an orphan constantly).

So…hijinks ensue!

“Happiest Season” is as formulaic as you can get–I have to wonder if director/co-writer Clea DuVall (who I know has made it big as a character actor but I’m always going to remember her as Stokely in “The Faculty”) is a big fan of Hallmark Christmas movies. There’s a lot of misunderstanding. There’s a lot of coverups. There’s even a stereotypical helpful-gay-best-friend-with-no-life-of-his-own character (played by Daniel Levy). (I guess in order for this film to give us these two realistic LGBT characters for this formula, plus a dignified supporting role played by Aubrey Plaza, they had to give us one stereotype.) And then of course, there’s the big emotional resolution in which everyone’s secrets are revealed for better or worse.

I think you can guess the ending. You can guess so much of this movie. But I don’t care–because it works. It’s just a likable, pleasant comedy for my Christmas stocking and I recommend it because the actors are giving it their all (especially Steenburgen, who’s a riot as the mother), a lot of it made me laugh, and I did feel something for both Abby and Harper when things inevitably get tougher for them.

There are going to be 40something Hallmark holiday movies every year–not to be too judgmental of the subgenre (because I liked this one so much), but I recommend you use this as the standard.

“Happiest Season” is available exclusively on Hulu.

Run (2020)

28 Feb

Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

From the guys who previously made the brilliant cyberthriller Searching (director Aneesh Chaganty and co-writer Sev Ohanian), “Run” is about a wheelchair-bound teenage girl named Chloe (Kiera Allen) who has been homeschooled and sheltered by her overprotective mother (Sarah Paulson). After discovering a suspicious new pill as part of her medication, Chloe starts to suspect that there’s something her mother isn’t telling her…

“Run” is a slow burn with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing as the paralyzed but super-smart Chloe is forced to use her wits to go behind her mother’s back in order to get clarification as to what’s going on. It helps that both key roles here are portrayed wonderfully. Sarah Paulson, one of the best character actors working today, deserves credit for playing a motherly figure we’re not quite sure about. And Kiera Allen (who actually uses a wheelchair in real life) is excellent as Chloe–it’s a role that’s physically demanding to say the least, and she’s both up to the challenge and wonderful to watch at the same time.

When the answers are revealed late in the film, it’s disappointing because I saw the twist coming miles away. It’s important for a psychological thriller to always be ahead of their audience, and I was hoping that the guys behind “Searching,” which had me guessing all throughout, would give me something I didn’t expect. However, I still recommend “Run” for its two leading performances, its effective simplicity in telling the story, and Chaganty’s ability to keep me invested even after the inevitable reveal.

“Run” is available exclusively on Hulu, and I give it 3 stars out of 4. (Maybe my rating will change after a second viewing. There’s too much good in this film for me to complain about the twist being predictable.)

Horse Girl (2020)

28 Feb

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I’ve seen this film three times on Netflix–I’m still not entirely sure I “get” it, but I am still intrigued by it.

“Horse Girl” is a strange……STRANGE film about a person who…is strange.

Alison Brie, who also co-wrote the film’s screenplay with director Jeff Baena, stars as Sarah. Sarah is sweet, polite, sensitive, and smart–she’s also socially awkward and tends to make those around her somewhat uncomfortable. Wonder if it has anything to do with these weird dreams that feel all too real. Or the lapses in her memory. Or the constant nosebleeds. Whatever the case, Sarah’s not doing so great right now. What could be the problem? Well, as Sarah digs deeper into her own issues and her family’s mental health history, she starts to suspect there may be something otherworldly happening all around her…

It’s right about here where a low-key indie character study of a disturbed awkward misfit takes a turn for the weirder. For example, what if Sarah’s dreams about possible alien abduction are accurate? If that’s true, who can she truly trust? She goes from a little off to REALLY disturbed as neither she (nor we) knows what’s going on here!!

I still don’t know for sure–was that real? was it all in her head? It’s a fascinatingly abstract, surreal look into this person’s life made even more fascinating by the way Brie presents the character. This story was inspired by Brie’s real-life family’s history of mental health issues and her own experiences with depression. The more I think about what Brie was intending to accomplish with her co-writer/director Jeff Baena, the more intrigued I am by their film. I haven’t really been a fan of director Baena’s work–I didn’t like “Life After Beth,” though “The Little Hours” is growing on me a bit. “Horse Girl” is his most accomplished work. It’s also Alison Brie’s most accomplished work as an actress–I loved her in shows like “Community” and movies like The Disaster Artist and The Rental; this is the role she’s been working towards.

Whatever you believe is real or not in “Horse Girl,” just keep telling yourself…well, at least Sarah believes it’s real.

I know, this isn’t much of an analysis–maybe in the future, however, I’ll try my best with a spoiler review.

Freaky (2020)

28 Feb

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

It’s time once again for director Christopher Landon to put a satirical horror spin on popular cinematic comedy! He did it before with the time-loop concept of Groundhog Day to make the fun, clever Happy Death Day movies–this time, he takes the body-swap concept of “Freaky Friday,” adds doses of Friday the 13th, and gives us “Freaky Friday the 13th”…or just “Freaky.” Thus results in a body-swap comedy with a moderate-to-high body count and a fresh take on the subgenre that entertained me throughout the 100-minute running time.

Vince Vaughn may not have played a convincing Norman Bates (as evidenced in the unfortunate 1998 “Psycho” remake), but “Freaky” makes a compelling case that he could make for a terrifying Jason Voorhees. In the bitingly satirical cold open of the film, Vaughn is totally convincing as a silent small-town serial killer known as the Blissfield Butcher (who even has a mask that looks very similar to Jason’s traditional hockey mask), who slaughters horny, stoned, drunken, idiotic teenagers in spectacularly gruesome fashion.

(Btw, unlike the PG-13-ified “Happy Death Day” movies, director Landon is given both an R rating and free reign to give us some truly graphic kills–this is not for the faint of heart; a lot of this material is for horror buffs.)

From that murder spree, the killer obtains a mystical cursed Aztec dagger (known as “Le Dola”). We’re uncertain of what its powers are until the Butcher advances towards his next would-be victim: a shy, wallflower high-school girl named Millie (Kathryn Newton). The Butcher uses the Dola to stab Millie, which results in a supernatural switching of minds and bodies. So, as Millie, having barely escaped the killer’s attack, awakens the following morning (which happens to be Friday the 13th, naturally), she discovers that she now looks exactly like the Blissfield Butcher. And vice versa, as the Butcher awakens in Millie’s body and decides to go to school and do some unsuspected killing!

Millie is able to convince her best friends, Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich), that this 6’5″ hulking middle-aged man who looks like a killer is actually their bestie in this body (though not without some wacky hijinks in the funniest scene of the movie), and together, they realize they have to reverse the process before midnight or else the change will be permanent. So now they have to retrieve the dagger from police evidence storage and stop the Butcher (in Millie’s body) from killing more people before it’s too late.

Of course, you know people are going to die anyway–as fun as the general concept of this story is, it is fun to go back to the old-fashioned horror-movie trope that among the bodies waiting to be piled up are those who are just asking for it, such as the idiot teens in the opening, some rapey misogynistic jocks, and probably the worst teacher you could have in high school (played by Alan Ruck, Cameron from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”). The way many of these people are killed are almost too good for them. (As a side-note, it’s also funny that this determined killer now has to put up with a petite, weaker new body.)

“Freaky” has a lot of fun with its horror and comedy, but it also has a heart to it as well. In particular, there’s a moving scene in which Millie, in this new body, finds a way to really talk to her troubled mother (Katie Finneran). And that’s not even the best scene in the film–that comes later, when Millie’s crush, a nice football jock named Booker (Uriah Shelton), understands that even as Millie has a new body, her mind is still intact. Whether this was the intent or not, “Freaky” was able to be a new modern movie that commented subtly on concepts such as gender identity.

Director Christopher Landon clearly has fun mixing genres, and I’m curious to see what else he has up his sleeve. (Maybe he could make a horror version of “Anchorman” or “The Hangover” next.) With a talented cast (including Vaughn and Newton each having fun with their dual roles) and every rule in the horror-movie handbook as well as a clever script co-written by Landon and Michael Kennedy, “Freaky” doesn’t break a lot of new ground in either the horror genre or the body-swap subgenre but it is still a hell of a fun time.