The Night House

The premise of The Night House, that suicide irreparably damages the lives of the survivors, is a compelling one for a horror movie.  For Rebecca Hall’s Beth, her husband’s death understandably leaves her an emotional wreck, unable to control her anger at work and her despair at home.  The night brings no solace, with Beth possibly being haunted by her husband’s ghost.  After an engaging first act, the movie shifts our attention to the mystery of Beth’s husband’s death and the secrets he kept from her.  Was he having an affair, or affairs?  Why was he reading books about the occult?  What do all those strange architecture diagrams mean?  One twist gives way to another, and then another, until the movie lays on a heavy dose of the supernatural in a strained attempt at tying everything up.  The final reveal is logical, but nagging questions remain unanswered.  Hall delivers a compelling and convincing portrayal throughout, possibly a career highlight.  David Bruckner’s naturalistic direction gives the movie a disarmingly creepy vibe, at least until the final confrontation.  Recommended.

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Fear Street: Part One 1994

Fear Street:1994 opens promisingly with a skull-masked slasher taking out a young, pretty bookseller at the mall.  The movie then introduces five high schoolers who unwittingly unleash the malevolent spirit of the Fier witch when they disturb her bones lying in the forest.  The witch was killed back in 1666, but has been the influencer behind inexplicable homicides for decades.  The actors portraying the teenagers either bring too much or too little intensity to their roles, resulting in a “who cares” attitude when they are eventually stalked by resurrected killers from the past.  1994 Is competently directed, and I liked its day-glo aesthetic, but its reliance on  Nineties music becomes a distraction.  Not recommended.

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Werewolves Within

Werewolves Within is a throwback to the werewolf-comedy movies of the Eighties, where classics like The Howling and An American Werewolf in London unabashedly combined macabre humor and gruesome killings.  Based on a video game, Werewolves Within is actually a mashup of two genres: werewolf-movies and murder mysteries, with some romance thrown in for added seasoning.  I enjoyed the horror-comedy and the quirky romance between the leads, but found the mystery uninteresting and unnecessary.  Overall, the movie is a solid B-movie.  Recommend for the parts that work and gratuitous use of Ace of Bass.

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The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

Released five Years after The Conjuring 2, The Conjuring:The Devil Made Me Do It (or C3) shows how horror movie sequels have diminishing returns.  I enjoyed The Conjuring 2, with its wacked-out funhouse sensibilities.  C3 has many of the same elements as C2, and this time around they felt too familiar.  C3 has several good scares, but nothing in it surprised me.  The performances were also underwhelming, with Vera Farmiga’s Lorraine Warren and Patrick Wilson’s Ed delivering perfunctory turns as the self-styled demonologists.  Recommended for Conjuring completists only.

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A Quiet Place II

Like all great monster movies, A Quiet Place II is merciless and uncompromising. The movie avoids jump scares and builds genuine tension to an extraordinary degree. Whereas the first movie borrowed thematic elements from the Alien franchise, the sequel’s influence is the original Jurassic Park, minus the awestruck reactions, kid-friendly stuff and comic relief. QP2 is a monster movie that earns the right to takes itself seriously through taut direction and excellent acting. Highly recommended.

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Things Heard & Seen

Things Heard & Seen is an unwieldy amalgamation of two genres: disintegrating marriage and haunted house.  While both elements of this surf-and-turf narrative are mildly interesting on their own, the combination of the two ultimately is not rewarding, with one cheapening the impact of the other.  Further confusing things is the ending, which applies a #MeTo, “sisterhood of the ghosts” resolution as a way of justifying the misery that compromises almost all of the movie’s runtime.  The ending is as bizarre as it sounds, and must be seen to be believed.  In spite of all that, and the fact that I don’t recommend watching this movie, I can’t entirely dismiss it, either.

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The Unholy

The Unholy is a throwback to horror movies from the Seventies, like The Exorcist and The Amityville Horror.  Its present day inspiration would be the Conjuring movies, with their focus on normal, everyday people confronting evil from a Christian perspective.  Unlike the Conjuring movies, The Unholy takes a more humanistic approach for most of its running time, focusing more on the characters trying to understand the mysterious events happening around them and less on evil beings and bombastic displays of satanic power. Its message of mistaking evil for the divine is a timely one. Recommended.

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Come Play

“Once you take Larry’s hand, you’ll never be alone again.”

Misunderstood Monsters

Come Play is a very effective low-fi scare movie.  The movie is the first I’ve seen where the haunted is portrayed as autistic.  Oliver is a young autistic boy who has unwittingly attracted the attention of Larry, a ghoul from another dimension.  Larry wants Oliver to be his friend, and creates a picture book that, when someone reads it to the end, allows Larry to cross over into our world.  As Horror movie hooks go, the one used by Come Play is as incredulous as any other.  What elevates this movie above others is its excellent pacing, realistic direction and solid acting.  Similar to Insidious and Lights Out, what you don’t see is scarier than what you actually see.  Highly recommended.

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Freaky (2020)

Too bad Freaky couldn’t have called itself “Freaky Friday the 13th”, since that’s basically the concept behind the movie.  Freaky is a mashup of slasher movies (Friday the 13th, Halloween) and body swapping movies (Freaky Friday, Big).  The combination of those two genres proves to be an original and rewarding one, producing scares, gross-out moments, tender moments and plenty of laughs.  Highly recommended.

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