THE NUN (2018) Is Not Fun

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THE NUN (2018) has one major thing going for it: atmosphere.

And that’s because it was shot on location in Romania, and so you have enormous ominous castles and an Old World countryside that is ripe with superstition and evil spirits. In terms of setting, you can’t get more authentic. It’s so rich in atmosphere it brought me back to the Hammer Films of yesteryear.

And yet it’s all for naught because unfortunately, sadly, in spite of this being an atmospheric gem, the rest of the film is unbearably awful.  As in really awful.

What a shame.

This one would only have needed a halfway decent story, and direction that just allowed the story to flow without getting in the way, and yet the writers and director here couldn’t even do that.

Again. A shame.

THE NUN is the latest film to take place in THE CONJURING (2013) universe.  THE CONJURING of course is the well-received horror movie by director James Wan, and a film that I liked a lot, that told the story of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. It was followed by THE CONJURING 2 (2016) and a pair of ANNABELLE movies featuring a scary doll which first appeared in THE CONJURING.

Now we have THE NUN which features a scary demon from THE CONJURING 2  that looks like a nun.

And this nun demon which goes by the name of Valak is pretty scary looking, which is another thing this movie has going for it. This film actually has a few things going for it, which makes it all the more amazing that it’s so gosh darn awful!

The film opens in Romania in the 1950s at a cloistered abbey where we witness two nuns fighting an unseen demon. To prevent the demon from entering her body, one of the nuns hangs herself.

The action switches to the Vatican where a priest named Father Burke (Demian Bichir) is informed he’s being sent to Romania to investigate the suicide of a nun, with the implication being that there’s more going on there at the abbey because Father Burke has experience with exorcsims.  Burke is told he needs to bring a young nun with him, Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) because she has experienced visions, and these visions will be of help to Burke in his investigation.

In Romania, Father Burke and Sister Irene interview the young man who found the body of the hanged nun, a man who goes by the nickname Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet) because he’s French. Duh.

So, Burke, Irene, and Frenchie go to the abbey and begin the investigation, which does not go well. Why, you ask? Because there’s a demon there of course! And this demon doesn’t like people poking around in his business, and so he does all the things audiences are used to seeing demons do in horror movies: makes loud noises, makes people see things that aren’t there, jumps out at people, and generally wreaks havoc all the while giving people in the CGI business jobs.

Yawn.

I’ve pointed out a couple of things THE NUN did well, but now it’s time to mention the things it didn’t do too well.

Let’s start with the special effects overkill.  There’s so much going on in the special effects department I felt like I was on the Disney Haunted Mansion ride. And when this happens, it kills any authenticity the film has. I didn’t believe any of it.

 

The story here has a lot of problems. The screenplay by Gary Dauberman creates very dull characters without any real sense of purpose. I’m still not sure what it was exactly that Father Burke was investigating or why exactly the Vatican wanted Sister Irene to help him. Additionally, I don’t really know what this demon was all about. Why was he possessing these nuns? It’s not like he’s actively trying to leave the abbey.  Is he a demon-homemaker who just wants to be left alone?

And the characters here have zero depth and are all rather boring.

Demian Bichir, an actor I generally enjoy, looks serious as Father Burke, and he definitely carries himself with some presence, but he’s about as interesting as a rosary bead.

The far more interesting bit of casting is Taissa Farmiga as Sister Irene. Farmiga is the younger sister of Vera Farmiga, who played Lorraine Warren in THE CONJURING movies. Hmm. THE NUN takes place before the events in THE CONJURING, and here we have a character Sister Irene, who because she is played by Vera Farmiga’s sister, bears a strong resemblance to the Lorraine Warren character. Would there, I wondered, be some sort of connection between the two? In other words, would the filmmakers have used this potentially ingenious bit of casting to the story’s advantage?

In a word, no.

So much for that.

Anyway, Taissa Farmiga is very good as Sister Irene, but again, I didn’t know much about the character or understand what her visions had to do with the story being told here in this movie.

THE NUN was directed by Corin Hardy, and I can’t say that I was impressed.  The scares were practically nonexistent, and the pacing poor. For a film that clocked in at just over 90 minutes, it felt much longer than that, especially during its second half. It also featured far too many special CGI effects which did nothing but detract from its storyline.

The other thing I did like was the music score by Abel Korzeniowski, which certainly captured the whole possessed abbey feel with lots of religious undertones. You could almost see the chanting monks hovering in the damp dark corridors. Korzeniowski also composed the music for the PENNY DREADFUL (2014-16) TV show.

THE NUN actually gets off to a good start. The on-location shooting in Romania combined with Abel Korzeniowski’s effective music score easily lured me into the proceedings. And upon first meeting Father Burke and Sister Irene, and buying into the performances of Demian Bichir and Taissa Farmiga, I was definitely interested in joining them on their investigation into the mysterious occurrences at the haunted abbey.

But this investigation only led to lots quiet moments searching dark corridors and hallways, with ghostly encounters that made little sense, and demonic confrontations that featured over-the-top CGI effects that were anything but scary, and some pretty awful dialogue.

Yes, when it became apparent about two-thirds of the way through this one that its story wasn’t going anywhere, the film simply lost my interest and became flat-out dull and boring, which is too bad, because it really looks good.

What a shame that the filmmakers went all the way to Romania to make this movie but didn’t bother to bring a decent story with them.

And I don’t know about you, but I went to see THE NUN to see a horror movie, not a Romanian travelogue.

—END—

 

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ANNABELLE: CREATION (2017) – Prequel to a Prequel Better Than Expected

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ANNABELLE: CREATION (2017) is a prequel to a prequel.  It’s a prequel to a bad movie which was itself a prequel to a good movie.  Huh?  Let’s try that again.

ANNABELLE: CREATION (2017) is a prequel to ANNABELLE (2014), a pretty bad movie, which was itself a prequel to THE CONJURING (2013), which was a pretty good movie. And where does that leave ANNABELLE: CREATION?  Somewhere in between.  It’s better than the awful ANNABELLE but not quite as good as THE CONJURING.

In terms of quality, it reminded me a lot of another prequel to a bad movie, OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL (2016) which was a surprisingly very good prequel to the lowly OUIJA (2014).  Heck, the two movies even share the same star, child actor Lulu Wilson.

ANNABELLE:  CREATION takes place in the 1950s, as a group of girls from a Catholic orphanage and their sponsor Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) move into a new home, a farmhouse run by a retired doll maker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his ailing bedridden wife Esther (Miranda Otto). The Mullins lost their own daughter twelve years earlier and see opening their home as an orphanage for young girls as a way to instill some life back into their world.

The girls are ecstatic to be living in a new and very large home, but Samuel tells them that there is one room in the house that is always locked and that room is off-limits (of course.)  One of the girls, Janice (Talitha Bateman) enters the room anyway (of course, again) and immediately feels a strange presence there. She realizes it is the ghost of the Mullins’ deceased daughter Bee (Samara Lee). Janice also discovers the doll Annabelle hidden away in a closet, and she experiences a sense of dread. When Janice’s best friend Linda (Lulu Wilson) joins her in the room, she too senses evil, and that’s because there’s a demon inside the Annabelle doll that wants people’s souls.  Yikes!

The girls try to warn everyone in the house that there is something evil residing there with them, but by the time they do, it’s too late.

ANNABELLE: CREATION has a lot of good things going for it. The best part about it is that it delivers some pretty good scares and crafts some memorable horror scenes.  Credit director David F. Sandberg for a job well done when it comes to the scare department. Of course, the Annabelle doll is creepy to begin with, but interestingly enough some of the better scare sequences don’t even involve her. There’s a creepy bit involving a scarecrow, a suspenseful scene on a staircase chairlift, and yet another one in a creaky old-fashioned dumb-waiter.

Then there’s the demon. One of the more interesting parts of ANNABELLE: CREATION is that it sheds more light on the background of the Annabelle doll.  It seems that the instigator of all this evil surrounding Annabelle is a demon possessing the doll that wants people’s souls.  We catch glimpses of this demon, and he’s pretty cool looking, which is no surprise since he’s played by Joseph Bishara who’s becoming quite the expert at this sort of thing. Bishara played a demon in both the INSIDIOUS and THE CONJURING movies. He was most memorable in INSIDIOUS (2010) as the Lipstick-Face Demon.

There are lots of cool scares here, and that’s a good thing.  What’s not so good is the pacing.  There are a lot of slow parts in ANNABELLE: CREATION, lots of scenes where characters slowly move about in dark hallways, the kinds of scenes that drive me nuts in horror movies.  These types of scenes don’t build suspense. They put audiences to sleep.

And the film is just begging for a more frenetic pace during its third act.  While the movie’s conclusion isn’t bad at all, it never becomes that go-for-the-throat ending that makes audiences squirm and scream.

Director Sandberg does make full use of the creepy farmhouse interiors.  Most of the film takes place in dark rooms and hallways, and the atmosphere is sufficiently spooky and haunting.  The camera also gets in close, so much so you can almost smell the wood of the old hardwood floors.

Sandberg also directed LIGHTS OUT (2016), an okay horror movie that I wasn’t all that crazy about. I enjoyed ANNABELLE: CREATION more.

The screenplay by Gary Dauberman isn’t bad.  It tells a decent story and does a good job with its characters, who come across as real and likable.  I liked some of the reveals about Annabelle, and I enjoyed the characters, from the girls to Sister Charlotte to Samuel and Esther Mullins.  The dialogue isn’t always fresh, and the story Esther Mullins tells about what happened to her daughter is full of dumb lines and clichés.

Dauberman also wrote ANNABELLE (2014), and the second time seems to have been the charm, as his screenplay here for ANNABELLE: CREATION is much better and tells a far more interesting story than the previous film.  Dauberman also wrote the screenplay to the upcoming adaptation of Stephen King’s IT (2017), due out in September.

Talitha Bateman as Janice and Lulu Wilson as Linda are both excellent.  It was especially fun to watch them go through different levels of emotion.  At first, they’re joyful about their new home, then there’s quiet unease and building fear, and then flat-out visceral horror as the threat becomes real. And once the demon becomes involved, there’s also some icy cold evil, which Bateman does well.

This is already the third horror movie for young Lulu Wilson, as she previously starred in OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL (2014) and DELIVER US FROM EVIL (2014).

The rest of the girls in the film are also very good.

I also enjoyed Stephanie Sigman as Sister Charlotte.  She makes the nun a real person and prevents her from becoming a cliché.  Likewise, Anthony LaPaglia does the same for Samuel Mullins.  At times, LaPaglia plays things a bit too mournful, as he just sort of stares gloomily at the camera, but for the most part he does a nice job bringing Samuel Mullins to life.

Miranda Otto as Esther Mullins is in the film less than LaPaglia, and as a result has less of an impact, and unfortunately towards the end of the film she does get some of the worst dialogue in the movie.

In a small role, Mark Bramhall has some fine moments as Father Massey, the priest who drives them to the Mullins’ farmhouse and who returns later in the movie. He also gets one of the more humorous lines in the film.

The story ends with a solid tie-in to ANNABELLE.  The way screenwriter Gary Dauberman and director David F. Sandberg tie the two movies together is creative and satisfying.

I liked ANNABELLE: CREATION much better than I expected I would.  It’s a decent horror movie that rises above the muck of inferior sequels and prequels, yet it’s not quite as good or at the level of an INSIDIOUS or THE CONJURING, those horror movies that are destined to be remembered for years to come, the ones you want to watch over and over again.

I guess that would be asking too much from a prequel to a prequel.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

INCARNATE (2016) – Dull Horror Movie Doesn’t Resonate

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incarnate

INCARNATE (2016) is a new horror movie starring Aaron Eckhart, and it’s yet another horror flick about a demon haunting a child.

Blah blah blah.

INCARNATE tells the story of Dr. Seth Ember (Aaron Eckhart) who possesses the ability to enter people’s dreams, and in their dream world he’s able to help these people escape from the demons that possess them.  In the real world, he’s in a wheelchair, the result of a catastrophic car accident which killed his wife and young son and left him paralyzed.  That accident was caused by a demon named Maggie, and so when Seth goes into other people’s dreams, he’s not only trying to save them, he’s also looking for Maggie so he can destroy her once and for all.

Which seriously doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.  Are the dreams of all these people connected, so that the dream world is a real place where all the demons hang out and that’s why Seth believes he’s going to find Maggie there?  Otherwise, why would Maggie be in the dreams of people who are being haunted by other demons?

Or perhaps Maggie just gets around a lot and haunts a whole lot of people?  If not, what are the odds he’s going to find her again?  And if he’s on a quest to search the globe for Maggie, that’s something that’s not made clear in the film.

What we do see in the film is that Seth works with two young assistants, and they go around helping various people.  The latest is a young boy, and that’s what the entire movie is about. Saving the boy and finding and destroying Maggie.

I’ll get right to the point :  this movie bored me to tears, on so many levels.

As directed by Brad Peyton, it’s not scary, it’s not stylish, it’s not suspenseful.  The screenplay by Ronnie Christensen isn’t any better.  The plot is a snooze, and the characters aren’t developed at all.  They don’t even attempt any character development in this movie.  We know nothing about the mom and son who Seth is helping, nothing about his assistants, and we know very little about Seth.

In the lead role as Dr. Seth Ember, Aaron Eckhart is okay, but like the rest of the movie, he’s pretty boring.  Eckhart is a good actor who’s made a lot of good movies, but he’s also made some clinkers.  This is one of the worst.  I thought this film was even worse than I, FRANKENSTEIN (2014), and that film was pretty bad.

The possessed boy is played by David Mazouz, and he’s probably the least interesting possessed child I’ve ever seen in a movie.  We know so little about him— let’s put it this way, he’s possessed within the first few minutes of the film.

That’s another problem I had with this movie.  It really struggles to tell a story.  The pacing doesn’t work, there are long scenes where nothing happens, and when stuff does happen it’s sloppily handled.

Emjay Anthony, who was very enjoyable in CHEF (2014), is wasted here, appearing only in flashbacks as Seth’s deceased son.

Catalina Sandino Moreno plays a woman working for the Vatican who recruits Seth for his latest case.  It’s a role that was originally offered to Rosario Dawson.  She’s lucky she turned it down.

The demon Maggie was played by Mark Steger, who among other things played the Monster in STRANGER THINGS earlier this year.

Actually some of the supporting characters fare better here.  I thought Matt Nable did a good job as the boy’s abusive father Dan.  And Keir O’Donnell and Breanne Hill who played Seth’s young assistants weren’t half bad either.  Hill, by the way, is originally from New Hampshire and later attended Boston University, which is both my alma mater and where my sons are attending college.  Yup, that’s about as interesting as things get with this movie.

INCARNATE bored me throughout, so unless you’re a fan of dull movies, you might want to skip this one.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE CONJURING 2 (2016) – Inferior Sequel All 2 Familiar

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Movie Review:   THE CONJURING 2 (2016)

By Michael Arruda

I’ve got to say this right here.  I loved INSIDIOUS (2010) and THE CONJURING (2013), both by director James Wan, and I really wanted to like THE CONJURING 2, especially since Wan was back directing again, but I gotta tell you, I did not like this one at all.

The film starts off with lame prologue showing husband and wife paranormal investigators Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) dealing with the infamous Amityville haunting.  Now, in real life, Ed and Lorraine Warren became famous for investigating the Amityville situation, but this prologue serves no purpose in the movie other than to tie in with the first film which ended with their being summoned to Amityville.

The action switches to London in 1977, where another family is experiencing another haunting.  Eventually, the Warrens are called in to investigate, upon the request of the Catholic Church no less, to find out if the hautning is credible.

Now I could go into more plot details, but I don’t see the need.  And that’s one of the biggest problems I had with THE CONJURING 2:  the story bored me to tears.  Family is terrorized by a demon, or in this case a combination of ghosts and demons (and this combintation has been done before as well), there are lots of strange noises at night, loud knocks on doors, children being possessed, etc.  The Warrens arrive, they investigate, blah blah blah.

Now I’ll be the first to tell you that I was very surprised I didn’t like this movie.  As I said at the outset, I loved INSIDIOUS and THE CONJURING, and I fully expected to like this sequel.  But I did not.

In terms of scares, there are a lot of them in THE CONJURING 2, and as you would expect in a James Wan movie, most of them are of the jump scare variety.  I don’t have a problem with this.  I like jump scares.  The problem I had with the jump scares in this movie was that they simply were not scary.  And they weren’t scary for me because I was bored with the story and so I knew, okay here’s the part where something creepy will happen with the child’s toy.  Okay, and here’s the part where the demon will show up in the dark corner.  Now for the young girl to start saying weird things in a deep male voice.  I mean, almost everything that happened in this movie I felt I had seen already.  Many, many times.

James Wan does a fine job constructing all these scenes, but he did the same in INSIDIOUS and THE CONJURING and there just wasn’t much that was fresh here.

I liked the demon and the ghosts, but some looked better than others, which were a bit thick with CGI effects.

I like the two main actors a lot, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga.  I’m a huge fan of Farmiga, but I didn’t think either actor was able to rise above the material here.

I thought the script by Carey and Chad Hayes, David Leslie Johnson, and James Wan was particularly bad. I thought the dialogue at times was laughable, especially during some of the conversations between Wilson and Farmiga.  And the story is about as fresh as a loaf of stale bread.  Demon manipulates spirits to haunt a family.  Okay, I get it. Let’s do something else already.

And there are spirits and demons everywhere.  There’s so much supernatural activity going on inside this house it’s like a GHOSTBUSTERS convention.  It reaches the point of ridiculousness.  It also works against the plot, which presents us with a more skeptical Ed and Lorraine Warren.  Are you kidding me?  We’re supposed to believe that they have doubts?  After seeing everything that happens in this movie?  The only way they could have doubts after seeing this much spectral activity in one place would be if they were blind, and they’re not blind.

I did enjoy Madison Wolfe who played Janet Hodgson, the young girl who becomes the main victim of the film’s demon.  She was believable.  I also enjoyed Frances O’Connor’s performance as the single mother Peggy Hodgson raising her family.  She had a gritty feisty strength about her that was just right for the role.

But as a whole, I found THE CONJURING 2 to be a major letdown, and I’m someone who really enjoys this type of movie.  I mean, I like stories about demons and hauntings, but this story added nothing new.  If you’ve seen THE CONJURING and INSIDIOUS, you’ve seen everything that happens in this one.

—END—

 

 

 

 

Not Much Dark in THE DARKNESS (2016)

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Movie Review:  THE DARKNESS (2016)

By

Michael Arruda

It’s called THE DARKNESS (2016), yet its opening shot and entire pre-credit sequence takes place in the bright sunshine of the Grand Canyon.  In fact, for most of the movie, it’s sunny!  Pass the sunscreen!  But darkness?  Sorry.  In spite of its title, you won’t find much darkness here.

You won’t find much to like either.

THE DARKNESS opens with two families vacationing at the Grand Canyon, but the rest of the movie follows just one of these families, and that’s because they bring home with them something more than their luggage.  They bring home a demon!  Yikes!

Yup, Peter Taylor (Kevin Bacon), his wife Bronny (Radha Mitchell), their moody teenage daughter Stephanie (Lucy Fry) and their autistic son Michael (David Mazouz) bring home the unwelcome guest when young Michael falls into a secret cave and discovers weird cave paintings which must have been painted by the demon because the next thing we know, Michael has escaped from the cave—without any explanation of how he did so— and he now has a new invisible friend, Mr. Demon.

So, when the Taylors return home, the obligatory weird things start happening.  They hear strange noises during the night, the neighbor’s dog barks at their house at all hours, a crow shows up inside their garage, and their son Michael begins to act weirder.  If you’ve seen any of the endless plethora of haunted house/demon movies from the past ten years or so, you’ve seen everything that happens in this movie.  THE DARKNESS offers little that is new.

The Taylors are slow to react because they’re used to dealing with the idiosyncrasies of their son, since he is autistic, but when he sets the house on fire, they finally start to pay attention, and by this point, they realize that what’s going on inside their house is more than just the doings of their son Michael.  Something else now resides in their home, and like all good folks in these demon movies, they turn to a spiritualist for help.

There were parts to THE DARKNESS that I liked.

For example, I liked that the son in this story was autistic.  It kept things fresh— for a while.  It also gave a reason for the Taylors to be slow on the uptake when dealing with the weird goings-on inside their home.  They’re used to it.  Their son Michael exhibits what most people would term unusual behavior on a regular basis.  So, when dirty handprints start showing up on walls in the middle of the night, whereas most folks would scratch their heads and say WTF?, the Taylors simply think it’s their son.

Interestingly enough, no one in the movie mentions that Michael is autistic until nearly two thirds of the way in, but it’s not difficult to figure out.  Still, I thought this was a curious decision on the part of the screenwriters and not necessarily a good one.  The sooner we know this, the sooner we would fully understand the lifestyle the Taylors are living on a regular basis.

Later in the movie, the story makes the point of saying that autism serves as a magnet for demons, which I thought was a different take on the subject.

Now, while I liked the acting in this film, I wasn’t wowed by David Mazouz’ performance as Michael.  As someone who’s worked with people with autism, I thought Mazouz’ performance was limited.  As played by Mazouz, Michael is pretty much mute and simply stares at walls a lot.  While this isn’t necessarily inaccurate,it shows little range, as people with autism can do much more than what Michael does in this movie.

I did like the majority of the acting here, though, and it’s one of the better parts of the movie.  Kevin Bacon leads the way as Peter Taylor, and Radha Mitchell is equally as good as his wife Bronny.  The best part about these two is their reactions as parents dealing with this situation is spot-on.  They do not overreact, nor do they wait forever to take action.  They seemed like two people dealing with real life problems.

And that’s because they have a lot of real life issues on their plate.  The biggest issue is raising their son Michael, but they also have to deal with their teenage daughter Stephanie.  On top of this, there’s the pain of Peter’s recent extramarital affair.  In fact, they have so many issues going on, the demon thing takes a while to rattle them because quite frankly they’re used to being rattled.

This is really the best part of the screenplay by Shayne Armstrong, Shane Krause, and director Greg McLean.  They get the family situation right.  In fact, this film might have been better had it not had any supernatural elements in it at all.

Both Kevin Bacon and Radha Mitchell are no strangers to horror.

While Bacon has enjoyed a long and varied career, he’s made several stops in the horror arena, including the original FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980), TREMORS (1990)- one of the best giant monster movies ever made-, and the TV series THE FOLLOWING (2013-2015).

Radha Mitchell starred in the SILENT HILL movies, and she starred opposite Timothy Olyphant in the remake of THE CRAZIES (2010),  a movie I liked a lot.

Lucy Fry nails her performance as teen daughter Stephanie.  Sure, this type of role is becoming cliche, but Fry’s performance is a standout nonetheless.  Fry currently stars in TV’s WOLF CREEK and in the mini-series 11-22-63 (2016) based on Stephen King’s novel, where she plays Marina Oswald.

And Paul Reiser even shows up as Peter’s boss in an incredibly thankless role that goes absolutely no where. Yet, Reiser is very good in his brief screen time.

The biggest hit against THE DARKNESS is that it’s simply not scary, and there are a lot of reasons for this.  Most of the blame has to fall on director Greg McLean.  He has the perfect set-up for a horror movie and then does nothing with it.  With the Taylor family story, the stage is set perfectly for the supernatural horror elements to take over, but sadly, they never do.

And that’s because nothing of substance really happens in this movie.  It’s all set-up and no payoff.

And that demon who’s haunting the family?  He’s pretty much a no-show.  He has no agenda.  Just why is he haunting this family?  All we get is that demons haunt families, and they start with the children first, taking them and then the rest of the family back to their demon world.  Now, I have no problem with this, but I wanted to know more. It’s mentioned all too briefly.

The demon also has little presence in this movie.  There are no memorable images or signature moments in this one.  There’s also nothing original.  The strange noises in the middle of the night are right out of the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies and nowhere near as scary, and the demon-wants-your children plot point is out of more movies than I can name here, although the INSIDIOUS and SINISTER series both come to mind.

And to nitpick, I thought Kevin Bacon was a bit old for this role. He’s pushing 60, and he’s playing a dad with a teenage children. While not unrealistc, he did seem a bit long in the tooth for this role.

About the only thing that made me jump in THE DARKNESS was when Radha Mitchell’s Bronny would call out to her son at night after something weird had happened and say, “Michael?” and I found myself thinking of Michael Myers in the HALLOWEEN movies.  I could only wish.

THE DARKNESS is a tepid horror movie with little to offer, best watched in the less expensive confines of your own home rather than at an expensive movie theater, if at all.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SINISTER 2 (2015)

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Here’s my CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT review of SINISTER 2 (2015) which went up Sunday night 8/23 at cinemaknifefight.com

Enjoy!

—Michael

 

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SINISTER 2 (2015)sinister 2

Movie Review by Michael Arruda

(THE SCENE: A dimly lit basement. A door opens and MICHAEL ARRUDA enters. He comes upon an old Super 8mm film projector.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA (looking at projector): I haven’t seen one of these in years. This brings back memories from my childhood: watching my 8mm and Super 8 mm versions of the classic Universal and Hammer horror movies. Ah, the good old days! I even remember the introduction of Super 8mm and what a big deal it was. See, it projected a larger picture than standard 8mm.

Unfortunately, this projector is not here today for us to re-watch my old Super 8mm horror movie collection. No, it’s here because it plays an integral role in the movie I’m reviewing today, the utterly forgettable sequel, SINISTER 2 (2015). The 8mm films in this movie are films that show children murdering their families in the most brutal of ways. If SINISTER 2 succeeds at anything, it’s at being an ugly movie.

(Suddenly a group of ghost children appear, sitting around the movie projector.)

GHOST BOY: Jeesh! You’re a downer!

MA: I’m sorry. Snuff films like the ones depicted in today’s movie have a way of dampening my mood. Anyway, welcome to Cinema Knife Fight everyone. I’m Michael Arruda, and today I’m flying solo as my movie reviewing partner L.L. Soares wisely opted out of this one.

(The ghost children giggle.)

MA: What’s so funny?

GHOST CHILDREN (In unison): You’ll see.

MA: Whatever. Anyway, today I’m reviewing SINISTER 2, and if you haven’t figured it out yet by my sour disposition, I didn’t really like this movie. It’s definitely an example of when the sum of the parts do not equal the whole, because there were parts to this film that I actually liked, but as you’ll find out as we continue this review, they just didn’t add up to a complete package.

SINISTER 2 is a sequel to SINISTER (2012) a film that a lot of people liked, but I never warmed up to it. Its tale of a demon who possessed children and made them murder their families while capturing the gruesome killings on film left a bad taste in my mouth. It was just too ugly a tale for me to enjoy. That being said, it did have a well-constructed story that made sense, and it had Ethan Hawke playing the lead, so it had some things going for it even if it didn’t win me over.

SINISTER 2 opens with another grainy snuff film, where we see a family burned alive—oh fun! (Shakes his head).

GHOST BOY: Wouldn’t you like to watch one of our movies?

MA: No. Not at all.

GHOST BOY:   Come on! Watch it!

MA: No! I’m reviewing a movie here. Go find some children to haunt.

In SINISTER 2 we meet the deputy from the first movie, once again played by James Ransone, only now he’s an ex-deputy because he lost his job after the events in the first movie. In that one, he had helped Ethan Hawke’s character investigate the evil that was haunting his family, and because he went behind his boss’s back, he got fired.

Here in SINISTER 2, the deputy goes around burning houses in order to combat the main demon in these movies, Bughuul. The logic behind his actions is questionable at best. The families haunted by Bughuul aren’t killed until they move out of their home, and then when new people move into the house where the murders occurred, Bughuul goes after them. The deputy believes if he burns these houses before new people move in, then Bughuul can’t haunt people. But if he’s constantly burning houses and Bughuul is still around, then obviously his strategy isn’t working. Otherwise, wouldn’t it take the burning down of just one house- the last one Bughuul haunted— to sever the line? I mean, how many houses is Bughuul haunting? Obviously quite a lot! I didn’t really get the reasoning behind the deputy’s actions here.

When the deputy arrives to burn the home where the family from the first film was killed, he finds a woman Courtney Collins (Shannyn Sossamon) secretly living there with her twin sons Dylan (Robert Daniel Sloan) and Zach (Dartanian Sloan), hiding out from her jerk of a husband Clint (Lea Coco) who’s trying to locate them so he can get his sons back. Courtney at first believes the deputy is working for her husband and is there to take her boys, but one he assures her that he’s not, that he’s there investigating the house and its connection to the previous owners’ murders—something that doesn’t seem to bother her at all— she allows him to stay on the property.

Again, this plot point left me slightly confused. The deputy arrives at the house prepared to burn it, but once he finds Courtney and her sons living there, he drops those plans and instead begins to investigate the property looking for clues that the demon responsible for the murders, Bughuul, has been there.   Doesn’t he already know this? That’s why he went there in the first place, prepared to burn it down.

And, of course, Bughuul has been there, as a group of ghostly children has already contacted Courtney’s sons and has shown them their special set of home movies, setting the stage for yet another child to murder his family and film the slaughter, unless the deputy can stop them.

(The ghost children cheer.)

If this sounds like your type of thing, then have at it. I’d rather watch THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E (2015) reboot any day, and why that stylish film has been bashed so harshly I don’t know, but getting back to today’s movie, SINISTER 2.

As I said, there were parts to this movie that I liked. Let’s start with the cast. I really liked James Ransone in the lead role as the nameless deputy. It was fun to see a lead hero who wasn’t a wise-cracking macho type. He’s probably the most terrified guy in the movie, and yet he’s the one who gunning to stop Bughuul. The deputy is a likeable guy, and Ransone is very good in the role.

GHOST BOY: You gotta watch our movie! Please???

MA: Stop interrupting me! I’m reviewing a movie.

GHOST BOY: We’re gonna show it to you anyway.

MA: Suit yourself. I’m continuing my review.

Likewise, I enjoyed Shannyn Sossamon’s performance as Courtney Collins, the mom who’s constantly on guard and has to utilize all of her energy to combat the relentless efforts of her estranged husband. It’s too bad she couldn’t have used some of this energy to pay attention to what was going on with her two sons and a certain demon. About these supernatural events she’s completely clueless.

And even though Courtney and the deputy aren’t lovers in the story, they share a nice chemistry together.

(A grainy movie starts playing on the screen. MA ignores it.)

The two boys who play her twin sons Dylan and Zach, Robert Daniel Sloan and Dartanian Sloan, who are triplet brothers in real life, are effective enough and do a good job with the “good son, bad son” routine.

(MA hears a familiar voice.)

MA (pointing to the screen): Hey, that’s L.L. Soares!

GHOST BOY: I told you that you needed to see this.

(On screen, we see L.L. SOARES tied to a stake. He’s laughing.)

CHILD’S VOICE ON SCREEN: What are you laughing for?

L.L. SOARES: This is more fun than THE WICKER MAN!

CHILD: Uh, we’re going to kill you.

LS: Yeah, yeah, whatever.

(A hand lights a fire under the stake, and suddenly flames shoot out around LS who pulls out a cigar, lights it, and starts smoking it.)

LS (enjoying the cigar): Nice. Hey, you kids have any linguica? I could go for a barbecue.

CHILD: Why aren’t you dying?

 LS (blows on his cigar, igniting a stream of fire that shoots across the screen and is followed by a high-pitched scream.) Because you are, you little brat!

MA: This is actually pretty cool.

GHOST BOY (quickly turning off projector): That wasn’t supposed to happen. Where’s that other film?

MA: While you’re looking, I’m going on with my review.

And the demon in these movies, Bughuul, in spite of the fact that he resembles Michael Jackson, is one of the scarier-looking film monsters to come along in the past few years. Yet in this movie, that’s about all he does: look scary. Other than this, he does pretty much next to nothing. It’s a real shame, because Bughuul is frightening, and what he does, possess children and make them murder their families, is even more terrifying, and yet he’s been in two movies that have failed to take advantage of these strengths. He deserves to be in a better movie. Here, we see him again showing up on computer screens and in the shadows, but that’s it.

The biggest problem I had with SINISTER 2 was its clumsy storytelling. For starters, it did a very poor job at the outset making connections to the first film, and if you haven’t seen SINISTER, you might not get what’s going on until about half way into the movie.

As I said earlier, I was confused with the deputy’s investigation. First, he’s going to burn down the farmhouse. Then he’s there investigating it.

If Courtney knows what happened to the previous owners of her house, and she says she does, why isn’t she even a little concerned? Especially knowing that a child disappeared there, shouldn’t she be a bit worried about her own kids? I realize she’s focused on hiding from her nut-job of a husband, but still, shouldn’t there be some concern or caution? Evidently not.

More so, the deputy definitely knows. So, why isn’t he warning Courtney about watching her children?

Of course, part of the answer is the gimmick in these movies— that Bughuul makes his move after the family moves out of the house into another house, which is why the deputy keeps telling Courtney not to leave the farmhouse, because he figures she’s safe as long as she stays there. Most of the families do move because Bughuul has been terrorizing them and so they feel their house is haunted and they move, I guess. Like a lot of other things in this movie, that’s not really clear. Strangely, though, in spite of the fact that the ghost children have contacted the twin boys and are showing them the snuff films, there aren’t any other freakish things happening there. Courtney and the boys only leave when her nut of her husband shows up and forces them to do so.

I was surprised at the muddled storytelling because the screenplay was written by the same two guys who wrote the first movie, Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill. Derrickson also directed the first SINISTER. Part of the problem is there’s not much of a story to tell. Demon haunts child, child will murder family. That’s the premise. The only question is will the deputy be able to stop it?

GHOST BOY: Okay, watch this one! (Turns on projector, and MA looks at screen.)

(The grainy film reveals LS tied to kitchen floor with some sort of electric wiring tied to his leg. He looks sick.)

LS: Wow. That was some party last night.

(Suddenly we see water wash its way towards his body. A tiny child’s hand dips an electrical wire into the water, electrocuting LS, who instead of dying suddenly glows bright green. He then gets up and starts chasing the screaming child around house.)

LS: Come here you little brat! You want to electrocute someone? I’ll show you how do to do it!

(GHOST BOY shuts off film again in frustration.)

MA: I changed my mind. You can keep showing these movies to me. They’re hilarious.

Where was I?

SINISTER 2 also doesn’t have a scary bone in its celluloid body. The only thing remotely frightening in this movie is the films by the ghost children. They are gory, disturbing and dark, and since they involve characters we know nothing about they mean very little and carry very little emotional weight. They also have grown more elaborate, to the point where you doubt a child would be able to pull it off. For example, in one scene the family is hung upside down over a swamp and then lowered so crocodiles can bite off their heads. Did I say this movie was ugly?

And about those 8mm movies—- the murders which took place years ago, I could easily understand using an 8mm camera to film the proceedings, since that’s all that existed back then. But here in present day, wouldn’t the children be using cell phones, smart phones, or digital cameras? Who uses 8mm anymore? They don’t exist! Come on, Bughuul, get into the 21st century already!

Director Ciaran Foy’s idea of being scary is to show us the snuff films. That’s it. There aren’t any creative scares anywhere else in this movie, which is a complete shame. As I’ve already said, the character of the demon Bughuul has tremendous potential to be scary and he’s stuck in a movie like this.

And while I liked the main cast, the supporting cast is forgettable, led by Lea Coco as Courtney’s monster husband Clint, who is such an over-the-top jerk it’s almost unbelievable. When they all sit down to eat, he makes his family wait until he eats first. He beats his son. He verbally abuses his wife. He’s rich and powerful and has the police and local officials in his pocket, yet he looks like a construction worker. If anyone deserves to die in this movie, it’s him, and so when he does get done in, it’s the one satisfying moment in the movie.

SINISTER 2 is a forgettable sequel in a series I wish would cease now. In fact, if there was ever a character in need of a “re-imagining” or a re-boot, it’s the demon Bughuul. Jettison these inferior movies and get him on board in something else. The sooner the better.

I give it one and a half knives, and it gets the half because I like Bughuul and I enjoyed the performances of the four leads in this one.

(Turns to the ghost children).

So, do you have any more movies to show me?

(GHOST BOY turns on the projector and we see the grainy image of several children tied to tiny beds. They are the ghost children.)

MA: Hey, those kids look like you.

(LS suddenly appears on screen holding a chainsaw with a crazed look in his eye. He turns on the chainsaw and charges towards the beds.)

(The GHOST BOY knocks over the projector, and he and the other ghost children flee the basement screaming.)

MA: Well, at least now I know what L.L. was doing instead of reviewing today’s movie. I think he got the better end of the deal.

(EXITS)

–END—

INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 (2015) Moves Series Further Into Mediocrity

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Insdious-Chapter-3-posterMOVIE REVIEW:  INSIDIOUS:  CHAPTER 3 (2015)

By Michael Arruda

 

In the INSIDIOUS movies, the demon world where much of the action takes place is known as “the Further.”  This name is apropos, because with INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 now in theaters, if there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that the series has moved further towards mediocrity.

INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 is a prequel to the first two INSIDIOUS movies, and as such, it basically tells two stories.  The story INSIDIOUS fans are most interested in is the background/origin story of an integral character from the first two movies, clairvoyant and demon hunter Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye), a character who actually died at the end of the first

movie.  She appeared in the second movie moving about inside the Further.  In INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3, we learn more about how she first started fighting demons.

Sort of.

The second story told in INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 is the tale of young Quinn (Stefanie Scott) who runs afoul a demon when she tries to contact her deceased mother.  It’s this case that brings Elise into contact with the Further and the evil demons that reside there.

INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 opens as Quinn visits Elise seeking out her help in order to communicate with her deceased mother.  Elise at first declines, saying she doesn’t do that kind of work anymore, but she gives in and attempts to reach Elise’s mother.  Instead, Elise hears from a demon, a mysterious woman demon who’s been haunting Elise for some time, telling Elise that she is going to kill her.

So, this isn’t the first time that Elise has dealt with demons or the Further, and so the events here aren’t really an “origin” story because Elise has already encountered the demon world.

Against Elise’s advice, Quinn continues to try to contact her mother, and as a result, she attracts the attention of another demon— who knew demons were so active? — known as “The Man Who Can’t Breathe”— who suddenly makes it his mission to haunt and terrorize Quinn and her family.

Eventually, things get so bad that Elise can’t say no any longer, and she takes on the case, setting up the big battle between humans and demons.  Hmm.  Been there.  Done that.  And with much more satisfying results in the first INSIDOUS movie.

The first INSIDIOUS (2010) movie is one of my favorite horror movies of the past decade.  INSIDIOUS:  CHAPTER 2 (2013) wasn’t as good, but it was still mildly entertaining, and it managed to get pretty creative as characters in the sequel went back into events from the first movie giving these scenes added meaning.  It was all pretty neat.

Now comes INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3, a prequel that for me, never quite hit its stride.  I’m not a big fan of prequels anyway, but that being said, I had an open mind about this one.  It just never won me over.

For starters, I thought the new demon story featuring Quinn and her family, mostly her caring dad Sean (Dermot Mulroney) was pretty lame.  Quinn has lost her mom recently to cancer, and her dad is struggling to raise her and her younger brother Alex.  These scenes offered nothing new, and I was hard pressed to feel for this family when nothing about them was insightful or refreshing.

And while there are some scares here and there, they are nothing like the scares generated in the original INSIDIOUS.  That film had its the audience screaming out loud.  In INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3, the audience barely made a sound.  The scariest scene doesn’t involve a demon at all but an unexpected car accident that provides a quick jolt.

That being said, I do like the way the INSIDIOUS films handle demons and the Further.  The world created inside these INSIDIOUS movies is a creative one, and it’s always creepy and eerie.  A lot of imagination goes into the demons in these movies, and I appreciate this.  I just wish as much imagination went into the human characters in this third installment.  Also, the demons have become progressively less frightening with each episode.

As much as I enjoyed the character of Elise Rainier in the first two movies, one of the reasons I enjoyed her so much was that she was a small part of a bigger picture.  The main characters in the first two movies were the members of Lambert family.  Elise is less effective as a main character.  Plus we already know her fate, as she dies at the end of the first movie.

And when Elise finally goes up against the demons, she defeats them too easily.  These are demons for crying out loud!  To get rid of them, one should have to do more than just give them a good shove and shout “Go away!”

As she was in the first two movies, Lin Shaye is very good as Elise Rainer, the woman who can’t seem to stop tangling with demons.  But is Elise a strong enough character to carry a whole movie on her own?  I’m not so sure about that.

Stefanie Scott is okay as Quinn Brenner, but I was less impressed with Dermot Mulroney’s performance as Quinn’s dad Sean.  I found him whiny and unlikable, and there was something very grating about his performance.

Angus Sampson and Leigh Whannell return as amateur ghost hunters Tucker and Specs, and they once more provide the film’s comic relief.  Yet with each successive movie their shtick grows thinner and less funny.

Whannell wrote all three INSIDIOUS movies, and he’s at the helm here for the first time as the director of INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3.  I can’t fault his scripts all that much, because to be honest, I like the demon world he has created in this series.  But in terms of the whole package, the story told in this third segment was much more mediocre than the ones told in the first two movies.

And I realize the movie is entitled INSIDIOUS:  CHAPTER 3, but do we really want movies to play like chapters in a novel?  This approach works with a television series, but not with a movie.

With a TV show, you only have to wait a week for the next episode, or in today’s streaming market, there’s no wait at all.  With a movie, you have to wait a much longer time, usually more than a year.  So, if you’re stuck watching a mediocre “chapter,” with a television show, it’s on to the next episode and it’s no big deal.  You can’t do that with a movie.

Plus, movie tickets cost a decent chunk of change!  Do I really want to shell out $11.00 for a ticket and then settle for an average 90 minutes?  No way!  When I pay for a ticket, I want to see the filmmaker’s best effort.  Always.  Episodic filmmaking is the wrong way to go.  Movies should stand alone, even if they’re part of a series.

Whannell does a decent job at the helm, although I think director James Wan did a better job generating scares in the first two movies.

INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 benefits from being part of the INSIDIOUS universe.  I like the demons and the world they live in, and I like main character Elise Rainer and watching her take on these evil entities, even if I don’t think she’s a strong enough character to carry a movie.  But the other story of teen Quinn Brenner and how she runs afoul of a demon and eventually needs Elise’s help, never won me over, mostly because it was a retread of things that have happened before.  It’s also not even close to being as scary or as intense as the original film in the series.

INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 isn’t a bad movie, but it is a mediocre one.  The demons in the Further deserve better.

—END—