IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016)

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I absolutely love TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016).

So much so that after watching it for the first time a couple of years ago on Netflix, I decided to watch it again last month. The result? I enjoyed it even more!

TRAIN TO BUSAN is a South Korean horror movie about the zombie apocalypse. Now, obviously, there have been many stories about said apocalypse in recent years, from the exceptional THE WALKING DEAD TV show to films like WORLD WAR Z (2013) and ZOMBIELAND (2009). What makes TRAIN TO BUSAN stand out from all the rest?

For me it’s the same for any quality movie: it’s the writing, stupid!

TRAIN TO BUSAN has a superior script that both tells a compelling story and creates memorable characters. The result is one heck of an emotional roller coaster ride, and that’s the part that I enjoyed the most upon a second viewing. I had forgotten just how emotional this movie got. Bring out the tissues! You’re going to need them.

Yup. You’re gonna need a bigger box of tissues.

And TRAIN TO BUSAN is that good. It’s on par with the best episodes of THE WALKING DEAD, and in terms of movies, you have to go back to George Romero to find a better zombie movie. SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004) might be better, but that one’s a comedy.

TRAIN TO BUSAN is pure horror.

In TRAIN TO BUSAN, Seok-woo (Yoo Gong) just can’t seem to spend enough time with his daughter Soo-an (Su-an Kim), as his job simply keeps him too busy. But when he decides to accompany his daughter on a train ride to take her to see her mother who he’s now separated from, he hopes to at least have this time with her.

Unfortunately for Seok-woo, he picked a bad day to go for a train ride with his daughter, as it just so happens to be the same day that the zombie apocalypse breaks out. And suddenly, quick moving flesh eating zombies are overrunning the land and getting on the train. A small group of survivors band together to fight off the zombies, all the while hoping the train makes it to Busan, where rumor has it that the military has successfully created a safe haven there.

TRAIN TO BUSAN is the story of these survivors, who besides Seok-woo and Soo-an, also includes a pregnant woman Seong-kyeong (Yu-mi Jung) and her husband Sang-hwa (Dong-seok Ma), and two high school students, Jin-hee (Sohee) and Yong-guk (Woo-sik Choi) to name a few.

What follows is an intense thrill ride that provides nonstop chills and suspenseful action sequences, as well as tugging at your heartstrings, in a big, big way.

The cast in TRAIN TO BUSAN is phenomenal.

Yoo Gong is naturally heroic as main character and daddy Seok-woo. At first, he’s not the most sympathetic character, as it’s clear that in the past he has placed his career above his daughter, but when the zombies attack, it’s also clear that Seok-woo will do whatever it takes to protect his young daughter. Gong makes for a dashing young hero.

Some of Gong’s best scenes are with his co-star Dong-seok Ma who plays Sang-hwa, the husband who similarly will do whatever it takes to protect his pregnant wife. Dong-seok Ma delivers the most fun performance in the film, as Sang-hwa is both a humorous guy and a kick-ass fighter who becomes the go-to guy when the need arises to fend off the walking dead. Initially, Seok-woo and Sang-hwa do not see eye to eye, but as things grow more bleak they put aside their differences and work together.

Yu-mi Jung is equally as good as Seong-kyeong, the pregnant wife who eventually befriends Seok-woo’s daughter Soo-an. Jung makes Seong-kyeong one of the film’s strongest characters, as she has to go above and beyond what one would expect a pregnant woman to have to do.

Likewise, Sohee is memorable as teen Jin-hee.

But best of all is Su-an Kim as Seok-woo’s young daughter Soo-an. She gives the most emotional performance in the entire movie. She has some of the best scenes in the film, and she is more than up to the task of nailing these powerhouse scenes, and for such a young performer, that’s saying a lot.

And I challenge you to find a more emotional ending to a horror movie. Talk about gut-wrenching, the final sequence will have you shaking.

Director Sang-ho Yeon has made one of the best zombie films ever. In addition to the first-rate performances and superb story, there are some truly outstanding action sequences here, well-crafted by Yeon. From hordes of zombies charging up escalators to the characters having to battle their way through zombie infested train cars, the film’s action sequences are second to none.

The special effects are also top-notch. The zombies look scary and are plenty deadly, and these undead folks are of the speedy variety. No slow-moving walkers here. These babies run like the wind!

But the best part of TRAIN TO BUSAN is that the film gets the emotions right. You truly feel for these characters, and the situations they find themselves in play out as tremendously realistic. TRAIN TO BUSAN is a much more emotionally satisfying movie than say WORLD WAR Z which as entertaining as it was fell flat emotionally.

A lot of the credit for the emotion goes to the screenplay by Joo-Suk Park and director Sang-ho Yeon. The script creates riveting situations, likable characters, and realistic dialogue, and it’s all executed to perfection by the actors and by director Yeon.

TRAIN TO BUSAN was the first South Korean zombie apocalypse horror movie, and it’s not going to be the last, as a sequel is already in the works.

You really need to watch TRAIN TO BUSAN. It’s one of the best zombie apocalypse movies ever made, and it’s certainly the most satisfying zombie horror movie of the last twenty years.

What are you waiting for? Get your ticket already! Of course, once on board, you may want to text your loved ones, as there’s no guarantee you’ll actually make it to Busan. The zombies on the train are plenty hungry, and they have the humans insanely outnumbered, but heck, it’s a helluva thrill ride, one that you definitely don’t want to miss!

Will that be one ticket or two?

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CHILD’S PLAY (2019) – Smart, Funny, and Gory Remake Updates Chucky Story for 2019

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Do we really need a remake of CHILD’S PLAY?

Sure! Why not?

See, I’m not of the mindset that remakes are a bad thing. Did we really need remakes of the Universal monster movies? Yet Hammer Films made some of the best horror movies ever made doing just that. Did we need a remake of THE THING (1951)? Yet John Carpenter made arguably one of the finest horror movies of all time with his remake.

Sure, there are plenty of faulty remakes/reimaginings out there, but I like to keep an open mind and refuse to knock them on principle since a lot of amazingly good films have been remakes.

The original CHILD’S PLAY (1988) was a decent horror flick from the 1980s about a toy doll named Chucky possessed by the soul of a serial killer, and it starred Chris Sarandon as a police detective, following upon the heels of his success as vampire Jerry Dandrige in FRIGHT NIGHT (1985). It spawned a whole series of Chucky films.

So, how does the current reimagining hold up?

Very well.

In fact, the new CHILD’S PLAY (2019) gets off to a strong start within its first few minutes thanks to some sharp writing and spot-on storytelling.

This CHILD’S PLAY opens with a video of the president of Kaslan Industires Henry Kaslan (Tim Matheson) speaking to the camera about how their company cares for children, and he showcases their new Buddi doll, a doll that is more than just a toy. With its interactive technology, it connects to computers, phones, drones, and with its advanced robotics, it pretty much is the next best thing to a human companion/babysitter. And Kaslan stresses its safety factors, as it has safeguards that make it nearly impossible to do anyone harm.

And so you realize right off the bat that this is not going to be a story about a doll possessed by a serial killer, but about a doll with very real technology which today most likely could do all the things it does in the movie. Suddenly, Chucky’s story is based less on fantasy and more on reality. Very cool.

And when a disgruntled employee on his last day on the job removes all the safety protocols from one doll, that plot point makes sense as well.

Thirteen year-old Andy Barclay (Gabriel Bateman) lives with his young mom Karen (Aubrey Plaza) in a modest apartment. Since Andy has been having a hard time with their recent move, Karen decides to get her son an early birthday present. She works at a department store and when a customer returns a defective Buddi doll, she decides to rewrap it and give it to her son, believing it’s not all that defective since the main reason the customer cited for returning it was that it wasn’t the latest model which is due out in days.

When Andy comments that he’s kind of old for Buddi, Karen tells him that it could be a joke gift and that they could just have some fun with it. But the Buddi doll’s friendship program proves to be irresistible, and Andy, a loner, finds himself enjoying the company. When the doll asks Andy what he should name him, Andy says “Han Solo,” which is an in-joke since the doll is being voiced here by Mark Hamill, but the doll ignores Andy and says, “Chucky. My name will be Chucky.” Andy laughs off this unexpected moment of independence and fully embraces his new Chucky companion.

Of course, this is the doll without the safety protocols, and as a result it takes its job as Andy’s friend and protector very seriously. Too seriously. Anyone Chucky views as a threat to Andy ends up dead, and in the most unpleasant of ways.

I really enjoyed this new CHILD’S PLAY for a lot of reasons. For starters, Mark Hamill’s voice work for Chucky is outstanding. He’s creepy, he’s funny, and for a talking doll he’s very real. There’s a reason Hamill in spite of his STAR WARS superstardom is more known for his voice work than his onscreen acting performances. His voice work is very good. No knock against Brad Dourif who voiced the original Chucky, but Hamill made it so I wasn’t pining for the Chucky of yesteryear.

The rest of the cast is strong as well. Gabriel Bateman does a nice job as thirteen year-old Andy, and when he and his friends are on the case trying to stop Chucky, the film channels a STRANGER THINGS vibe.

I really liked Aubrey Plaza as Andy’s young mom Karen. Plaza has a comedic background. She played April on PARKS AND RECREATION (2009-2015). Her comedic timing is on full display here, and she takes things to the next level as she’s more than just a comedian in this movie. She makes for a convincing single mom.

I also enjoyed Brian Tyree Henry as Detective Mike Norris. He also has the light touch, as his Mike Norris is much more humorous than the character Chris Sarandon played in the original. Henry has been in a lot of stuff lately, appearing in HOTEL ARTEMIS (2018), WHITE BOY RICK (2018), WIDOWS (2018), and he provided voice work for the critically acclaimed animated superhero movie SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (2018).  His roles in these films have all been different, and his work here in CHILD’S PLAY was much more playful than his roles in the aforementioned films.

CHILD’S PLAY has a smart and funny screenplay by Tyler Burton Smith. It carves out—heh, heh–likable characters, creates a surprisingly realistic threat in the Chucky doll, and tells a believable and often riveting story, even as it keeps things light throughout.

Director Lars Klevberg keeps the pace quick and the movie’s 90 minutes fly by easily. This one is rated R so be prepared for some grotesque horror movie violence in the spirit of the horror films from the 70s and 80s.

Speaking of which, how does this new CHILD’S PLAY stack up as a horror movie? Surprisingly well. First off, I thought it did a good job bringing Chucky into 2019, where our present day technology makes the notion of a murderous doll not that far-fetched since the science for making it happen exists in the real world. So, you have a realistic threat.

The gory murders hearken back to older films of this type and serve as an homage to these movies.

I didn’t really find CHILD’S PLAY scary, but that didn’t take away from my enjoying it. I cared for the characters and didn’t want to see them fall victim to Chucky. I also liked the look of this new Chucky, which had just enough differences to make it stand out from the original doll.

The film’s climactic third act, when Chucky exacts his revenge inside the department store at the unveiling and first sale of the new Buddi dolls, amid the rush of stampeding crazed customers, serves as a nice metaphor for the insanity of current day Black Friday shopping.

So, I’m not sure if we really needed a remake of CHILD’S PLAY, but this 2019 reimagining is a good one. So good in fact that you won’t even have to save your receipt. No refunds or returns are necessary.

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IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: TERRIFIER (2017)

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TERRIFIER (2017) is the type of horror movie I usually do not like.

At all.

It’s also the type, in general, that tends to give horror a bad name and keeps a large audience away from horror movies. Why do I want to pay money to see victims brutally murdered? Gore for gore’s sake. No story. No point other than to kill off victims.

TERRIFIER is this type of movie— up to a point. It’s violent and sick, until it morphs into something more, something I found myself ultimately liking. A lot.

TERRIFIER starts off as the story of two friends, Tara (Jenna Kanell) and Dawn (Catherine Corcoran) out on the town for a night of drinks and fun. As they drunkenly return to their car, they notice someone watching them from down the street, a man dressed as a clown. When he follows them into a restaurant, Tara is understandably freaked out, but Dawn thinks it’s funny and actually flirts with and takes a selfie with the clown (David Howard Thornton).

Tara wants to leave immediately, but Dawn says no, that they should stay. You should have listened to Tara.

It turns out that Art the Clown is a homicidal maniac who goes about killing anyone and everyone in his path in the most brutal sadistic ways. And yes, he is definitely interested in adding Dawn and Tara to his victims’ list.

So, why is this movie better than just an exercise in mindless blood and gore?

For starters, before the killings begin, the acting by the principal players is pretty darn good. I really enjoyed both Jenna Kanell as Tara and Catherine Corcoran as Dawn. Kanell was good enough to be the strong heroine in a new series of horror films, and I was certainly interested in following her story and wanting her not only to survive but to kick Art the Clown’s butt.

But the filmmakers had other ideas.

Speaking of Art the Clown, he is one creepy clown. As played by David Howard Thornton, he is downright nightmarish. Thornton does a fantastic job at making Art the Clown completely unpredictable. At times, he stares at his victims with menacing homicidal eyes, and others he’s in his full clown routine, acting jolly and silly, and at other times he’s sad. He can unleash any of these personalities at any time, and once he attacks, he becomes a brutal insane killer.

Bottom line, he is terribly frightening, which is exactly what you want in a horror movie.

So, when this movie began, I thought, regardless of how it plays out, I like this clown.

Midway through, for me, TERRIFIER hit rock bottom. Suddenly Art the Clown becomes a killing machine, and deaths occur without rhyme or reason.  Gore for gore’s sake. And yet, there was that creepy clown, still standing, still terrorizing.

And that for me was when the movie changed, when the realization hit me that this wasn’t the story of any of the victims at all. Instead, this was Art the Clown’s story. In this movie, nobody was safe, no matter how much the audience might like them, no matter how heroic their intentions, no matter when they first appeared in the movie.  None of this mattered. They were going to have to deal with the clown, and most likely, they were not going to come out on top.

I thought this was a bold decision by writer/director Damien Leone, to really go all in with Art the Clown and say nobody is safe, and because Art the Clown was such a captivating and menacing character, this decision worked here.  The clown, as vicious as he was, carried this movie.

He got under my skin, and as a horror fan, I’m glad he did.  And when I realized that Damien Leone was not going to make any safe decisions with this one, that here was a time where evil was going to win out, I thought, this film is really working as an exercise in visceral terror.

And so while it may have seemed for a bit to be simply a gore for gore’s sake kinda film, it really isn’t. It really creates a cinematic monster in Art the Clown, this unstoppable insane killer.

This is not the first movie for Art the Clown. He first appeared in ALL HALLOW’S EVE (2013), another horror movie by writer/director Damien Leon, although the character was played by a different actor. I have not seen ALL HALLOW’S EVE, but after watching TERRIFIER, I intend to.

I enjoyed Leon’s work here, both as a director and a writer. TERRIFIER is chock full of suspenseful scenes, mostly due to the presence of Art the Clown, and the murder scenes are sufficiently bloody and grotesque. On the other hand, the dialogue and story are nothing outstanding.

Leone also wrote and directed a horror movie called FRANKENSTEIN VS. THE MUMMY (2017), inspired by the Universal Monster movies of yesteryear. I have not seen this one either, but it’s now on my list.

Back to TERRIFIER, the crowning achievement here really is the creation of Art the Clown.

I would definitely see more movies about this character in the hope that somewhere down the line someone would be able to stop him, because it would take a very special and very powerful hero to take down such a murderer, and that’s a story I’d like to see.

I don’t usually rave about ultra violent horror movies, but I thought TERRIFIER, in spite of its frequent bloody violence, fared better than most because it offered one of the creepiest clowns in the movies I’ve ever seen, and that includes Pennywise.

If you haven’t seen TERRIFIER, check it out. Be prepared to be creeped out and even grossed out, but I think you’ll agree that the presence of Art the Clown lifts this one to a level of satisfaction it has no business reaching otherwise.

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