The Sadness (2021): Horror

A young couple tries to survive the spread of a virus that brings out people’s darkest side.

Brace yourselves!!! The slow-burn first act is the calm before the storm; the everyday life with the everyday problems as we know it. You know it’s gonna go crazy, you just have no idea how much. Once it gets started, the horror introduced with Jim will get you hooked and cut your breath short until you get to experience the introduction again with Kat… tenfold! The train’s claustrophobic sequence is one of the bloodiest and most excruciating cinematic experiences you’ve ever had.

Producer, writer, and director Rob Jabbaz makes sure to shock you to your core in the beginning, but then, somehow, he manages to find a funny side to it, as if he parodies, momentarily, what he started. Once most of the horror has been unleashed and extremely graphically portrayed, Jabbaz seizes the opportunity to politicise it – it was shot throughout the pandemic, after all – slows the pace down, and gives you the time to wonder where it’s heading. And this is where I stop. The rest’s up to you to figure out and decide whether all this violence was justified and how the allusions and metaphors were laid out to you.

The first round of applause goes to Berant Zhu, Regina Lei, Tzu-Chiang Wang, and the rest of the cast who deliver some really disturbing performances. It would be intriguing to ask them how they felt after portraying such characters. The second round goes to the crew that did a fantastic job behind the cameras despite the numerous pandemic restrictions.

Highly recommended for all hardcore horror fans!

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Dashcam (II) (2021): Horror

An entertaining livestream during the pandemic takes a turn for the worse when the host, unwillingly, gets involved with shadowy people and dark entities.

Dumb, laughable, nonsensical… everything a horror film shouldn’t be! In a nutshell, how this horror sub-genre came to be: found-footage, webcam, dashcam. Needless to say which category Dashcam falls under… Let’s start with the basics: Annie Hardy – the character, not the person – is the biggest douche you’ve ever encountered in a film and you won’t show any sympathy for her. Stretch, on the other hand, is somewhat indifferent. Director Rob Savage did a horrible job with the camera. I presume the editor, Brenna Rangott, spent most of the time piecing together badly shot, shaky, incoherent footage. Last but not least, we, the audience, spent all of our time, the whole 67′, wondering what the hell was going on – or 75′ if you stayed till the very end to watch Hardy freestyling with the end credits’ names.

If you consider Dashcam as a found-footage horror, you’ll get annoyed and disappointed. If you see it as a parody of the sub-genre though, with a funny leading actress, you’ll have a decent laugh. Jason Blum has produced some of the best horrors of the 21st century so, he’s allowed to have a misfire every now and then. My issues are with the particular film and not Blum or his company. But, speaking of laughter, the best part of the film is the side comments, they range from amusing to hilarious. I truly believe that if something similar happened in real life, the comments would literally be that. Now, from a filmmaking point of view, that is horrible because terms such as mise-en-scène (what’s included in the frame) fly out of the window. The audience’s attention is focused on the side of the screen when the action takes place elsewhere. It’s like focusing on reactions while being unaware of what these reactions are for. From a societal point of view, it is worse than horrible because it showcases that a fellow human’s dire need of help becomes the people’s entertainment and amusement. The evident collapse of humanity becomes, then, the real horror.

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Trauma (2017): Action/Drama/Horror

Two female couples get attacked by a father and his son while partying, but their revenge only causes further calamity.

Sadistic, brutal, and shockingly atrocious! I’ll keep it short… You know what you sign up for from the perversive opening sequence! What succeeds it is terrible filmmaking techniques, no matter how you look at it. Script, directing, acting, photography, and editing, do it no favours whatsoever but don’t be fooled by any of that, its sickness permeates the rest of the sequences, solely seeking to shock. Now, the shock works on two levels: On how shockingly bad the film itself is made and how shockingly disgusting its content is.

I would recommend Trauma as much as I would recommend A Serbian Film (2010) which is not at all. At least, the latter is well-made. But if you are really looking for a brilliantly made disturbing horror, I would definitely recommend Martyrs (2008). Personally, I prefer psychological horrors as they, among others, delve into the abyss of our minds and souls, but any well-made horror intrigues me the same. And this isn’t one of them. Trauma is aimlessly selling raw gore and loses on every other front.

It is not easy to make a film! Never mind a film that inspires awe, evokes the intended feelings, has a purpose, and remains true to it. All of the above and everything that has thrilled you, moved you, amused you, and made you fall in love with cinema… is what Trauma lacks of.

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P.S. Kudos go only to the person or team that made the poster.

Dashcam (2021): Horror/Thriller

A news editor, and aspiring journalist, receives a dashcam video that turns a simple crime into a government-level conspiracy theory.

Suspenseful, realistic, weak at times, but worth your while. The intentionally misleading opening shot will put a smile on your face as it indicates how much the hero goes out of the house. Overall, the film’s premise relies on pseudo-realism. Facebook, FaceTime, the vernacular, the body language, and even the way the news is edited are all indicators that these are real people like you and me (I was about to use “normal”, but that is a term I don’t understand anymore). Upon introducing the main characters, producer/writer/director Christian Nilsson cuts right to the chase with the landing of the footage (inciting incident) that was circulating the rumours of the alleged conspiracy theory.

What the audience encounters next is a perfect example of how the editing creates meaning; how the editing builds up the suspense. As an editor myself, there is so much I could tell you about the details of the film’s editing and the areas it is focusing on, but chances are I’m gonna bore you to tears. Personally, the idea of the conspiracy and the way it is built up in that sequence is the best part of the film. It is the part where you are still mystified and unsure, you want to believe Jake is up to something, and the part where you really want to know how the story will end. From the moment Jake calls Mara and then exits the building though, it somewhat loses that grip, giving an anticlimactic feeling. The reason behind my argument is that it answers questions about specific facts, on one hand, but it doesn’t question broader issues related to the facts provided – in other words how factual the facts are. I guess every investigating mind can approach it differently, but this is the way Nilsson does and I respect it.

Don’t let that discourage you, though. Dashcam lasts only an hour and twenty minutes, it is a low-budget indie that was shot during lockdowns, and the cast does a great job. It is an entertaining film to take your mind off things, wonder what you would have done if you were Jake, think about the ending for a minute, and go to bed. Francis Ford Coppola and Brian de Palma are Nilsson’s apparent influences – The Conversation (1974) and Blow Out (1981), respectively – but comparing Nilsson to them would be unfair as they were far more experienced and studio-level filmmakers.

Fun facts:

The film is about a New York Governor’s scandal that premiered the same day a real-life New York State Governor was accused of a sexual scandal.

Also coincidentally, there were two Dashcams in 2021. I’ll follow up right after this with the second one.

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You Won’t Be Alone (2022): Drama/Horror

Despite her mother’s best efforts, an ancient spirit kidnaps a young girl in an attempt to serve her forever.

A taste of Balkan folklore with a pinch of Witch (2016). As per Focus Features, the production company behind the film, it takes place in the 19th century FYROM – they said Macedonia, but let’s leave it at that. They also said that writer/director Goran Stolevski based the film’s shape-shifting legends on stories coming from his family. That sounds highly likely as all Balkan countries are inundated with such legends and myths which, partially, shaped those societies as we know them today. Having traveled through the Balkans a few times, I’ll tell you that the people, especially in villages, are nothing but welcoming and warm, still keeping to their norms and traditions. Just like you see in the film.

What Stolevski has achieved is a (Malick-esque) chronicle of the perception of life as seen through the eyes of a soul that knows nothing of “good” or “bad”, unaffected by morality and immorality respectively; “… like a river. It flows and flows… and still stays in the same spot.” And, as such, I’ll dare say that Stolevski’s perspective is unique. The way I see it, he raises significant questions: Does evil have a choice in life? Is evil predestined to remain evil? Even better, can evil be actually evil when that meaning is unknown to it?

Technically speaking, Matthew Chuang’s cinematography is immaculate and it needs to be praised highly. He mounts the camera over the shoulder and his tracking shots, from full to close-ups, deliver all the intended feelings and emotions. An extra round of applause goes to the whole cast that shines in front of the camera. Maybe the amazing Noomi Rapace is the main marketing attraction, but EVERYONE is spectacular! Both in front and behind the camera.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. The question I’ll leave you with is, does life run in a full circle?

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Men (2022): Drama/Horror/Sci-fi

After her husband commits suicide, a young woman escapes to the countryside only to encounter horrors she would never expect.

A24… The production company that aims at the different, the radical, the unconventional. Starting off with Harper (Jessie Buckley) and only getting a glimpse of what is hunting her, we take the trip straight to the countryside where she’ll be residing for two weeks – that is the plan, anyway. Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear), the house owner with British-English you’ll definitely admire and will put a smile on your face, shows her around, and so, the main players and environment have been established. But…

The first plot point, the beautiful yet extremely scary tunnel, instigates the thrill; it is where your heart will skip the first beat. From then on, the naked man, the troubled kid, the eccentric Vicar, the police’s incompetence, and everything that happens till the end Act II escalates the horror to the next level. Not a lot can be explained but that’s what enhances the mystery. The eerie and haunting operatic music throughout the montage sequences will keep you at the very edge of your seats, inarguably, mouth agape. “Paranoia” doesn’t even begin to describe it! Beware of the entities presented inside the church. Also, beware of the dandelions as well. Both of them play a significant role to the narrative’s understanding. And this is where I stop.

Alex Garland, the writer/director of Ex-Machina (2014) and Annihilation (2018) and writer of 28 Days Later (2002) and Never Let me Go (2010) is not a crowd-pleaser, and, consequently, is not for everyone. His lens serves his narrative well, offering realistic thrills to surrealistic scenarios – from alien invasions to men going utterly berserk. Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear absolutely shine in front of the camera!

If you are not British or not accustomed to British folkloric tales and myths, you’ll be utterly confused. If you are, you’ll get the gist, but won’t be able to explain it, anyway. And that’s the goal. In an attempt to find answers, I only got more confused so, as intended by the filmmakers, I only provided a few possible explanations to myself – without meaning that they are the right ones. Because there is no right one.

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P.S. In reality, in the English countryside, you will encounter the most beautiful places and the most beautiful people.

Watcher (2022): Drama/Horror/Thriller

A young woman moves with her husband from America to Romania, and soon she realises that someone is watching every move of hers.

A deceiving, slow-burn thriller with a great leading actress. Why deceiving, huh? What you know and what you think you know is not the same. Ostensibly, the plot revolves around a young woman who is afraid that someone is watching her, and, potentially, following her. The subplot revolves around the same young woman who is lonely, in a foreign country, alone (for the most part), arguably depressed, and who neither speaks nor understands a word of what everyone’s saying. Until you know for sure, the line between the plot and the subplot is vague.

Zack Ford’s script and Chloe Okuno’s lens keep the narrative restricted. Okuno, like a watcher (pun intended), follows Julia wherever she goes and depicts reality as perceived through her eyes, only. Respectively, Michael Block’s editing discloses what you need to know, hiding carefully what you want to. The result of both is the deception mentioned above. Maika Monroe is an amazing and massively underrated actress. Watching It Follows (2014) and The Guest (2014) one can tell how much still she has to offer, especially in the horror/thriller genre. Also, Burn Gorman’s portrayal as a lonely man is brilliant.

It is a horrible feeling to be surrounded by an unfamiliar environment, language, and people, especially when being in an unstable mental state. Nothing and no one is what they seem to be. And Okuno and Monroe nail that feeling!

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Crimes of the Future (2022): Drama/Horror/Sci-fi

In the not-so-distant future, certain humans evolve in unexpected ways, and while some embrace it and see the artistic side of it, others only want to suppress it.

Intricate, interesting, and largely unspecified. It’s been eight years since we last saw a feature film from David Cronenberg – Maps to the Stars (2014) so, brace yourselves. The first act, and the Orchidbed in particular, inevitably leads back to Cronenberg’s early films that gave him his unique identity – The Brood (1979), Scanners (1981), Videodrome (1983), etc. Such elements can also be found throughout the rest of the film (the Sark autopsy, the Breakfaster Chair…) but it’s not just the prosthetics or the visual effects. The surrealistic acting, the Kafqu-esque atmosphere, the blurry distinction between art and science, and the dark consideration of what both are, constitute a dystopian, decadent future (not far from present-day) whose reality seems to belong to another Earth similar to ours, with humans identical to us, but with (un)natural elements and behaviours that are barely recognised or understood. The Fly (1986), Naked Lunch (1991), and eXistenZ (1999) add to the films mentioned above and, in their own respect, they have shaped equally different realities.

From a filmmaking point of view, admittedly, I didn’t find it challenging. Douglas Koch’s photography serves the narrative well, but that is pretty much is. The narrative in and of itself though is. Cronenberg has a long history of examining society through the lens of sexuality and technology and Crimes of the Future isn’t an exception. The new ways of experiencing pleasure, the alien-like technology that fulfills specific needs, and the evolution of people who consume… “plastic”, are all allegories of the world we live in. Did you get them? If yes, what did you think of them? How effective were they? If you thought they weren’t, why?

I find it hard to imagine how Cronenberg pitched this script, especially when it came to defining the audience. Shot entirely in Greece with actors from all over the world, the film has, on one hand, a universal taste, and, on the other hand, a small crowd to follow. Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux, Kristen Stewart, Scott Speedman, Lihi Kornowski, Don McKellar, Nadia Litz, Tanaya Beatty, Welket Bungué, and Yorgos Pirpassopoulos do a great job in front of the camera, but the narrative is such that can leave you undecided in regard to their chemistry.

To every Cronenberg fan: Watch it! Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on it.

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The Lure (2015): Drama/Fantasy/Horror

Two mermaid sisters get a job at a cabaret and while one of them seeks people’s love, the other one wants to devour them.

Unique approach towards an unexpected genre. The Lure is a gory and brutal musical that mesmerises. When it came out it shocked certain audiences as very few could have envisaged a horror/musical of that sort. Interestingly, the same year, I got the same feeling from Bone Tomahawk (2015), a horror/western that shocked fans of both genres as, again, who would have thought this “marriage” could work? But is The Lure as effective?

I have a feeling that horror fans will not be particularly thrilled. On the other hand, I’m not sure musical fans will give it a go either. Needless to say that Hans Christian Andersen’s fans will sit this one out too. Who is it for, then? My guess is for cinefiles; lovers of the different, the daring, and the unconventional. The Lure is for those who delve into the mise-en-scene as much as they delve into montage, but also combinations of narrative techniques. Having said that, a musical is comprised by only two major elements: dancing and singing. And I found neither compelling enough.

So while the story’s originality and dare win points, both of them fall significantly short. My question is then, why make it a musical in the first place? For the sake of different? Director Agnieszka Smoszynska has used plenty of nudity and gore, but I didn’t find her lens as daring (as intended?). My favourite sequence was after the domestic where everyone falls into a limbo. Overall though, I failed to engage with Silver’s and Golden’s predicament.

To conclude on a semi-positive note though, the acting is solid by everyone even though they could have achieved much more if the singing and dancing had a more pivotal role and more effort was put into the choreography.

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Monstrous (2022): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

Fleeing her ex-husband, a mother with her young son move to a secluded house where a dark and sinister force resides.

Mysterious and eventually dramatic, yet doesn’t manage to hit the spot. Putting it on knowing nothing about it, I felt quite neutral, at first. Even though the narrative is quite restricted, the audience knows less than Laura and Cody and, therefore, is trying to catch up on cues such as Cody’s recurrent nightmare and the constantly ringing phone. The first plot point (the bridge between the first and the second act), arguably, builds up the suspense and increases the tension… only to calm down again immediately after. Overall, should you decide to watch it, you might find the pace and rhythm fluctuating “irregularly”.

I remember Christina Ricci when she was as young as Cody in The Adams Family (1991) and, in a way, I grew up watching her grow up in her films. She’s a tremendously talented actress, having played diverse and perplexed roles, and she deserves every praise under the sun. For reasons that only she and Hollywood are aware of though, she started choosing films that didn’t have much to offer to the genre they belonged to. Having said that, admittedly, there are a couple of films she’s been in and I would like to watch.

After everything is said and done, looking back to Carol Chrest’s script and Chris Sivertson’s directing, one can say with certainty that the drama overcomes the horror in the end and you can tell because of how heavy your heart feels. I know how mine felt, and that was mostly due to Ricci. As said above, she is a remarkable actress and always lives up to her standards.

Something that might help you watch it in a positive light is the little references to her mental health. Furthermore, the party sequence got me a bit as did her attempts to keep it together. There are some strong moments there, but, as I have repeatedly said, the sum should always be greater than its parts.

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The Hole in the Ground (2019): Drama/Horror/Mystery

A young mother and her son move out to the Irish countryside, but not long after she begins to suspect that it might not be him anymore.

Dark, atmospheric, and suspenseful! Strong inciting incident, followed by solid suspense build-up. And after that… it only gets better! Photography, Art Direction, and Visual Effects create a dark and eerie atmosphere that accompanies the equally dark and eerie narrative. The first stroll in that forest will most certainly convince you…

Mysterious and suspicious events will follow and, sooner or later, with the boy acting the he does, you won’t help but get a feeling of The Omen (1976). But if you think the boy is scary, wait until you meet Noreen, the woman who has sunk into the deepest psychological abyss. So, in regard to what can scare you the most, between the forest, the kid, and the old lady you have quite the choice to make. Eventually though, I don’t think that any of them is more scary than the feeling that your only child… is not actually yours…

The Hole in the Ground joins my pantheon of Irish horror films* that manages, in a tiny budget, to evoke all the intended feelings. Writer Stephen Shields and writer/director Lee Cronin write and direct respectively a solid horror which draws elements from ancient folklore legends to modern psychology. Seána Kerslake, James Quinn Markey, Kati Outinen, and James Cosmo do a wonderful job in front of the camera, believing in Cronin’s vision and projecting the intended fears onto the audience. Arguably though, the ending could have been shorter and a lot scarier if it had maintained the, until then levels of plausibility. But, that is subjective so, it’s up to you to decide. Regardless of what you think of the third act, this is a highly recommended indie horror. A24 is always on top of the game!

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* A couple of Irish horrors that stood out for me in recent years are:

A Good Woman is Hard to Find (2019): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/09/24/a-good-woman-is-hard-to-find-2019-crime-drama-thriller/

and

Sea Fever (2019): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/04/19/sea-fever-2019-horror-sci-fi/

Raw (2016): Drama/Horror

A young and innocent student starts rediscovering herself when she develops a desire for human flesh.

Provocative, unsettling, and in need of purpose. Not your average first act… The initiation, portrayed in a colourful cinematic way, includes protracted shots of mild chaos and disturbance, such as taking drugs, dancing, kissing, shagging, etc, as part of a normal routine. No political statements there, just young men, women, and non-binary people having fun.

In the second act, the same natural course is maintained while operating on animals. As someone who not only doesn’t eat meat, but is an animal rights advocate I was uncomfortable watching certain scenes, but I don’t know how much will that affect you. For yet another half an hour, the initiation keeps coning and going while Justine starts developing the irresistible desire for raw meat and then human flesh. Certain scenes could be described as either disturbing or uncomfortable, depending on who you are talking to, or plainly unnecessary. What will define it is the way you will perceive them within the narrative. Do you think the film wouldn’t be the same without them? If they weren’t there, would it make a difference? Again, the answers will define the way you perceive them. Characteristically, the endless hair coming out of Justine’s mouth in the toilet, and the sex scene (you’ll know) are quite effective if you ask me. Are they enough though?

Writer/director Julia Ducournau knows how to shock the audiences. But as I’ve said numerous times, the sum should always be always bigger than its parts. And I don’t think this is the case here. In the end, I don’t know why I watched it (again). I struggled to find purpose. Admittedly, the second time I watched it to write a more accurate review and because, not so long ago, I watched Ducournau’s Titane (2021): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/11/12/titane-2021-drama-horror-sci-fi/ and wanted to compare and contrast. I hope you give it a go though because actresses Garance Marillier and Ella Rumpf go really over the top.

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X (2022): Horror

In 1979, a young crew of filmmakers rent out an isolated house to shoot an adult film, but when its elderly hosts find out they reveal their sinister intentions.

A horror like only A24 knows how to do! What the police come across in the opening sequence is the result of a massacre you’ll see all about it. So, 24 hours prior to that, the crew packs it up and sets off for the house that will make everyone famous and rich. The adult film that will change everyone’s life. The shoot that will accomplish everyone’s American dream. With heroes, antiheroes, villains, and old houses straight out the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (any version), the set-up is ready for the bloody inevitable – pun intended.

From a filmmaking point of you, the editing tells beautifully the parallel stories between the film’s shooting and the old “lady’s” story while breathtakingly builds up the suspense. For a while, it might feel like that nothing is happening, but I assure you that it is the calm before the storm. After the verbal reference to Psycho (1960), the visual one confirms the pending bloodbath. Gruesome moments follow that hold no punches and, undoubtedly, cut anyone’s breath short. There is no way to describe them without giving the gore away so, I’m just gonna leave it here.

Writer/producer/co-editor/director Ti West creates a good old-fashioned horror that deserves the cinematic experience with like-minded people or the company of your own self. His narrative abides with the horrors of the era it represents, and Eliot Rocket’s photography, the make-up and the special effects department deserve a separate praise. As for the editing, West and David Kashevaroff, on one hand, naturally unfold parallel stories, and, on the other hand, break almost all rules of pace and rhythm by connecting sequences… unnaturally. While film theorists would laugh at the way X has been edited, I’d say that the splatter and gory nature of the film justifies just about any technique under the sun. Intentionally, the porn shooting within the film does not fall far from the film itself.

There are some really strong moments there, such as the stealthy crocodile, the granny waving, and, more or less, every gruesome murder you see on screen, and these moments are very much worth of your time. Furthermore, watch out for the impressive performances from Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Kid Kudi, and Britanny Snow. Highly recommended!

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P.S. Bare in mind, that throughout all this I was alone in the cinema.

P.P.S. Shot in New Zealand.

P.P.S. There is an prequel coming up…

The Cellar (2022): Horror

When a family moves into an old house and the daughter disappears, the mother realises that a sinister entity dwells in the cellar.

Interesting, but standard. I remember watching Elisha Cuthbert in films when she was a teenager. Now, she is a mom of one. So, I’ll try, to my best ability, to pass on, objectively, constructive criticism. There are a lot of outdated techniques here, such as: constant background music to enhance the fear / suspense (the picture should always suffice without it), something’s about to happen but isn’t happening, overreacting to nothing, and, of course, jump scares! For example, I understand the need for creating atmosphere, but Ellie holding a candle while talking on the phone that she could have put on speaker phone and use its torch to see much better where she is going is… irrational. And such irrationalities are scattered throughout the film.

Kuthbert was, among others, Kim Bauer in 24 (2001-2010), Danielle in The Girl Next Door, and Carly in House of Wax (2005). As much as it is hard for me to differentiate her from those roles, I must say that she does a great job as a mom of a teenage girl she once used to be and she is a very decent actress. Brendan Muldowney’s The Cellar though will never be celebrated as they don’t stand out at all due to both outdated narrative and filmmaking techniques. It’ll just make you forget whatever is troubling you for about an hour and a half.

Admittedly, the “steps-counting” sequence is unexpectedly suspenseful, the mathematical equation is quite innovative, and the ending is very befitting. But the whole should always be greater than the sum of its parts. And in this case, it just isn’t.

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Midnight Mass (2021): Drama/Fantasy/Horror

A small island community is taken aback by the arrival of a new young priest and miracle occurrences that turn out to be sinister omens.

What a miniseries to watch around Easter! No matter how much I praise it, little to no justice will be given to any of the episodes or the sum of all of them. Therefore, I’ll keep it deliberately short so you can enjoy every moment of it. In a nutshell, from an audiovisual point of view, this is what you should expect: Mike Flanagan’s protracted shots and meticulous mise-en-scène (framing and information within the frame), well-paced and structured editing, The Newton Brothers’ enchanting soundtrack, and gripping performances by: Kate Siegel, Zach Gilford, Kristin Lehman, Samantha Sloyan, Rahul Kohli, Annarah Cymone, Annabeth Gish, Alex Essoe, Ed Flynn, Hamish Linklater, Joe Collie, and everyone else in between. From a narrative point of view, expect non-linear storytelling that constantly withholds information, intentionally misleads, carefully and thoroughly releases clues that you are called to put together, and… a grand finale!

Midnight Mass is a nearly perfect miniseries with Flanagan’s unique signature and Netflix back-up once more. The man behind miniseries, such as The Haunting of Hill House (2018), The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020), and films like Hush (2016), and Doctor Sleep (2019), strikes back with another ‘haunting’ series that will keep you on the edge of your seats. Other than continuously and masterfully building up the suspense, Midnight Mass unleashes the immense drama a person experiences… when they have to live with the consequences of their actions while not being able to live with themselves… when they have to face the curse of time that only flows forward and cannot be reversed… when they endure everything for the long-pursue of redemption. Watch out, especially, the episode with Erin and Riley on the boat. One of my favourite finales that topped my mounting expectations.

There are numerous production details to talk about but most of them would ruin your experience. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, and I wish you Happy Easter! Be well!

Please, don’t forget to share, and subscribe. If you enjoy my work and dedication to films, please feel free to support me on https://www.patreon.com/kaygazpro. Any contribution is much appreciated and valued.

Solidarity for Ukraine 🇺🇦 🙏

Stay safe!

P.S. My beloved Ioanna, you know that one’s for you 🙂

The Cursed (2021): Fantasy/Horror/Mystery

When a creature of unknown origins terrorizes a small village in 19th-century France, a pathologist with certain skills is invited to explain and give an end to the horror.

Fantasy and reality blend in a great atmospheric, period horror. WWI: The atrocious, yet mysterious opening sequence will get your attention. Cut to the two interweaving stories after that, the mystery increases and the foundation of what is about to happen is built on both the story and character development. The clash is established in a 100”-shot of massacre, followed by, a brutal amputation and an undeniably daring burial. From then on, the inevitable hell is released through oneiric (dreamy) and realistic sequences that will make you want to avert your eyes, but you’ll feel obliged not to.

From start to finish, writer/director Sean Ellis creates an atmospheric supernatural horror, delving in superstition, religion, science and reason, but also into the deepest fears lurking inside our unconscious mind. Furthermore, Boyd Holbrook, Kelly Reilly, Alistair Petrie, Roxane Duran, and the rest of the supporting cast do an incredible job in front of the lens. The Beast of Gévaudan is something that, indeed, happened in a village in rural France, but without being 100% sure, I think it happened a century prior the era depicted in the film. Regardless, it is an over-celebrated and potentially inflated story that culminated in an urban legend that we are still speculating about today as no sufficient evidence explained what it really was or where it came from.

Definitely, a must-watch for every horror fan! Sean Ellis is the genius behind films such as Anthropoid (2016), and my two favourites Cashback (2006), The Broken (2008) – reviews will follow soon. These are absolute cinematic experiences for every filmgoer, and mark my words: Ellis will use his brilliance and make a film in the near future that will make everyone wondering where that came from.

Please, don’t forget to share, and subscribe. If you enjoy my work and dedication to films, please feel free to support me on https://www.patreon.com/kaygazpro. Any contribution is much appreciated and valued.

Solidarity for Ukraine 🇺🇦 🙏

Stay safe!

The Innocents (2021): Drama/Horror/Mystery

During the summer holidays, four children befriend one another as they develop psychic abilities that prove to be anything but innocent.

Slow-burn, atmospheric, and psychologically brutal. I’m not sure how much the children knew about what they were doing in the individual scenes or if they are now allowed to watch the final cut, but would be interesting to find out. As in previous cases though, chances are that they don’t and they find out when they are old enough to watch it themselves and make sense of it. Remember, to them, what they do is just instructions that, without having the big picture, it may as well be just fun. For us though, the adult audience… is soul-wrenching.

The premise is rather simple: Kids are associated with innocence, yeah? And even though that is something you might expect to see here, you will not! These kids do not represent innocence. Not all of them anyway. If you are a horror fan it cannot not remind you of films, such as The Village of the Damned (1960) or Children of the Corn (1984). But it’s neither. The connection between the children starts as mysterious, fun and sweet, but gradually escalates to a dark, sinister, and contradicting connection of unidentified origins.

Very well written, shot, edited, and acted! Eskil Vogt’s The Innocents is definitely worth your attention. Pay attention to the little details: Pessi Levanto’s soundtrack; how his music is used, when it is used. Sturla Brandth Grøvlen’s cinematography; from the long shots (the ominous, invisible force…) to the kids’ close-ups (… affecting them). Extra attention also to Jens Christian Fodstad’s editing and how beautifully the narrative visually flows. All kids do a tremendous job in front of the camera and get a lengthy round of applause, it is Alva Brynsmo Ramstad (Anna) who is tasked with the hardest role and her performance is stellar! I could not tell at first if she was acting. Hats off to all the kids!

Finally, if you are interested, I have extensively delved into the portrayal of kids in horror films on my podcast Kids in Horror: Source of Evil vs Source of Resolution: https://kaygazpro.com/2020/09/09/kids-source-of-evil-vs-source-of-resolution/ Michelle Satchwell, the Head of the Social Sciences Department at a large school in Derbyshire, UK, analyses the use of kids in horror films and examines the genre through the prism of Evolutionary, Cognitive, Psychodynamic, and Social Psychology.

Solidarity for Ukraine 🇺🇦 🙏

Stay safe!

Like No One Before You (2022): Horror/Drama/Short

A medium’s life changes when she decides to go after the man behind a series of brutal murders.

Like No One Before You is a story narrated from Tina’s standpoint. The horror she goes through answers the questions and fills the gaps that Josephine’s story left behind: https://kaygazpro.com/2022/03/09/like-the-palm-of-your-hand-2022-horror-drama-short/ Thank you ever so much for your support! Stay safe!

DISCLAIMER: This story contains strong language, and is intended for an older youth audience. Listener discretion is advised.

Based on my homonymous short script, Like No One Before You.

© 2022 Konstantinos Papathanasiou. All rights reserved.

Like the Palm of your Hand (2022): Horror/Drama/Short

A young palm reader’s life changes when she accidentally encounters the man behind a series of brutal murders.

Like the Palm of your Hand is a story narrated from Josephine’s standpoint. The raised questions and the created gaps will be answered and filled next week when Tina’s standpoint will be revealed. Thank you ever so much for your support! Stay tuned and… Stay safe!

DISCLAIMER: This story contains strong language, and is intended for an older youth audience. Listener discretion is advised.

Based on my homonymous short script, Like the Palm of your Hand.

© 2022 Konstantinos Papathanasiou. All rights reserved.

The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

A film crew makes a medical documentary on an elderly woman who suffers from Alzheimer’s, but as she deteriorates, a series of inexplicable events prove to be something more sinister.

Terrifying, despite its small wrinkles. Alzheimer’s on its own is dramatic as much as it is horrific. The people who have it and the people who love them, to say that they suffer is an understatement. But for lack of a better word, that’s what they do. Writer/editor Gavin Heffernan and writer/editor/director Adam Robitel seem to have done a thorough research on the subject and seem to have understood the calamitous situation the people who face it go through. Of course, they decide to add some extra sinistry to a condition that couldn’t be more painful, both physically and mentally so, in the end, you’ll get to decide if that addition actually adds to it or takes away from it.

While there are certain sequences that are terrifying, most of the times, I felt like crying my eyes out. Jill Larson is EXTRAORDINARY in this role, and I think I speak for all of us when I say that no one would want to see their beloveds suffering this way from that or any other disease. It is not disheartening or demoralising… it is crippling, it is bone-shuttering, and it is soul-wrenching. For everyone involved. Larson deserves every praise under the sun for making this found-footage, pseudo-documentary ‘believable’.

I have an interesting comparison for you! Watch The Taking of Deborah Logan, and compare and contrast it with the one below. Two different cinematic experiences that can make everyone appreciate verisimilitude, and the diverse power of narrative. Also, a cinematic reminder that the avoidance of repetitive patterns is not optional, it is pivotal. Relic (2020): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/07/15/relic-2020-drama-horror/

Solidarity for Ukraine 🇺🇦 🙏

Stay safe!

P.S. Produced by, the disgraced now, Bryan Singer.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022): Crime/Horror/Thriller

A group of youngsters decides to revive a ghost town in Texas without possibly imagining that it is Leatherface’s home.

If you’ve watched the latest Wrong Turn (2021): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/03/04/wrong-turn-2021-horror-thriller/ there is no need to explain to you why shoving political agendas down one’s throat can ruin a film. Texas Chainsaw Massacre scared me a bit at first, but managed to saved it quick. And then it ruined it again… Leatherface’s brutality shows no remorse nor mercy before he even wears the face. As a matter of fact, he is the film’s best ingredient.

David Blue Garcia Massacre‘s narrative is built on millennial characters, behaviours, and mentalities that I cannot so much relate to. I find it difficult to understand why would one react to such a horror the way most of them do. But, that is just me. Maybe, you’ll be able to. There is an emotional clash here between totally indifferent (to me) notions, such as “sjw” and “cancel society” and an utterly lethal Leatherface who unleashes his full cinematic potential. Even the bus scenes, admittedly a bloody and visceral sequence, could have been constructed with no music and a lot slower editing to let every savagely violent murder be better visually absorbed.

Tobe Hooper (interestingly, wearing the producer’s hat) and Marcus Nispel created a real suffering to more realistic people that didn’t directly involve politics. Leatherface on its own is a political and, consequently, societal outcome of all the wrongs humanity ever had to offer. Leatherface is a real-life human monster so, being preoccupied with including a forcefully diverse cast – which is insulting rather than politically correct – and building the narrative around that is bound to butcher the film – pun intended. The film originally failed the test screenings with flying colours and the production went from studio to studio. In the end, Netflix got it saying “yeah, whatever. Bring it”.

It seems that today’s hate, racism, bigotry, misanthrope, or however else you want to call it is consuming us individually, but also collectively. Whoever wants to spread hate in society is not welcome in it. History teaches us that change takes time. Go off-grid and leave us and cinema alone. Producers are wasting their money and we are wasting our time. Everyone loses in the end.

Again and again, Leatherface is the one worth watching while the narrative will, potentially, leave you indifferent. Watch it and make up your own minds. And always remember: The passion for violence, physical or psychological, should never transgress fiction!

Stay safe!

P.S. The plotholes and gimmicks are endless.

P.P.S. Imagine wanting to change the world, start knocking on doors to deliver your message, and the first person who answers is Leatherface…

Pontypool (2008): Fantasy/Horror/Thriller

What seems to be just another day in the studio for a radio broadcaster and his team, turns into a living nightmare when disturbing information comes in of brutal killings around town.

Claustrophobic and satirical, with poignant messages hidden under the surface. I love that film! It is the simplicity, the mystery, the restricted narrative, and definitely Stephen McHattie! The lady banging on the window in the first act is the harbinger of doom and the twenty-minute gap between that and the first information coming in from Ken about “the riot” serves as the doom’s delay. The moment the suspicions become confirmation, the audience’s imagination starts riding into the unknown, filling it with grotesque images of horrible death not seen at all. What is that crowd? Why do they do atrocious things to other people? What do these specific words trigger? Why do these specific words trigger it?

In the end, it feels like a satyre of certain known horror films, such as Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), but it carries a couple of messages that are open for debate. Without spoiling it to you, the mention of the “separatists”, and the use of the English language play a significant role to those subliminal messages’ interpretation.

Based on Tony Burgess’ novel “Pontypool Changes Everything”, who also penned the script, director Bruce McDonald brings to life a humorous horror that is meant to scare, entertain, and make you think at the same time. Lisa Houle, and Georgina Reilly amazingly accompany McHattie It is a must-watch regardless of how you look at it. I hope you enjoy it!

Stay safe!

The Wind (2018): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

A tragic event makes a woman not be able to distinguish what is real and what isn’t in a secluded house, in the Western frontier of the late 1800s.

The opening sequence’s protracted shots, the abrupt cuts, the non-linear narrative, and the soundtrack that accompanies them are elements of indie films that, when used appropriately, can tell a story in an unconventional way that has the potential to defy the usual Hollywood standards (clichés). The Wind starts off that way and its plot unfolds in three different timelines. Even though dissimilar in duration, their forceful impact leaves a mark for a variety of reasons.

How that impact will affect us is subjective so, as objectively as humanly possible, I will only comment on the filmmaking techniques and the metaphor it carries. Apart from the techniques mentioned above, the Dutch angles (diagonal shots), certain jump scares, and the when and how the flashbacks are used add to the film’s quality and make you contemplate what is happening and when is happening as the story progresses. The Wind is the feature debut for director Emma Tammi as well for writer Teresa Sutherland, who, both of them, bring to life a western/horror that is not cut and dry. Is it metaphysical? Is it paranormal? Is it psychological? It will inevitably confuse you, but simultaneously, will intrigue you, make you think twice, and question everything you will have seen until the end credits start rolling down. Caitlin Gerard, Ashley Zukerman, Julia Goldani Telles, and Dylan McTee believe in Tammi’s vision and deliver convincing performances, but most credits have to go to Gerard carrying the horror on her shoulders

For no specific reason, I had high hopes about this one, and, in the end, I loved it. The open ending leaves numerous possibilities for interpretation and you may switch your TV off, but your mind will want to reexamine the scattered clues left for you from beginning till end. The Wind is a low-budget film that incredibly utilises every penny invested in it. A must-watch for every mind-bending horror fan out there.

For spoilers, please, have a look at the separate section below. Read only AFTER you watch it!

Stay safe!

P.S. Think carefully which “tragic event” I am referring to in the logline.

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SPOILER ALERT!

The clues that will, potentially, help you make up your mind, or, at least, point you in the right direction are the following:

  • Maybe she lost a child, maybe she didn’t.
  • Her washing line has only women’s clothing – maybe she never had a husband, or if she did it was before her journey there.
  • Similarly, the reverent may have never visited her. She didn’t know him even though he was (probably) the first person she met upon arriving there – he gave her the demon booklet.
  • Respectively, maybe the neighbours never existed and all of them were people who she may had met on her way there and fictitiously constructed stories about them.
  • Incidents that further indicate that she is not mentally well are the following: The goat and the wolves pose equal threat to her, she carries a very specific drug (opioid?) in a box that comes in frequently handy, in the end she is not stabbed, then seen on a bed in the middle of nowhere, and then on the ground.

You can approach it, I believe in two ways:

1. By explaining it in a similar manner to other American, early-settlement mysteries, such as the lost colony of Roanoke Island.

2. As one oneiric (dreamy, even though “nightmarish” might be more appropriate) sequence of a woman who succumbed to her mental traumas, and loneliness and isolation only unbearably added to her unfathomable pain. Having said that, she maybe even never made it to any house, suffering on her own, constantly descending to paranoia, in the middle of nowhere.

A Classic Horror Story (2021): Drama/Horror/Mystery

A group of carpoolers will inexplicably wake up one morning in the middle of a forest, the home of a bloodthirsty cult.

Bloody and mysterious, but nothing you haven’t seen before. The dark and hostile opening sequence reeks of pending vulgar, cult-y death! The technique of cutting away to the humorous introduction of characters (future victims), but also the characters themselves constitute a… classic (American) horror story. Of course, the film is Italian so, let’s see how that translates.

Admittedly, the first bloody sequence, half an hour into the film, is going to cut your breath and make you want to avert your eyes, but chances are that you won’t. From then on, expect some more of that, but not much more in general. It is a film that you won’t be talking about past the end credits. It has been done before numerous times the last twenty years, and better:  Wrong Turn (2003), Wolf Creek (2005), The Hills Have Eyes (2006), I Spit on Your Grave (2010), The Killing List (2011), The Ritual (2017), Midsommar (2019), etc. By adding all of the above into the mix, it doesn’t necessarily make the mix more flavoured. On the other hand, this merely means that it cannot be gruesomely and morbidly entertaining. And it is, just don’t expect much. Writers/directors Roberto De Feo and Paolo Strippoli and Netflix create an amalgamation of horrors with a touch of social pedantry and a hint of urban pseudo-philosophy.

The show is mostly stolen by Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz who is a very convincing actress and, inarguably, one of the hottest women in the film industry. Coincidentally(?), she’s the leading actress of Revenge (2017), portraying a woman who suffers a vicious physical and sexual attack (and takes a bloody revenge after that). Exploitation film finds its roots to the early “talkies”, right after the silent era, and it seems that almost a hundred years later still sells. I guess, for as long as there is a demand there’ll always be a supply. Even though I watch, analyse, and academically research films from every walk of life, I am a horror fan and watch all kinds of horrors. But, if one day that sub-genre eclipsed, I wouldn’t miss it. The is a hideous sadomasochistic psychology behind it, making it the harbinger of snuff films. But that is a different discussion for a different place.

Stay safe!

My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To (2020): Drama/Horror

Two older siblings take care of the younger one in a way that consumes them both physically and mentally.

Slow-burn, indie horror that invests in both character and story development. The gritty opening sequence captures the audience’s attention and promises a certain level of brutality. It’s not what it looks like though. From the beginning till (almost) the end, the film does not appeal to our emotions. Acts I and II feel emotionless, as the only one who exhibits some kind of emotions is the younger one, Thomas. But, writer/director Jonathan Cuartas aims exactly for that. What the siblings have been going through for who knows how long for, has exhausted them; it has drained their lives.

Surely, using the word “drain” is somewhat ironic given what it has been revealed they are doing, and even though we think we know why they are doing it, the fact that it is not been disclosed to us, it effectively builds up the suspense and makes us wonder when and how it will be revealed, as well as how this dark journey is going to end.

The film doesn’t try to fool anyone. It is a nano-budget project that tells a very specific story. Despite the budgetary constrains, Cuartas and the leading cast, Patrick Fugit, Ingrid Sophie Schram, and Owen Campbell give heart and soul to the project and lead you to a melancholic third act that matches the (inarguably depressing) previous two. Definitely not an uplifting film and most definitely not for everyone.

Credits should also be given to the director of photography, Michael Cuartas for the meticulous mise-en-scène throughout the film and composer Andrew Rease Shaw for the haunting music on these selected sequences. Last but not least, to the film editor T.J. Nelson for not only controlling incredibly the pace and rhythm but for something else as well. Even though ‘montage’ is often characterised as ‘editing’, it is, arguably, an oversimplification. There are numerous kinds of montage that serve different purposes, the narrative’s purposes. One kind is the ‘sequential analytical montage’ where what is revealed is the beginning of an action and the end of it. When you get to see the end, your mind fills the gaps with what happened in between. For example, if you see in one shot two cars speeding up against one another and in the next shot the two cars crashed onto each other, you can picture in your head how it happened. Orrrrrrr, when you see in one shot someone who his throat is about to be slit and in the next shot an amount of blood been stored and served…

Stay safe!

Last Night in Soho (2021): Drama/Horror/Mystery

New to the city of London, a young female student mysteriously connects, through dark and haunting visions, with a young female aspiring singer from the 1960s.

Impressive visuals and sounds in an unnecessarily convoluted story. Didn’t really feel like an Edgar Wright film, to be honest. No particular lengthy tracking shots, no editing with invisible cuts that extend an unnatural continuity… but then… after the first plot point… upon Eloise’s/Sandie’s entrance to the club… there are some daring shots and filmmaking techniques to be talked about, namely the dancing sequence between them two ladies and Jack.

From then on, it starts becoming transparent what’s going on, in a visually interesting and intricate way. Yeah, but is it transparent? Is it her mother’s condition and now her? There is a difference between “misleading” and “manipulating” and I’m a bigger fan of the latter because it requires preparation and, in the end, if done successfully, it can leave the audience mouth agape. If not, the result might be just… meh! Regarding misleading the audience though, if the reason for doing it is not solid, and if not done successfully, it can cause aggravation and it can be perceived as cheap and insulting. So, in my humble opinion, unless the filmmakers have that solid reason, it should be avoided.

Without spoiling it for you, Last Night in Soho is misleading when it could have been avoided. Eloise and Sandie could have been something more feasible, something more real that even when you know what it is, it is still terrifying. I wish I could elaborate on that more, but for more, please, have a look at (the not without flaws) Sucker Punch (2011): https://kaygazpro.com/2019/06/30/sucker-punch-2011-action-adventure-fantasy/.

Don’t be discouraged to watch it though. The visuals and sounds may not compensate completely for what I just mentioned above, but are rich and challenging. Writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns and writer/director Edgar Wright manage to recreate an amazing 60s London atmosphere that is not easy at all. The photography, the costume designs, the make-up and hair styles, the editing, and the soundtrack are beyond impressive and offer the intended cinematic experience. Furthermore, Thomasin McKenzie (who I couldn’t stop comparing her looks and acting to Abigail Breslin’s), Anya Taylor-Joy, Michael Ajao, Matt Smith, Terence Stamp, the late Diana Rigg (this was her last film), and the rest of the cast shine in front of the camera.

Losing oneself in the pursuit of happiness will always be more than one has bargained for. And insightful writers and directors have limitless ways of expressing that haunting journey. Of course, the same can be said for the broader sense of paranormal. See and decide for yourselves which one could have been more dominant scenario here.

Stay safe!

P.S. My worst experience working in Soho was, upon finishing at 03:00, walking to Trafalgar Square, waiting for the night bus for half an hour, and then being on it for another hour (amongst a variety of characters) until I make it to Northwest London.

Dead End (2003): Adventure/Horror/Mystery

A family’s trip to the in-laws on Christmas Eve becomes a nightmare in the middle of an endless, eerie forest.

Dead End is so bad that is amazing! Dead End is cult! Dead End belongs to the pantheon of Christmas horrors for numerous reasons. Let’s see… In Dead End, you get to experience the worst decisions ever made by anyone in the history of horror films. Forget about going to the basement when one hears a sound. We are talking about a series of THE most horrendous decisions you’ve ever seen. Dead End is a character-driven film so, it is the characters that move the story forward; people that you definitely don’t want to be next to you if you were to experience any horrific situation. From a filmmaking point of view, it often looks like a student project, but given the narrative’s development, I don’t think anyone should pay serious attention to how writers/directors Jean-Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa have made it. The jump cuts are definitely the highlight though.

Regardless of how I have described it so far, we need to keep in mind that Dead End has turned 18 and, maybe, that’s why it feels outdated. It could have easily been an episode of The Twilight Zone (1959) so, in the end, most of what’s been said and done kind of makes sense. Ray Wise and Lin Shaye (veteran in horror films) are a great on-screen, fighting couple and both of them perform brilliantly. Alexandra Holden and Amber Smith captivate with their presence.

If you are looking for something horrific yet entertaining, maybe, that’s the one for you. I very much hope you enjoy it, as well as this festive period.

Stay safe!

Black Christmas (2006): Horror

On Christmas Eve, a group of sorority girls are getting murdered one by one by an escaped psychopath who used to live in their house as a kid.

Blood, gore, incest, cannibalism, and sexualised females all up for the Christmas spirit. What can I say… Black Christmas is the poster child of standard Hollywood horror films that leave nothing to the imagination. All information is dumbed down and fully explained and that speaks volumes regarding the audience it aims to address. Based on Roy Moore’s 1974 original script, writer/director Glen Morgan creates a film that does a colossal disservice to the original film, and unfortunately, drags everything and everyone down with him. IMDb classifies it just as horror, but the comedic elements cannot be hidden, but if they were not meant to be comedic… well, they are anyway.

I could name and number everything that is wrong with the film, but I won’t. It will be like kicking down a film that has already suffered atrocious reviews and Morgan himself paid a very heavy price making this film. The only actress who made a successful career after Black Christmas is Mary Elizabeth Winstead who, to this day, proves to be an absolute gem. Don’t take my word for it though, see Kate (2021): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/11/01/kate-2021-action-adventure-crime/. Personally, I find Yan-Kay Crystal Lowe a gem that needs a lot more spotlight.

Reportedly, Morgan disowned his own film and blamed the Weinstein brothers for it. If anything, that’s the only reason I’m glad it didn’t do well. Out of the four Christmas horrors I reviewed this festive period, this one comes by far fourth, with:

I hope you enjoy this festive period! Stay safe!

Better Watch Out (2017): Comedy/Horror/Thriller

When the parents decide to have a Christmas night out, they hire a babysitter for their teenage boy, but what seems to be a home invasion will make their night a living hell.

The Christmas horror for the whole (15 and over) family. Expect something like Home Alone (1990) meets The Babysitter (2017). The premise, at first, is simple. The parents want to have a Christmas night out, they hire the neighbourhood’s beautiful girl to babysit their teenage boy, they leave, and not long after, a home invasion shakes them to their core. From what I see, IMDb doesn’t disclose much, if anything, so, I’ll make it deliberately generic, and keep it as well spoilers-free.

Very well structured both in terms of script and execution. In less than ten minutes, every character has been introduced as well as the house with all its rooms. The inciting incident is very well disguised and when it reveals itself, it shocks! From then on, there is a roller coaster of incidents that take place one after the other in a synchronised manner, not very well timed to keep it real, not too messy to confuse. Overall, in less than an hour and a half, Better Watch Out brutally entertains, horrifies, and leaves you in the end with wanting some more. Olivia DeJonge, Levi Miller, and Ed Oxenbould have an amazing chemistry between them and shine in front of the camera. I wish I could say more, but I will stop here.

Behind the camera, writer Zach Kahn and writer/director Chris Peckover create the kind of mixed genre that I particularly like. Comedy/horror is not easy to make. To be able to scare someone but also make them laugh takes a lot of consideration and preparation as these are polar opposite feelings. And to blend them into a film, especially involving kids, imposes a risk to the filmmakers when pitching such a project to the producers and distributors. Why? The target audience is not clear to them which means that it will potentially be unclear to the audience too. And from what I read, it didn’t do particularly well. But don’t be alarmed by that. As I’ve said before a few times, especially this time of the year, this is the kind of fictional excitement we need from the comfort of our couch. The one outdoors is definitely the one that we neither want nor need.

I very much hope you enjoy it, as well as this festive period.

Stay safe!

P.S. Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould play brother and sister in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit (2015).

Krampus (2015): Comedy/Drama/Fantasy

While the whole extended family has gathered, a boy condemns Christmas and unwillingly summons the demon of the festive period.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) goes dark in 20′! Funny opening sequence with everyone desecrating the Christmas spirit leads to the troubled family at hand and the visit of their extended family that immediately amplifies the troubles. The comedy element so far prevails and the kid’s wish becomes the necessary plot point that switches it to horror. Interestingly, IMDb does not classify Krampus as horror, but I’m sure if any of our families were involved in a remotely similar situation, it would be.

The moment the demon is introduced, Krampus turns really dark, eerie, and atmospheric, offering immediately the vibe of hopeless and desolating Christmas. Writer/director Michael Dougherty, the man behind Trick ‘r Treat (2007) https://kaygazpro.com/2019/10/31/trick-r-treat-2007-comedy-horror/ manages once more to get into the spirit of the respective festive period and entertains us with balanced laughter, family gore and the incarnation of the brutal Austrian/German pagan demon and his minions. Evil teddy bear-type toys, angel ornaments, a Jack-in-a box (that swallows kids), a robot, and numerous gingerbread cookie monsters offer pleasurable cinematic deaths and keep you company for over an hour and a half.

Personally, my favourite sequence is Omi’s animated flashback. This is the kind of storytelling Tim Burton would be proud of. It is heartbreaking and annihilates human nature. Its message that the adults pass on the torch of darkness to the kids, and they carry it on only to do the same with theirs, cuts my breath.

What the narrative’s evilness achieves, is both likeable and dislikeable characters to become relatable to the audience. You cannot help but empathise even for the suffering of those who, at first, you wouldn’t mind if they got rid of from the beginning. No one, especially around Christmas, deserves to experience such family-level brutality. And this is where the “success” of films like Krampus are based on: Christmas spirit massacre with a paradoxical message of hope. Pay close attention to the ending as there are two ways to interpret it. Which one do you choose?

So… Does Christmas romance depress you? Do Christmas comedies bore you? Does Christmas drama leave you indifferent? Well, try Christmas horror/comedy. Try Krampus! The answer to what if Santa went rogue (we’ve seen with Superman already).

I very much hope you enjoy it, as well as this festive period.

Stay safe!

P.S. While watching the opening slo-mo sequence with everyone busting in and fighting over Christmas stuff like it’s the end of the world, I couldn’t help but imagine people in 2020 and toilet paper. You know what I mean…

Sputnik (2020): Drama / Horror / Sci-Fi

When a Soviet spaceship crash lands and its astronaut is taken to a secret facility, an unconventional scientist is called in to examine its sole survivor who didn’t return entirely alone.

Well-crafted sci-fi horror made in Russia. Ego Abramenko’s Sputnik has a horror/sci-fi vibe that levels with Hollywood blockbusters. As much as this is promising, it poses the following issue: If it was dubbed in English, it would be like watching a Hollywood film. And more specifically, the Alien franchise. The name relates to space exploration and the first artificial satellites Russia sent orbiting around the Earth. It also means ‘companion’ or ‘fellow traveler’ which refers to the alien organism the astronaut is carrying inside him (information provided by IMDb).

By being shot, mostly, in the Shemyakin-Ovchinnikov Institute of Bio-organic Chemistry in Moscow, the audience can get a good sense of Soviet architecture, but also its harshness that is connected to the regime at the time. I very much enjoyed the first act and its slow-burn build-up, the plot point that connects to the main incident, and the narrative’s development until the first part of the second act. From then on, the action takes over, and even though the slaughter is appealing, it turns into a standard Hollywood-like film that is well-shot and well-edited, and that is it. What could I expect more? Drama and/or horror within the action. See Alien (1979), you cannot take your eyes off the chase because action, thriller, and horror blend in smoothly, and, simultaneously, unexpectedly.

In Sputnik, the action is expected, but this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t watch it. The visuals are impressive, the photography is dark, and the editing manipulates the information provided to large extent. Oksana Akinshina does a great job as the unconventional scientist who struggles between science and politics and proudly holds the films on her shoulders. Go for it and, if anything, get a fresh take of the ‘blockbuster’ meaning.

Stay safe!

Antlers (2021): Drama/Horror/Mystery

In a quiet town in rural Oregon, a troubled middle-school teacher and her sheriff brother investigate a series of brutally murdered people only to be led to the awakening of an ancient creature.

Drama, horror, and mystery in a perfect balance! I’ve been waiting for this film for a long time! Three years to be precise! With Scott Cooper behind the camera – Crazy Heart (2009), Out of the Furnace (2013), Black Mass (2015), Hostiles (2017) – Keri Russell, and Jesse Plemons in front of the camera, and, among others, David S. Goyer and Guillermo Del Toro wearing the producers’ hat, how could I not. And the waiting was well worth it! It’s a case where Hollywood defies its own (uptight) rules, throws the textbook away, and finally gets it right. No fast-paced editing that confuses, no cardboard cut-out characters, and above all, no unnecessary jump-scares to compensate for the lack of narrative.

Antlers is the horror you need to watch to appreciate the slow-burn character and story development that only aims to stimulate your emotions and not to undermine your intelligence. Goyer is a master of thrill (most of his DC work excluded), Del Toro is a master of storytelling, and Russell and Plemons are amazing actors. The result is exactly what you would hope for. Admittedly, I found the ending, even though not anticlimactic… a bit flat! It easily resolved a terrifying build-up. I had high hopes it amounted to something as visceral as the first and second act up to that point – pun intended. But don’t let that stand in your way.

Based upon the short story “The Quiet Boy” by Nick Antosca, Antlers, is the kind of film where the plot relies on the subplot to support it. The personal unspeakable drama supports the horror unleashed onto these people, and, even though one can exist without other as separate entities, together they combine forces, pin you down, and cut your breath with the element of unpredictability and the uncertainty of who is worse: mythical, monstrous forces… or us…

Stay safe!

V/H/S 94 (2021): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

The broadcast of a mysterious, cultish, pre-recorded VHS tape will force a SWAT team to raid a labyrinthic building that is connected to horrific events happening in numerous places.

The VHS tradition goes on with the mystery, the horror and the perversion maintained at the same levels. The structure is fascinating; a story of a horrific raid becomes the anchor for a number of interweaving stories. A monstrous deity worshiped by vagrants in the sewers of America, an undead coming out of his coffin throughout a perfect storm, a modern Indonesian Dr. Frankenstein who creates anthropoids, and a paramilitary group of white supremacists that have captured a vampire… are all connected to a raid that raises hell, defies reason, and twists the human psyche.

Each and every story has its own merits, its own quirks and foibles, and its own horrific charm. Bear in mind that all the VHS franchise is the poster child of low budget horror that solely aims to scare, always to entertain, and never to deceive. Simon Barrett, Steven Kostanski, Chloe Okuno, Ryan Prows, Jennifer Reeder, and Timo Tjahjanto put their heart and soul into it and do their best to make you forget the real-life horrors and suck you into the sphere of paranormal, paranoia, and obscure darkness.

If I were to pick something that didn’t seem befitting that is the ending. Personally, I felt a bit let down as I didn’t fully get how it came down to that, and, honestly, I was expecting something more ‘twisty’. That’s just me though. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, can’t wait for the next one to be released.

Stay safe!

Willy’s Wonderland (2021): Action/Comedy/Horror

An eccentric, silent man of unknown origin is lured into cleaning up an abandoned funhouse, inhabited by deadly animatronics.

Great fun for some members of the family – the adults, if you didn’t get it. I mean, check the logline. Is spaghetti horror a thing? Well, writer G.O. Parsons and director Kevin Lewis most definitely treat it that way and they want to make sure that, under no circumstances, you take Willy’s Wonderland seriously. The inciting incident takes place right off the bat and The Janitor’s introduction – the one and only Nicolas Cage – promises one helluva ride. Minutes into the film, once everyone else has been introduced and you realise you don’t really care about who lives and who dies, you sit back, relax, and eagerly wait for actor and co-producer Cage to do what he does best; wreak havoc! Of course, accompanied by his amazing grimaces.

Inspired by Pale Rider (1985) and Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988), Lewis decides to go berserk on the funhouse, turning it into a slaughterhouse of psychopathic animatronics vs a psychopathic janitor, and a group of millennials caught in the middle. Overall, I didn’t find any particular gruesome murder capable enough to stand out. Also, the comedy genre massively overshadows the horror, making one wonder how the script was green-lit to begin with. The obvious and only answer is none other than… Nicolas Cage. His co-star, Emily Tosta, has a strong presence in the film, and lightens up the shots every time she’s in. Look forward to seeing her in more projects.

Anyway, the contrast between soundtrack and visuals is the most enjoyable part of the film – and Cage, yes – and it only lasts an hour and twenty five minutes. Enough time to forget your life’s problems and go to bed.

Stay safe!

Tone-Deaf (2019): Comedy/Horror/Thriller

A woman down on her luck decides to rent a house in the countryside for the weekend only to find out that it belongs to a psychopath.

Entertaining, scary, and surrealistically crazy! I bet you’ve heard about these two types of films: character-driven and story-driven. Well, this is one helluva crazy character-driven comedy/horror by Richard Bates Jr. who did his absolute best to gather and develop characters you would only think of if you were on dope. Honestly, it’s one of them films that you don’t know how or why to suggest it to anyone, yet you do.

Like quite a few other horrors lately, Tone-Deaf (or Killer Instinct?) focuses on the Grand Canyon-size gap between the Millennials, and the old-fashioned, not politically-correct people, makes fun of both by breaking the 4th wall, and soliloquies that are meant to make you think, but also entertain you. Do they achieve that though? Yes and no. They set the foundation of contemplation but don’t delve into it and, consequently, they end up unnoticeable.

I enjoyed it for the most part, especially some anecdotal parts, such as the sequence in the Tinder guy’s place (no spoilers), but I was disappointed with the ending. I found the second act’s last dialogues childish, rushed, and out of character. Surely, that could have been improved but most definitely wasn’t. Anyway, it’s a film that will take your mind off things, Robert Patrick’s and Amanda Crew’s performances are quite enjoyable, and they make quite the team as the villain and anti-heroine respectively.

Stay Safe!

Titane (2021): Drama/Horror/Sci-fi

In a time where a series of unresolved crimes is on the rise, a go-go dancer with a metal plate fitted into her head runs away, only to be found by a tortured fire chief who accepts her as his son.

France’s official submission for the ‘Best International Feature Film’ category of the 94th Academy Awards in 2022 aims to shock with raw violence and perversion and not to please with aesthetics. The one filmmaker who could truly shock blending sci-fi, body horror, sexuality, and profoundly perplexed personalities is David Cronenberg and he never made it to the Oscars. Consequently, that kind of violence and perversion doesn’t seem new to me and as much as I enjoyed the film, I can’t see how all these nominations and wins occurred. As for the Oscars, it’s been years that I don’t understand how the nominations and the awards are given even though I’ve done thorough research on it. You see, theory and practice don’t always match and I’ve given up with Hollywood’s moronic policies, moral and social indecisiveness, and corruption.

Anyway, back to Titane, Julia Docurnau’s provocative lens starts right off the bat with no warning whatsoever. And, no, I’m not referring to the dance or the homosexuality;  I couldn’t care less. It’s not even the sex with the car. It is Alexia’s inclination for murder. Docurnau’s lens focuses on Alexia’s effortlessness to take multiple human lives and showcases it as easy as the murders themselves. And as much as I don’t see where most of the nominations came or are coming from, the fact that Agathe Rouselle only got that one nomination is shocking! Roles like these make or brake actors/actresses, but most definitely attract attention. Regardless, I truly believe she deserves a lot of ‘trophies’.

From then on, the narrative’s perversion takes a different form in that of a man who accepts her as his son and their sick relationship. I wish I could tell you more, but you’ll get no spoilers from me. See for yourselves and make up your own minds. I will conclude by expressing my admiration of Docurnau’s natural ability to capture the unnatural. Should you’ve watched her previous work, Raw (2016), you wouldn’t be surprised. Should you haven’t, you should. By the way, I couldn’t detect the ‘sci-fi’ genre, and judging by the characters, I would with certainty replace it ‘fantasy’.

I admire her as a filmmaker and that is not due to her close-ups or the DePalma split shots, or even her films that much. But because she’s an amazing storyteller. She knows what kind of story she wants to tell and she knows how to tell it with no hesitation. Love it or loathe it, Palme d’Or worthy or not, just accept it for what it is.

Stay safe!

Old (2021): Drama/Horror/Mystery

A luxurious resort sends a cohort of families to a secluded beach where, inexplicably, they rapidly get older.

Mixed feelings over a simple premise. Starting with the narrative, During Act I, nothing’s happening, and the lack of the inciting incident negatively impacts the film’s pace and rhythm. By definition, that creates a tremendous contrast with the second act where everything’s happening. Act II is… death! People are dropping like flies and all you know is that that beach is making everyone… old. But there is more to it as certain wounds heal, others get worse, and so on. So, stick around to the very end to see what Act III has in store for you.

From a directing point of view, M. Night Shyamalan is in full control of his camera and its movement. He takes charge of what to disclose, or not to and why, and most importantly, how to deal with either case. Very interesting crane shots, tracking shots, and Hitchcock’s zooms in moments where age abnormality incidents are about to occur. The second act is where he patiently builds up the suspense and horror in order to lead to the climactic night.

Shyamalan, based on Pierre Oscar Lévy’s graphic novel ‘Sandcastle’ and heavily influenced by Luis Buñuel’s satire The Exterminating Angel (1962) wrote the script before the pandemic hit but shot the film right in the middle of it. Making sure that all precautions are taken, himself, the crew, and the cast were stunned by the similarities of what they were shooting and the effects the pandemic had in the world (especially, last year). After all, Old deals with isolation (lock-down), the roots of death (virus), the fear of infection, and the way out of this tragedy. Surprisingly immaculate timing, indeed. Speaking of the cast: Gael García Bernal,Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Abbey Lee, Ken Leung, Amuka-Bird, Aaron Pierre and the rest of the cast do a great job portraying their characters, adding with their performances to Shyamalan’s vision. Embeth Davidtz gets a separate mention as I’m biased (I admit it) and find her amazing in everything she’s been in.

Other than the aforementioned influences, Shyamalan said, originally, he wanted to get involved with this project due to his parents getting old and personal phobias of his. Be it as it may, I bought and read Lévy’s ‘Sandcastle’ as, admittedly, I was not aware of – and I was really interested in observing the differences. The adaptation is remarkable and I take my hat off to both Lévy for grasping this concept and Shyamalan for bringing it to life. There is something I noticed though that I believe in Old became a fainted subplot when, I believe, it should have been, arguably, the main plot: Life is too short! I know it sounds cliché, but it is! And the pandemic made (most of) us rethink and rearrange our priorities in life. And not only is it too short, but whatever problems we think we may have now, these problems will be amplified as the years pass by. And all we are going to be left with is remorse for all the things we never tried, reminiscence, and one last chance for redemption. Maybe, think about that while watching it.

Of course, this is Hollywood and this is Shyamalan so the result has to be somewhat fancy and there has to be a twist. Personally, I didn’t find the twist so impactful as it raised some questions that led me to plot holes. Overall, I found it intriguing though and I highly recommend it despite its flaws. I hope you enjoy it and makes you think about life after the end credits start scrolling down.

Stay safe!

Lamb (2021): Drama/Mystery/Horror

On a remote farm in Iceland, a childless couple starts treating an abnormal newborn sheep as their baby.

Rightfully, the highest-grossing Icelandic film, to date, and most definitely, not for everyone! Starting off as an impressive horror, with the sheep’s synchronised and guided movements stealing the show, the sequence cuts off abruptly raising a lot of question marks (even though so does the rest of the film). From then on, the mystery takes over when the appearance of the bipedal baby girl-sheep becomes a naturally accepted family member. This is the biggest part of the film so keep that in mind. Let me rephrase: over a good, solid hour occupies a normality that is anything but normal. In this act, the narrative’s simplicity and the slow editing render Lamb not for everyone. Yet, this is the part where you need to be patient because this normally presented abnormality serves a purpose that will not be directly revealed to you at all. So, as I said, be patient and enjoy, arguably, the best cinematography of the year – Eli Arenson.

Here are a few production details that you might find interesting. As per IMDb, Noomi Rapace had to brush up the Icelandic language since, as a child, she spent some years there. What’s more, prior to principal photography, she spent some time on an Icelandic farm, actually learning how to help sheep give birth. Finally, Lamb is the ‘Official submission of Iceland for the “Best International Feature Film” category of the 94th Academy Awards in 2022’.

Excellent feature debut from director Valdimar Jóhannsson who makes it really hard for me to provide my interpretation on Lamb without spoiling it for you. I’ll just say that issues, such as overcoming sorrow, pursuing happiness, and beating loneliness/solitude in the vastness of an unforgiving nature are Herculean labours individually, much less collectively. Some times, we say: ‘If I were in his/her shoes, I would…’ but the undeniable truth is that we never really know what we would have done if we had to face someone else’s suffering. So maybe, just maybe, sit in silence for a while and try to understand how other people cope and why they cope the way they do because if, God forbid, something similar were to happen to us, the tables will turn. And then people would judge the only way it seems natural for us to cope…

Stay safe!

Snatchers (2019): Comedy/Horror/Sci-fi

A teenage girl has sex for the first time and wakes up the next day pregnant with an alien that wants to multiply and conquer the world.

Funny and entertaining, that’s it! Starting off with living, breathing high school clichés, I couldn’t see how this was going to be promising. Boy, am I glad to be wrong. Snatchers might not be horror per se but, as aforementioned, it is funny and highly entertaining! Mary Nepi, Gabrielle Elyse, J.J. Nolan, Austin Fryberger, Rich Fulcher, and Ashley Argota are nailing their parts and under the meticulous guidance of the directors Stephen Cedars and Benji Kleiman, who are in full control of every shot they’ve taken, and through ‘snappy’ editing, they control the narrative’s pace and rhythm throughout all acts. I know it’s not a film that has been or will be talked about, but films like Snatchers highly indicate that editing defines principal photography. In other words, postproduction starts in preproduction however convoluted that may sound.

There is so much to say about certain filmmaking details, just like the one mentioned above, but, honestly, I find no reason to implicate film theories when you can just enjoy it without my verbosity. It makes one wonder the reasons behind certain malicious reviews when, even just watching the trailer, you know what you sign up for. The script’s nonsensical trajectory makes actually sense as it adds to the non-believability which is actually intentional and slyly parodies similar actual horror films that most of us have grown up with.

To sum it up, Snatchers is great fun, especially for millennials but not only. Don’t take it seriously as, again, intentionally, it doesn’t take seriously itself. Something that I actually prefer to self-righteous and self-important films that aim to pseudo-philosophise, be wannabe didactic, or end up being pedantic. Based on the 2015, 6-minute homonymous short film by the same directors and main actors, Snatchers earns its stripes in the comedy/horror pantheon and I very much look forward to watching Kleiman’s and Cedars’ next project. Remember, the comedy-horror balance is not written on stone and it takes a whole village to be achieved.

Stay safe!

Halloween Kills (2021): Horror/Thriller

Michael Myers escapes from the trap he was led into and kills whoever stands in his way in the town of Haddonfield.

David Gordon Green and Danny McBride keep the legend alive and perpetuate the thrill of Michael Myers. Great almost 20′ investment to introduce new characters and resurface some of the old ones. That’s also great way to bridge the past and the present and move on into what is about to happen. The first massacre was a bit too “Hollywood” for me; too fast, too bloody… something like an out-of-context standoff that the filmmakers felt like throwing in. Before I even manage to process it properly though, the home invasion sequence was more vicious than expected. Horribly vicious.

After that, there is just a roller coaster of death! Haddonfield’s suppressed fear turns into exasperation, everyone mans up and womans up respectively, and everyone gets their sequence of blood and gore. None of them couldn’t be bloodier, some are funnier than other, some are suspenseful and other not at all, but, ultimately and most importantly, Laurie Strode is back! Jamie Lee Curtis, 43 years later, is still on the ball, still believing in her character and John Carpenter’s original vision and comes back swinging with everything she’s got. Carpenter himself, puts the producer’s hat on and immensely contributes the horror’s perpetuation. The excerpts from his original films make all the difference in the world. Onto two very important points, now…

One of the forgettable and non-canon Halloween timelines from the franchise, explains that Myers is not mortal on Halloween day and that he’s been taken over by a demon, and that’s why he is, ostensibly, unstoppable. Bear in mind that that’s the only explanation ever given, until now, about Myers’ mortality. Green and McBride though offer a different and vague explanation on Halloween Kills. See for yourselves and interpret it however you feel like it, it is open to interpretation anyway. I found it more philosophical than I found it literal, but can’t wait to hear about what other people think of Laurie’s theory.

Then, I feel there is something else that needs to be addressed. An underrated issue that has gone largely unnoticed. The importance of Michael’s mask. The reason why his face has not been yet disclosed and why it is so important to him to constantly have it on. As you may be aware, I host a podcast on horror and my next interview with the incredible psychologist Michelle Satchwell will reveal undisclosed to many information about the role of masks in the horror genre, their effectiveness, and where everything derives from. Stay tuned for more…

There are so many production details to talk about but, hey, it’s Halloween week so all you need to do is enjoy it yourselves out there in the real world, but if you decide to stay in and turn the lights off, enjoy a good night in, with Myers finding new ways to crawl under your skin. Horror should only be enjoyable in books, the small or the big screen. If you are out and about…

Stay safe!

The Night House (2020): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

After her husband dies, a woman starts dreaming of people and places that reveal secrets that should have been left buried with him.

I’ll start with the very obvious. Rebecca Hall is amazing at anything she’s in. She’s a phenomenal actress that deserves every praise. Here, she’s wearing the executive producer’s hat as well so more ‘congratulations’ are in order. On to the story now…

The best part of the film is that it slowly and gradually builds up the suspense. It spreads the “crumbs” so delicately that informs, to a certain extent misleads, while at the same, it time keeps you on your toes. See for example the moment where Beth falls asleep at Claire’s lap. The scene is haunting. And that’s just the top of the iceberg. Wait until the end and see where these “crumbs” lead. Writers Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski prepare a great finale for their already well-developed story and director David Bruckner envisions it in an, honestly, unique and original way. Bruckner seems to always find ways to project human phobias in ways that shock and mesmerise at the same time. But don’t take my word for it. Watch previous films of his, such as: VHS (2012), Southbound (2015), and The Ritual (2017) and see for yourselves. He’s a brilliant director with so much to offer to the horror genre. Can’t wait for his next project.

Definitely, go for it! It’s a refreshing change for the genre, using mainly practical effects and deviates from the standard Hollywood clichés that have damaged the horror films, thankfully, not irreparably. An extra round of applause to the actors Sarah Goldberg and Vondie Curtis-Hall for their amazing support. You will not know what to look for, this is why you will not see it coming… I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Happy Halloween!

Stay safe!

Malignant (2021): Crime/Horror/Mystery

A woman starts having horrible nightmares that turn out to be visions of actual violent crimes that she is unwillingly involved.

Amazing opening shot followed by an hour and fifty minutes of Hollywood dumbness. I hate writing this way about films, especially horrors. I’ve said it numerous times. Horror fans might be somewhat eccentric and geeks, but we are not dumb! James Wan especially and New Line Cinema should know and respect that. Even though the story is decent, its development is dumb, the character development is beyond understanding and that should stop! Let me rephrase, it should have stopped a long time ago. “Jump scares” is a tool for narrative, not a narrative pattern to build a whole film on. Same applies for the cardboard cut out characters that no one can empathise with.

Why is it that you hear the word ‘dumb’ and its permutations again and again? Because a solid narrative does not rely on constant music to evoke the desired emotions and feelings. That applies for every genre, in this instance though, for both the drama and the horror unfolding in the story. Take Winnie for example: a Hollywood typical. Ingrid Bisu, often cast by Wan, is a wonderful woman (and actress) and she pretends to be a geek who the person who has a crush on won’t even consider looking her that way. Also, she seems like a cat person who can;t find love. PLEASE! Honestly, name one girl who looks like that, is a geek, and cannot find someone (she co-wrote it, by the way).

James Wan is a solid director, I especially love his tracking shots and his use of close-ups. It’s not enough though. Malignant’s script is full of plot holes and that shows so much more on the big screen. And no filmmaking technique or decent acting can make that right. I wish I could be less harsh on the film, but, trust me, I’m already holding my punches.

Stay safe!

P.S. OK, the prison and police station sequences were gruesomely entertaining!

Don’t Breathe 2 (2021): Horror / Thriller

A gang of highly skilled killers invades the blind man’s house to kidnap his daughter, not knowing what he is capable of.

Worthy sequel shot in a standard Hollywood manner. Acting first: Stephen Lang is an incredible actor. That’s it.

Moving on to the plot, it gets trickier. The first act sets a thrilling foundation that promises a horrific brutality that, potentially, matches the first. The first plot point’s protracted tracking shot increases the tension while making obvious what is about happen next. And what is actually happening is quite brutal. As brutal as promised though? Yes! So what are the differences with Don’t Breathe (2016)?

Don’t Breathe 2 is a lot more far-fetched but reasonable enough for a sequel. Not a problem, it’s expected. Then… In the first one, what we have is poor, untalented boys and girls – harmless thieves who have no idea what they are up against – enter the blind man’s house whose intentions are revealed to be shockingly sinister and unfathomably perverse. In Don’t Breathe 2, the competition is way tougher and, against all odds, he is (somehow) the victim – even though the twist and consequently the intentions come a tad early. But the confrontation (act 2) is not restricted to just a house and develops the story and leads it even further than expected, to, actually, extremely unexpected paths. As I can’t say much about the plot’s development, I’ll focus on the one thing that got me asking: What the hell was going on in writer/director Rodo Sayagues’ head while balancing the characters’ morality? What everyone has done, is doing, and what is about to do is just beyond me. And I leave you with that. From a filmmaking point of view, there is nothing much to say. Other than the aforementioned protracted shot, nothing much stands out. From a narrative point of view, the film walks a tight rope risking to lose the audience by tipping the scales as to who to root for – the morality issue.

Watch it and see for yourselves what I mean. It does not necessarily mean that it’s “good” or “bad”, that’s hardly ever the case anyway. Overall, I found it enjoyable and do recommend it. It’s the kind of morbid entertainment that doesn’t come even remotely close the horrific reality we are currently facing.

Stay safe!

Friday the 13th – An Unlucky Day (?) and the Birth of an Instant Classic

Tonight, Michelle Satchwell comes back once more with, as always intriguing information regarding Friday the 13th both as a day and as a film. Is it actually an unlucky day? Does it still have an impact on us and the society we live in? What is it that made it a great horror film back then and why is it still considered cult today?

References

Michelle’s book: Psychology Review: A-level Exam Skills and Practice Paperback – 30 Oct. 2020 ISBN-10: 1398308013

Baron-Cohen, S (2001). Theory of Mind in normal development and Autism. Department of Experimental Psychology and Psychiatry, Cambridge. 

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/238603356_Theory_of_Mind_in_normal_development_and_autism

Yuki, Metal (2007). Are the windows to the soul the same in East and West? Cultural differences in using the eyes and mouth as cues to recognise emotions in Japan and United States. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (43), pp 303 -311. 

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/222549401_Are_the_windows_to_the_soul_the_same_in_the_East_and_West_Cultural_differences_in_using_the_eyes_and_mouth_as_cues_to_recognize_emotions_in_Japan_and_the_United_States

Rosenthal, A. M. (1964). Thirty-eight witnesses: The Kitty Genovese Case. Melville House Publishing. https://www.mhpbooks.com/books/thirty-eight-witnesses/

In-group and Out-group in Social Identity Theory (in reference to bullies); Tajfel, H (1979). Individuals and groups in psychology. British Journal of Social and Critical Psychology (18), pp 183 -190. 

https://bpspsychub.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.2044-8260.1979.tb00324.x

Skinner, B, F (1948). ‘Superstition’ in the pigeon. Journal of Experimental Psychology (38), pp. 166 -172. 

https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1948-04299-001

(Behaviourists / Learning Theory Approach) Negative Reinforcement in Operant Conditioning of phobias; https://www.psychologyhub.co.uk/the-behavioural-approach-to-explaining-and-treating-phobias-the-two-process-model-including-classical-and-operant-conditioning/

(Social Learning Theory Approach) Role Models; 

https://gcse-psychology.fandom.com/wiki/Social_Learning_Theory_-_Phobias

(Cognitive Approach) Confirmation bias; https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/seeing-what-others-dont/201905/the-curious-case-confirmation-bias

(Anomalistic Approach) Discriminative stimulus; https://www.murdoch.edu.au/news/articles/on-friday-the-13th-leave-the-superstitions-at-home


(Psychodynamic Approach in relation to the Mother-Son bond) Oedipus Complex in Phallic Stage of Psychosexual Development; Freud, S (1905). Three essays on the theory of sexuality. Standard Edition (7), pp. 123 – 246. https://www.sas.upenn.edu/~cavitch/pdf-library/Freud_SE_Three_Essays_complete.pdf
(Psychodynamic Approach in relation to the Mother-Son bond) Schizophrenogenic Mother; Fromm-Reichmann, F (1948) Notes on the development of treatment of schizophrenics by psychoanalytic psychotherapy. Psychiatry, 11(3), 263–273.

(Evolutionary Approach in relation to the Mother-Son bond) Bowlby, J. (1956). Mother-child separation. Mental Health and Infant Development, 1, 117 – 122. 

https://www.simplypsychology.org/bowlby.html

(Evolutionary Approach in relation to the Mother-Son bond) Bowlby, J. (1944). Forty-four juvenile thieves: Their characters and home life. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 25(19-52), 107-127. 

https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Forty-four-juvenile-thieves%3A-their-characters-and-Bowlby/ecc5eeaef75614e4129f0088bb472c5de2a7800c

Uncanny Valley

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-uncanny-valley-human-look-alikes-put-us-on-edge/

SOCIOLOGY SPECIFIC:
Stephen: The murder that changed a nation. (2018). https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b0br42 (Three part documentary looking at institutional racism in the UK in the 1990s). 

Halo effect; Thorndike, E (1920). The constant error in psychological ratings. Teachers College, Columbia University. http://web.mit.edu/curhan/www/docs/Articles/biases/4_J_Applied_Psychology_25_(Thorndike).pdf

Anti-school subcultures and working class as bullies; Willis, P (1977). Learning to Labour. Columbia University Press Edition https://www.tutor2u.net/sociology/reference/classic-texts-paul-willis-learning-to-labour-1977
Anti-school subcultures form in working class; Mac an Ghaill (1994). The making of men. Oxford University Press. 

https://hecticteachersalevelsociologysite.wordpress.com/roles-and-processes-in-school/student-sub-cultures/

Youth buy their identity; Polhemus, T. Supermarket of Style. http://www.tedpolhemus.com/main_concept5%20467.html

GENERIC:

Paraskevidekatriaphobia (fear of Friday 13th); https://www.fearof.net/fear-of-friday-the-13th-phobia-paraskevidekatriaphobia-or-friggatriskaidekaphobia/

Triskaidekaphobia (fear of number 13); https://www.verywellmind.com/triskaidekaphobia-2671880

Tetraphobia (fear of number 4); https://people.howstuffworks.com/number-4-unlucky.htm

Heptadecaphobia (fear of number 17); https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heptadecaphobia

Frequency of Friday 13th; https://www.inverse.com/article/26371-friday-the-13th-upcoming-dates

History behind Friday 13th and social impact; https://www.history.com/topics/folklore/friday-the-13thhttps://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/what-is-friday-13th-superstition-facts-sciencehttps://people.howstuffworks.com/friday-thirteenth.htm
https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/do-you-fear-now-that-friday-the-13th-is-here.html

How odd: We’re hard-wired to prefer even numbers; https://www.wired.co.uk/article/alex-bellos

Male nudity; https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080761/trivia

Lunacy etymology; https://www.etymonline.com/word/lunacy

The Forever Purge (2021): Action/Horror/Thriller

The vast majority of pro-Purgers take the law into their own hands and extend the New Founding Fathers of America’s tradition… indefinitely.

The burning issues of a modern society under the microscope of a tired annual blood holiday. I liked the opening credits’ titles to be fair, as they were creative and summed up a lot of the issues we are currently facing that either make us ashamed of ourselves, depress us, enrage us, or just cut our breath short. This Purge though doesn’t build up like its predecessors did, and the reason is non other than the obvious: this purge does not end; it is merely the beginning. And as much as this could be something refreshing in the franchise, it ends up being pedantic, to say the least. It lacks depth and premasticates the meaning for you with the intent to unnecessarily lead and intentionally prevent you from thinking for yourselves.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind the honest message behind it, but I don’t appreciate the way Hollywood undermines the audience’s intelligence. I don’t like badly criticising films that dozens of talented people have starred in and thousands of also talented people have worked in all three stages of production. For example, the two and a half minute shot is remarkable and even though it has been done before and it has been done better, the fact still remains that both cast and crew have put their hearts and soul in it. Producers Michael Bay and Jason Blum should be giving a lot more credits to the people that spend money and time for their entertainment. Like myself, all horror fans but also cinephiles want to appreciate an, at least, decent cinematic experience. That’s ll we ask. They are talented filmmakers with years of experience under their belt, and I would be honoured if I were to work with them. Films like The Forever Purge though feel more like capitalising the decay our world experiences rather than urging people to think why they feel or act the way they do and where they stand in a world that craves for diversity and unity.

Writer James DeMonaco and the studios should have put an end to the franchise a long time ago but I’ll leave you with a positive note. If you make it to the closing credits, blast the music and enjoy! Awesome and meaningful song!

Stay safe!

P.S. Still, my thoughts and prayers go out to the people who suffer from real-life horrors and dramas, such as the unspeakable wildfires that swallow everything in their path and their aftermath!

Blood Red Sky (2021): Action/Horror/Thriller

Hijackers take over a plane, not possibly knowing that there’s a woman on board suffering from a monstrous illness.

Unique, gripping, and if you ignore logic at certain points, a great R-rated entertainment. The film starts with a meaningful flashback that serves the narrative perfectly and builds up the heroine’s backstory. The fast-edited shots right before though don’t do it too much justice as we are meant to get thrilled about something we know nothing about. Then it starts pacing and finding rhythm even with the flashback within the flashback. Well, you are about to watch the following: a vampire with a kid, before fully turning, unleashes the beast inside her in a hijacked plane full of civilians and trained assassins! As audience, you just hope the filmmakers don’t blow it out of proportion and stick to the strong plot that the dramatic yet horrifying subplot supports so well. Does it, then?

Before I go into it, the first one who deserves a praise is Peri Baumeister. Her role is extremely challenging and she absolutely nails it. Her performance is terrifying as it is dramatic which is exactly what her character should be. Writer/director Perer Thorwarth and co-writer Stefan Holtz are next on the list for coming up and bringing to life this project. It is something that we most certainly haven’t seen before. Due to its uniqueness, the film takes a completely unexpected turn where everything goes. And indeed everything does go. There are bits and bobs that maybe don’t add up, but, come on, don’t go too hard on it. It’s trying to fool no one and the dramatic level matches the horrifying. Try to think of it as Die Hard (1988) meets Blade II (2002) and you’ll definitely enjoy it.

I know I very much enjoyed the diversity and, especially, the role of Muslims as, for a change, it breaks the stereotypes and portrays them as they can be in real life; scientific and/or heroic like any other religious or non-religious human being.

Stay safe!

P.S. My thoughts and prayers right now go out to the people who suffer from real-life horrors and dramas, such as the unspeakable wildfires that swallow everything in their path and their aftermath!

Gaia (2021): Drama/Fantasy/Horror

Two forest rangers go deep into a jungle where nature is an ancient force to be reckoned with.

Visually stunning with a convoluted, yet powerful message. Great opening sequence that warns: If you were not born in this jungle… Do. Not. Enter. You would never guess! They did (face slap). Well, just think of it this way: if they hadn’t, we wouldn’t have watched it, and I wouldn’t have reviewed it. So, does Gaia live up to its expectations?

From a filmmaking point of view, you get Dutch angles, 180 degree reverse angles, drone long shots, tracking shots… everything! While we are at it, Jorrie van der Walt’s photography is truly admirable. This will be probably the first time you watch a film with the aspect ratio changing four times throughout it to cover from the forest’s vastness to the heroes’ most claustrophobic feelings and deepest fears. Leon Visser edits the film with mastery, maintaining the continuity, battling confusion, and effectively building up the suspense. His work’s peak though is the hallucinatory montage sequences that create micro-narratives within the macro-narrative and makes us feel even more lost in a reality that has nothing to do with ours. Costume designer Mariechen Vosloo deserves also a round of applause as everything Barend, Stefan, and Gabi (later on), wear is handmade! Kudos to their amazing effort. Finally, Pierre-Henri Wicomb’s original music, the art department, the sound department, the visual department, the make-up department, and all cast crew deserve a tremendous recognition as, without their hard work, this film, like any other film, wouldn’t have been made.

Writer Tertius Kapp and director Jaco Bower have created a world in the heart of ours with plenty of visuals and strong opinions. Somewhere in between, Bower felt like constantly teasing us with Stefan and Gabi’s sexual tension and, for better or for worse, he left us hanging. Maybe, one of the reasons is the focus on the message. I am not going to go into it as you need to pay attention to Barend’s couple of monologues on civilisation. They are powerful as they are intriguing. Utterances like these, written in lockdown, leave quite a bitter taste because they carry dark and painful truths that came to the surface while feeling like living, as many people experienced it, in isolation. As per IMDb, the lockdown was announced a week into the shooting so most of the crew parted ways in different time, to different places. The film’s message expresses that loss we all felt – some more than others – and the aforementioned truths sting us, and the society we live in. There is a poignant accusation in the Biblical references and the way we have been functioning as humans individually but also collectively. There is a great resemblance to In the Earth (2021): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/06/18/in-the-earth-2021-horror-sci-fi-thriller/ and there is a lot to compare and contrast. I found Gaia‘s ending psychologically brutal, but depressingly befitting.

How this pandemic has affected our lives and consequently filmmaking has already started showing, but I have a feeling that its full force has yet to strike and therefore it’s still patiently building up. As much I adore dark, horror films, deep down, it aches when you know how many people have unfathomably suffered (especially) the last couple of years. The news on a daily basis broadcast from drama to horror and the child inside me wishes these genres belonged only to the cinema. I hope you are keeping well wherever you are, whatever you do.

Stay safe!

Fear Street – Part Three: 1666 (2021): Horror/Mystery

Through the eyes of Sarah Fier, Deena experiences the horrors she had to endure and discovers how the curse of Shadyside really began.

The entertaining horror finale in the trilogy of entertaining horrors! Beware of what you read before watching it though! My beloved Ioanna urged me to watch it so here it goes. Have the same expectations as Part One and Part Two and you will not regret watching it – that is if you liked the other two. Let me start with the most important element. The similarities to 1978 – certain narrative juxtapositions – are meant to be striking to remind us that there are people out there who would still go after you with modern torches and pitchforks just because you are different than the majority. People who would ignore, even stomp on values such as diversity, inclusion, and freedom of choice. Therefore, the intention is there, that’s not what you need to be preoccupied with.

Now, the execution is what caused, from I’ve heard, all the unnecessary negativity. People who didn’t like the other two shouldn’t have watched it, to begin with. People who did like the other two, shouldn’t be moaning. Part Three refers to the same diverse yet enormously narrowed-down-Netflix audience that I’ve spoken before, so I fail to see what the same audience didn’t like. Was it the accents? The accents are not to be taken more seriously than the plot itself. The lesbian drama? Some people (or cultures) still take infidelity and homosexuality as seriously as back then. So, it’s trying. It really is. But I believe that the film’s message is as confused as its audience – consequently, is it the film to blame? And since I’m not really that trilogy’s audience, I just enjoy the confusion, turn it off, and go to bed.

Alas, the execution is that particular crowd-pleasing (?) result that, ultimately, is not Scream (1996), Friday the 13th (1980), or The Witch (2015). But don’t be overly alarmed, because it’s Fear Street! And it has its own character and it is the product of its era. Imagine you open a night club. Are you gonna play whatever song everyone is asking from you to play or are you gonna stick to the kind of music that characterises and defines your night club – and whoever the hell likes it? As a filmmaker, having to put up, unfortunately, with ignorant producers, that’s the dilemma. As audience, try to respect the hard work thousands of people have put into any project. And Leigh Janiak, and all cast and crew, have put a lot of work.

Stay safe!

P.S. Did anyone comment on the fact that maybe there is a connection to “Fear” Street and Sarah “Fier”? Food for thought…

Fear Street: Part Two – 1978 (2021): Drama/Horror/Mystery

The only survivors of the 1994 incidents, in an attempt to find a way to stop the evil, meet one of the survivors of the 1978 incident who remembers the horror.

Great modern, pop horror/comedy flick that entertains! Part Two resembles a lot more the 70s than Part 1 does the 90s. I guess cinema (technologically) evolves and it can’t really reenact the past. The vintage look seems to be just… gone. But then the atmosphere cannot fully be accurate either. Most likely, because very few from the cast and crew were alive or old enough to remember how people were talking or acting. There are film archives and means to find out but, as of yet, it seems that this accuracy will always be missing. I guess yet another reason will always the consideration of the audience. If it was ‘too 70s’ who would watch it?! Netflix seems to have established a particular audience already. It may be socially diverse but otherwise it looks quite narrowed down. Just in case you feel like casting stones, I have already surfaced and will keep surfacing exceptions that are shock to the system – especially its documentaries.

Focusing more on the film, as I kind of mentioned above, Part Two is entertainingly brutal! McCabe Sly makes a decent possessed/psycho ‘axe-man’ and Saddie Sink and Emily Rudd great on-screen sisters that face their personal demons way before the ‘axe-man’ starts taking heads off and everyone starts running amok. Overall, the sub-plot smoothly permeates the plot and both of them patiently escalate and lead to climax. The references to Stephen King (and ‘Shining’, for whoever got it), Friday the 13th series, and a couple of more that I cannot reveal, indicate the hard work that the crew has put into it to give us a good-feel, ‘throwback-style’ horror. Indicative, composers Marco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts have done an excellent job with the soundtrack, paying a great tribute to the one and only Jerry Goldsmith.

There are a few flaws that I could pick on as there are numerous strengths that I could point out (such as the sisters/climax scene). But I’m not gonna do it. Leigh Janiak seems to have a lot of passion for what she does and she does it well. Watch it, enjoy it, and… onto Part Three!

Stay safe!

P.S. It was great seeing Gillian Jacobs and Ryan Simpkins again in the same movie. Especially, after their stellar performances in the brilliant and underrated Gardens of the Night (2008): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/09/17/gardens-of-the-night-2008-drama/

The Unholy (2021): Drama/Horror/Mystery

A disgraced journalist accidentally stumbles upon a girl that performs miracles that are of unholy nature.

Too fast, too soon, too much! Screen Gems used to know about how to build up horrors, but, as it’s Sony’s property, ends up producing standard, mainstream Hollywood, spoon-fed popcorn flicks. It’s like they summed up a bunch of clichés and put them together, making absolutely sure they didn’t miss any. What really makes you wanna keep watching is Jeffrey Dean Morgan. And if you have kept watching, it gets a tad better. Actually, you’ll get to find out what the Vatican considers a miracle and how they disprove it. Is that enough to keep watching tough?

My issue with the aforementioned standard Hollywood films is that they treat them as byproducts. Cheap meat coming out of the grinder for masses the studios consider unintellectual. Taking that into consideration, the studios seem to be taking no chances to explore different types of narrative. In The Unholy, the writing, after the inciting incident, gets solid, it’s just there is nothing to watch; nothing visually stunning stands out. Plus, all the information you want, the moment you want it is there. That decimates the suspense and leaves you with cheap jump-scares and nothing more. There are nano-to-low-budget films that break the rules or even invent new ones. It’s a shame to have millions to spend, be a mid-tier player, and take no risks. Why is this happening? As said earlier, they think that their audience is dumb. And that’s not nice. Horror fans are eccentric as they are insightful. Horror fans are resilient and are always up for the challenge. Studios should respect that and should challenge us with everything they have.

Oh, did I mention that CGI ruin horrors? I’m telling you again, the story is solid but the way plot unfolds ruins it and the CGI follow as a wrecking ball and smash it down. My comments are quite bitter not because of writer/director Evan Spiliotopoulos who does a decent job, but because of producer Sam Raimi who used to dominate the genre and now he has given in to Hollywood standards and, as I’m a huge fan of his, I expect so much more because I know he can do so much more. And I hope we get to see that sooner rather than later.

Oh well… At least, devout Catholics will get (even more) confused about faith and Church. That’s something.

Stay safe!