Movie Review: A CURE FOR WELLNESS

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a cure for wellness20th Century Fox
2017
R

“Do you know what the cure for the human condition is? Disease. Because that’s the only way one could hope for a cure.”

A Wall Street stockbroker travels to a remote location in the Swiss Alps to retrieve his company’s CEO from an idyllic but mysterious wellness center. He soon suspects that the miraculous treatments are not what they seem. His sanity is tested when he unravels the spa’s terrifying secrets and finds himself diagnosed with the same curious illness that keeps all of the guests there longing for a cure.

I have to say, so far the year that is 2017 seems to be a good one for horror movies of the psychological thriller type. It was kicked off in January with Split, now we have A Cure For Wellness in February to give us a good, refreshing psychological horror flick that will play with our minds gleefully like a drunken kitten.

While the reviews for A Cure For Wellness were mixed (to say the least), I went to see it on the opening weekend (caught a late Saturday morning showing), and personally, I found A Cure For Wellness to be a very satisfying, if not uneven, horror flick that really got under my skin, traveled upwards and burrowed its way into my brain, nesting there since.

The story of A Cure For Wellness has a young and upwardly-mobile business shark that gets the attention of the Senior Partners when one of his techniques nearly jeopardizes their long-term goals. So, they send the whippersnapper to the Swiss Alps to a retreat that specializes in hydration health restoration techniques, with the mission to bring back one of the Senior Partners who has been there relaxing, so that he may take the fall if things go south. Pretty simple, really. Except, of course, things seem a bit…off at the sanitarium high up in the hills, as the Senior Partner doesn’t want to leave, and the hospital staff seems to have a serious creepy vibe, as if they were pulled from an Ira Levin novel. Soon, though, something happens that lands the young shark boy as one of the patients in the sanitarium, which is when he discovers that everything that’s happening at the place might not be what it seems, and as he’s given a string of therapy session, his perception of reality gets even more wonky as he struggles to find the truth behind the sanitarium. Wackiness ensues.

A Cure For Wellness manages to stick with you long after the end credits roll and you stagger back out into the world, causing you to chew over and process things, resulting in putting off hammering out a review to post in a timely manner. Sorry about that. This is definitely a Gore Verbinski movie, and as a psychological horror it’s rather effective…for the most part. It works best as in Ira Levin novel as filtered through Alfred Hitchcock. The last reel, though, turns suddenly into a William Castle flick, with a twist that made me rather squicky. But, fortunately, it doesn’t cause the movie to fall flat, and we’re left with a rather satisfying sense of paranoia and dread that will resonate for hours.

Overall, for a horror movie that was released so early in the year, A Cure For Wellness surprised me with a high-quality romp through mind-bending psychological horror. It’s subtle and slow-burning, and comes recommended if you’re burned out on all the recent paste-by-numbers horror flicks of late.

Movie Review: ABATTOIR

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abattoir movie posterMomentum Pictures
2016
R

An investigative reporter works to solve the mystery behind a mysterious man who has been buying houses where tragedies have occurred. Set in a world where it always feels like night, even in daylight hours, real estate reporter Julia Talben’s life is turned upside down when her family is brutally murdered. It is believed to be an open and closed case, but Julia quickly realizes there is much more to this story when she returns to the crime scene to find the murder room deconstructed and physically removed from her sister’s home. This ignites an investigative pursuit that eventually leads her and ex-lover Detective Declan Grady to the town of New English where they find the enigmatic Jebediah Crone and the Abattoir–a monstrous house stitched together with unending rooms of death and the damned. Julia comes to realize that her sister’s soul is trapped inside, but the Abattoir isn’t just a house–it’s a door to something more evil than anyone could have ever imagined. Julia and Grady are ultimately faced with the question: How do you build a haunted house? One room at a time.

So, just recently, I decided to rent a handful of movies based solely on the cover art and titles alone. I didn’t read the synopsis, I didn’t do any research into any of them; I just saw the cover, thought “this will do”, and picked ’em up to watch over the weekend. The results were…mixed, to say the very least. Although, it’s nothing I haven’t come across before.

Anyway, one of those movies was Abattoir, a movie that was released in the tail end of 2016, and is described as a haunted house movie with a twist. That twist apparently being that it manages to be original while being as disjointed at possible.

The story involves a young and plucky real estate reporter who has a taste for old-timey styles and is looking to move beyond her position and make a name for herself in the crime beat. Then her sister’s family is brutally murdered one night, which is bad enough; what’s weird, though, is that shortly thereafter the room where the murders happen is taken out of the house. Just the one room. Soon, said young and plucky real estate reporter and her Friend Zone’d detective guy begin uncovering other instances where a house that was the scene of a grizzly murder was purchased only to have the room or area where the murder occurred be removed. This and a coincidentally timed retrieval of a bit of documentation stating that her biological parents live in a small town called New English (seriously) causes our plucky real estate reporter to head out to the town, where she finds a weirdness that would give the denizens of Innsmouth pause. Seems that, decades ago, there was a very charismatic circuit preacher that arrived in the town, offering up not salvation, but more a chance to have their best lives now, if but for a pledge of a loved one to sacrifice. Faster than you can make a Joel Olsteen joke, our plucky real estate reporter discovers that she and her sister was sent away in an attempt to break this curse. But, now she’s back, and she’s stumbled upon the massive mansion that was built by all the bits of other houses, the ones that contain the specters of the murders past. A haunted house built from other haunted rooms, if you will. And it’s only missing one thing before it’s finished being built…and she’s the key to that capstone.

So, then, with Abattoir, you get the sense that there’s a fantastic horror movie underneath the surface, but the execution of it fell short of its potential. On the one hand, the concept of a house that’s haunted due to being built from the various bits of other houses that have ghosts with them is something that blows my mind considering all the story possibilities that come with it. The problem is, the actual house in question doesn’t show up until the final 20 minutes of the movie. What comes before is a kind of disjointed noir-ish murder mystery as filtered by Dario Argento, with zero chemistry between the two main characters and a plot that is rather disjointed, leading up to the last part with the house. There are some good points to the movie, like the character of Jebediah Crone. Had we focused on him a bit more, there could have been a better movie, here. And of course, Lin Shaye is always the best part of any movie she’s in, bit part or no.

Overall, Abattoir is certainly different and a bit more innovative than a lot of horror movies I’ve sifted through over the years. It certainly stuck with me a bit more than the one-and-done flicks I began forgetting ten minutes after the movie ended. However, this haunted house movie’s facade was shoddily constructed, and could have done with better building materials.

See what I did, there? I made a house joke. You’re welcome.

Movie Review: The FINAL GIRLS

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Movie Review FINAL GIRLS, TheSony Pictures
2015
PG-13

“I should have known something was up with this place. I mean think about it. What the hell kind of summer camp has waterbeds?”

When Max and her friends reluctantly attend a tribute screening of an infamous ’80s slasher film that starred Max’s late mother, they are accidentally sucked into the silver screen. They soon realize they are trapped inside the cult classic movie and must team up with the fictional and ill-fated “camp Bloodbath” counselors, including Max’s mom as the shy scream queen, to battle the film’s machete-wielding, masked killer. With the body count rising in scene after iconic scene, who will be The Final Girls left standing and live to escape this film?

Back in the mid-Aughts, I watched and reviewed a movie called Camp Slaughter, the premise of which was a bunch of young adults in the modern times get time displaced into an early 1980s summer camp that’s experiencing a time-loop slasher. I thought it had massive potential, but fell very short of realizing its own meta-greatness with its limitations on budget and lack of acting abilities. Fun, but it could have been so much more so.

Fast forward a bit over a decade later, and I believe I’ve stumbled upon the realization of that greatness, with the release of The Final Girls.

In The Final Girls, young Max is the daughter of the late Scream Queen Amanda Cartwright, who stared in the cult slasher flick Camp Bloodbath in 1983. While attending a special showing of that particular movie, a fire starts, and she and her friends manage to escape…right in the middle of the movie itself. There, she and her friends must find a way out of their bizarre situation, while interacting with the characters of the movie while avoiding being offed by the slasher picking them off and navigating through all the tropes that come with it. Also, Max has to deal with confronting her mother who doesn’t know she’s her mother, and just another character playing out the movie.

The Final Girls was a joy to watch. It functioned as an affectionate parody send-up of the 80s slasher genre, as well as being a well-constructed meta deconstruction of the genre. Self aware, funny, and yet still maintaining being a horror movie in its own right (with just a hint of cheese), this movie managed to do what the aforementioned Camp Slaughter couldn’t: be entertaining without coming off as forced. Also, the effects were way better.

Of course, the best part of the movie was the interaction between the kids from the real world, trying to convince the movie characters that they’re in a slasher film and they’re all going to die. Especially done well was the whole “flashback” scenes, where the movie reality starts melting around them, plopping everyone into a black and while flashback scene. Not to mention the whole Butterfly Effect that happens to the movie characters as these new people in their universe start messing with the natural order of things in attempts to try and save them from the doom that is to come. And, in case you’re wondering, The Final Girls doesn’t end up with one of those “It was all a dream” kind of endings. Although, it does make one wonder if this is all playing out in Max’s subconsciousness as she’s dying slowly in the hospital from massive burns and smoke inhalation from the theater fire. But, that’s just my playful nihilism speculating.

Of course, I can’t help but point out a few glaring anachronisms in the plot, like, say, the group playing a song on the boom box that wasn’t released until years after the date the movie was set in. But, considering my formative years were in the 1980s, and I would know this stuff, this is minor fanboy quibbles that come off as an old guy complaining. Regardless, The Final Girls was a fantastic meta horror comedy that needs to be checked out sometime soon.

Movie Review: IT FOLLOWS

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movie-review-it-followsRADiUS-TWC
2014
R

“Okay, even though it is following you I can still see it. It is not done with me either. Okay, like I told you, all you can do is pass it on to someone else.”

For 19-year-old Jay, fall should be about school, boys and weekends out at the lake. But after a seemingly innocent sexual encounter, she finds herself plagued by strange visions and the inescapable sense that someone, or something, is following her. Jay and her friends must now find a way to escape the horrors that seem to be only a few steps behind…

It’s funny, really. I skipped out of watching the recent (and by “recent”, I mean within this decade of the 21st Century) teen horror flick It Follows when it was out in the theaters. Mainly because it was a modern teen horror movie, and I have yet to be even somewhat impressed with any of those released in the past fifteen, twenty years or so. I actually find more amusement at the audience reaction in the theater to the sub-par jump scares and cliche’s being watched on the screen than I do with the actual movies. Once in a while, I do find myself amused by the movie, but it’s never in the way intended by the film makers. Maybe it’s because I’m in my fourth decade of existence, but I refuse to believe that teenagers and young adults have mediocre tastes when it comes to horror. I could be wrong, though.

Anyhoo, after It Follows was released, I started reading and watching online reviews stating that the movie was actually good. These were reviewers that were starkly honest about their reviews, who pull no punches but aren’t critical for the sake of being critical. Podcasts from long-time, jaded horror fans like myself. People who, if they said they liked it, I would have to check it out for myself. No guarantee that I would like it in kind, but nine times out of ten I probably would. Mind you, I didn’t have any word from personal friends who may have watched it. Regardless, I decided to wait until it was released on VOD to give it a watch. It was a couple of years, but I finally watched it. And all I have to ask, is…what was the movie everyone else watched? Because clearly it wasn’t the same one I watched.

After getting my hopes up from all the positive reports about It Follows, finally watching the movie was such a let down of such that I hadn’t experienced since watching the 1998 Godzilla movie. Worse, because at least the Godzilla movie had things blowing up and getting demolished to keep most of my attention.

I will give It Follows this: it has, at best, an interesting concept. Not a unique one, mind you; variations of the whole “stalked by a curse” have been done many times before. Even ones where sex is the catalyst of said curse. And that’s not even getting into the ham-fisted symbolism. And make no mistake, it’s so much ham-fisted in this movie, that I’m surprised it doesn’t cut to the director shouting at the camera “This means something! I’M BRILLIANT!”

While there is a nice, slow burn to the movie, and there is a good bit of atmosphere to help with the build-up and feel, there’s just so much missed opportunity here that it’s downright frustrating to sit through watching the mishandled attempts at the horror execution by a cast that clearly were directed to constantly react to everything like they’re watching a two-hour YouTube video of a goldfish swimming around their bowl.

It Follows is a movie that had possibilities, but fell rather short in the execution. I spent a good amount of time checking the time left on the movie, which is usually a bad sign right there. When something did happen, it was rather underwhelming. Mostly, it was a lot of watching “teenagers” running around, looking scared and shocked, one character constantly reading fan fic on her phone shaped like a pocket mirror (which, admittedly, was kind of cool looking), with everyone emoting with a kind of lethargy, and when the final showdown occurs, the only reaction is relief that things are soon to be over so we can get on with the rest of the day.

Overall, I found It Follows to be a mediocre teen horror flick that tries hard, yes, but ultimately fails to deliver anything beyond a “meh” reaction. Maybe I don’t get it, but I certainly didn’t find It Follows to be the “game changer” that is “unlike anything I’ve ever seen” and an “instant horror classic” that I’ve seen other reviews proclaim it as. It’s worth a look-see, but I find no reason to dwell on it longer than a mere one-and-done.

Movie Review: The VVITCH

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movie-review-vvitch-theA24
2015
R

“Wouldst thou like the taste of butter? A pretty dress? Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?”

A devout Puritan family in 1630s New England are exiled from their village, and struggle to survive in their new home situated at the edge of a mysterious forest. The sinister, witching forces in the wilderness emerge silently to terrorize them, first by kidnapping the youngest of their five children. As their life-sustaining crops fail, the clan fall victim to paranoia and fear as they begin to turn on one another, eventually suspecting teenage daughter Thomasiin of witchcraft.

I’m afraid that everything I know about the Puritan society in America’s past comes from Nathanial Hawthorne novels, and of course the Salem Witch Trials. In other words, it’s not a very flattering image that’s been presented of these sectarian Christian settlers in this country of ours. Of course, a lot of our country’s early folklore and proto-horror tales come from the fables and myths created by these seemingly uptight yet hale-and-hearty shoe buckle enthusiasts in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Some very good American Gothic yarns have sprung from this era’s imagination, to be certain.

Which brings us to The VVitch. Yes, I’m using the double-“V” usage on what is normally a “W”, mainly to keep in time with the period setting that has been meticulously researched by writer/director Robert Eggers. Meaning, he made a greater effort than just spending a couple of hours on Google, like I normally do. Puritanical beliefs and behaviors, folklore, witches, vocabulary and grammar, all brought together to make the movie feel as real and authentic as possible, and it works greatly to that effect. I have to credit the actors, who all really made the archaic language and mannerisms come across as genuine and effortless. I can imagine how tempting it could have been to make things needlessly campy; these guys pulled it off.

I am going to go ahead and point out, like so many others have, that The VVitch doesn’t fall neatly into the general area of “horror” as we know it. While there are supernatural elements in the movie, they aren’t so much seen as felt; even then, it’s left wide open as to whether what’s happening to the family is, in fact, the result of supernatural shenanigans, or if it’s the natural mental breakdown due to their circumstances, buffeted by the strong religious superstitions that come with their sect of their faith.

The VVitch is a great, Ye Olde Fashioned Gothic tale, both in the time setting and the atmosphere of the story, building up the tension and the natural paranoia slowly, filling you with a sense of dread to the point where a scene featuring a static shot of a bunny feels darkly off-putting.

Make no mistake: The VVitch is a horror movie, but it’s an unassuming one that will find its way burrowed deep underneath your skin, delighting in the way you will squirm until the end, and even then will stay with you long after the end credits have stopped rolling. Greatly recommended.

Movie Review: OUIJA: Origin Of Evil

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movie-review-ouija-origin-of-evilUniversal Pictures
2016
PG-13

“Do you know what it feels like to be strangled to death? First, you feel the pressure in your throat. Your eyes water, and you start to taste something very, very sour in your mouth. Then it’s like someone lights a match right in the middle of your chest, and that fire grows. It fills your lungs, and your throat, and all the way behind your eyes. And finally, that fire turns to ice; like pins and needles of ice are sticking into your fingers, your toes, your arms. You see stars, then darkness. And the last thing you feel… is cold. Goodnight, Romeo.”

In 1967 Los Angeles, widowed mother Alice Zander unwittingly invites authentic evil into her home by adding a new stunt to bolster her seance scam business. When the merciless spirit overtakes her youngest daughter Doris, the small family must confront unthinkable fears to save her and send her possessor back to the other side.

So, it seems that, despite Ouija being something of a dull snoozefest of a horror movie, the demographic it was aimed at with its PG-13 rating (young teenagers looking for Junior Thrills to feel all edgy and adult-like and stuff) still went out and made it a bunch of money, warranting a green-light for a sequel. Or something like that. That’s the only way I can rationalize something like Ouija getting a sequel made in the first place. It happens all the time, and that’s what is said about it to justify a sequel, “it made money”.

Control yourself, Uncle NecRo. Deep breaths. Don’t want to spend the entirety of this review lamenting how mediocre movies are more popular than actual good horror movies that remain and languish in obscure cult status. You’re here to talk about the sequel to Ouija that is really a prequel to the story in Ouija.

As you can imagine, I wasn’t looking forward to Ouija: Origin Of Evil. Even though I watched it back-to-back with Ouija as part of my standard Weekend of Horror/Sci-Fi Marathon, after watching the first one, I was sorely tempted to find an alternate title to cleanse the taste of mediocrity from my brain. Fortunately, though, Ouija: Origin Of Evil managed to do that by itself, just by being a vastly better movie than its predecessor.

Ouija: Origin Of Evil is a prequel to Ouija, in that it tells the story of the family that lived in the house previous to the characters in the first one, and how the titular board game came to touch their lives with whimsy and wonder by way of black magic.

Set in the 1960s, Alice, a single mother, is struggling to make ends meet to keep a roof over the heads of her and her two daughters, teenager Lina and grade schooler Doris. She does this by holding seances and other things that self-employed psychics do out of her house, most of which are, in fact, illusions and tricks employed to make the clients think they’re making contact with the other side.

You can probably see where this is going, but bear with me, here.

One night, after sneaking out of the house for a intimate shindig with friends, the oldest daughter plays the Ouija board for the first time (ending up with hilarious results), and suggests to her mother that they add it to their act to pump things up a notch. And so she does. And upon taking it out for a spin the first time, seems to unleash an entity that’s been tied to the house for decades before Alice and her minions took over residence. Or, as it turns out, a whole bunch of entities that have been stuck in the house due to a Nazi war criminal. Yeah, it’s always has to do with Nazis, doesn’t it. Anyway, one particularly nasty one takes possession of Doris, which leads to a whole bunch of creepy and downright bone-chilling supernatural shenanigans, which lead up to a bunch of other possessions and deaths that help set up that one scene in the first one that turned out to be the best part of that movie. Post-credit scene cameo from the Doris from the first movie, and booya, a far superior movie has been experienced.

Look, I know the why and the how Origin Of Evil is the vastly superior Ouija movie. This time around, there was a good script, a very good cast, which included one of the most convincing Creepy Child actors I’ve ever had the pleasure of getting creeped out at while watching this. Seriously, whether it was her staring at someone while smiling with an off-putting vibe, or cheerily describing to someone what it feels like to be choked to death (in one of the more amusing scenes, because she was playing with the head of her older sister’s would-be boyfriend), or gradually going all Evil Dead in the background shadows…yeah, that kid has made my Top 5 list of favorite Creepy Child characters. Maybe one day I shall share it with you. But for now, let’s finish up this review.

If you were given the choice between seeing only one of the (so far) two Ouija movies, I would strongly urge you to watch this one: Origin Of Evil. It’s a horror movie that does everything right, with minimalist effort. In other words, it seems that everyone involved learned their lesson from the first movie. Either way, check this one out, as it’s strongly recommended from your Uncle NecRo.

Movie Review: OUIJA

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movie-review-ouijaUniversal Pictures
2014
PG-13

How are you even supposed to talk to someone using a board game? I mean, yo, can you hear me? Signal’s real bad. I only got, like, one bar in here.

In Ouija, a group of friends must confront their most terrifying fears when they awaken the dark powers of an ancient spirit board.

I remember over two years ago, sitting in the theater, awaiting the start of the movie Annabelle, and halfheartedly watching the previews that were playing leading up to it. One of those previews was for Ouija, which to me looked exactly like the kind of upcoming horror movie that I was going to pretty much skip when it was in the theaters, and maybe watch on DVD or streaming or something in the future. Maybe not the near future. But some time. I promise. Then it was released, and the general consensus confirmed my predictions that Ouija was a movie I could skip, and watch when I have nothing better to do. Or when I feel like doing my weekend Bad Horror/Sci-Fi-A-Thon. Which I did recently, along with the sequel. Because of course they made a sequel to this mediocre snore-fest.

Yeah, Ouija is one of those “horror” movies that is (not surprisingly) lacking in personality from both the cast and the execution of the scary bits. But, I’m getting ahead of myself, here.

The story of Ouija plays out like the classic commercial for the board game (because this is technically a movie based on a board game, like Battleship), wherein we start with a couple of girls playing with an old version of the Ouija board, constantly asking, “It’s just a game, right?” like the commercials always did. Yeah, I remember those. I’m old, remember? Here they read off the rule sheet and proceed to summon the unholy minions of the Dark Lord. No, kidding, that would have made this a good movie. Actually, they play with the board, which causes time to fast forward to when the girls are now teenagers, one of which is clearly finishing up a solo play with the Ouija board, followed by tossing it into the fireplace to burn. Of course, this doesn’t destroy the thing, as it reappears a few minutes later, after causing a bit of boo-scare wackiness in the kitchen. The girl hangs herself, cut to opening credits, and then we’re treated to a ninety-minute barely scary horror movie that plays more like a badly made young adult evening soap opera on the CW, with a plot that lifted from pretty much every supernatural-based prime time show that’s several times better than this movie.

I’d describe the rest of the story, but it’s not something that hasn’t been done before: Besties to dead girl decide it wasn’t suicide, makes the leap that it involves the Ouija board, uses said Ouija board to make contact with girl, instead gets in touch with another spirit with malevolent intent, there’s an insane Older Sister that does a bit of subterfuge in the guise of “helping”, then the Magic Wise Grandma who only appears a grand total of three times, for a couple of minutes each, to dispense the real method of defeating the malevolent spirit (hint: in involves a method that made me expect the Winchester brothers to show up at any minute), and the whole thing ends with what a friend of mine pointed out while I was live commenting on FaceBook should have been a “The End…OR IS IT?!?” Well, clearly not the end, seeing as how they did a prequel sequel, but I’m getting ahead of myself again.

Overall, I would say that Ouija is neither a good nor a bad movie, just a “meh” kind of forgettable movie that has some good ideas going, but the execution is uninspired and relies too heavily on the same old formula with the same old non-scares, which leads to the audience being as bored as the actors’ collective performance.

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