MOVIE REVIEW: The Rental

Rating: R / Runtime: 1 hour and 28 minutes

The shift in technology has made the world more connected but has rendered the concept of privacy obsolete. There is no place on Earth that can remain hidden from the all-seeing eye of a camera, cell phone, drone, or other tools of video surveillance. Forgive the paranoia afflicted prose of these opening sentences but it would be a lie to sugarcoat the truth. Outside of birthday party recollections and vacation memories, the idea of recording can carry a dark undercurrent of sadism when left in the hands of unsavory characters. “Somebody’s Watching Me” is not just a slice of 80s pop music cheese; it’s the spine chilling predicament of four friends embarking on a mini weekend getaway in sunny California. 

Dave Franco’s directorial debut, “The Rental,” sticks a flag in the ever-increasing field of thrillers dealing with the negatives of technology gone awry. What was supposed to be a vacation in the space of a luxurious beachfront house filled with smiles, drug experimentation, and couples bonding closer gets turned sour into a game of survival. Survival not consisting of just life or death but also the ability to keep secrets and deception from reaching the surface. Charlie (Dan Stevens), Michelle (Allison Brie), Mina (Shelia Vand), and Josh (Jeremy White) represent our group under the watchful eye of a mysterious peeping tom who stalks and lurks unknowingly. Unfortunately, only one character (Josh) out of the four subjects has their own personality, fears, and desires fleshed out while the others are simply empty vessels.

Notwithstanding the lack of interesting characters, the story plays out like a kid not knowing their limitations when it comes to eating candy. Franco has a road ahead of him that could lead to a competent career behind the camera but he has some lessons to learn. His handling of the narrative elements is to carry different subplots that could all work as one film on their own; instead, they are jumbled together leading to an illogical cinematic clutter. One subplot provides the stakes of keeping a love affair hidden while the other wrinkle follows the predicament of the homeowner himself that feels untrustworthy. One of these plots could have carried all the way home but this is a case of doing too much when simple would work better. 

Good can be found in the short 88-minute runtime, specifically when the characters are forced out of their cocoon of comfort having to match wits with the unseen villain in new major twists. The main thing that decreases the level of enjoyment is found with character flaws that reek of a lack of common sense. There is nothing worse in a horror film than being treated to a lack of character intelligence. People still not realizing that they can’t commit perfect murders or solve uncomfortable dilemmas by calling for help is laughable in the bad sense of the word. By the end, it is not a shocking conclusion that lies waiting for the characters.

“The Rental” is a horror/thriller mashup that carries the ethos of a decent film but exits the room with a mark of incompletion. 

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Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

MOVIE REVIEW: The Hunt

Rating: R / Runtime: 1 hour and 29 minutes

Political satire, when done correctly, can be very effective in showing the volatile and idiotic manner of government, serving as a form of humor that calls attention to itself but does the duty of sparking compelling thoughts in your mind about the state of democracy. Humor is a subjective phenomenon just as the opinions floating in your brain are; the same joke can cause different reactions based on how it vibes with the person’s idea of what’s funny and what’s not. If “The Hunt” is an exercise of satire, then it’s better off labeling itself a spoof film because it plays down its impact with self-referential humor akin to the “Scary Movie” series of the 2000s. Adding nothing to the current political discord between Democrats and Republicans, the blood and guts raining down from the mayhem-infused violence do nothing to cover up the woeful writing and flimsy cheapness of its execution. The fierce performance of Betty Gilpin doesn’t carry the imposing muscles needed to carry this feature out of the dungeons of disappointment,

Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse, the two men who lit up last year with the greatness of HBO’s “Watchmen”, stand as the architects of this new thriller. A group of Republican loyalists find themselves fighting for their lives in a location filled with secluded woods and Democrats with an itch for hunting down so-called “Deplorables”. This sadistic game takes a sudden turn when a woman named Crystal (Betty Gilpin) becomes the predator instead of the prey. Laying down a can of you know what, Crystal fights back against the dire onslaught of progressives while uncovering the blueprint for this event labeled as “Manorgate” which has been widely circulated as a theory on online forums and social media accounts. The twisted discourse of favoritism politics wears its mask loud and proud but yet doesn’t do anything noteworthy to warrant all of its controversy.

From the onset, this story immediately comes off as anything other than the butt of its own joke. Some moments engage with dialogue that feels lifted from a comment section underneath the tweet of any political figure or pundit. Terms such as “snowflakes”, “rednecks”, “crisis actors” and disposable monologues are used and represent a lack of cleverness and reek of a style reminiscent of a tone-deaf social media user that wants to sound smart but comes off painfully lacking in awareness. Was the research of this film done by siphoning from the wide and jumbled world of social media apps? The narrative doesn’t know what direction it wants to go, opting for a misshaped “equal opportunity” offender angle that aims to disarm any harsh labels this film may receive from either side of the political arena. Does the film want to make fun of the vast conspiracy theories and stereotypes the parties lob at each other or the right’s fear of a scenario involving the left attacking them draped in some legitimacy? Maybe “The Hunt ” wants to make fun of both sides trying to be the high and mighty winner of an unwinnable dispute, but the film makes it very hard to figure out what the purpose entails. For a misguided and clunky screenplay to come from Lindelof is the most shocking piece to take away from this trainwreck.

Violence is as vicious and full-frontal as the MPAA allows it to be with limbs, guts, heads, and eyeballs being taken down or disintegrated with bullets, blunt objects, and any weapon that can be found usable. On par with a Jason Vorhees gorefest, this is the primal center of human conflict with a slapstick comic book aesthetic. Some of the CGI can be iffy but these passages of mainstream action aspirations do add some jolt and curiosity. Director Craig Zobel’s manner of using so many quick cuts and erroneous angles that leave the audience missing out on the impact of hits and final fatalities is a bummer to watch on the big screen. If there was one thing that could conjure me to give this film a watch recommendation, it would have been the selling point of action sequences. Sadly, that is far from the final results.

Shock and disbelief serve as my final words for this fail of a satire. All of the anticipation and excitement has been for naught because the resulting film is a frustrating disappointment that is baffling by the fact of having writers and actors with trustworthy track records behind the helm. “The Hunt ” will be forgettable once the uproar about its subject matter cools down and what will stand in my memory is how much of a farce it makes of itself trying to lend an opinion to the American political climate.

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Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Episode 219: The Invisible Man

This week we’re discussing director/writer Leigh Whannell’s sci-fi/horror modern remake of a Universal Pictures Classic Monster movie. With a stunning performance by Elisabeth Moss, incredible visuals and sound, and a plot that fits perfectly in our current times, this intense perspective-switching story is ripe for a conversation about trauma, abuse, and how to relate to those who’ve experienced them.

The Invisible Man – 0:02:41

The Connecting Point – 1:05:45

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MOVIE REVIEW: The Invisible Man (2020)

Rating: R / Runtime: 1 hour and 50 minutes

Going back to its original roots as a novel by H.G. Wells and one of the original Universal Pictures Classic Monster Movies, the story of “The Invisible Man” involved a man whose experiments make him unseeable and eventually lead to a descent into madness and violence. For this modern reboot of the film franchise, writer/director Leigh Whannell brings the character crashing into the #MeToo era by centering this story on not The Invisible Man himself, but rather his primary victim. Whereas previous entries have been all about how a person deals with the effects of a strange new ability, Whannell’s film focuses on the perspective of those who suffer from a maniac’s abuse of power and control.

The film opens with an absolutely stunning night-time sequence of Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) suspensefully escaping the gorgeous, isolated home she shares with her brilliant, extremely wealthy, Optics scientist partner Adrien (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). Right from the start, Whannell lays out the kind of experience this film is meant to be, relying on skillful precision in cinematography by Stefan Duscio and a powerful, terrifying score by Benjamin Wallfisch to always keep the audience intensely on edge. Cecilia is a woman who we immediately understand is the victim of awful and frequent abuses. She is clearly terrified and we hold our breath while silently praying she gets away from a man we literally know nothing about yet. And this is merely the beginning.

After living in fear for a few weeks, Cecilia learns that her ex has committed suicide, and she is free to begin healing from the horrible domestic and sexual abuse we learn he committed. But she doesn’t really believe it, and it isn’t long before mysterious things begin happening, signaling to her that someone, or something, is stalking her from outside her view. It should come as no surprise to anyone that’s seen much of Moss’ filmography that the actress is as good as they come, and her performance here ranks among the best she’s ever given. For most of the film, she is in a growing state of panic, slowly losing her sanity, and displaying every emotion one could possibly imagine a victim of these evil crimes might experience. Her ability to convey fear, distrust, and deep deep pain via facial expressions and voice inflection is incredibly impressive and also extremely difficult to watch. 

Despite support and assistance from loved ones like her sister, a childhood friend who is conveniently now a police officer, and his teenage daughter, Cecilia struggles mightily when no one believes her claims that an invisible man is out to get her. The terror he eventually begins to reign on her is some of the best supernatural horror you’ll see. It’s minimalistic for so long in a way that makes the special effects extremely impactful when they do happen, and the same can be said for the film’s reserved use of physical violence. For most of the film, it’s emotional and psychological abuse that Cecilia faces the most, but you can always feel the intensity building to something. Eventually, there are a few spots where brief outbursts of bloody action occurs, often in rather shocking fashion. The film is never too gory, though, so viewers fearing an all-out slasher flick need not worry much. 

I can’t express enough just how wound tight “The Invisible Man” is from start to finish. This is a pressure cooker of a thriller where your body is constantly clinched as you are made to feel as if you know where this hidden assailant is at all times, just waiting for the moment when something extreme is going to happen. Sure, it’s got its share of jump scares, but most are effective and play very well with an excited audience, as does the action choreography, a continuation of the great work Whannell did in 2018’s “Upgrade”. Fight sequences with The Invisible Man are especially wonderfully crafted and very memorable.

“The Invisible Man” puts a new spin on a classic horror property with a sci-fi twist, plenty of surprises, and an all-too-real story from the perspective of someone who is tormented by her long-time domestic abuser. It is not always easy to watch, and trigger warnings definitely apply, but for those who can stomach the painful brilliance of Moss’ exceptional traumatic performance, catharsis and a genuinely unnerving but entertaining experience is to be had. Universal has finally figured out what a new line of monster movies can look like, with truly evil and unredeemable villainous fiends and social metaphors delivering a contemporary vision all their own. Let’s hope this is the start of a great franchise and not just a splendid flash in the pan.

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Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Gretel & Hansel

Rating: PG-13 / Running Time: 1 hour and 27 minutes

Hansel and Gretel, a brother and sister, have been kicked out of their childhood home due to the lack of food and resources available. On their trek to find a permanent place of residence, they start to feel the pangs of hunger and hope starts to feel like a figment of the past. Out of nowhere, they find a house rich with edible treats, beds to lay their weary heads, and protection from the dark forces looking for any easy morsel of blood. An old woman, the owner of the house, would love nothing more than to have a couple of extra hands to help with chopping wood and doing the chores necessary for the upkeep of her residence. Over time, the sister starts to receive visions and nightmares of something sinister that she can’t shake; she fears that she and her brother have stumbled onto an evil force. The old woman, as per legend, is a conductor of dark sorcery who has been luring kids in order to have them as a main dinner course. It becomes a matter of life and death for these two children to defeat this evil force once and for all in order to stop her reign of terror.

“Gretel & Hansel” has style eeking out of every bit of its frightful atmosphere based on the well-known Brothers Grimm folk tale. In the early days of 2020, this art-house horror flick sets itself apart from the pack with piercing cinematography and minimalist but magnificent set design. Cinematographer Galo Olivares uses natural light to expose the fantastic beauty of shrouded woods and the interiors of German-inspired architecture, as well as a stunning use of differential focus to place the emphasis on characters in accordance to the scary world they are traversing. When the film goes really dark, the staging of silhouettes in the frame of wide angles is a creepy sight to watch. The color palette is not wide-ranging, using only three main colors (blue, red, and brown) but it feels accurate and authentic to the period setting of medieval folk tales. Director Oz Perkins follows the journey of two starving kids who end up befalling to the dark sorcery of a witch with stylish use of handheld, medium close-ups and using a 1.55:1 aspect ratio to call back to some of the earlier days of historical horror cinema. “Gretel & Hansel” has the aesthetics of an A24 horror film with a strong emphasis of style over substance.

Unless you are a big fan of the original tale, this film is a hard sell, offering nothing new when it comes down to the mechanics of the story. Problems exist like snail-like pacing and hard to comprehend use of Medieval Germanic language. The horrific moments are not jump-out-of-the-seat worthy and the fear factor becomes lessened by the end. Even with some elements reworked and changed from the source material, the general progression is very easy to follow; at the end of the day, what good is a story if it doesn’t give any compelling or memorable pieces that will stick in the membrane? The literary experience is much more superior while the film could have found better footing as a TV series or a short film. Technical design is the only calling card this film can tout as a major strength.

“Gretel & Hansel” stands head over heels versus other horror films in the month of January, but that isn’t saying much. If you want to be wowed by great technical design, illustrious cinematography, a futuristic inspired score, and some stand out shots, this will fulfill your cinematic sensibilities. If story and pacing are what you cherish, then save your money and wait for the Redbox rental. Most viewers are ultimately much better off just reading the book.


Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

MOVIE REVIEW: The Turning

Rating: PG-13 / Running Time: 1 hour and 34 minutes

“The Turning” is a film that leaves much to the imagination in its confusing and jumbled mess of a horror adaptation. Based on the novel “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James, we follow a woman named Kate (Mackenzie Davis) who gets a job watching over a couple of children who lost their parents to a tragic car accident. As she becomes comfortable with her new live-in arrangements, she starts to notice something is off with these two kids and the gigantic mansion they reside in. Strange noises, frightening nightmares, and visions of a ghastly looking ghost put her mind and body into panic mode. Once she hears stories of the mysterious deaths that have befallen previous employers of the estate, she immediately fears that her life is in grave danger and that these kids are not so innocent after all.

Brooklynn Prince is such a gem in this film with her boundless energy and cute sassiness she brings to her character. She is turning into a young prodigy to watch over the next five to ten years. Finn Wolfhard displays the angst and darkness that subsides underneath the exterior weird vibe of this haunted setting. He and Prince represent the only shining hallmarks of the film. The character of Kate suffers from a lack of layers that would have helped the audience connect to her intense plight. There is nothing to really point out who she is as a character except that her dad died and her mother currently stays in a mental institution; none of this backstory allows an insight into her wants, needs, or desires which makes her story all the more unfulfilling. Ultimately, the cast is talented but gets the short end of the stick due to an abomination of a screenplay setting the blueprint.

If a story is structured well, it starts the viewer off with a general premise that is easy to follow while traveling through a series of events that will be capped off with a climax. This film decides to do it the hard way and produce a narrative that lacks consistency and relies cheap scare tactics and a confusing ending. Just when I thought I was seeing another generic haunted house film, the last 20 minutes stray far away from the original premise and result in a non-ending without resolution. We don’t get answers to questions such as: Are the kids operating under the control of spirits, is the main character going crazy, or is another entity responsible for the prevalence of terror surrounding the property? It is like a person starts to drink a glass of water that tastes like water until the last couple of gulps start to taste like vodka. A poor attempt at an ambiguous ending plays off like the writers of the film had written themselves into a corner and could not find the way out. This adaption of the novel got ahead of itself trying to put on a modern twist while lacking an ambitious vision. There is no jolt of excitement present in the moments that are supposed to live up to the horror name, every “scary” scene is nothing more than ghosts appearing out of nowhere or characters responding to strange noises all around the house. The film’s direction and editing are a step below average, as well, characterized by stuck in the mud pacing and no style to separate itself from any other run of the mill “haunting” film.

I caught the vibe of “The Conjuring” when the trailer of this film debuted and sure enough, I spotted out the familiar played-out tropes those films have used ad nauseam. No good times are to be had with this film and now it finds itself fading into the populated graveyard of mediocre January films. “The Turning” doesn’t know what it wants to accomplish as a horror experience and then expects the audience to put all the pieces together.


Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

MOVIE REVIEW: Color Out of Space

Rating: Unrated / Runtime: 1 hour and 51 minutes

The best independent films do more with less. When there isn’t a massive budget to fall back on for special effects, the importance of storytelling and conveyance of mood become amplified. Operating on a $12 million budget (which I’d assume a decent chunk of went to star actor Nicolas Cage), Richard Stanley has crafted a gnarly, yet intoxicatingly beautiful aesthetic in “Color Out of Space”, which fits the bizarre nature of this story perfectly. The tale comes from an H.P. Lovecraft short story of the same name. We follow the Gardner family, who have not too long ago traded city life for a rural family estate located near Lovecraft’s famous setting of Arkham, Massachusetts. Nathan (Cage), the father, is a wannabe gardener and farmer who raises alpacas and is trying to embrace this new country life, while his wife Theresa (Joely Richardson) is doing her best to work from home via the home’s bad internet connection while recovering from breast cancer surgery. They have three children, all with their own sort of strange qualities. LaVinia (Madeleine Arthur) we first meet in the middle of some kind of Wiccan ritual that she hopes will heal her mother and eventually lead the family back to the city. Her practice of magic and dabbling in the occult continues throughout the film and leads to some pretty horrifying decision making. Her brother Benny (Brendan Meyer) likes video games, smoking weed, and helps out around the house without too much fuss. And then there is her younger brother Jack (Julian Hilliard), who is a bit of a mama’s boy still and gives the film a vessel for some freaky child-based horror. There’s also an old hippie living out in the woods who seems to notice problems with nature before everyone else and a young biologist named Ward (Elliot Knight) who pops in and out of the story and serves as a sort of documentarian for the events that take place.

The first half or so of the film, before things get really weird, I found myself very engaged. Family drama is explored and when the mysterious meteorite crashes into their yard a good amount of time is spent on slowly revealing various sci-fi anomalies that mess with the characters’ sense of sight and sound. Of course, this is based on the dark mind of H.P. Lovecraft, so horror is part of the story’s DNA and once it comes, the situation gets nasty quickly. There is definitely some gore, but it’s far from overwhelming and contained to just a few scenes. For the most part, it’s the psychological nature of horror explored here, a staple of Lovecraftian storytelling, and a general haziness of time and space that overwhelms the family as the alien color begins to permeate the landscape and their lives. Cage is given the opportunity to get nuts in a few scenes, but unfortunately, it felt almost out of left-field, very forced, and not a natural reaction I expected from his character. Perhaps if he had gone all-out crazy and stuck to that versus oscillating back and forth between sanity and insanity it would have played better for me. It’s in the second half of the film, where the color from the meteorite is taking over, where I didn’t find myself enjoying it nearly as much. As mentioned earlier, the look of the film is mesmerizing and the score by Colin Stetson contributes strongly toward setting that important mood. I just didn’t care about the characters much at all, and I didn’t find the film to be saying anything vastly important about humanity and nature. It’s a tale of aliens or elder gods or whatever you want to think of them as showing up without any explanation as to why and ruining life for this family in a horrific way. The story is just lacking a bigger picture view that I think would have given it much-needed weight and stakes.

“Color Out of Space” is Stanley’s first feature film in over two decades, though, and it proves the filmmaker most famous for being fired from “The Island of Doctor Moreau” still has talent worth sharing with the world. The visuals alone are worth seeing this movie for and it never dips into lackluster boring territory, even if it doesn’t reach any memorable heights either. “Color Out of Space” is the kind of unique sci-fi and horror film that we deserve to see more of. Though the vision of their directors may not blow every viewer away, seeing something this different from mass-market blockbusters is always a treat.

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Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Underwater

Underwater, no one can hear you scream!
(unless of course they have a mic in their dive suit helmet and you do too, and then you can definitely hear them scream but I digress)

 

It’s easier to just get the comparisons out of the way right off the bat. The hot take will be that “Underwater” is “Alien” at the bottom of the ocean. And, of course, there’s some truth to that, or people wouldn’t be saying it. Sure, “Underwater” follows a female primary protagonist, who is part of a crew trying to stay alive amidst the presence of mythical deadly creatures, but much of the film plays out a lot more straightforward than you might expect, instead resembling a traditional natural disaster escape movie.

Narratively, “Underwater” isn’t too deep (heh), and that’s perfectly alright. Director William Eubank makes a great choice utilizing the credits sequence to provide background information that normally would be delivered via boring, pace-slowing exposition. Instead, a collection of newspaper articles, scientific papers, and memos flashing behind the credits tell us that our setting is a drill site in the Mariana Trench, where the deepest drilling in history is taking place, and that reports of mysterious shadowy creatures have been made. Once inside Kepler Station, we meet Norah (Kristen Stewart), reflecting on the isolation and timelessness of life in the deep while brushing her teeth. Within minutes, though, a breach of the station hull occurs due to an earthquake and what follows is a 90-minute rush to rescue, survive, and escape. Along the way, Norah, a mechanical engineer, teams up with fellow survivors. They include a wise-cracking, Alice in Wonderland obsessed goof played by T.J. Miller (who surprisingly has a few jokes actually land), their calm and collected Captain (Vincent Cassell) of the station, and a few others. The Captain proposes a dangerous plan where they will don their deep-sea suits, descend, and then traverse the nearly 7-mile deep ocean floor to reach another station that still has working escape pods. They all know it’s insane, but they have no choice. What follows is a suspenseful group effort to stay alive; some do, some don’t. At times it definitely gets ridiculous and some of the more chaotic action is nearly incoherent in the dark watery setting, but mostly it’s a hell of a lot of fun, with the dialogue kept at a minimum and the propulsive intensity dialed up high throughout. Stewart is a capable lead and her considerable talent is on display, even when not really necessary. She carries an emotional weight for the crew that elevated the film for me, and she is also a part of the film’s most memorable monster moment.

The concept of “Underwater” certainly could have been presented in a longer, smarter, and more dramatically heavy film – one that isn’t so predictable, doesn’t play fast and loose with science, and gives a more thorough explanation about the creatures encountered. But that’s not this movie, and as I said in the beginning, that’s okay. What “Underwater” does is deliver a fast-paced, claustrophobic, action-thriller (backed by an excellent Marco Beltrami/Brandon Roberts score) that works perfectly fine without sea monster aliens even introduced, but that takes joy in leaning into its creature feature third act. It’s wild and at times silly, but I had a great time watching it and would gladly sit through it again when it releases on home video. Not every movie needs to have depth (heh again) to be entertaining, even if its title makes you think otherwise.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: The Grudge

It has been said that the month of January is a dumping ground for studios to unload projects that spark the least potential to be a success. As much as it pains me to say, this claim has been verified with the release of Nicolas Pesce’s “The Grudge”, a horror film that tries to juggle so many characters and superficial subplots that it drops the ball on every level. There is no time to connect with any of the characters who find their life altered by a vengeful ghost known only as “The Grudge”, an evil spirit that stalks anyone unlucky enough to inhibit the space that it calls home sweet home. Suspense and tension should cover every nook and cranny of this narrative, but they’ve been replaced by unimaginative and overused horror tropes. Dullness is the rhythm that carries this horrid horror remake to a land of no distinguishing qualities.

The film uses a non-linear story structure to try and separate itself and the results are less than inspiring. The different storylines are misconstructed into a mess of exposition dumping and paper-thin characters. Our main protagonist is used as a plot device to force the audience into badly edited flashbacks that feel out of place to the overarching narrative. Her role as a police officer gains her access to different files of Grudge victims from past events that all took place in the same haunted house. At times, you think you are following one set of characters and then you are jarred backward to experiencing a different set out of nowhere. Confusion peaks when you are shown the climax of a subplot only to then travel to the beginning of it, erasing the opportunity for authentic stakes. It’s hard to feel connected to the outcome of this film given that none of the characters are written to be anything more than easy fodder for the main villain; there is no personality, charm, or emotional guts to make the serious moments more than forgettable. Consider the biggest crime of this film to be undercutting the supreme talents of a pair of talented actors such as John Cho and William Sandler. This screenplay dealt them poison in the amount of cringe dialogue and farce use of depressing storylines which would ruin any actor’s chance of making their performances work. To make things worse, the final act is essentially a rush job in trying to wrap up all the tangled web of storylines before the audience makes it to the finish line. It felt like the writers submitted the screenplay as the first draft with no revisions or corrections to the flow of different set pieces.

Horror and suspense was manufactured straight from the bargain bin section of the generic store. There is an abundance of poor jump cuts, odd implementation of sound effects, lackluster visual effects, and weak lighting in dark scenes. Some scenes suffer from having human faces drenched in too much darkness; terror scenes didn’t have a stressful effect because there was no way to see the characters or the monster moving around in the environment. There was a weird instance of people popping in and out of the frame, masquerading as a scary surprise. It’s just very easy to see coming and no creative juice is present. I have seen all of the terror tricks this film tries to make unique and it all turns out so bland and tepid to watch. The musical accompaniment to these scenes comes off too hard as a Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross knock-off with badly composed use of pounding drums and broken electronic notes.

“The Grudge” is the kind of experience that will drain the life-force out of the average viewer. It has no crowd-pleasing moments and treats the audience as a child who needs their handheld to navigate what should have been a simple horror film. This is one of the few films I have witnessed in the last few years that does nothing well and is an embarrassment to not just horror but any cinematic genre. 2020 has started off its year by providing me a top candidate for one of the worst films of the year.


Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

MOVIE REVIEW: Black Christmas

The best experience anyone can have going to see a new film in the theater is being surprised by what new ideas it brings. Audiences are dazzled when venturing into the unknown and having their imaginations sparked. Contrary to that, some films follow the trends and cliches that have been established before. One genre that has fallen victim to this syndrome is horror films, specifically more so the reboot variety that aims to introduce an old story to new generations. “Black Christmas” is a case of a reboot trying to bite off more than it can chew in trying to balance the brand of horror its predecessors emulated while roping along social message parallels. It all adds up to a horrible cinematic experience and an easy candidate for a “Worst Of The Year” label.

Issues are abundant in every area, but especially so in a story that is comical and barebones which involves a supernatural/fantasy cult of men who hunt for women on a college campus during winter break. Audiences are treated to a narrative that will have you believe that a statue bust of a dead college founder can possess the souls of young men and turn them into murderous villains intent on keeping women from being a threat to the male population. The classic “toxic masculinity is the real enemy” message hits you in the face like a gust of wind almost throughout the proceedings. As a man, I am a staunch defender of female empowerment, but films like this make that message very obvious, with nothing new to say about this current societal issue nor any pleasant subtleness. “Black Christmas” comes off like a poorly written piece of fan fiction using Wikipedia articles as a source. Saying this film is predictable would be a serious understatement. There are no surprises in store; it can easily be foreseen who the villains are, who will be killed, and all of the twists that carry a facade of being clever. There is no thrill factor, which is a big no-no for an aspiring horror film and the pitiful attempts at comedy all fall flat on the floor. A better place for this cinematic eyesore would be an MTV Original Special or Netflix film with no one having to waste a dime on promotion.

The characters are not unique and suffer from a lack of development which keeps the viewer from caring who makes it to the end and who does not. Even the lead character is shorted by the writing as only being a victim of a sexual assault, with no other distinguishing trait. The villains look and speak like prototypical smug alpha males who lack a menacing presence and are reduced to angry misogynistic trolls spitting logic akin to the “He-Man Women Haters Club” skit from “The Little Rascals”. Imogen Poots was such a winner in the cult classic “Green Room” that it’s painful to see her subjected to this wannabe “deep” horror drama that shortchanges its own feminist message with rudimentary structuring.

“Black Christmas” is one of the worst films of the year and is a joyless bore of generic horror conventions. If you want to see a horror-thriller that has something to say about the female experience in the greater perception of society, check out the original predecessor and gems like “The Babadook”, “It Follows”, “Rosemary’s Baby”, and “Carrie”.

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Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.