Horror, Reviews

Split

Copyright © 2016 by Universal Pictures

Story
Three teenagers, Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula) and Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) are kidnapped by one of Kevin Wendell Crumb’s (James McAvoy) 23 personalities and they are locked in a cell beneath the ground with the sole purpose of being offered as human sacrifices to a surfacing 24th persona known as ‘The Beast’. Sensing that Kevin’s more perverse nature is currently in control, his psychologist, Dr Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley) conducts her own investigation to locate the missing girls.

Review
M. Night Shyamalan’s competency lies in dispensing suspense and terror to hair-raising effect. By condensing the story on the girls trying to flee from their captor, he avoids the mistakes made in calamities like ‘Lady In The Water’ and ‘The Happening’. (Certain) character motivation and rationality are the movie’s finest qualities and casting McAvoy is like watching a filmic one-man show with 23 roles.

There is a kicker though. We are reminded that there are 23 characteristics, but ‘The Sixth Sense’ director only chooses to show us about eight of them for no particular reason. McAvoy’s acting artistry is in top form as he dazzles after being in cruise control for the last two years. He is prudish in a pleated midi skirt and illuminates as a precocious nine-year-old boy.

The depth McAvoy brings to the various individuals intensifies Kevin’s struggle with himself and it would have become unintentionally comical if someone lesser assumed the part. What disheartens me most about this thriller-cum-horror is that it is neither exciting nor scary despite the unique premise and outstanding central performances (Taylor-Joy and Buckley supplying commendable support).

Perhaps it is the ambiguity of what Kevin’s dominant ‘others’ have in store for the girls that is haphazardly written undermines the robust buildup in the first and second acts. Taylor-Joy effortlessly projects fear, confusion, and desperation all in just a look. Unfortunately, all I see is a regression from Shyamalan’s 2015 sleeper ‘The Visit’.

Rating
Entirety: B
Acting: A
Plot: B+

Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and behaviour, violence and some language

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Horror, Reviews

The Purge: Election Year

Election Year

Copyright © 2016 by Universal Pictures

Story
Since forgiving the man who killed his son, former police officer Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) has been hired as Senator Charlie Roan’s (Elizabeth Mitchell) chief of security. She is campaigning for the upcoming presidential election and is strongly against the Purge, intending to end it if she wins. Her opponent, Minister Edwidge Owens (Kyle Secor) who is a member of the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) is threatened by her growing popularity and the party aims to assassinate the senator when Purge Night commences.

Review
Call it cajoling or propagating. It is no coincidence the third chapter of ‘The Purge’ series is released as the race for presidency in the United States is beginning to heat up. The opposing sides mirror the varying ideals that the politicians in the movie stand for – Roan’s main priority is to purge the Purge for good and the NFFA is hell bent on sustaining it.

Sounds relatively simple if compared with new revelations and shocking developments that have defiled the credibility of both Republican and Democrat candidates vying for the top post. We will probably see a ‘truthful’ interpretation of that story in a few years’ time when the public needs a recap on the theatrics that ensue. For now, this will do.

In a not so subtle hint (the title is a dead giveaway), it is a loud and unapologetically honest picture illustrated about hidden agendas, empty promises and politics rearing its ugly head. You know the drill. It is not the most original of ideas but expanding the franchise to a terrain when it is more apt than ever, the result feels genuinely sincere than pretentiously calculated.

‘Anarchy’ took the Purge to the streets and centered on a grieving father gunning for revenge that intensified midway which has now become the focus in ‘Election Year’. Grillo (sole returning member) is shipshape as the ingenious bodyguard and buttressing amiably from the likes of Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, Betty Gabriel and a frantic Secor. The conclusion (or not) may have evolved from how it started but it aims for a strong finish and I vote ‘yes’.

Rating
Entirety: A-
Acting: A
Plot: A-

Rated R for disturbing bloody violence and strong language

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Horror, Reviews

The Babadook

Babadook

Copyright © 2014 by IFC Films

Story
On the day to the hospital, Oskar (Benjamin Winspear) and Amelia (Essie Davis) are involved in a car accident. Oskar is killed while Amelia survives the crash and safely delivers Samuel (Noah Wiseman). Still missing her husband, she struggles to balance work and caring for Samuel who believes there is a monster in the house. His fixation over this imaginary being is alienating him in school, his aunt’s family and own mother too. After reading a children’s book titled ‘Mister Babadook’, Amelia’s mental and physical health begins to deteriorate. It could be caused by over exhaustion from many sleepless nights or is there something more sinister at play as previously suspected by Samuel?

Review
Making its debut screening earlier this year in the Sundance Film Festival, this Australian production has slowly been generating sustainable interest on the strength of its acting, script and reliance in shrewd camerawork rather than cheap jump scares. Jennifer Kent’s first feature-length foray behind the camera (an actor in her own right for 20 years prior), she has made a short film before, ‘Monster’ which explains the Babadook’s history and penchant for terror.

In Kent’s extension of the winged-creature inflicting pain and panic to a single mother and her child, there is very little light shed about its past and how it worms its way into their lives (or more specifically, onto the boy’s bookshelf) but that does not detract the misery the bogeyman has in store for the unlucky pair. Though the appearances are few and mostly in the shadows (a lack of funding could be one of the reasons), it only heightens Mister Babadook’s mysterious and ominous hold over Amelia’s sanity.

Is she going mad from a droning job, an extremely imaginative kid and the loss of a husband or does the Babadook really exist? Creeping up steadily and waiting to strike when she is at her most vulnerable. You are never quite sure the ambiguity but when the story draws to a close, it is clear nothing is ever purely black and white. Parenting can be arduous (as exhibited by Amelia’s desperation to keep Samuel heavily sedated that eventually leads the widow’s frail state of mind for a more ‘hands-on’ move) but what kind of task isn’t?

Mistakes and imperfections are the traits that make us human. So is accepting the darkness within ourselves and co-existing amicably with our finer qualities. It is played out in a matter-of-fact viewpoint, unbridled by meddling bigwigs, useless subplots or hanging endings. Keeping it all together is the remarkable Davis who has acted alongside with Keanu Reeves, Scarlett Johansson and Nicole Kidman embodies the complexity of a grieving wife who is still unable to move forward since the accident.

Her fragile demeanour and pale complexion outline the melancholy but they are used to great effect as her condition worsens. Holding his own, Wiseman will win viewers over as the resourceful seven-year-old with violent tendencies to protect his mother at all cost. Precocious and inventive, part of the house is transformed into a DIY land mine, the kind that will explode Kent right to the top of the Hollywood food chain. Could you get rid of the Babadook if it is already in a word or in a look? You can try…

Rating
Entirety: B+
Acting: A
Plot: A-

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Horror, Reviews

Annabelle

Annabelle

Copyright © 2014 by Warner Bros. Pictures

Story
Before ‘The Conjuring’, there is ‘Annabelle’, a rare collectible made of porcelain presented as a gift to Mia Form (Annabelle Wallis) from her doctor husband, John (Ward Horton). On the same night, their neighbours, the Higgins are viciously murdered by their daughter, Annabelle (Tree O’Toole) and her lover. They break into the Form’s home and Annabelle takes a liking to Mia’s collection. Mia is stabbed but before more harm can be done, the police arrive and gun down the man while his partner kills herself, clutching the doll. Soon, strange occurrences manifest in the couple’s quiet life and Mia realises the only way of stopping them is by offering this malignant force something dear to her.

Review
As a tease, the demonic doll’s torment of the two nurses in ‘The Conjuring’ got the show off on the right foot and it piqued audiences’ interest enough for a spinoff to be released a year later. Even when James Wan decided to only assume producing duties, anticipation was still sky high for how the prequel would play out. After all, long-time cinematographer of Wan’s, John R. Leonetti, handpicked to shepherd another case from the Warrens should at least be visually unison to the 2013 hit, right?

Having worked on the last three of Wan’s smashes, Leonetti does a respectable job in achieving singularity through a few well-staged fright sequences which could either leave you scurrying to the nearest exit or cower inescapably in your seat. Early on, it is established that a spirit of a girl named Annabelle has resiliently seized control of the doll’s hollowed façade. Although not as innocent as made out to be, the film corroborates the smug-looking plaything’s genesis in a ‘wrong place, wrong time’ setup.

The inclusion of the occult jolts back fond memories of ‘The Exorcist’, ‘The Omen’ (not the pointless remake) and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ (which this tale is heavily ‘inspired’ from) and the grisly murder at the beginning effectively sets the course for other chilling moments to come. Trust me, once you are through with the whole enchilada, cute and sweet will indubitably go hand in hand with gory and revulsive. Though we have seen a plethora of ‘damsels trapped in a stalled elevator’ in various forms, if done unnervingly foreboding can still yield unexpected results (of the good kind, anyway).

Unfortunately, the good cannot outweigh the bad. Credit to Leonetti for creating a ghoulish mien befitting of Annabelle’s stature but hackneyed storytelling squanders its potential to be more than just a humdrum affair. Household objects springing to life and acting malevolently. Check. Floors and doors creak for no apparent reason merely to rattle rather than terrify. Check. Ghostly apparition clad in white redolent from the wave of Japanese and Korean spook fest that was prevalent in the early 2000s. Check. An ominous manifestation bent on an unspeakable evil and is conveniently appeased by a nurturing figure. Check.

Do not even get me started on the blatant plagiarism from ‘Rosemary’s Baby’; it is tolerable to name your chief characters after principal actors from the aforementioned old time favourite and it invokes nostalgia when the unmistakable baby carriage makes its ceremonious entrance but no one in their sound mind will accept a second-rate cookie-cutter barren of any ingenuity. For all its flimflam, ‘Annabelle’ comes up way too short and should have simply stayed as a short.

Rating
Entirety: B-
Acting: B
Plot: C

Rated R for intense sequences of disturbing violence and terror

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Horror, Reviews

The Purge: Anarchy

The Purge – Anarchy

Copyright © 2014 by Universal Pictures

Story
The Purge is a day set where all activities of crimes are deemed legal and sanctioned by the government as a means of population control since for the rest of the year, civilians can live peacefully in a felony-free environment. At the start of purging, a young couple, Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez) are on their way to his sister’s when their car is sabotaged by a group of masked men forcing them to the streets of Los Angeles by foot. They take refuge in Sergeant Leo Barnes’ (Frank Grillo) heavily insulated vehicle after stopping to rescue Eva Sanchez (Carmen Ejogo) and her daughter, Cali (Zoë Soul) from being executed by highly trained and sophisticated paramilitary men. They form an uneasy alliance to leave the dangerous streets after Barnes’ car is damaged from a shootout and survive until the Purge officially ends.

Review
Despite the frosty reception ‘The Purge’ had to endure from critics and moviegoers about an intriguing idea but uneven execution, its healthy financial accumulation was enough to advance a sequel a year later. Conceptualised from James DeMonaco who was tasked with directing duties for both movies, the Ethan Hawke starrer provided a peek into the near future of capitalism governance and the consequences to the division of its society.

In a not too subtle context, the rich will only become wealthier and oblivious to the plight of the less privilege that are incapable of moving up the hierarchy and only seemed destined for terminating each other. Hence, the low crime and employment rates as mentioned early on. The potential DeMonaco could have taken was thus left unfulfilled as he restricted himself to the confinements of a well-to-do family under siege in their technologically-equipped home.

Having noticed the limitations of his 2013 feature, he has assuredly rectified the problems and presented a more politically-charged thriller to satisfy what audiences are looking for in the first place. It helps that the budget is bigger for what we are getting now is a larger view of what really goes on out on the streets when purging commences. Many aspects are still not probed into (a challenge for its shorter screen time) and the carnage could be more brutal without being too neatly packaged.

A little too polished if I may say so considering the use of dim lighting and hues of green and yellow captures the graininess precisely for a somber night. The best aspects come from the tense circumstances when the main characters have to successfully navigate in the middle of a killing spree without getting caught. Each scene is tautly edited for a consistently brisk pacing throughout the course of the show.

And this is just the icing on the cake. What comes after that is pretty shocking but does share elements from an earlier Chris Evans headlined hit, ‘Snowpiercer’. Twists after twists, it will ensure you are hooked right up to its nail-biting ending. Fresh from the heels of ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’, Grillo steps up to the plate as leading man material and comfortably shoulders the bulk of the film through a stealthy and strong depiction of a man on a mission.

He is supplemented by an engaging Ejogo whose maternal and caring disposition ensures the chaos surrounding the group does not border on mockery. Together, they form an emotional connection that is relatable and genuine enough for the proceeding events to follow. It leaves with many questions for one to ponder over but if you choose to stay safe and give this a pass, then you might just miss out on a greatly improved work from an already interesting scenario to begin with.

Rating
Entirety: B+
Acting: A
Plot: A-

Rated R for strong disturbing violence, and for language

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Horror, Reviews

Insidious: Chapter 2

Insidious 2

Copyright © 2013 by FilmDistrict

Story
Set after the events of ‘Insidious’, it explores the origins of the Bride in Black entity which had taken over Josh Lambert’s (Patrick Wilson) physical form while attempting to guide his son, Dalton’s (Ty Simpkins) soul back to his body and into the real world. It delves further into the history of the Bride when it tried possessing Josh unsuccessfully when he was a boy and its motivations for being patiently persistent. With the help of Dalton and Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye), a friend of Lorraine Lambert (Barbara Hershey) who had been murdered earlier after discovering Josh’s secret, they vow to reunite Josh with his body and rid of the Bride’s presence for good.

Review
It is a 2 for 2. After the hugely successful ‘The Conjuring’ which premiered in July, there was great anticipation for the sequel to this sleeper hit. There have been its detractors who thought of it as merely a cash grab and the story is a rehash of the original. While it did thrive at the box office and the scares are somewhat familiar (James Wan’s previous hits are big inspirations here), what works is the decision to layer the original with increased depth in characterisation and purpose.

What is being offered at least does not feel recycled and is actually required for closure as to how Leigh Whannell’s script took us the very first time. We were introduced briefly as to why this unrest soul was so eager to inhabit Josh since his childhood days but never more than a teaser as the focus had always been the son’s plight to escape the clutches of another demonic existence. Scripting duties once again goes to Whannell and he has ensured that all issues faced by daddy are covered thoroughly and thoughtfully.

You can argue on some of the film’s logic i.e. spirited Josh is able to time travel to meet his younger self and intercept a sinister figure even before he knew what he is capable of (Elise suppressed his memories on his ability for his own protection) but if you are spirited away to another realm, I guess time is at a halt and anything is possible. Other than this gripe, the story flows fluidly, alternating with the real and surreal seamlessly. For something so menacing and villainous, the Bride in Black does score some sympathy points for the emasculation it suffered while alive and still in torment as it attempts to relive the past.

The source for such pain spreads from a very ‘nurturing’ mother and is played to devilish perfection by Danielle Bisutti. It would have been a tad more developed if she was given a larger role on her obsession for a child of a particular gender. For a character who met her demise a little too soon, it is refreshing to see Shaye’s prominence elevated considerably and still a force to be reckoned with, even in the afterlife. The star undoubtedly belongs to Wilson for his deranged performance as a supposedly remorseless killer. It is disturbing on many levels but yet is able to maintain a certain finesse to his overall portrayal. Watch out for his ‘shining’ moment as he reaches pass his breaking point.

In spite of some textbook scares to raise the scare-o-meter, it is nevertheless still very watchable with a justifiable cause for its continuity. The ending is what you would expect from a horror franchise and as Wan is currently involved with another fast and furious series, only time will tell if he would be up for another round. A change of genre is always great to conjure the creative juices back!

Rating
Entirety: B+
Acting: A
Plot: A-

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of terror and violence, and thematic elements

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The Conjuring

Conjuring

Copyright © 2013 by Warner Bros.

Story
Based on real life American paranormal investigators and authors associated with prominent cases of haunting Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga), it focuses on one of their encounters with the supernatural that has been terrorizing the Perron family in their farmhouse in Harrisville, Rhode Island in 1971. Determined to never leaving the family alone, the Warrens are not spared from this malice as well and it even goes as far as to torment their daughter Judy (Sterling Jerins). Upon further investigation, the Warrens find out that the entity intends to possess one of the key members and the unexpected turn of events will require more than just a leap of faith to exorcise this demonic presence.

Review
Creepy! To sum it all up in a word and in a good way about James Wan’s follow-up to his previous hit, ‘Insidious’. While there are certain elements which are being re-established in ‘The Conjuring’, the film never loses its momentum from the minute a certain sinister looking doll is introduced to the viewers. Said doll is even getting its own movie. Although it is entirely a different case, the scenes will definitely latch on to you long after it is over. To the actual plot itself, the standouts do not run short. From his success with ‘Insidious’, Wan has upped his ante with the suspense and it is so masterfully crafted that whenever any of the characters are in peril, you cannot help but share the exact same fear.

I kept cowering in my seat every time the Perrons’ daughters are being harassed by the malevolent forces which dwell in their newly purchased home. The ordeals that Christine (Joey King) and Andrea (Shanley Caswell) faced are so harrowing to the point you can only wish you never have to be in their shoes. Even the skeptics are not spared from these unrest souls. For a non-believer, police officer Brad Hamilton’s (John Brotherton) encounter with the supernatural is sure to get one of the biggest jolts from any moviegoer. The familiarity of hide-and-clap will never be looked at the same way again too when these uninvited playmates interrupt a game of innocent fun.

The final revelation of this sinister plot comes full circle when the target for possession was Carolyn Perron (Lili Taylor) all along and the exorcism performed on her by Ed is unexpected yet bloody. Fittingly so, with an ensemble cast comprising mostly female actors, huge praises certainly go to Farmiga, Taylor and King for turning in understated but impactful performances that rival favourites such as ‘The Sixth Sense’, ‘The Others’, ‘The Ring’ and Farmiga’s previous horror outing, ‘The Orphan’, just to name a few. It’s a welcoming return to see Taylor once again on the big screen after a leave of absence from the industry.

Wilson, collaborating with Wan second time around is just as comfortable with his role as his counterparts and manages to hold his own against the formidable presence of Farmiga. She has been carving a solid body of work since her breakout role in ‘The Departed’ with numerous hits including ‘Source Code’, the Oscar-nominated ‘Up In The Air’ and the aforementioned fright flick. Together, they form a believable partnership as these committed ghosts chasers who were pitted with one of the most terrifying forces ever encountered.

As a sequel has already been commissioned from its commercial and critical success, we can only hope it does not diminish the original’s quality but as an expansion to their other unforgettable cases that they were involved in. For now though, let us just savour another winner from what Wan has crafted through a polished script, distinct music and intelligent editing.

Rating
Entirety: A-
Acting: A
Plot: A-

Rated R for sequences of disturbing violence and terror

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