[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 15 – Underwater (2020)

Director: William Eubank
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, Jessica Henwick, John Gallagher Jr., Mamoudou Athie, T.J. Miller
Screenplay: Brian Duffield, Adam Cozad
95 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and terror, and brief strong language.

Underwater is a movie that just couldn’t get the timing right to be successful. Shot in 2017, when T.J. Miller (Cloverfield, TV’s Silicon Valley) was less problematic, the film’s footage sat on a shelf while the team at 20th Century Fox tried to work through their potential upcoming sale to Disney. Once owned by Disney, the decision had to be made about whether the film should be finished and release, whether or not the investment would be worth the box office take, and if the finished film would be workable through any release window. This choice happened to a lot of 20th Century Fox films during that time, and Underwater was thankfully finished, but then it was unceremoniously dropped in January before completely disappearing due to the impact of COVID-19 on the box office and theatrical exhibition. Through all that, we must ask whether the film is worth searching out.

When a mysterious earthquake destroys much of a large and dangerous deep sea rig, the team of researchers and drillers that remain onboard have to make a trek across damaged vessel and open ocean floor in order to find the last remaining safe escape, but they are not alone in the water, and the odds are stacked against them.

When I saw Underwater early in 2020 (it was the first new release I saw that year), I was perhaps unfairly harsh to the film. Rewatching it tonight made me realize everything that works in the movie. For one, Kristen Stewart (Snow White and the Huntsman, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse) can carry a genre picture. There are issues with her performance (and we’ll get to them), but she carries large swaths of this movie quite naturally.

I also enjoyed much of the core cast. Vincent Cassel (Black Swan, La Haine) positively shines as Captain Lucien, the broken leader of survivors who offloads a tremendous amount of heart. Jessica Henwick (Love and Monsters, On the Rocks) also does a lot with a little as Research Assistant Emily, and I also quite liked Mamoudou Athie (The Circle, Black Box) works nicely as Rodrigo, the newby to drilling life who locks up in dangerous situations.

On the flipside, I felt that T.J. Miller bogged down a lot of his screen time with terribly-underwhelming comedic relief that fell flat regularly, and John Gallagher Jr. (Short Term 12, Hush) is given almost nothing to do, to the point where I had forgotten he was even in the film.

Where Kristen Stewart faults in the film is that I just didn’t see her fitting the character. She was either miscast or given dialogue that didn’t fit her as a performer, and some of the script didn’t work through her. That’s maybe the largest issue. Whether through choppy editing or bad writing, Underwater is bubbling with logic gaps and confusing character choices. There are moments, most notably near the end of the film, where characters completely flip on their arcs and go in the opposite direction, and no one is serviced well with the conclusion. Hastily put together narration from Stewart and newspaper clippings to fill in plotholes pop up here and there and never work the way they’re supposed to.

It’s too bad, because if this film could’ve fixed the writing, a lot of lesser elements at play here would be almost instantly improved, and given the places where the narrative ends up, I would’ve loved to see them really execute the ending because Act III is so bonkers and interesting that a better script could’ve really floated this film into another level of deep sea horror.

Underwater is a messy movie, one that floats and flounders in equal measure. There’s a lot to like here, and it’s a great display for director William Eubank (The Signal, Love) as a bigger budget up-and-coming director. The film has flaws, but they showcase a talent rising through the ranks. Had Underwater better handled their casting and screenwriting, I feel this concept would’ve been able to enter that upper echelon on modern horror classics. As it stands, the film is messy but worth checking out for yourself nonetheless.

-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 23 – Marebito (2004)

Director: Takashi Shimizu
Cast: Shinya Tsukamoto, Tomami Miyashita
Screenplay: Chiaki Konaka
92 mins. Rated R for strong bloody violence and some nudity.

J-horror is a bit of a blind spot in my horror fandom. I’ve seen a few films, really the big ones that have gotten American remakes or a few films from Takashi Shimizu (The Grudge, Flight 7500). Shimizu really is a master of J-horror, and I felt that this year I should dig a bit further into the world of J-horror, starting with more Shimizu, and I was recommended Marebito by a friend, so let’s dig right in.

Masuoka (Shinya Tsukamoto, Silence, Shin Godzilla) is a cameraman with a particular interest in fear after seeing and recording a man commit suicide right in front of him. This interest evolves into an obsession that leads Masuoka throughout the city before finding his search leading beneath the city itself into a series of catacombs, a labyrinth of tunnels and passages that will show him all the fear he can handle.

The original concept of Marebito is rather intriguing. Fear is an interesting topic, fear that drives people to do terrible things, and Masuoka’s obsession is believable, especially his use of a camera to document his curiosities. I really enjoyed the time spent underneath the city in the catacombs and tunnels of this unusual underworld. For me, the film became a bit flatter when he discovers the naked woman (Tomami Miyashita, Strawberry Shortcakes, Samurai Chicks) and brings her home. From there, the narrative feels a bit like something we’ve seen before, and I just lost interest in the back half of the film. It felt like a serious J-horror remake of Little Shop of Horrors.

What I really respect about Shimizu is his visionary curiosity. He asks a lot of questions and presents a lot of viewpoints, but he doesn’t always give his audience the answers. There are a lot of ways to view the events of Marebito as they play out on-screen, and I don’t think any of them are wrong. Shimizu asks us to look at Masuoka’s journey and see if what’s happening to him is real or a fabrication of his mentally fractured mind.

Marebito is a fascinating at the beginning before taking a less interesting route about halfway through. I would have liked to see the narrative focused more on exploring these catacombs and asking questions about life and death, humanity and inhumanity, using the catacombs as a narrative exploration rather than this mysterious woman. It’s just what my mind connected to while watching, and I was less impressed when the film took a more classical route, but Shimizu has a knack for disturbing imagery and a fascination with discomfort that suits the film nicely enough for a watch.

-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of Takashi Shimizu’s The Grudge, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 21 – The Funhouse (1981)

Director: Tobe Hooper
Cast: Elizabeth Berridge, Cooper Huckabee, William Finley, Kevin Conway
Screenplay: Lawrence J. Block
96 mins. Rated R.

I really enjoy the inversion of simple American life in horror films. There’s something truly unnerving about the simple elements of our culture being flipped on their heads. Tonight, we’ll discuss a simple enough piece of our culture doing just that in The Funhouse, from director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Poltergeist). I’ve been critical of Hooper as a director, so let’s see how this early work from the filmmaker looks after almost 40 years.

Amy Harper (Elizabeth Berridge, Amadeus, Hidalgo) is a rebellious teen just looking to have some fun at the traveling carnival coming through town. She promised her parents that she wouldn’t go, but he goes against her word, heading to the carnival with a date, Buzz (Cooper Huckabee, Django Unchained, Space Cowboys) and two other friends. The night is full of fun and laughs until they decide to hide out in “The Funhouse” and stay the night there. Once the carnival lights go low, the horrors switch on, and it’s now on Amy and friends to escape the carnival and make it through the night.

The Funhouse is essentially a film of two halves. The first half is a lengthy drag of weirdness and goofiness, and the second half is a successful horror story. Where the final 45 minutes works is that it really ratchets up the shock value of the reveals and plot development, but that first 45 minutes is a lot of fluff that doesn’t really matter much in the grand narrative. The subplot involving Amy’s younger brother is strange and, ultimately, meaningless (but really, we need to ask what kind of brother plays a prank like that on his sister…in the shower?). I’m under the assumption that we are intended to get all of our character development in that first chunk of movie, but the characters aren’t defined enough in that time to make it worth it.

When Hooper finally decides to hit us with the real horror and thrills of the story, he is very successful. Once our characters are trapped, the film is classic Hooper, utilizing his best skills as a director of the macabre and unusual tales he has become known for. There are definitely some backwoods vibes similar to Hooper’s previous fare Eaten Alive, but he is more successful this time around. Not everything works in the finale, but most of it does, creating a disturbing and , at times, nauseating horror story that stayed with me.

The Funhouse is flawed in several pieces of its execution, but overall, it was a nice and short horror film that ends on a high note. It’s a bit of a slow start, but if you can get through that, this horror tale packs a punch worth seeing. It’s a little non-PC and a whole lotta Hooper, and I enjoyed myself quite a bit.

-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, click here.
  • For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive, click here.
  • For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Salem’s Lot, click here.
  • For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist, click here.
  • For my review of Tobe Hooper and John Carpenter’s Body Bags, click here.
  • For my review of Tobe Hooper’s The Mangler, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 11 – Splice (2009)

Director: Vincenzo Natali
Cast: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chaneac
Screenplay: Vincenzo Natali, Antoinette Terry Bryant, Doug Tayor
104 mins. Rated R for disturbing elements including strong sexuality, nudity, sci-fi violence and language.

Splice came and went back in 2009, but I remember seeing it for the first time. Back in college, I received Netflix in the mail (see kids, there was this thing called DVD…) and it was one of the early films in my queue. The films in front of it were all claimed so I received the next thing on my list. Splice, not being very popular, moved up the queue quick, and I received it. I didn’t know what to expect. I really dug the trailer but high concept films like Splice never see to go all-in and embrace the concept, especially in studio horror. Studio horror was usually clean and manufactured for the most part, particularly in the 2000s. How would Splice fair?

Clive (Adrien Brody, The Grant Budapest Hotel, Fantastic Mr. Fox) and Elsa (Sarah Polley, Mr. Nobody, Dawn of the Dead) are two gifted genetic engineers trying to push the scientific barrier for DNA splicing, but when take their latest experiment goes too far, they find themselves raising a peculiar new creature unlike any in existence. Now, Clive and Elsa are on a dangerous path that causes them to keep secrets and protect a creature that is growing in ways they cannot expect.

This concept, while not being entirely new, is executed nearly perfectly. The film, from Vincenzo Natali (Cube, In the Tall Grass), asks questions, pushes the concept as far as it goes, and has a sense of style that works very well. Brody and Polley are both believable in their roles, and they have great chemistry together. Each of these two leads go through some pretty grueling circumstances along this uncomfortable narrative, and I followed along for all the unethical and disturbing events to follow.

Perhaps the most surprising performance is from Delphine Chaneac (The Pink Panther, The Brice Man) as Dren, the creation. The character was created with the use of makeup and visual effects over the actress, but her performance is able to shine through because of the choices made from the effects team and Natali to allow Cheaneac to showcase her acting underneath it all. Her eyes are real but widened on her face digitally, she chose to perform in heels and have her legs digitally replaced, and she shaved her head in order to not have more CG work done to her.

Splice is character-driven horror that isn’t for everyone (there are some particularly shocking moments as the film heads to its climax), but I appreciate the ballsy way that Natali tackles the material and just goes there. He’s the kind of director who leaves you wanting more and leaves you asking questions, even if he doesn’t ever give you the answers, and Splice is one of his most daring pictures. Seek this out if you missed it.

-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of the anthology film ABCs of Death 2, click here.
  • For my review of Vincenzo Natali’s In the Tall Grass, click here.

[31 days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 10 – Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (1991)

Director: Martin Kitrosser
Cast: Jane Higginson, Tracy Fraim, Brian Bremer, William Thorne, Neith Hunter, Mickey Rooney, Van Quattro
Screenplay: Martin Kitrosser, Brian Yuzna
90 mins. Rated R for strong sensuality and violence.

I know it isn’t Christmas yet, but to be completely honest, 2020 is a pretty sucky year, and I’m ready to be done with it. Today, let’s just spend one day believing it’s Christmas, and there’s only one way to celebrate Christmas in October: with a horror movie. Let’s turn to the most famous, or infamous, of the Christmas horror film franchises: Silent Night, Deadly Night. In fact, let’s go all the way to the fifth film. My gift to you.

Young Derek Quinn (William Thorne, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, Demonic Toys) is not having a very good holiday after watching his father get horrifically murdered by a Christmas toy that showed up at their door. Two weeks later, Derek is not talking much, and his mother Sarah (The Indian, An American Reunion) is worried about him. She should be concerned as well. Toys keep arriving at their home, and they seem hell-bent on killing Derek and anyone associated with him. Now, Sarah will need all the help she can get in keeping her son safe through the holidays.

Martin Kitrosser (Living in Fear, Man of Her Dreams) makes his directorial debut from a screenplay co-written by him along with Brian Yuzna. I enjoyed Kitrosser’s writing on some of the Friday the 13th films, and I had faith that he would craft an interesting tale for this fifth go-around of the franchise. I would at least give him credit that it’s a rather interesting idea, but it’s just so poorly-crafted from the bottom up. This kind of story about violent toys coming to life and attacking people can be done well (just look at Stephen King’s Battleground and the terrific Nightmares & Dreamscapes adaptation of the story), but it feels like this script desperately at east one more pass. There’s a weird subplot involving the mysterious stranger, Noah (Tracy Fraim, Fear, Guns Before Butter), who knows the Quinns and may be connected to the killer toys. I think Sarah makes some extremely poor choices concerning the safety of her son.

Mickey Rooney (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Night at the Museum) appears in the film as toy maker Joe Petto. First of all, let’s just realize that the name of the character is really strange (yes I get it sounds like Geppetto but never name your character Petto). Rooney’s character is about as strange, particularly the way he interacts with his son Pino (Brian Bremer, Pumpkinhead, Society). He’s entertaining, I guess, but very unusual and uncomfortable to watch (perhaps this comes from the fact that Rooney was so offended by the original Silent Night, Deadly Night that he wrote protest letter to get the film out of cinemas for its disrespect of Christmas, so seeing him here almost makes this full circle).

The Toy Maker is not a good film, but in terms of the actual film series, it’s probably the best one. Certainly the most well-made, even with the obvious problems with the screenplay and cheap effects. It’s a unusual and creepy story that works well enough for a schlocky little winter night. I had fun with it even though it’s terrible, but you need to know what you are getting into. The story is poorly-plotted, some of the character decisions are completely nonsensical (not to mention several actors return from the fourth film as new characters with the exact same name?), and the toys are not frightening in the slightest. But hey, even Birdemic has an audience, right?

-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of Charles E. Sellier Jr’s Silent Night, Deadly Night, click here.
  • For my review of Lee Harry’s Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, click here.
  • For my review of Monte Hellman’s Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out!, click here.
  • For my review of Brian Yuzna’s Initiation: Silent Night, Deadly Night 4, click here.
  • For my review of Steven C. Miller’s Silent Night, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 6 – Darlin’ (2019)

Director: Pollyanna McIntosh
Cast: Lauryn Canny, Bryan Batt, Nora-Jane Noone, Cooper Andrews, Pollyanna McIntosh
Screenplay: Pollyanna McIntosh
100 mins. Not Rated.

A few years back, I saw the film The Woman, not even aware of the fact that it was a sequel. This is the risk sometimes with not including a 2 in the title, but then again The Woman is a rather different film than its predecessor, Offspring. You don’t really have to have seen Offspring to understand The Woman. I recall really not liking The Woman for quite a number of reasons, and when the opportunity finally arrived to catch Offspring, I figured it was worth a try, and hey, it might make me like The Woman more. It did not. Offspring just didn’t work for me either, but I remained vigilant, and when news spread of a third film, this one titled Darlin’, I knew I had to see it, because this is what I do. I’m curious…like a cat, and I needed to see if this third film, written and directed by series star Pollyanna McIntosh (Deathcember), would finally win me over.

Set some time after the events of the previous film, the missing girl Darlin’ (Lauryn Canny) has been found outside of a local hospital and taken to St. Philomena’s, a Catholic boarding school, to be reformed from her feral personality. As Darlin’ begins to see her human traits returning, she tries to put together elements of her past in her search for salvation. But St. Philomena’s isn’t a safe place, as Darlin’ soon realizes. The Bishop (Bryan Batt, Easy Does It, TV’s Mad Men) is a child molester who has set his sights on Darlin’, and the Woman (McIntosh) is searching for her as well.

I’m sad to report that Darlin’ is a bad movie. I was really hoping this time around to get something from this film and franchise, but it just hasn’t won me over. It seems that each film tries to ask some interesting questions and mine the story for something fascinating and unique in the unusual characters and events, but they never really go anywhere. Of course the Bishop is a pedophile. Of course Darlin’ finds a rebellious new friend at St. Philomena’s. Of course, the ending it exactly what I expected. It’s a frustratingly simple narrative that always feels like it’s going somewhere only to abandon the journey along the way.

The tone is another misfire here, but it was a problem for The Woman as well. This is a horror story. If it was told with less of a satirical viewpoint, I think it would have been stronger. Lean into the horror. This whole trilogy deals with some fucked up characters and plot points. Treat it like a horror story and it might actually feel like one. Instead, there are these little flashes of attempts at humor that took me out of the film and lost my focus.

Sadly, Darlin’ just another film in this franchise that does nothing for me. It squanders an initially interesting setup by falling into cliche and not taking the material seriously. It sits at the edge of fascination but never leaps into compelling storytelling, and I just didn’t enjoy any of it. It’s a downright bad movie in a franchise that has gone on longer than necessary.

-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of Andrew van den Houten’s Offspring, click here.
  • For my review of Lucky McKee’s The Woman, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 5 – Society (1989)

Director: Brian Yuzna
Cast: Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Evan Richards, Ben Meyerson, Concetta D’Agnese, Ben Slack
Screenplay: Rick Fry, Woody Keith
99 mins. Rated R.

Well…that was strange.

Today, we are going to talk about the horrors of Society. No, not the actual horrors of actual society, but…well, the film is a biting satire, so I guess we will discuss some of the actual horrors of actual society while discussing the horrors of the film Society. Are you all still with me? Okay, close enough…

Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock, Halloween II, Lovely But Deadly) is kind of the odd one of the family. His mother, father, and sister are all socialites looking to maintain a status in the upper class of Beverly Hills life. Billy, while being relatively popular, isn’t all that interested in status. He feels out of place in his family, in his relationship, in his home. Worse, he’s suffering from a bad case of paranoia. He can’t shake this feeling that there’s something horribly wrong with everyone around him. It isn’t until his sister’s ex-boyfriend approaches him with evidence that he begins to see the truth about his family, school, and world. Billy’s in for a rude awakening.

It’s hard to dance around the story of Society without flat-out ruining the reveal, which is the best part of the film, and it’s also the reason for it’s popularity as a cult classic. When Brian Yuzna (Bride of Re-Animator, Return of the Living Dead 3) released the film, he expected it to do better than it did. Society ended up having a pretty solid release in the UK, but here in the US, it was shelved for three years before being dismissed almost entirely in 1992. It has since developed a cult following as an underground classic. Still, with all that, the film has its problems.

Billy Warlock was rather uneven as Bill Whitney. I liked him initially, but he takes some directions with his performance as the film hits its third act before recovering as the film reaches its climax. There are times he handles himself well, and others where I wasn’t sure what he was trying to convey.

Thankfully, his supporting cast seems to aid in creating the tone that Yuzna is going for. Evan Richards (Altered States, Twilight Zone: The Movie) is perfectly silly as best friend Milo. Ben Meyerson (Funny People, Speed 2: Cruise Control) is the embodiment of every jock 80s asshole as Ferguson, the popular party-boy. Devin DeVasquez (House II: The Second Story, Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV) is steamy to the max as the sensual and clever Clarissa, who begins to take a fascination in Bill. They all add to an aura of satire as Yuzna drives his message home.

As far as Yuzna’s intention, I’m not big on when he goes for comedy when his strengths lie in horror. This is true of Society as well. There’s some truly gruesome imagery on display here, and Yuzna elected to focus on that imagery over a compelling story, all of it leading to an ending that is bonkers and a film that oftentimes feels like a dream or perhaps a nightmare. When the comedy comes fluidly from the horror, it works, but sometimes Yuzna elects for some comedic moments that feel forced.

Society is a film with a heavy theme, one that, at times, feels like it is trying to beat you over the head with it. Rarely do I ever see a film with a theme taken so literally as the one that appears in Society, where the focus is on the differences in class. I can’t deep dive too much because I want you to see it. For all its faults, Society is just so much fun. It’s weird, gross, shocking, and very enjoyable. It also swings for the fences, which is commendable. The creature effects are great, the imagery is dreamlike, and the gore is on high alert. Society is quite good.

-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of Brian Yuzna’s Silent Night Deadly Night 4: Initiation, click here.
  • For my review of Brian Yuzna’s Bride of Re-Animator, click here.
  • For my review of Brian Yuzna’s The Dentist, click here.

[Early TV Review] 50 States of Frights: Almost There (Iowa) (2020)

Director: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods

Cast: Taissa Farmiga, Ron Livingston, Katie Stuart

Screenplay: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods

approximately 21 mins. Rated TV-MA.

I was recently invited to check out an upcoming set of episodes for the second season of Quibi’s 50 States of Fright. I had already done the trial subscription to Quibi earlier this year and was able to catch the entire first season of the series, finding it to be probably the best thing on Quibi and certainly the only show that I would subscribe again for a second season, at least from the shows I’ve seen. To clarify, for those of you that don’t understand Quibi’s format: Quibi stands for Quick Bites, and the title of the service is in reference to its episodic presentation. No episodes of Quibi series will ever be over 10 minutes in length. These are meant to be consumed on your phone, in little sections. Some of their content is “Movies in Chapters,” meant to be a singular story running 90-120 minutes total but separated out into chapters each less than 10 minutes. Other series offered by the streaming platform are meant for multiple seasons. 50 States of Fright is one of those. The first season offered up 14 episodes covering 5 states (each state is dedicated 2 or 3 episodes to tell their story, so really they end up being closer to 20-30 minute tales much like The Twilight Zone or Tales from the Crypt), and Season 2 is set to have 10 episodes covering 4 more states. Tonight, we’re going to cover the 3 episode event for Iowa, titled “Almost There.”


Hannah (Taissa Farmiga, The Final Girls, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War) is still haunted by a horrific event in her childhood, one which has only worsened her fear of heights. It’s been 20 years, but this electrical engineer still struggles with nightmares of that one night. When she awakens late in the evening with a phone call from Blake (Ron Livingston, The Conjuring, The Professor), asking her to come repair a damaged wind turbine in a howling storm, she is forced to confront her fears and her traumatic past all at once.

Looking purely at the story here, this episode is a little light and fluffy. There isn’t an overly elaborate plot running here compared to earlier episodes of the series like The Golden Arm or Grey Cloud Island. This is a young engineer battling her fears and her past in a big wind turbine. Simple as can be. I would have liked a little more background of Hannah’s past considering most of the horror in the episode is derived from that past. She mentions a few hints of what happened, and of course, the first episode shows us what happened, but I could have used some more clarification. “Why?” was a question I kept asking. I wanted to know more. What we got was serviceable, but it would have worked better to dive in. From what we got, though, we spend enough time with our two lead characters that most of the plot movements focuses on the two of them, rounding out two nicely written, interesting and likable leads.

I really like the chemistry between the two leads. Both Farmiga and Livingston work very nicely off each other. Both are charismatic enough on their own, but together, there’s a level of comradery that doesn’t feel out of place. Livingston’s Blake is rather over-the-top and bombastic, but Farmiga’s a more reserved and thoughtful portrayal, as she is the focal point of the story, we find ourselves connecting more with her and what’s she dealing with.

Almost There is surprisingly low on scares; it’s more of a mood piece. Most of the previous tales from this anthology series have focused specifically on wild imagery, horror pushed on with jump scares and disturbingly weird content, but in Almost There, it takes its time to get us to the finish culminating in an interesting bit of horror storytelling which combines the two running plot lines of the past and present in an rather enjoyable way.

Almost There is another solid set of episodes for this series, and while it doesn’t do anything that hasn’t been done before, there’s a very nice tone here which plays well with the well-drawn characters of Hannah and Blake, both played very captivatingly by Farmiga and Livingston, along with a capable direction from Scott Beck & Bryan Woods (Haunt, Nightlight). If there’s a series worth checking out Quibi for, it’s this one.


-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 4 – Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Director: Philip Kaufman
Cast: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright
Screenplay: W.D. Richter
115 mins. Rated PG.

Remakes are an incredibly difficult trick to pull off, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned countless times before, and while they’ve sometimes worked, usually they just end up reminding the audience that there’s a better product in the original. It’s hard to go into a remake without immediately comparing it to the original. The goal is to win over those who haven’t seen the original, or perhaps those just looking for a single viewing, something easily digestible. Still, if you’re going to remake a classic, especially a horror classic, it’s probably a good idea to include Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park, The Mountain).

San Francisco seems a little off, and Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, The Burnt Orange Heresy) is starting to notice. Bennell, who works for the San Francisco Health Department with his colleague, Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams, The Dead Zone, Snapshots), has been noticing something not quite right in the city, and when Elizabeth begins to suspect that her boyfriend is no longer her boyfriend but instead an impostor who resembles him, Matthew tries to deny it. He works to uncover the truth to this confusing situation, but the evidence is building all around him and he discovers that he’s in the middle of an invasion from beings not of this world. Now there’s the question: How do you know the enemy when the enemy looks just like you?

Philip Kaufman (The Right Stuff, Hemingway & Gellhorn) focused the direction of his narrative on paranoia and conspiracy (I phrase it this way because Jack Finney, the novel’s author, had no intention but to tell an interesting story and any parallels made in the film versions would be the action of a different storyteller), and it’s entirely effective. That’s what I loved so much about the story, especially when it concerns who can be trusted. This doesn’t even immediately have to do with who is an alien and who isn’t; there’s also the question of who’s a human that doesn’t know the conspiracy. Bennell and company certainly see antagonists on both ends of the spectrum, and knowing who is the enemy and who is merely unaware is a fundamental layer missed in some versions of this tale. It’s also where the narrative is more effective and most frightening.

These ideas of paranoia and conspiracy also work in a completely different light today. In our current political standing, there are two teams, it would seem, where both sides do not understand how anyone could be on the other side, and we are shocked to learn that our friends, our relatives, voted for the other guy. We feel like we’ve never even known them, and that shock is what I felt symbolically playing out on the screen with a 42 year old movie.

Sutherland handles Bennell very well, a skeptical character on both ends of the spectrum. He believes there’s something wrong with the norm but is unable to completely believe in anything outside of a rational explanation. He, like so many, trusts his gut, but that doesn’t allow him the answers to this mystery. His interplay with Brooke Adams is very well-orchestrated. I, as an audience member, completely understood the relationship without really any dialogue.

We also would be remiss if we did not celebrate the incomparable Leonard Nimoy (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Adventures in Zambezia) as Dr. David Kibner. We will always remember Nimoy as Spock, but really, he’s one of the godfathers of modern classic science fiction with powerful appearances in films like this one and shows like Fringe, Nimoy played several unique characters in his time with us. Kibner has a little in common with Spock in that both characters are highly rational, science-based, and logical with their reasoning, but Kibner serves and a foil to Elizabeth for Matthew. Bennell is forced to play with his conflicted mind and while he finds himself more and more believing Elizabeth, he pushes toward Kibner for answers, someone to reassure him of his sanity.

Lastly, none of this matters, not the performances, not the themes, not the symbolism, none of it matters if the film is entertaining and a little scary (at the very least). Thankfully, there’s some truly unnerving visuals in the film that add layers of unease to the situation. It’s a very unsettling movie, thanks in part to Kaufman highlighting this perversion of the normal that is very much in the focus of the film. Cinematographer Michael Chapman gives a film noir feel to the film that works very well in forcing viewers to engage with their assumptions of who can be trusted. It’s a mystery in which multiple villains are hidden. Ben Burtt (the man who created the sounds of Star Wars) also aided the unease to the Body Snatchers with his distubing sound creation. The body snatchers have an audible screech and their gelatinous form as seen in the opening has an “evil soap bubble” squishiness that Burtt had a hand in. Then, there’s that damn dog. One of the creepiest effects in the film is also one done for incredibly cheap with practical effects, but it’s the way the dog frolics up to the focus and then we come to terms with his human face that just kind of boggled me. It’s done for cheap but it’s so incredibly effective.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is an incredible experience. It’s one of those movies where you kind of know the ending and where we’re being taken, but the technical aspects and Kaufman’s direction made me not care because the journey is just so thrilling. On it’s surface, it’s a classic tale, but going beneath that, we have a very real, very human horror story on display, and I enjoyed the hell out of it.

-Kyle A. Goethe

Jojo Rabbit (2019)

Director: Taika Waititi

Cast: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Alfie Allen, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson

Screenplay: Taika Waititi

108 mins. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, some disturbing images, violence, and language.


From the moment I first heard that Writer/Director/Actor Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Thor: Ragnarok) was planning on writing, directing, and acting in a Nazi comedy about a boy with an imaginary friend who happens to be Adolf Hitler, and that Waititi would be playing Hitler, I was immediately concerned, confused, and a little unsure what to think. Then, the first still came out, and it didn’t really help. In my mind, I’ve never been let down by Waititi, but it’s a tall order to accomplish something like Jojo Rabbit. Thankfully, wonderfully, Waititi is able to do the impossible yet again, making a film about hate that becomes about so much more.

Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) doesn’t have many friends outside of his buddy Yorki and his imaginary friend, Adolf. When he attends a Hitler youth training camp, he hopes to impress Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell, Moon, TV’s Fosse/Verdon) by showing off his fierceness and prowess, but things do not go the way he plans. His mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson, Her, Sing) seems to have an alternative idea of the war and Nazism, but she hides it. Jojo learns that’s not all she hides when he comes across a young Jewish girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie, Leave No Trace, The King), in a hidden space in her room. As Jojo struggles with how to treat his treasonous mother and the girl in the crawl space, he is forced to make a choice that could alter everything he’s ever known.

It’s been stated a lot, but the first ten minutes of this movie made me pretty uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s the very way it sets up the world of wartime Germany near the end of WWII. It puts you right in Jojo’s world, and that world was not one I felt okay being in until the plot really started to move. Davis does good work in his first major role as Jojo. It’s a tough character because even though he’s a child and seemingly doesn’t know any better, he’s still a Nazi child. His worldview has been painted for him with signs of Jewish evil and demons and some truly disturbing things. It’s not an easy viewing and even though it has some really funny moments, it’s also a movie I felt strange for laughing during.

As with a film like 1917, which I recently reviewed here, Davis is surrounded by an incredible supporting cast, ranging from Rebel Wilson (Pitch Perfect, Isn’t It Romantic) as Fräulein Rahm, an instructor at the youth camp (the best she’s ever been), to Alfie Allen (John Wick, TV’s Game of Thrones) as Finkel, the second-in-command to Rockwell’s Klenzendorf, who finally gets to stretch some comedic muscles and does a very fine job. Rockwell is awesome in this movie, and he yet again excels at playing those fringe characters who are really bad guys but he puts an emotional spin on them to really connect with the audience.

It is Waititi’s Adolf that is most interesting in that he’s playing an imaginary friend who looks like Hitler but is very much just a visage of Jojo’s interpretation of how Hitler would be to him, a child. Waititi’s portrayal of this imaginary friend rides the line very nicely between silliness and seriousness, and he’s essentially just Jojo, so it never felt like an out-of-place idea to have Hitler appearing in the film.

I can’t think of anyone else that can make a movie quite like Taika Waititi. His eye is unique and his style works well with certain stories. With Jojo Rabbit, he mines real-world events and circumstances for comedy, pointing out the ridiculousness of the beliefs that Jojo has, and he pushes them into the audience consciousness. He views wartime Germany as a bustling and more happy place that most films have chosen to, but it makes sense. To Jojo and the other townspeople, they are really winning, whether they really believe it or not, their wanting to believe it is too strong for most. There is a bubbling-under-the-surface fear that is present and permeating, and that foreboding feeling like things will not turn out that way, but it’s covered in a layer of liveliness, something that we don’t usually get in these types of films.

Jojo Rabbit is surprisingly good, but after this any hits, it’s tough to doubt Taika Waititi’s abilities in any way. He has consistently made great films across his career, and Jojo Rabbit is no exception. This isn’t always the happiest viewing experience (Waititi mixes tones elegantly enough to hit hard when the film requires it), and I found myself more nervous-laughing than downright bellying over with giggles, but that’s not what this film requires. What it does require is your attention, though. Go see Jojo Rabbit as soon as you can.



-Kyle A. Goethe



For my review of Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows, click here.

For my review of Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, click here.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑