Director: Sarah Doyle Cast: Shannon Woodward, Tina Majorino, Paula Jai Parker, Nicholas Cutro Screenplay: Sarah Doyle 20 mins. Not Rated.
Today, I wanted to spend some time looking at a short film, and I found an entire short film collection called Etheria over on Shudder. The series focused on emerging women filmmakers, and I decided on a short film from early on in the collection, You, Me & Her.
The plot of the short is quite simple: 30 alternate versions of the same woman, Anna (Shannon Woodward, The Haunting of Molly Hartley, TV’s Westworld), from different realities all end up at a place called the Department of Parallel Resettlement, and the Anna in our universe realizes all the ways she’s become the absolute worst version of herself from any reality.
This was an okay little short film, certainly well-done from a technical place. Writer/Director Sarah Doyle was able to juggle a lot of footage and keep the flow moving nice enough, even if the narrative falls off the rails by the end. The concept is simple, Doyle makes a few interesting notes about whether we would even want to see the world from a different perspective, if that would ruin our perception of self, and Woodward makes for an interesting and accessible lead character in Anna.
It’s just that screenplay doesn’t seem to justify 20 minutes, that Doyle’s technical skills are on display, but her ideas do run out of steam by the end, and I’m left wondering if there’s too much run time or not enough narrative thrust to account for it.
All in all, You, Me & Her is an accessible little short film that shows promise with a solid enough little character journey that will, at the very least, ask some compelling questions. It’s a little messy by the time it reaches the finale, but there’s some good in there too.
Director: John R. Leonetti Cast: Annabelle Wallis, Ward Norton, Alfre Woodard Screenplay: Gary Dauberman 99 mins. Rated R for intense sequences of disturbing violence and terror.
Who would’ve thought that the second-best cinematic universe (after Marvel) in film currently would be the Conjuring Universe? I certainly didn’t peg that, but when The Conjuring first hit cinemas, I knew this was something special I was seeing. I had become a huge fan of James Wan from all the way back with Saw, Dead Silence, and Death Sentence (the latter being cosmically underrated), and I had always been a supporter of his, but I had no idea how strong a storytelling and visionary filmmaker he was. It was only natural to expand on the mythos of The Conjuring, so I was very excited to see where this film, a prequel featuring the mysterious doll from The Conjuring’s cold open, would go. The film garnered very poor reviews, but I eventually got a chance to see it? Was it really that big a step down in quality?
Annabelle is set some time before we meet the Warrens from The Conjuring. Instead, we are introduced to Mia Form (Annabelle Wallis, X-Men: First Class, Tag) and her husband John (Ward Horton, The Wolf of Wall Street, Ford v Ferrari). Mia is pregnant with their first child, and the couple seems very happy at this stage of their lives, but one horrible night the two are beset upon by cult members who have invaded their home, they quickly find that evil lurks in their home, evil that desperately wants Mia’s child, evil that is seemingly attached to a doll of Mia’s with a dark past.
I’ve been critical of John R. Leonetti (The Silence, Wish Upon) as a director for quite some time. I think he’s a great director of photography on a great many films. He knows how to set up a shot. In the case of directing, there’s a lot more to it that seems to go unattended. Acting, sound work, creating mood and tone through pacing. Leonetti doesn’t seem to have a handle of these things yet. He’s gotten a lot better than the mess that was Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, and his more recent attempts have shown even more improvement, but he needs to focus on bettering these aspects of his filmmaking in order to really be successful. He also doesn’t have much of a handle on scares, as Annabelle is easily the least tense and frightening of The Conjuring Universe’s 7 films. For comparison, the best sequences in the film, the elevator sequence, was guest-directed by James Wan. I can see how much Leonetti learned from working with Wan and observing his filmmaking style, but he needs to up his game in several other areas that are noticeably troublesome in Annabelle.
Wallis and Horton are slightly wood as Mia and John (obvious references to Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes, the actors from Rosemary’s Baby), but Alfre Woodard (Captain America: Civil War, 12 Years a Slave) steals every scene as next-door neighbor Evelyn. Her story has hints of sadness and doses of gravitas from the veteran actress, and she adds an extra layer doing a lot of the heavy lifting here. Also carrying a lot of weight in the film is Tony Amendola as Father Perez. Both he and Woodard are responsible for a heavy amount of exposition but they are able to get it across without weighing down the narrative too much.
Gary Dauberman (It, Wolves at the Door) wrote the screenplay for Annabelle, and there are noticeable issues with his work. Dauberman has honed his skills quite nicely in recent years (he did a lot of heavy lifting with It: Chapter Two) but he was still pretty early in his career when he crafted Annabelle, and his reliance on repeating exposition and constantly reminding the audience of info we’d already gotten (yes, Mia is pregnant and yes, Charlie Manson is bad) is pretty rough.
Annabelle shows a fundamental step down in quality from The Conjuring. Is it a bad movie? On the whole, no, it’s merely okay. It just feels like a bad movie coming off the powerhouse that was The Conjuring. It’s a messy movie, a disappointing movie, but not inherently bad. In fact, there’s some really cool moments on that display. I like the elevator scene, and the visuals are pretty striking, and I also think that this was made better by following the prequel Annabelle: Creation, which fixed some of the narrative issues. Should that count for it? Maybe not, but I’m going to because Creation did strengthen this film. It’s not great, but there are a lot worse horror movies to watch. Annabelle is fine…ish.
2.5/5 -Kyle A. Goethe
For my review of Corin Hardy’s The Nun, click here. For my review of David F. Sandberg’s Annabelle: Creation, click here. For my review of James Wan’s The Conjuring, click here. For my review of Gary Dauberman’s Annabelle Comes Home, click here. For my review of Michael Chaves’s The Curse of La Llorona, click here. For my review of James Wan’s The Conjuring 2, click here.
Cast: Dora Madison Burge, Samuel Davis Roger Edwards, Chris Osborn, Brian Steele, Denise Williamson
Screenplay: Jamie Nash
81 mins. Rated R for language throughout, some violence, sexual content and drug use.
Found footage will never really go away; there will just be good ones that surface in the pile of trash. Eduardo Sanchez (The Blair Witch Project, Lovely Molly) is quite well known for really creating the found-footage subgenre, or accidentally stumbling across it. He and Daniel Myrick proved that the concept can work, and then he tried some other stuff, and then went back for his next project: Exists. Sadly, this one didn’t stumble into greatness. It merely stumbled.
Five friends have set out on an outdoor adventure in east Texas. Brian (Chris Osborn, #REALITYHIGH, A Close Divide) and Matt (Samuel Davis, Last Flag Flying, Cabin Fever) have an uncle Bob with a cabin that they can stay at. When they hit something with the car, only to find nothing outside, the group ventures by foot to the cabin. The group enjoys their time at the cabin for the entire next day before finding themselves hunted by something. Something big. Something angry. Something out for revenge.
For a film that never hides the fact that it’s a movie about Bigfoot (Brian Steele, Terminator: Salvation, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues), this film sure likes to keep Bigfoot at bay and hidden for most of the film. I mean, I get it, you are trying to do the Jaws thing and keep the monster hidden. So then why have it on the poster? Why get a terrific company like WETA to do your creature effects? Why do this and then deliberately obscure the creature. When filmmakers take use of shaky-cam, the creature comes off looking like a hairy dude in a suit. It only looked good when we finally see it on film.
I found many of the characters in the film to be poorly written with no character development whatsoever. I didn’t know these characters. I wasn’t invested in them. I didn’t care if they lived or died.
Now I definitely got more engaged in the film when the first half was done so that I could actually get to the meat of the story. The second half of Exists is still better than most of The Blair Witch Project. It just still isn’t very engaging.
I just didn’t love Exists. To me, Sanchez just falls back on making the same movie here that he made before. And that first film wasn’t that good, and this isn’t good. Nothing is good about this. The creature design is amazing, and the film someone finds its footing far too late into its run time, but it just doesn’t have the chops to climb out of obscurity.
-Kyle A. Goethe
For my review of Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick’s The Blair Witch Project, click here.
Cast: Kevin Durant, Lukas Haas, Bianca Kajlich, Nick Damici, Sabina Gadecki, Steve Agee, Heath Freeman
Screenplay: Tyler Hisel
90 mins. Not Rated.
I came across Dark Was the Night this evening while looking around on Hulu for something scary to watch. I had never heard of the film, but being a fan of Kevin Durant (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Noah), I had to give it a go.
Sheriff Paul Shields (Durant) awakens one morning to find what appear to be hoof prints moving all through his small town. What’s more disturbing is that they do not appear to match any animal on record and seem to be from a two-legged beast. Paul and his deputy Donny Saunders (Lukas Haas, Inception, The Revenant) to tackle the mystery of the hoof prints, but they do not have much time, as people in town are starting to go missing only to end up dead hanging 30 feet up in the trees of the nearby woods.
Dark Was the Night has a simple enough premise aided by a capable albeit slightly bloated screenplay from Tyler Hisel (Safari). I feel like 90 minutes was a little too lengthy for this film. A tighter 80 minute runtime would have made this thing just cruise.
The source material for the story is an old unsolved mystery known as the Devil’s Footprints back in 1855, in which similar strange footprints were found in a town in England. It’s an interesting place to take a film, and it mostly works.
Durant is the definite star here, an actor who rarely gets center stage. He does a fine job here as the haunted sheriff, a man with demons who is strong enough to do the job he was put on Earth to do. His scenes with Haas showcase two great buddy cop chemistry.
Outside of these two, I feel like many of the citizens of the town do not get fleshed out and kind of just morph together in an amorphous townsfolk. I would have liked to know more about who they are and how this mystery affects them.
My only other major fault is the visual effects. An easy lesson here is if you don’t have the budget for high-end CGI, then utilize lighting. When the “thing” Shields is hunting for is uncovered, it is obvious not-so-great CG. Not terrible, but ineffective.
Dark Was the Night has some classic low-budget horror faults, but its unique mystery and some solid acting from its leads make for an experience worth having. An imperfect film it is, but one I think is worth the risk.
Cast: Rose Leslie, Harry Treadaway, Ben Huber, Hanna Brown
Screenplay: Phil Graziadei, Leigh Janiak
87 mins. Rated R for disturbing bloody images, sexual content and language.
I’d been meaning to watch Honeymoon for some time now. Yes, it’s because I love Rose Leslie (The Last Witch Hunter, Morgan).
Bea (Leslie) and new husband Paul (Harry Treadaway, City of Ember, TV’s Mr. Mercedes) have rented a cabin for their honeymoon. But things quickly change direction when Paul finds Bea wandering outside one night. She becomes distant and strange in her reactions and she won’t tell Paul what’s going on. It becomes clear to Paul that something horrible happened to Bea, but what?
Honeymoon is a small little horror film, but it is an extremely effective one. Leslie and Treadaway have amazing chemistry that raises the tension very well and the finale is unexpected and odd but very unnerving. It all seems a little easy to put together at times, but Honeymoon and its director Leigh Janiak aren’t hiding anything. It just feels like there’s more to it.
Honeymoon is good fun, and it’s creepy, strange, unexplained, and memorable. But best of all, it’s on Netflix. This is worth it next time you find yourself wandering the Netflix pages looking for something, anything, worth watching. I know you do it, we all do.
Cast: Michael Parks, Justin Long, Haley Joel Osment, Genesis Rodriguez, Johnny Depp
Screenplay: Kevin Smith
102 mins. Rated R for some disturbing violence/gore, language and sexual content.
When people ask filmmakers and storytellers where they get their ideas, I would imagine they rarely say, “from a podcast.” Well, that’s what happened to writer/director Kevin Smith (Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Holidays). On his Smodcast show with Scott Mosier, the idea percolated throughout episode 259 until they came to the story that became Tusk, the first film in Smith’s planned Canada Trilogy.
Wallace Bryton (Justin Long, Live Free or Die Hard, Frank & Lola) is a host of the podcast The Not-See Party with best friend Teddy Craft (Haley Joel Osment, The Sixth Sense, Almost Friends). Wallace plans to travel to Canada to interview the famous “Kill Bill” Kid, but when that plan falls through, Wallace finds another potential story at the home of Howard Howe (Michael Parks, Kill Bill vol. 2, Django Unchained), an elderly man with a very interesting past and a loneliness for someone to bestow his tale upon. But Wallace quickly finds that he is in for more than mere stories when he is drugged by Howe and awakens with a few body improvements. Now, Teddy and Ally (Genesis Rodriguez, Big Hero 6, TV’s Dame Chocolate), Wallace’s girlfriend, must travel to the great north to find him with the help of famous inspector Guy LaPointe (Johnny Depp, Edward Scissorhands, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them).
Tusk is a rather odd film. It appears on the surface to be a satirical take on the Body Horror Subgenre of films, but Smith plays it completely straight. Almost too straight in fact, as I didn’t find myself connecting to the characters in an interesting or emotional way. Smith’s famous dialogue is rather absent as Wallace, Teddy, and Ally are all flawed in a way that makes them too unlikable. The plot runs its course rather easily, but there is still fun to be had here. It just isn’t as blatant.
That being said, Michael Parks is excellent. The late great actor is a thespian of the odd and extreme, and he plays Howard perfectly. The scenes featuring him are the best in the film. I also loved Johnny Depp having a little bit of fun and not playing the same character that we’ve seen numerous times. It’s great seeing his push the envelope of LaPointe to strange new avenues, and I look forward to seeing how he is further developed in the concluding chapters of this trilogy.
The trilogy idea is rather fun as well, and Smith has already pushed on with Yoga Hosers with word on Moose Jaws unknown at the moment. It’s clear that Smith is interested in making his films for him and I can respect that. It just might not be all that lucrative.
So take a look up there and notice the credits I’ve supplied. Now tell me how many people it took to make this film. It’s true: Patrick Brice (The Overnight) directed, he and Mark Duplass (TV’s The League, The Lazarus Effect) wrote and starred. The film is Creep, a small 2014 film that’s been received quite well. Let’s turn on the found-footage and have a watch.
Brice plays Aaron, a videographer answering a Craigslist ad for a small one-day job with Josef (Duplass), a man dying of his terminal illness who wishes to capture a day in his life for his unborn son. As Aaron and Josef spend more time together, it’s clear that Josef is not all that he seems.
I want to describe the film further, but that’s about it. This is not a complex plot by any stretch of the imagination, and it also isn’t all that surprising of a story. It’s the genuine way the story unfolds that wins here. It also is a film with a lot of important but unnecessary dialogue, as in you don’t have to catch a lot of the dialogue but it’s pretty fun when you get what’s really going on.
The issues I had? First, the title is terrible. I would rather something more inconspicuous. Same with Duplass’s performance, which all but gives away his character. The film should be less obvious than it ends up being. The clues that are given are a bit too on the nose and it’s noticeable.
I don’t want to get much more into it. This is an easy film to watch and a fairly short and to the point kind of movie. It isn’t bad, but it isn’t all that engaging either. It’s a nice simple little movie. I’m excited to see where they take the story for parts 2 and 3 of this supposed trilogy.
This week’s short film is Lava, a 2014 film most widely recognized as the Pixar short released with this year’s Inside Out.
Lava is the story of Uku (Kuana Torres Kahele), a lonely volcano who wishes for someone to share in his song. He sees the wildlife all around him enjoy the company of others, and for millions of years, he waits for his loneliness to end. The short is set to a song written by writer/director of the film, James Ford Murphy.
Lava received a lot of flack upon release, many Pixar fans discussing the film’s underwhelming appeal. I, on the other disagree. The film is beautiful in its simplicity. It’s the classic tale of patience and features a stunningly graceful musical number. The low amount of dialogue allows for a deeper appreciation of the imagery, which is gorgeously crafted.
All in all, I loved Lava, a film packed with emotional triggers throughout its 7-minute runtime. See it now.
Cast: Rachel Melvin, Cortney Palm, Lexi Atkins, Hutch Dano, Bill Burr, Jake Weary, Peter Gilroy
Screenplay: Al Kaplan, Jordan Rubin, Jon Kaplan
77 mins. Rated R for horror violence/gore, crude sexual content, graphic nudity, and language throughout.
I knew it was only a matter of time before I watched Zombeavers. Today was as fitting a day as any other.
Mary (Rachel Melvin, TV’s Days of Our Lives, Dumb and Dumber To), Zoe (Cortney Palm, Sushi Girl, Silent Night) and Jenn (Lexi Atkins, The Boy Next Door, Ted 2) are prepped and ready to have a great weekend at the cabin alone, reflecting on Jenn’s relationship problem. Very quickly, though, the three are joined by their male companions and immediately attacked by undead zombified beavers who have been contaminated by medical waste unleashed in their lake.
Zombeavers has the distinction of being an incredibly entertaining 80s horror film that just happened to come out last year. The characters are equal parts enjoyable and stupid, enough in droves to make the ensuing horror that much better.
I’m not going to tell you that this is a great film. It is damn fun though. The beavers are not particularly well-built. They come off as knowingly fake and still pretty fun.
One high point of the film is the opening titles. They are perfectly constructed and create the tone of the film to follow. Add to that the amazingly goofy cameos from Bill Burr and John Mayer in the opening and you have a recipe for pure entertainment.
Cast: Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto, Daren Kagasoff, Douglas Smith, Bianca Santos, Shelley Hennig, Lin Shaye
Screenplay: Juliet Snowden, Stiles White
89 mins. Rated PG-13 for disturbing violent content, frightening horror images, and thematic elements.
Well, here we are again, folks! My favorite time of the year: Halloween and the month of scary movies! Let’s start this month off with the horror film Ouija, based on the Hasbro board game/spirit board of the same name.
Laine Morris (Olivia Cooke, TV’s Bates Motel, The Signal) just lost her best friend to an apparent suicide. When she uncovers an old Ouija board the two used to play with as children, she gets the terrible idea to gather several friends in the old house and try to speak to the recently deceased Debbie (Shelley Hennig, TV’s Days of Our Lives, Unfriended), but who exactly are they talking to, and what do they want?
Ouija has to be one of the worst horror films in recent memory. I couldn’t tell you any details about the characters in the film because they aren’t actually characters but people merely sitting in a room. They aren’t even cliché characters (that I can deal with, in fact, I can expect it from a film like this), because they have no details or personality traits.
Director Stiles White gives us boring sequences meant to incite fear but merely flopping around on the screen totally uninspired. The deaths in the film don’t even have tension. The characters just kind of die. There is no fear because there isn’t a buildup. The eyes turn white (for no particular reason) and then they die. Nothing’s happening here.
For a film that runs 89 minutes, this movie felt like 3 hours. It feels like it has two directors, and in fact, it was mostly reshot, with some characters disappearing and reappearing with no consequence or impact on the story. Lin Shaye (Insidious, Big Ass Spider!) appears in one of the most wasted casting choices of the film. She is given nothing to do.
As for the music, it is used far too sparingly, and when it is, it sounds like a calmer version of the Insidious theme. Totally worthless.
All in all, Ouija is a bad film to see at the beginning of the month because it actually challenged my beliefs in the future of horror. What the hell is this piece of garbage? Can somebody help! Please!