[31 Days of Horror Part V: A New Beginning] Day 7 – Hush (2016)

Director: Mike Flanagan

Cast: John Gallagher Jr., Kate Siegel, Michael Trucco

Screenplay: Mike Flanagan, Kate Siegel

81 mins. Rated R for strong violence/terror and some language.

 

When Maddie (Kate Siegel, Hot, Oculus), a writer working on her follow-up novel, stays in her isolated home to find solitude, she is not prepared for the horrific night that awaits her. Maddie is deaf due to a childhood illness, and she cannot hear the killer who taunts her from outside. This killer is a man looking to play a game of cat and mouse, and Maddie is his next target. Maddie must use her remaining senses to keep herself safe and stop the killer from collecting another victim.

I met Mike Flanagan (Gerald’s Game, Ouija: Origin of Evil) once at the premiere for his film Absentia, and while I’ve never shied away when I have issues with his work, I found Hush to be a very capably put together little horror/thriller. It’s concept is simple and that’s what makes it so compelling. His direction is clean and unwavering, maintaining focus on Siegel’s Maddie as often as possible. This single-setting film works very well and cruises through its tight run time.

John Gallagher Jr. (10 Cloverfield Lane, Peppermint) plays the killer quite well in a way I haven’t seen him yet. From all the work I’ve watched of his, I’ve never seen him embody menace in such a way. He is a terrifying presence. Michael Trucco (Next, The Bye Bye Man) also appears in a small but crucial role as a next-door neighbor looking for his missing spouse.

While not everything works perfectly in Hush, the film is brisk, exhilarating, painful, and enticing. Mike Flanagan uses his single-setting and small cast very nicely, never going for full-blown mayhem and instead focusing on the silence of the hunt. Maddie grows and evolves as the film’s runs along, making her a formidable foe to the masked killer.

Hush is one to watch for. If you missed it when it soft-dropped n Netflix in 2016, please take some time to check it out. The risk is minimal and you may find it quite enjoyable like I did. If you don’t, eh, it’s only 81 minutes.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Mike Flanagan’s Absentia, click here.

For my review of Mike Flanagan’s Oculus, click here.

For my review of Mike Flanagan’s Ouija: Origin of Evil, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 29 – Absentia (2011)

Director: Mike Flanagan

Cast: Katie Parker, Courtney Bell, Dave Levine, Morgan Peter Brown, Justin Gordon, James Flanagan, Scott Graham, Doug Jones

Screenplay: Mike Flanagan

87 mins. Rated R for language and some disturbing images.

 

I actually attended the premiere of Absentia back in 2011. It was the first premiere I’d been to and it was quite fun. I had a chance to meet director Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Gerald’s Game) and actor Doug Jones (Pan’s Labyrinth, TV’s Star Trek: Discovery). I was very aware of Jones but it’s been very interesting to follow Flanagan’s career since then. The director has made some high-profile horror films and he continues to climb.

Absentia is about sisters Callie (Katie Parker, The Binding, The Last Alleycat) and Tricia (Courtney Bell, Before I Wake, The Puzzle). It’s been seven years since Tricia’s husband went missing, and now she’s ready to declare him dead in absentia. Callie, a recovering addict, has come to live with her and help her through the process. Tricia is having dreams and hallucinations of Daniel (Morgan Peter Brown, Contracted: Phase 2, Trip House) and where he might be if he were alive. Callie herself is seeing strange occurrences during her morning runs when, in a nearby tunnel, she sees a man calling himself Walter (Doug Jones) and asking for her son. Walter soon also disappears, and it’s clear that the tunnel holds a few secrets for both women.

Absentia has an interesting concept. Not many know about the emotional toll that declaring a missing person to be dead has on someone, and tying that to a horror film works very well. Flanagan’s film is light on actual scares, but his use of mood and interesting fleshed-out characters works well enough that the lack of scares don’t really matter in the through line of the narrative.

Flanagan’s lead actresses have an emotional core to them that ties the narrative together nicely, and the mysteries of the film don’t feel too easy except in hindsight. Absentia has time to breathe and focus on its characters and thankfully Parker and Bell hold the frame with their performances. Supporting actors Dave Levine (Namour, Chasing Happiness) and Justin Gordon (Gehenna: Where Death Lives, Fun Size Horror: Volume 2) do come across as slightly cliché and formulaic as the detectives working on the case, but this isn’t their story.

Absentia is proof that Kickstarter can do great things. The film is dark, ominous, foreboding, and accessible. I would have liked to have felt more dread as I understand it to be what the film was really wanting but missing. At least it is enjoyable enough as a horror film that relies on character action and doesn’t fall back on jump scares. It is an engaging and original early work for an up-and-coming director.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Mike Flanagan’s Oculus, click here.

For my review of Mike Flanagan’s Ouija: Origin of Evil, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 (2017)

Director: James Gunn

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Kurt Russell, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, Sylvester Stallone

Screenplay: James Gunn

136 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive content.

 

Yes, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is now available on home video and streaming platforms, and this film was universally liked but not universally loved. I took another look at it to see how I really felt.

Set a few months after the original Guardians of the Galaxy, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, Jurassic World, Passengers) and the team find themselves on the run from the Sovereigns when they come across a being known as Ego (Kurt Russell, The Hateful Eight, Deepwater Horizon) who announces that he is Peter’s father and has been looking for him. Peter takes off with Ego and brings along Drax (Dave Bautista, Spectre, Enter the Warriors Gate) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana, Avatar, Live by Night), leaving Rocket (Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook, 10 Cloverfield Lane) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel, Furious 7, Riddick)  to fix the ship and keep an eye on their prisoner, Gamora’s sister Nebula (Karen Gillan, Oculus, The Circle) who is very much alive. While Peter learns much of his heritage from Ego, there is something strangely perfect looming over their time on the living planet while Rocket and Groot are hunted down by the Ravagers led by Yondu (Michael Rooker, Cliffhanger, The Belko Experiment). With the team split up, they soon learn that they are at their strongest when they stick together in this sequel helmed by James Gunn (Movie 43, Super).

Is Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 an improvement over the original? No, but does it have to be? No. I’m tired of these comparisons that say that a sequel or follow-up is not successful unless it surpasses the original. It doesn’t have to. But there are some things that are better. First off, I think the film’s coverage of its secondary characters is better. We get a much better look at Yondu that’s more than the somewhat one-dimensional character we had in the original. Michael Rooker is a masterful and often forgotten character actor and he absolutely shines here.

I also think the obligatory Stan Lee cameo is the best one in his entire filmography, which, at this point, is a pretty impressive feat. James Gunn’s choice to overload the end credits with five mid and post-credit scenes is brilliant and it adds to the insanity. I think overall, Gunn’s choice to embrace the flavor of what he brought to the screen is the winning element of the Guardians of the Galaxy series. You probably saw the music video for Inferno, the Guardians theme, recently, and I love that this kind of marketing and viral social meeting presence is available to fans.

I also felt that the relationship between Star-Lord and Ego is an interesting and complex one. Chris Pratt said in an interview that this film helped him to get over the death of his own father. Theirs is the driving force of the film and everything feeds off it. In fact, this is a film about fathers and the families we create, whether by blood or not (oh, and the de-aging of the devilishly handsome Kurt Russell is pretty impressive).

Things that altogether weren’t as good as they should have been? Really, it’s a small list, but I wish Mantis (Pom Klementieff, Oldboy, Hacker’s Game) could’ve done more. I think we will see more of Mantis later, but I felt like she was underused. I also was never a big fan of the Nebula/Gamora dynamic and I hope more relevance comes to this when Infinity War hits. Then there’s the loss of Nathan Fillion’s terrific cameo. I wish there had been a place to squeeze him in, but the film is rather bloated. Maybe that’s it. There’s so much going on that the film feels a little bloated. Yeah, that’s it.

“I am Groot.” -Groot

Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is a fine film and a fine addition to the MCU. I love these characters and treasure further adventures with all of them. The soundtrack is subtle and important and stays with you long after the film ends (I’m still humming it). Yeah, it’s just a damn fun time at the movies and in that respect, it’s a beautiful experience.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

  • For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.
  • For my review of Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk, click here.
  • For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2, click here.
  • For my review of Anthony & Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.
  • For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.
  • For my review of Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, click here.
  • For my review of Anthony & Joe Russo’s Captain America: Civil War, click here.

 

 

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[Early Review] [31 Days of Horror 3] Day 18 – Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)

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Director: Mike Flanagan

Cast: Elizabeth Reaser, Lulu Wilson, Annalise Basso, Henry Thomas, Kate Siegel, Doug Jones, Alexis G. Zall

Screenplay: Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard

99 mins. Rated PG-13 for disturbing images, terror and thematic elements.

 

Good evening folks, tonight I was privileged to have been invited to an advance screening for the upcoming release Ouija: Origin of Evil. Now, as many of you know, I wasn’t big on the original Ouija, but I went in with an open mind ready to embrace the fear. Now, did this sequel bring me in? Let’s take a look.

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This prequel follows the Zander family: mother Alice (Elizabeth Reaser, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2, Hello My Name is Doris), eldest daughter Paulina (Annalise Basso, TV’s Cold, Captain Fantastic), and youngest Doris (Lulu Wilson, TV’s The Millers, Deliver Us From Evil). The Zanders run a faux seance scam out of their home. In an effort to increase the spectacle, Alice purchases a Ouija board from a local shop, and Doris immediately makes a connection to it. But her constant use of the board leads to frightening changes in her personality as seen through the eyes of Paulina and Father Tom (Henry Thomas, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Dear John), the Principal of the local Catholic school. Then, people start dying, and all eyes are on Doris, but she couldn’t possibly be causing it, right?

Let’s talk about how this installment adds to the larger mythos of the Ouija franchise. In all fairness, I’m actually surprised by how well it ties to the original but also how it forges a new path. It does really feel like the filmmakers, specifically Director Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Hush), seemed to have taken the feedback for the first film and attempted to right the ship.

That being said, this movie has so many convoluted plot points and story pieces that, by the end of the film, it completely devolves, which is sad, but also not surprising considering I felt the same way about Flanagan’s 2013 film Oculus. The plot thread moves along fine enough for the first hour, but when the pieces start falling together, the film falls to pieces.

And then there’s the issue of the Ouija board. As the first film kind of devolved into a pretty lame ghost story, this prequel eventually becomes a mess of possessions and slashers and doesn’t do any of it particularly well. I wanted to like it, and there are elements that shine, but the Ouija board could’ve been removed from both films without changing the story one bit.

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Flanagan’s visuals occasionally shine through, and the film’s pace isn’t bad, but this outing feels like it took too much from other horror films that have been here before and done it better. I saw pieces of Insidious, The Conjuring, and The Exorcist here, and none of it done in a particularly memorable way. I’m glad that Ouija: Origin of Evil is a major step in the right direction, but the ending feels like it was forced to fit a certain way to match the first film, and in doing so, the story is badly damaged and crashes to the ground. On a budget of $6 million, I have no doubt that there will be a Ouija 3, so let’s hope they continue to make progress with this series.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Stiles White’s Ouija, click here.

For my review of Mike Flanagan’s Oculus, click here.

The Giver (2014)

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Director: Phillip Noyce

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Brenton Thwaites, Cameron Monaghan, Odeya Rush, Alexander Skarsgard, Katie Holmes, Taylor Swift

Screenplay: Michael Mitnick, Robert B. Weide

97 mins. Rated PG-13 for a mature thematic image and some sci-fi action/violence.

 

The hotly anticipated adaptation of the dystopian novel The Giver has arrived and initial response has not been great. What did I think? Well, wouldn’t you like to know?

The Giver is the story of Jonas (Brenton Thwaites, Oculus, Maleficent), who lives in a normalized version of reality set some time in the future. His world is one of plainness, of emotionless life filled with routine followed by more routine. It exists without color and without free thought. Life is good. Jonas is about to go through a life-changing ceremony along with friends Asher (Cameron Monaghan, TV’s Shameless, Click) and Fiona (Odeya Rush, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, We Are What We Are). This ceremony grants each of them jobs in their society, and Jonas has just been granted the most important role of all as Receiver of Memory, a role of passing down information from a man known only as The Giver (Jeff Bridges, The Big Lebowski, R.I.P.D.), who has some very valuable information for Jonas.

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The Giver isn’t a bad movie as much as it is a rough one. I get the sense that this movie wasn’t fully completed. I also feel as though the book, through fantastic, was not made to be adapted. There is just too much that feels like it would work until you actually see it.

Jeff Bridges is wonderful in the titular role, and he should be, as he has been trying to get the film out of development hell for almost two decades. He even previously filmed a version using family members in the roles to prove that the film was doable.

We also get some great, though very underutilized work from Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada, Into the Woods) as the Chief Elder, a woman who has her own secrets and doesn’t really trust that Jonas will stick to the guidelines of his role, just like ten years previously when a young girl named Rosemary (Taylor Swift, Valentine’s Day, The Lorax) failed as the Receiver of Memory.

Brenton Thwaites is passable, though very underwhelming at times. The saving grace is Odeya Rush as Fiona, a girl who helps inspire emotion with ease.

As for the parental units, Father (Alexander Skarsgard, TV’s True Blood, The East) is pretty good while Mother (Katie Holmes, Batman Begins, Jack and Jill) poses too many questions, the most important being, “How does Katie Holmes keep getting work?” Seriously, I haven’t seen a passable performance since…wait, give me a minute.

As for Taylor Swift, come on. Not good. Not horrible, but definitely not good.

This adaptation was trouble from the start. The entire civilization is without emotion so much so that watching it would be kind of boring. Then again, add any noticeable emotion and people will claim that it breaks its own rules.

THE GIVER

I personally enjoyed myself over all, but the film is not without its problems. That much I can promise you. I just keep thinking. It could have been so much more.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

GuardiansoftheGalaxy

Director: James Gunn

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro

Screenplay: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman

121 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language.

 

The Marvel Cinematic Universe just keeps on getting bigger. Each film just seems to open up the world a bit more, and with Guardians of the Galaxy, director James Gunn just blew the lid off the whole thing. This movie is huge, epic in scale, absolutely opening doors to further adventures both for these heroes and a whole lot more.

Guardians of the Galaxy is the story of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, Her, Jurassic World) aka Star Lord, an Earthling kidnapped from his home many years previously by aliens. Peter steals a mysterious orb from Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2). Ronan wants it back, badly. Peter joins up with several other degenerate thugs to protect it. Among them is daughter of Thanos, Gamora (Zoe Saldana, Avatar, Out of the Furnace), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista, Riddick, The Man With the Iron Fists), a walking and talking tree named Groot (Vin Diesel, Fast & Furious 6, Babylon A.D.), and a talking genetic raccoon named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook, American Sniper). Together, they form the loosely fitting title of the “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

First of all, I just want to point out that Chris Pratt takes a commanding lead of this colorful cast of characters. He controls the film and doesn’t falter under any pressure carrying us along. I’ve been saying for a while that Pratt is going somewhere. This film proves it.

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Zoe Saldana is such a beauty; I will never understand why every damn movie has her suiting up in CG of makeup, but the performance here doesn’t suffer, mostly because Saldana requested to wear light makeup so as not to mess with her ability to act. Gamora is a tough character to knock down. Through her relationship with father Thanos (last seen in 2012’s The Avengers in a cameo appearance) and sister Nebula (Karen Gillan, Oculus), she probably has the most connections to tie us into the MCU.

I was actually fairly shocked by Dave Bautista as Drax. I see a former wrestler-turned-actor in a lineup and assume the worst, but that is because more often than not, I am right, but Bautista doesn’t hold us down. He serves the tough guy purpose nicely, and he has a heart in there; the glimpses are just enough to connect to the audience.

Vin Diesel’s Groot is the breakout performance of this film. With three words and seemingly endless permutations, Groot is the source for a lot of the heart and soul of the picture, and his relationship with Rocket is a beautiful thing.

The Collector (Benicio del Toro, Snatch, Inherent Vice) was introduced to us in the post-credits sequence for last year’s Thor: The Dark World, and he serves the purpose of really expanding the Marvel universe. Apart from having the subtle nuances to complete with the other major players, The Collector delivers a lot of big game info in his small role, like the Infinity Stones, certainly something to learn about for future features all over the verse (wait, was that the cube?), as well as giving us some nice cameos of perhaps some future Marvel players (not all, but dammit, enjoy the post-credits scene for what it is).

Now, I did have criticisms for the film. For example, Lee Pace’s Ronan the Accuser is a somewhat generic villain, very much alike to previous Marvel fare. We as the audience wanted more of Thanos that we didn’t really get. At least the film served a purpose of reminding us that he isn’t really an endgame. Not to mention the fact that the ending builds to a less-than-stellar face-off that could have been used earlier for better effect.

The nicest thing we could be given for this film is that we didn’t have a lot of it ruined by the trailer. More films should take a page from Guardians of the Galaxy and understand that a trailer can be made up of non-feature material.

Before I end this off, I want to point out how impressed I was by Gunn’s choice of soundtrack and how much it actually, surprisingly works. Give it a listen and let it pump you up.

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Guardians of the Galaxy was a Marvel Studios test, and it works. Producer Kevin Feige wanted to see it fans would turn out for some of the more cosmic, out-there characters that Marvel has to offer. And we did. And we loved it. I think you will too.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

What did you think of Guardians of the Galaxy? Did this ship take you places or crash land on a strange and disappointing planet? Tell me!

 

Oculus (2013)

Oculus

Director: Mike Flanagan.

Cast: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Rory Cochrane, Katee Sackhoff.

Screenplay: Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard.

103 mins. Rated R for terror, violence, some disturbing images and brief language.

 

I was pretty excited to see Oculus recently. I truly enjoyed director Mike Flanagan’s previous work in Absentia (I saw the premiere at the Fargo Film Festival back in 2011), and I wanted to see where he take us next when he had a bigger budget and more room to play. Unfortunately, I spent most of Oculus arguing with myself over whether I was enjoying myself or not. Not ever a really good sign. It felt to me like a film that was trying to confuse its audience so they wouldn’t see all the ridiculous plot points for what they really were.

Oculus tells the story of Kaylie Russell (Karen Gillan, TV’s Doctor Who), who is trying to prove to her brother, Tim (Brenton Thwaites), that the reason their parents went insane several years ago was because of a haunted mirror. Initially, thoughts went through my head about the previous horror film Mirrors, a decent effort from director Alexandre Aja. Sadly, this film falls flat even after a pretty fantastic opening setup.

The film plays out in two timelines simultaneous, one with Kaylie and Tim as children, the other years later as adults. Playing them against each other proves pretty interesting, except at the end when the timelines devolve into a confusing, jumbled and ultimately, disappointingly predictable finale.

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Oculus does a great job setting the events of the film into motion. We are given a solid premise and even rules to govern the journey we are going on as Kaylie describes exactly how she plans on proving the mirror’s intentions of evil and how she planned on destroying it. Soon after, however, the film departs from these rules and chooses to never reference them again.

I also had a problem with the mirror’s motivations. Okay, I get it, that sounds silly, but in any horror film, you have to get what the killer or monster’s motivations are or what the hell does it matter? Michael Myers was trying to kill all his relatives. Jason Voorhees was the closest thing to birth control for Crystal Lake, hacking and slashing his way through teens as vengeance for his dead mother. Freddy Krueger was also all about revenge, and Chucky the killer doll just wanted out of his plastic body. Oculus’ mirror, however, plays tricks on people. Some of them are meant to maim or kill, but other times, it plays out like a violent joke. One such scene, where the mirror leads Kaylie to believe that she has bitten into a light bulb gets us to see that it was only an apple. Why would a mirror do that? Wouldn’t the opposite be much more terrifying and gruesome?

This’ll sound funny as well, but I didn’t feel like the mirror was a well-built character. It didn’t have enough presence in the film. For all we know, it could’ve been a haunted oven or house or pretty much anything. It didn’t really use its reflection to terrorize. There was nothing to tell us the mirror was really behind anything. Its backstory kind of disappointed as well. If this becomes a franchise, I would like to see it explored much more.

The performances were fine, especially from Gillan and Annalise Basso (Bedtime Stories) who play adult and young Kaylie, respectively. Katee Sackhoff (TV’s Battlestar Galactica, Riddick) and Rory Cochrane (Argo, Parkland) do respectable work as Russell parents Marie and Alan.

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I’ve heard a lot of reports that Oculus may be looking at becoming a franchise, and if so, it has some digging to do before it reaches a status worthy of yearly trips to the movie theater.  I see potential, and there were a few great moments about this film, but all in all, I drove home from the movie not angry, but disappointed, and in the end, isn’t that worse?

Have you seen Oculus? What did you think? Comment below.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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