Kyle’s Ten Worst Films of 2021

I debated a bit about doing a Worst Films list this year. I avoided it last year, mainly because I only saw 30 movies from 2020 by the end of the year. 2020 sucked enough as it was, and I just didn’t feel like piling on, and I wasn’t sure I’d bring it back, but I was convinced by another critic who said that part of discussing the movies you love means being able to discuss the movies you didn’t love.

Making a movie is hard. It’s really hard. I’m sure if I made a movie every year, it would show up on the bottom list of at least one person. Film is subjective.

We’re going to break down the worst films of last year, to me. I’m going to showcase the movies that just didn’t work for me and try to explain what about them didn’t work. The best kind of criticism is constructive, so let’s get started on the movies that failed to connect with me as a film fan.

Just a few notes, once again, because we have to say this or someone will inevitable Not Get It:

  • I didn’t see every movie that came out in 2021. I saw a considerable number, but movies escape and, to be honest, I didn’t go out of my way to see movies that were not well-reviewed by my peers or movies that I didn’t have an interest in.
  • This is my personal list. You may have liked some of these movies. I just didn’t. Subjectivity is a beautiful thing, isn’t it? If you disagree with one of my picks, drop a comment defending the movie. I love the discussion.
  • I still have not seen The Emoji Movie from 2017. Deal with it.

Let’s get started…

  1. Space Jam: A New Legacy
  • Space Jam: A New Legacy makes a great argument for why the first film is actually pretty great. The original Michael Jordan-led Space Jam is fun and nostalgic but not a great film by any stretch. It just has that lighting-in-a-bottle weirdness that fused a popular NBA star with the Looney Tunes and somehow made it watchable. Seeing this long-awaited sequel just showcases all the ways that the original film surprisingly works. A New Legacy is one of those films that just makes you scratch your head more than anything. It’s a piece of studio-created 115-minute merchandising reel that just shows off a lot of IP, but does nothing interesting with them, and the IP sidelines the Looney Tunes, almost like WB didn’t have faith in them to begin with. Add to that a LeBron James in the lead role with zero charisma (something that Jordan had in abundance) and the film just bores. Also, the actual basketball has no tension or stakes because there are all these Style Points where players get extra points for looking cool. The fact that Warner Bros is the ultimate enemy here is really funny though, as A New Legacy lit up the studio before The Matrix Resurrections stepped in to finish the job. I haven’t even mentioned the weird IP characters in the crowd. When you have someone who isn’t Arnold Schwarzenegger playing the Mr. Freeze that is from Batman & Robin in the crowd, who is that for? Wouldn’t WB own the rights to his portrayal of the character within their Serververse? I mean, the logistics of the in-universe logic are head-scratching, and who was the target audience for putting the nuns from Ken Russell’s The Devils in this film? WB won’t even release The Devils, yet they’ll put reference to it in a family film. I’m just so confused by it all.
  1. Night of the Animated Dead
  • I had a lot of faith in this one. It had the Warner Bros Animation stamp of approval (and the animated DC stuff is quite good), and it was a new stylized retelling of a classic horror zombie film. I’m just frustrated by the budgetary choices on this one. They mostly reused George A. Romero’s classic script about a group of people holed up in a farmhouse as the dead rise to devour the living, so no money spent there. So why spend money getting recognizable names to do the voice and spend literally pennies to actually animate the damned thing? This is one of the ugliest-looking movies. Perhaps the point of the film was a meta-commentary on zombies because the finished product is a soulless cash-grab. I kind of love that Night of the Living Dead is in the public domain so that anyone can go in and do their take on the timeless story, but the poster sells a style that the movie cannot deliver, and there isn’t a notable win in any place throughout the film. Mostly, I’m mad I spent 10 bucks to see it. This is one that could’ve been so much more.
  1. Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin
  • Cash-grab might be one of the themes for this list. The idea of the Paranormal Activity franchise returning seemed like a really great thing. Saw returned this year as well, so it’s only natural to bring back the other powerhouse horror franchise from the 2000s. They even had Christopher Landon writing the script and William Eubank (Underwater) directing, so the pieces looked in place. It also had a new setting with new characters but seemed, at least on the surface, to have some surprising connections to the original mythos. Alas, this didn’t happen. Next of Kin was Paranormal Activity in-name-only, a found-footage film that frequently ignores the rules of found-footage with a lackluster plot, uninspired characters, and an ending that falls flat, but more than that, I was hoping this film would have some way of further expanding on the mythology that fans have come to love, but Next of Kin doesn’t really do anything with its run time that would merit remembering. I…was…bored. Not a great sign for a horror movie, and Next of Kin is probably the worst of its franchise.
  1. The Ice Road
  • Jonathan Hensleigh has written some great movies, and he even directed one in 2004’s The Punisher, but this is a far cry from those films. The Ice Road, a Netflix film, is one of the many Liam Neeson-led action movies that, in recent years, almost seem to just run together into an amorphous blob of terribility. Don’t get me wrong, I pride myself on being one of the first to openly praise the excellent revenge-action film Taken, the first Neeson action film of this ilk, and I stand by it (and the second one isn’t all that bad either), but it’s been more than ten years since that film, and the mileage that has been made out of this type of movie has sputtered and come to a stop. These are paycheck movies, and The Ice Road, which started out promising, just became another throwaway. I hadn’t seen an action movie about Ice Road Truckers, and with Laurence Fishburne in tow, I felt like I was set up for something good, but then the film takes a slippery turn into absurdity with a weird betrayal heist subplot that takes over the entire movie and completely lost me. This was an all-around disappointment.
  1. Cry Macho
  • This is starting to feel like a Warner Bros hit job but let me explain. I didn’t go to the theater for the first 5 months of the year, and I don’t search out bad movies, but I didn’t want to miss out on theatrical-at-home with HBO Max. WB released some incredible movies last year, but they released some crap as well, and I couldn’t put off watching them or they would disappear from the service, so I watched them. I watched them all, and the one that was the toughest to get through (though not the worst one of all, as you’ll soon find) was Clint Eastwood’s newest film Cry Macho. This one appeared out of nowhere, with little fanfare and there’s a reason for that. It’s horrible. Eastwood had kind of sworn off Westerns after Unforgiven, a Western that deconstructed the aging cowboy archetype, and he should not have returned. This is a boring, slogging movie that doesn’t amount to anything worth conversing about. Eastwood’s Mike is a former rodeo star bringing his ex-boss’s son back from Mexico, and it felt like the worst parts of Eastwood’s recent fare mixed with a half-assed Rambo: Last Blood sequel, and none of it works. Normally, I can see what Eastwood is trying to do with his lesser movies, but I’m at a loss here. There’s a reason no one is talking about Cry Macho.
  1. Reminiscence
  • Reminiscence could’ve been great. It had an interesting concept, a unique plot device that could lead us to interesting narrative choices, and a nicely stacked cast of strong performers, but Reminiscence, the first feature from writer Lisa Joy, trips over itself throughout the entirety of the run time. This machine that uses memories could’ve been used to tell us a story through memories, but instead, we get a lackluster plot that became more groanworthy with every new reveal. I get that Hugh Jackman’s Nick Bannister is supposed to be a noir hero, but his voice-over didn’t add anything. I get that he’s an addict, but his addiction to Rebecca Ferguson’s Mae (an understandable addiction if there ever was one) goes nowhere interesting. There are a lot of Nolan-esque ideas at play here, but Joy doesn’t use them well, and the problems stem from an uneven and bland script, unfortunately. I got wasted-potential vibes similar to Transcendence here, but that film was more watchable in its convolutions.
  1. Clifford the Big Red Dog
  • Here’s an IP all the kids were clamoring for. Sorry to say, Clifford just might not be viable right now. Add to that, a creative team that constructed a silly narrative based on getting just three things right: he’s a dog, he’s big, and he’s red. They got that right, too, but nothing else. The narrative places our villain as a guy who is looking to solve world hunger, so obviously he’s the bad guy, and we get saddled with an uninteresting niece/uncle relationship that’s without laughs and without heart in equal measure. To top it all off, the most boring element of the whole film is Clifford. He had no personality, no character, and I know it is weird to get all mad at a dog, but Clifford should feel like a character in his own movie. They had an opportunity to use that Dog’s Purpose/Dog’s Journey/Dog’s Way Home technique of dog inner-monologue quite nicely here, but they didn’t, and the movie ended up a dud. Stick to Martin Short’s Clifford, a true classic.
  1. Zola
  • There are quite a few people that feel very different than I on the subject of Zola. I’ve seen it on “Best Of” lists a few times this year from a few people I tend to be in agreement with. The nicest thing I can say is that it’s a little bonkers and definitely a unique vision for a director, but for me, very little actually worked in this movie. I really liked Colman Domingo and a few other smaller characters peppered throughout, but this movie bored me and, to be frank, annoyed the shit out of me at times as well. I can’t say much more than that, but if this director comes out with another film, I’ll give it a try. When it comes to the story of Zola, the tweet thread is much faster read and a whole lot better.
  1. Tom & Jerry
  • The last, and certainly the worst, of the WB travesties of 2021 on this list, Tom & Jerry was just another attempt at taking IP that kids are less familiar with today and throwing CGI versions of them into real life. I didn’t have a lot of expectations for this one, but with Chloe Grace Moretz as the lead human, I felt like maybe there was something unexpected at play here. Turns out, I was wrong. Tom & Jerry is just another one of these movies where the humans are given too much to do and none of it is entertaining while, at the same time, we have CG blobs causing generic havoc in a given location.
  1. Outside the Wire
  • All the other movies on this list are ones that I could sit through if my wife or family or friends wanted to watch. Outside the Wire, a Netflix movie you probably haven’t heard of, is one I can’t even recall anything good about. This was, if I remember correctly, the first 2021 film I saw last year, and I was bored to tears. I had to pause multiple times to get up and walk away because what I was subjected to was just plain boring. Nothing internally offensive here, just a boring movie that wastes a solid enough premise and an interesting cast on a movie that seems to have a checklist of cliches and plot contrivances, seemingly trying to accomplish them all in one sitting. I’m sorry to say that Outside the Wire is my least-favorite movie of the year.

So there you have it. These are my least-favorite movies of the year. Thank goodness that’s over. Now, let’s get onto better things.

What were you least favorite movies of 2021? Let me know down in the comments!

-Kyle A. Goethe

Kyle’s Top Ten Films of 2021

Well, last year was…a little better…right?

Hello again, everyone! We’ve reached the end of 2021 and it’s time, just like every year, to discuss the best in movies from last year. 2021 was an overall improvement of a year, and I also happened to see a lot more movies in 2021 than the year prior. In 2020, I think I saw 30 movies. 2021 was a lot closer to 90.

More than anything else, 2021 was the year I got to go back to the movies. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure that would happen. This year, the theaters reopened (and had movies to show), and I got vaccinated. To be honest, it was tough for me to even consider going to the movies again once they reopened until I was vaccinated. That’s not me preaching to any of you; it’s more me saying that I didn’t think I could lose myself in the movie without thinking of COVID.

That means I missed seeing theater-worthy movies like Godzilla vs. Kong, but I was finally convinced it was time to return to the cinema for Spiral: From the Book of Saw was released. Saw was such an important franchise for me, I couldn’t miss it.

Yes, I finally went back to the theater in June, and I haven’t looked back. It’s been a really solid element in my mental health to be back at the cinema (I’ve stated many times that the theater has been a place of solace for me when the world becomes too much to handle). I’m not alone in this regard, as audiences flocked back to the theaters back in the 30s in the height of the Great Depression. Well, 2020 and its sequel were rather Greatly Depressing, and I used the theater as a tool. Great movies or terrible ones, it really didn’t matter.

All of that is a long way of telling you that I saw a great many movies, and I feel better talking my Top Ten Films of 2021. So let’s not waste any further time and get right into it.

Now, in order to properly begin, we have to state the obligatory forewarnings:

  • I did not see every film released in 2021. In fact, there are still a few films released very quietly in 2021 that many reviewers have not been able to see, like The Tragedy of Macbeth and Cyrano, and I am unable to include those films in my list. If you know of a film that belongs on this list but you don’t see it, it just means I didn’t see it…that, or it doesn’t belong on my list.
  • On that note, this is my subjective list, not yours, and not objective whatsoever. They are MY personal picks for best of the year. These are the films that spoke to me as a filmgoer. There are better made films that came out in 2021, and there are some films on this list that did not get Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and quite a few that will miss the Academy’s selection process for Oscar-worthiness. They are MY picks and mine alone, so don’t be upset if a film is on your list that isn’t on mine. That’s the beauty of art and entertainment: we don’t have to love the same things to make them worthy.
  • Along with all that, I crave discussion, dissection, and (respectful) disagreements. So let me know by commenting below with your Top Ten Movies of 2021 (or just a list of favorites, especially if they aren’t on my list). I’d love to see what you loved last year.

Alright, without further adieu…

  1. The Sparks Brothers

-In less than 2 1/2 hours, Edgar Wright turned me, someone who had heard one Sparks song but couldn’t even connect it to the band, into a lifelong fan who spent his entire summer listening to the band as if he was trying to play catchup for time lost. His documentary is equal parts biography, concert film, and fever dream, and it all seems to work quite well. It’s also an incredibly watchable film, an entertaining instruction manual on first watch and a celebration of the band for those viewers who had discovered the incredibly prolific but under-appreciated musicians.

  1. Spencer

-Who would’ve guessed that the Princess Diana movie starring Kristen Stewart would end up being a horror-thriller Christmas film? Well, okay, it isn’t so exact as that, but this is a Christmas-set “biopic” that is less concerned with the details and minutiae of a life’s timeline and more set on a story that captures the character and person that Princess Diana was. Set during the last holiday season of her time involved with the royal family, the film sees Diana breaking apart at the seams while she struggles to maintain a strong face for the sake of the Crown. She’s there for her children, the one piece of her life in this world that still has good in it. I also have to credit the incredible performance of Kristen Stewart as Diana, a piece of acting prowess that captures her spirit and soul more than her mannerisms and speech patterns, but I was completely lost in her performance and never once doubted that I was seeing Diana on the screen. I would also be remiss if I did not mention the unsung actor from the film, Sean Harris as McGrady, the Royal Head Chef, and one of the best scenes of the year, in which McGrady confesses how the staff really feels about Diana, and don’t forget the single best needle-drop of the year as the film comes to a close.

  1. The Last Duel

-Ridley Scott dropped two bangers in 2021, and one of them ended up on this list. I didn’t have the highest hopes for The Last Duel because, for me, Ridley Scott can get a little divisive. Every film he makes, the film gods flip a coin. As bonkers as House of Gucci ended up, The Last Duel is an elegant and intense view at altered perspectives done in the style of Rashomon. I have minor faults with a few elements in the overall film, and I argue that “kids-on-their-phone” is so old man and silly. The reason that The Last Duel underperformed is that we are in the middle of a pandemic and many filmgoers are forced to make choices of what they want to watch. Several great films slipped between the cracks this year, and a movie that portrays a rape (not once, but twice, mind you) may not be the type of film that audiences wanted this year. That’s one of the factors why a film like Spider-Man: No Way Home did so well this year while bleaker fare like Nightmare Alley and The Last Duel struggled to find a presence. Beyond all that, though, the film is fantastic. It’s a tough sell to do a film that covers a painful and intense event from multiple viewpoints. You have to keep the film fresh while essentially telling the same story. Scott’s film teases us with the titular duel and then presents these views in a captivating way, and each retelling sought to alter the narrative in interesting ways.

  1. Dune

-I try not to hinge my thoughts on one film based upon another, but it’s nearly impossible to do so in the case of Dune, or Dune: Chapter One, or whatever it will eventually be called. We knew going into this film that it would be an adaptation of the first half of Frank Herbert’s epic science fiction novel, but we also went into it knowing that the second half of this story was uncertain. It’s a lot of baggage to carry for a single film, and that’s not even diving into the quality of the film itself. Well, Denis Villeneuve surprised us all yet again by turning the oft-believed-unfilmable novel into a science fiction masterpiece on the level of Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. Well, potentially one day, but it’s a beautiful and elegant masterpiece of cinema nonetheless, but it needs to be stated that this is the first half, and it carries a level of understanding. Dune was not filmed back-to-back with its sequel like Back to the Future II & III or The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions or even the previously mentioned epic production of The Lord of the Rings. Dune was also not handled like the recent 2-part It adaptation. With that film, had we not gotten It: Chapter Two, the first film would stand on its own. Dune: Chapter One hinges on that sequel more than any other two-parter that I can recall. Had that sequel not been announced, I’m not sure this film would be on this list, but it was announced, and it will (likely) happen. With all that, I can’t wait to see this story come to an end and rewatch the first film a bunch when it drops on home video.

  1. The Suicide Squad

-Okay, I trust James Gunn to make a solid and entertaining film, and I trust the recent moves of the DCEU (overall, I’ve been positive on most of the universe, but the recent stuff has been the best), but I didn’t expect nearly as entertaining a time as I got with The Suicide Squad. Early reviews were very positive, and when I finally caught the film at a press screening, I was initially worried the hype was too hyped. Nope, this is an excellent time at the movies, a mean-spirited and bonkers action film that has shades of gritty 70s action pictures. Essentially, Gunn has made a big-budget Troma film, and you can tell he’s having the time of his life with his characters. A more stacked cast than his previous Marvel films, he’s able to give each of his “Squad” a moment to shine. By shine, I’m referring to debauchery or sin, but you get what I mean. The Suicide Squad is a wild ride of entertainment that, dare I say it, is damn beautiful and makes me excited for Peacemaker later this month.

  1. Candyman

Candyman was the last new movie I saw in 2021, and I’m surprised to see it on this list. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the original film quite a bit, but I did not expect the hit on this legacy sequel just waiting for me to watch it. A little context for you: I’m big on franchises and I don’t like the idea of the legacy sequel (it feels lazy and oftentimes falls into the same pitfalls as the films it ignores), and the only reason I waited on Candyman 2021 was that I hadn’t watched Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh and Candyman: Day of the Dead, so last week, I binged the whole franchise, and I must say, this newest film is the best film in the series by a stretch. The clever screenplay, co-written by Jordan Peele, paired with the picture-perfect directing from Nia DeCosta (I can see why she was so quickly snatched up by Marvel). It’s a legacy sequel that chooses to build on the mythology in a way that doesn’t retcon anything that came before but instead decides to add and validate what came before while challenging the history of the series at large. It’s gorgeous, haunting, and thought-provoking to the very ambitious ending.

  1. Halloween Kills

-This is the part when everyone stops reading, so let me remind you that this is a subjective list, and I would be wrong not to put Halloween Kills on the list. I’ve said it before, but Halloween is my all-time favorite horror film, and I have a special place in my heart for the rest of the franchise, convoluted and deeply-flawed though they may be. For Halloween 2018, I was interested but, as stated above, I don’t like the retcon aspect. All that being said, I get why the rest of this franchise was retconned, as most audiences did not keep up with the mythology as much as I did, and trying to make sense of it all would’ve been a bit of work. Also, Laurie Strode was dead in the previous films. Well, I saw Halloween 2018, and it is easily the best-made film since the original, but I felt like it was more of a Greatest Hits album of Halloween, sending up a mashup of great scenes and references from the other non-canon entries, but really not doing a whole lot to distance itself. Well, I revisited Halloween 2018 right before Kills came out, in what amounted to a quick trilogy binge (1978/2018/Kills). Halloween Kills, while being less-polished than David Gordon Green’s previous film, is all the better for its ambition. Sure, it does tread some of the same waters and ideas, but it uses them in a wholly different way. Here, we see Haddonfield as a real town full of interesting characters (I love that many of the background characters of 2018 show up again in Kills), and it’s a town dealing with its trauma in an unhealthy way. This sequel speaks to the question of how we react to fear, and it pushes the Halloween story into delightfully bloody new directions while making its predecessor much better and more palatable as a chapter in Green’s story.

  1. The Green Knight

The Green Knight was a movie that almost seemed to not want me to watch it. It didn’t have a lengthy run at my local theater, and the weekend my wife and I had planned to see it ended up with me self-quarantining and getting tested for COVID because I was very sick. I ended up being negative but by the time I ended up feeling better, we didn’t have a free night to see it, so we missed its theatrical run. Thankfully, I ended up with a 4k copy of it, and I was actually able to watch it. Also thankfully, the movie is excellent. The way The Green Knight takes the classic fable and legend and reconfigures it to fit David Lowery’s filmmaking sensibilities and give us a Gawain who is essentially a hopeful hero without any heroic skills, a leader who only takes the killshot because he can, a man who cannot take responsibility for his actions and flees at the sight of danger. It’s also a technically stunning piece of medieval fantasy with terrific performances and a haunting visual aesthetic. If you missed it like I did, rectify that immediately.

  1. Belfast

-There’s an argument out there that Belfast is not as hard-hitting and serious as the events it is depicting require, and I can understand it. The reason the film works for me is that it’s not about those events specifically; it’s about the family at the center of it, specifically young Buddy (played by newcomer Jude Hill). Seeing these traumatic events through the eyes of a child was something very effective for me. For Buddy, everything going on in his world is strained through the filter of his family, and that’s all he wants. He wants things to go back to normal, he wants to stay in Belfast, he wants his life to go in the direction it has been up to now. That’s his reckoning in the film, and it’s a small story against a big backdrop, and it was a joyful (as joyful as it could be, given the surrounding political unrest of the time) coming-of-age story that I want to share with my family, friends, everyone.

  1. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

-No, I’m not a Marvel fanboy saying it is better than everything ever made without discussion ever. The last time I had a Marvel film on my Top Ten, it was back in 2011 and it was Thor. If you look at my list, there’s a good number of acclaimed films in Oscar contention as well as some really entertaining popcorn movies. Shang-Chi is the best of both worlds, and if there were to be a superhero film in the Best Picture race, it would be Shang-Chi. The film has an important cultural touchstone, and it showcases a terrific starring turn from Simu Liu as the titular hero, but the film has so much more. It has a terrific friend/potential love interest in Awkwafina, and it has one of the MCU’s best villains in real Mandarin Xu Wenwu. The film has loads of excellently-choreographed action, nods to wuxia, and it plays off one of the MCU’s best arcs in the Mandarin, especially with how the character ties to Iron Man 3. I even find the finale to be much more than a CG mess that most superhero fare gets lost in. Shang-Chi ends with a bang, but it is character-driven all the way through. Gosh, I can’t wait for a sequel to this film. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is all-around excellent, and it’s my favorite movie of 2021.

There you have it. My Top Ten Films of 2021. I’ve said my piece, now it’s time to say yours. What are your favorite movies of last year? Leave your favorites below! See you next year.

-Kyle A. Goethe

Kyle’s Most Anticipated Films of 2021

2020 has come to an end, thankfully. Now, we must reckon with the rubble of 2020’s unreleased films and the evolving film landscape that we will be living in through at least the end of the year. Now, we don’t really know what movies are officially coming out this year. Many of the films on this list were supposed to come out last year, and they simply…didn’t. No matter. We will still get excited for what is on the way and celebrate the (possible) films of 2021 that I am clamoring to see. It’s the next best thing to actually seeing them.

Just a couple notes:

-This is my most anticipated, not what I think will be the best films of the year by any stretch. Most of the films that end up on my Top Ten at the end of the year are ones I might not even have heard of at this time.

-There are always a lot of blockbusters on these lists, because these are the films that are most often discussed in the months and sometimes years leading to their release. That’s just the way it works.

NOTE: THIS IS NOT A COUNTDOWN. IT’S JUST A LIST AND THE FILMS ARE LISTED BY THEIR (TENTATIVE) RELEASE DATE.

Well, we’ve waited a year to see some of these. Let’s not wait any further…

Godzilla vs. Kong

-Ugh, I’m so sad that this is coming out before I’ll be vaccinated. I would really rather see this thing on the big screen, but I’ll have to settle for HBO Max. The wacky release off this and other WB films have taken a bit of the wind out of my sails, but these movies will need releases and the studios need to start making money to survive at this point. All the same, I’ve enjoyed all three entries in the MonsterVerse to varying degrees, and the choice to bring in Adam Wingard to direct this cinematic beatdown is a rather interesting one. There is so much setup, specifically from Kong: Skull Island and Godzilla: King of the Monsters that I can’t wait to see how it all comes together. Here’s hoping that Wingard and WB can pull this off as the MonsterVerse has seen diminishing returns on their cinematic universe and they need a win to keep this thing going.

No Time to Die

-I’m not entirely convinced that this will make the release date, but that doesn’t change my excitement. I don’t think many film fans are really remembering the caliber of talent to this next installment of the James Bond franchise. It’s expected to be the final outing of Daniel Craig, an actor considered in the upper echelon of Bond performers, and it also happens to have the stamp of a director like Cary Fukunaga, director of the entire first season of True Detective. This installment further builds on Spectre (a film I liked while acknowledging its faults) and where this Craig storyline has been building, and that trailer was excellent. I see nothing about this film that makes me nervous, and seeing that the studio has pushed it enough times for a stronger release window tells me that they think it’s pretty special too.

A Quiet Place Part II

-It’s frustrating that there are reviewers and general audience film-goers that have already seen A Quiet Place Part II. I believe I was even invited to a screening of it last March alongside Mulan, and I elected not to go because I was tired and it would be out in a week or to anyway. I have regrets. Still, I’m very excited to eventually see this movie, and this is another that I would rather see on the big screen because I still remember the experience of seeing the original film in a packed theater opening weekend. That extremely quiet theatrical experience was so strange and intense that I want that feeling back, and the idea that the sequel will address events both before and after the original, like a sci-fi/horror Godfather II, is very interesting.

Spiral: From the Book of Saw

-This is where I show my serious bias for horror. The Saw franchise has been incredibly near and dear to my heart since the first film came out, and I’m overjoyed that the franchise is getting started again with Spiral: From the Book of Saw, releasing (as of now) in May. The ninth film in this franchise shouldn’t be getting me as hyped as it is, but with the return of director Darren Lynn Bousman (who helmed 3 of the franchise’s sequels) and Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson leading the cast, how could I not be excited? Rock even helped to develop the story for the new film, being a big Saw fan, and the trailer was very interesting and unusual. There’s just so much mystery for me, a die-hard Saw fan, that I cannot wait to get back in a theater to see this one.

F9: The Fast Saga

-Justice for Han! This is another franchise that’s so stupid, and yet, I’m always looking to see what they do next. Each sequel seems to heighten the silliness while maintaining that cheesy emotional beat: FAMILY. Here’s the thing: what these films do, they do well. The entire franchise has become Grindhouse B-movies with a budget, and I continue to consume. The trailer for F9 did exactly what I wanted, psyching me up for a return to this weird group of characters, and this being one of the first pushes of 2020 means that I’ve been waiting extra long for the next installment. Bring it to me!

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

-This sequel has a lot to live up to. The first two Conjuring films are almost certified classics of the horror genre at this point, and while James Wan is no longer directing the third installment (this one is helmed by Michael Chaves of The Curse of La Llorona), I’m still excited to see Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson returning as Lorraine and Ed Warren. Beyond the changes behind the camera, we’re also seeing a very different story in front of it. The first time demonic possession was used as a criminal defense in a court of law. To me, I’m feeling Exorcism of Emily Rose vibes from this one, and I’m hoping for a unique blend of courtroom drama and horror film, something that could prove to be difficult to pull off. I’m praying for this one, and I’m hoping to be able to catch it in a theater.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife

-The world deserves more Ghostbusters films. I grew up terrified of the ghosts and completely bought into the mythology and the fun characters that brought this franchise to life. I even enjoyed the most recent reboot, Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, with the exception that the film completely mishandled its marketing and misused these really stupid cameos from the original stars instead of just being a follow-up sequel. Well, that’s what we are getting with Afterlife. The film is being helmed by Jason Reitman, son of Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman, and the trailer has its own unique tone while seemingly paying homage to what came before. I like the serious take on the action and I like the Stand by Me/Goonies take that is seemingly being placed on our new characters. I think it could be incredible, and I’m very excited to see what we have in store for us here.

Dune

Dune has always been the tough nut to crack for Hollywood. The Jodorowsky version never came to fruition, the Lynch version is strongly considered poor and difficult to access for casual viewers, and the miniseries just hasn’t aged well enough to see now. Here’s the difference between all those previous attempts and the current iteration: Denis Villeneuve has seemingly cracked a few tough nuts in his limited time in Hollywood. He’s successfully directed a sci-fi film that was nominated for Best Picture (Arrival) and he’s crafted a long-gestating sequel to success with a film that rivals the original (Blade Runner 2049). So far, he has a track record for difficult projects, and I have faith that he has crafted yet another interesting new vision. This is, yet again, another film I’m so excited to see but I really don’t want to watch this one at home. Dune, more than any other film this year, feels like a theatrical experience. I know, broken record here, but that’s how I feel and it hasn’t changed since I started writing this. Looking at this whole list, Dune is probably the most exciting film of the year.

Halloween Kills

-Rounding out this list is the sequel to the reboot of the original 1978 film Halloween. As much as I loathe the naming scheme of this new iteration of the Halloween franchise, I cannot deny that I am very excited to see where David Gordon Green and Danny McBride are taking the story in this two-part finale to the franchise (it’ll be back, but I feel like their notion is true to sticking to a finale). Now that the 2018 film has been done (basically a greatest hits of the various sequels with a much better handle behind the camera), we can move into uncharted territory, and that’s an exciting thing for a horror fan like myself who is unsure of the next time I’ll be seeing Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger on the big screen. Halloween has had so many timelines and permutations, but the original film is still my favorite horror movie of all time, so I’m in this to the end, and then long after.

The Matrix 4

-Wait, there’s one more, and I’m probably more excited for this one than you are! Back in 1999, I was not initially big on The Matrix. In fact, it wasn’t until I revisited the film in 2003 in preparation for the two sequels coming that year that I realized how terrific that original film is. Then, I saw the sequels, and I kid you not, I loved them both more than the original! From there, I became a huge fan of the Wachowskis. Speed Racer is one of my all-time favorite movies. Cloud Atlas is an astoundingly ambitious film that topped my “Best of” list for 2013 films. I even liked Jupiter Ascending (though I will admit that one is a bit of a mess). For me, the Wachowskis are some of my favorite filmmakers currently working, and I’m so excited to see this return to a familiar world that will hopefully have some more surprises in store.

So there you have it. 2021 is a long year, and we can only hope that we see half of these released, but maybe we’ll get more. For now, stay safe, sit back, and enjoy the year in film (in whatever form that takes).

-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 28 – [Happy 15th Birthday!] Saw II (2005)

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Cast: Donnie Wahlberg, Franky G, Glenn Plummer, Beverley Mitchell, Dina Meyer, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Erik Knudsen, Shawnee Smith, Tobin Bell
Screenplay: Leigh Whannell, Darren Lynn Bousman
93 mins. Rated R.

Saw was a horror phenomenon when it released in 2004. It surprised the hell out of me, as I didn’t expect to love it so much, to be rewatching it so regularly, trying to scope out clues and things I had missed before. It wasn’t for everyone, especially those unable to handle gore (even though the first actually didn’t contain as much as the franchise would be known for later on), but for me, there was another element that kept me entranced, and that was the story. I loved the mystery of the film, the clues, the references. I studied that film, and when the sequel came out, it didn’t arrive at my local theater and I was too young to drive to another town to see it, so I waited until the inevitable January DVD release, and I caught it. Now, looking back, let’s see how the first sequel to Saw holds up, and its influence on the direction of the series.

Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg, Ransom, Dreamcatcher) is a bad cop and a worse father. His life isn’t what he thought it was, and now he’s become the target of the villainous Jigsaw (Tobin Bell, Mississippi Burning, The Firm), a killer who likes to play games, set traps, and let his victims kill themselves in their struggle to survive. Eric and his former partner Kerry (Dina Meyer, Starship Troopers, Johnny Mnemonic) have discovered Jigsaw’s hideout, but they soon learn that catching Jigsaw will be tougher than they expected when Eric learns that his son Daniel (Erik Knudsen, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Scream 4) is also a part of Jigsaw’s next game. Now, Eric and Daniel are both playing for survival, and Jigsaw has a few surprises in store for both of them.

Saw II actually started as a completely different movie. Writer/director Darren Lynn Bousman (Repo! The Genetic Opera, Abattoir) had shopped around his script for a film called The Desperate and kept getting turned down, with most telling him that his movie was too similar to Saw. Eventually, the script found its way into the hands of Saw producers, who were looking to get a follow-up to the 2004 smash hit put together. Leigh Whannell, who scripted the original film, came in and adjusted the script into a Saw sequel, and the rest is horror history. In that way, Saw II is a bit of a unique flavor of the Saw films. It has most of Bousman’s writing stamps on it, and it has a look more in line with Bousman’s non-Saw films while still not straying away from the feel of the original. The screenplay, now adjusted to being a Saw sequel, is full of more of those clues and references to the connection with the original, and the way it ends up connecting is bonkers good. In fact, not even the cast was aware of the film’s ending and how it would play into the first film. Although, there are a few times when Jigsaw flat out lies to Eric, something he isn’t known for doing (he stretches the truth and leaves information out, but he never full-on lies to his victims and pawns), and that disappointed me a little.

Donnie Wahlberg is a standout here. His scenes with Tobin Bell as Jigsaw are amazing. The two have such different energies on display, and watching them collide is exhilarating while also highlighting their differences as characters and gives a lot of development to both. Remember, this film does a lot more heavy lifting of the Jigsaw mythos than the first film, in which [SPOILER ALERT!] Jigsaw spends most of the film lying in a bathroom covered in makeup and fake blood. Jigsaw gets to really flex his creed here and the reaction he gets from Eric works so well. Wahlberg’s work as Eric only highlights his own shortcomings as a cop, husband, and father.

Shawnee Smith (The Blob, Believe) also returns from the first film as Amanda, a character with limited but impactful screen time in the original (in fact, her scenes in the original were basically what the short film that inspired Saw were all about). Seeing her as someone who has survived Jigsaw’s game only to find herself back in it is horrifying, and we feel for her, but we also find a level of trust in her as she understands the game better than the others, and we cling to her for support. She also ends up in a fairly uncomfortable trap fighting for survival with the needle pit.

I also want to discuss the house trap, as it’s where most of the action of the film is. It’s a cool house with a lot of history and character to it, and seeing all these people trapped inside with slow-acting poison, looking for antidotes, it creates a larger set piece than the bathroom but doesn’t feel like it betrays the first film. It just has its own flavor, much like the rest of Saw II, probably carried over from Bousman’s earlier script. What I love about the way Bousman directs is that he tries to create a sense that the story never slows down by creating in-camera tricks in filming and editing that make scenes flow from one to the another without actually cutting. Look at the way Eric leaves his apartment early on and ends up at a crime scene. It’s a fascinating shot that emphasizes the best of Bousman’s ability to work low-budget and still create interesting and compelling cinema.

Saw II is still a step down from the first film, but it continues the story, elevates the characters, and develops the world-building of this franchise quite nicely while feeling like its own contained story. Yes, there are a few screenplay faults, there are more unlikable characters than likable ones, and the film maybe feels a bit too big at times, not allowing us to spend time with the cattle on their way to slaughter, but at least it highlights its most interesting characters like Jigsaw, Eric, Kerry, and Amanda, the ones who are developed enough to interest. I enjoyed the film immensely when I first saw it, and I still do, even if I’ve seen some of its faults on repeat viewings. I would still encourage fans of the original to see this one, and those who haven’t seen it in a while to consider revisiting it.

4/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of James Wan’s Saw, click here.
  • For my review of Darren Lynn Bousman’s Repo! The Genetic Opera, click here.
  • For my review of Darren Lynn Bousman’s The Devil’s Carnival, click here.
  • For my review of the anthology film Tales of Halloween, click here.
  • For my review of Darren Lynn Bousman’s Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 12 – Annabelle (2014)

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.

[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 3 – Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman

Cast: Alexa Vega, Anthony Stewart Head, Sarah Brightburn, Paris Hilton, Ogre, Terrance Zdunich, Bill Moseley, Paul Sorvino

Screenplay: Darren Smith, Terrance Zdunich

98 mins. Rated R for strong bloody violence and gore, language, some drug and sexual content.

 

Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II, St. Agatha) came off his run of Saw films with several dark operatic fantasy/horror films, the first being Repo! The Genetic Opera. I remember being extremely excited for this one, having been such a fan of the Saw franchise. I even had a few college friends (I’m dating myself here) come by my dorm so we could watch it when the home video was released (in those days, we had to drive to Walmart to get such films). As I put the disc in (in those days, movies were on discs) and sat back with the others to watch, a momentary question popped into my head: what if it sucked?

In the not-too-distant future, organ failures have crippled the planet, and the corporation known as GeneCo steps in to aid the crisis by creating payment plans for organ transplants, but if you are unable to make your debts, they send the Repo Men, trained killers who take the organs by, likely causing in the client’s death. GeneCo’s CEO, Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino, GoodFellas, Acts of Desperation) is sick and looking for an heir to his empire. Of his three children, he sees nothing but failure, so instead he looks to Shilo (Alexa Vega, Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams, Christmas Made to Order), the daughter of his ex-fiancé, Marni. Shilo’s father Nathan (Anthony Stewart Head, Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer) wants nothing to do with the Largos, but he is in a situation where he cannot fight the family on his own while still keeping his sick daughter safe from the world.

Repo! The Genetic Opera has a lot of exposition to its science fiction elements, but it handles most of that info quite well through its operatic and amusing songs. Many of these songs stayed with me after watching the film once, and I kept going back to it. This is a strange movie, and I wouldn’t say that I quite loved it the first time I saw it, but the songs kept returning me to it, and it has now developed in me a cult following similar to other midnight madness films like the Rocky Horror Picture Show (though, not to that level) and The Room (though much better).

Anthony Stewart Head slays this movie. I had not been much of a Buffy fan when I first saw Repo! but I had others with me that knew of his abilities as an actor and singer, especially from the Once More With Feeling musical episode of Buffy.  That’s actually what got him the job for Repo! and it’s easy to see that it was a good call.

What’s so interesting about the casting for Repo! is how director Bousman took advantage of his small budget to cast the film with unlikely pairings of performers, some with singing talent, some with acting chops, some with neither (looking at you, Paris), and then performers who could mine the camp of the material, like Bill Moseley (The Devil’s Rejects, American Exorcist) as the son, Luigi Largo. It reminds me of a term that the Russo Brothers came up with for their Avengers movies: strange alchemy. The way Bousman captures performers from wildly different backgrounds for Repo! gives it a special unforgettable quality that makes the cheesiness seem rather artistic.

Now, there’s a lot of things that don’t work. The film may have been too ambitious with its smaller budget, and much of the special effects look pretty poor. The idea to animate the flashbacks like a comic book sounds cool on the surface, but it does come off a little sluggish. Not all the songs work. Not all the performers do either. The ending leaves a bit to be desired. The film has its faults, but some of them actually aid the film while others detract from the enjoyment.

Repo! The Genetic Opera is not even close to a flawless experience, and it’s a movie that isn’t for everyone, but I suggest it to a lot of people looking for a fun musical experience that’s unlike a lot of films that came before it. Bousman tried to follow-up this film with two other dark fantasy/musicals in The Devil’s Carnival duology, but neither really hit where Repo! did. Repo! works due to a selection of amusing and mostly catchy music, a scene-stealer performance from Head, and a unique viewpoint from a promising horror director. Seek this one out.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of Darren Lynn Bousman’s The Devil’s Carnival, click here.

For my review of the anthology film Tales of Halloween, click here.

For my review of Darren Lynn Bousman’s Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival, click here.

James Wan is Taking a Long Nap as Aquaman Wraps Post-Production

James Wan is a very busy man. It’s a wonder, with all the producing he does on films like The Nun and The Curse of La Llorona, that he has time to make a big tentpole film like the upcoming DCEU film Aquaman, but he does it.

Wan took to Instagram for the announcement, writing:

“After two years of consuming and devouring my every waking hour, this little indie movie is finally done. It was a monster undertaking. I can’t THANK enough the amazing post team of VFX/editorial/sound for working tirelessly around the clock – crazy long days, 7 days a week, for many many many weeks without a day off – towards making this a unique and beautiful film. Everyone poured their heart and soul into it, and I can’t wait to share this 21st December! In the meantime, I’m gonna go take a really long nap now.”

The first few trailers garnered some poor reviews for their CG. I personally didn’t find trouble with it, but I also understand that most trailers have unfinished CG. Wan’s film will be very CG-heavy, so it’s no coincidence that the film is just now wrapping Post-Production.

I’m very happy for James Wan. I’ve been a fan of his since the original Saw film, which he directed. I’ve traced his path through a lot of horror and seen a director that consistently grows from each experience. His last big-budget feature Furious 7 was hampered with filming troubles after the sudden death of star Paul Walker, so I know he has dealt with stress quite well and his work shows focus and determination to deliver a superior product. I haven’t been excited for a DCEU film in some times as the cinematic universe has garnered its own share of criticism since its inception back in 2013. Well, it certainly makes me excited to see James Wan’s Aquaman next month.

Aquaman surfaces in theater on December 21st.

So what do you think? Are you excited for Aquaman. Let me know/drop a comment below.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[Early Review] Insidious: The Last Key (2018)

Director: Adam Robitel

Cast: Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Josh Stewart, Caitlin Gerard

Screenplay: Leigh Whannell

103 mins. Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content, violence and terror, and brief strong language.

 

The Insidious franchise is now four films in, and the newest installment, The Last Key, had me a little concerned when it was bumped back to January, oftentimes the graveyard of shitty horror films. I happen to be a big fan of this franchise, and I want to see it continue with more well-received reception. So I entered the theater with some trepidation tonight.

Shortly after the events of Chapter 3, Elise (Lin Shaye, There’s Something About Mary, Abattoir) and her newly-formed team of Specs (Leigh Whannell, Saw, The Bye Bye Man) and Tucker (Angus Sampson, Mad Max: Fury Road, TV’s Shut Eye) are drawn into a new case set in Five Keys, New Mexico. Elise initially turns down the case when she discovers that the house being haunted is her childhood home, a place with horrific memories from Elise’s past, but she quickly realizes that she has a responsibility to help others, and her team sets off on a trip through Elise’s past, where she will encounter familiar entities and new horrors.

The great thing about the newest installment in this franchise is the focus on the character of Elise. It’s become quite clear after four films that the star of the series is Lin Shaye, and choosing to further develop her is a terrific idea, as much as I’m turned away by the prequel aspect of the recent two films. Shaye’s performance is a powerhouse of the genre, and we spend a lot of the film focused on her inner demons, particularly surrounding the relationship with her father, Gerald (Josh Stewart, Interstellar, War Machine).

The big feeling I felt leaving the theater was one of calmness, though, and the lack of true terror in the film is noticeable. The previous installments all kept me close to my seat, but The Last Key is missing a lot of that. While there are indeed some incredible moments in the film, there just isn’t enough to spur up any actual dread. Diehard horror fanatics may find themselves unfulfilled in this respect.

Thankfully, director Adam Robitel (The Taking of Deborah Logan) keeps the pace moving and the plot thread twisting and turning enough to make the movie interesting, but it just isn’t all that scary.

Insidious: The Last Key is a classic fourth installment, searching for a place of purpose and struggling to find a tone. The film is entertaining and I think it will please fans of the series looking to unravel the mystery, but the general public and hardcore horror hounds may not find this scary enough to please.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of James Wan’s Insidious, click here.

For my review of Leigh Whannell’s Insidious: Chapter 3, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

Saw (2004)

Director: James Wan

Cast: Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Monica Potter, Leigh Whannell, Michael Emerson, Ken Leung, Tobin Bell

Screenplay: Leigh Whannell

103 mins. Rated R for strong grisly violence and language.

 

Jigsaw is out now, the eighth film in the Saw franchise. Since Saw is one of my favorite series, I thought it best to revisit the convoluted mythology before attending the newest release.

Adam (Leigh Whannell, Insidious: Chapter 2, The Bye Bye Man) awakens in a tub in total darkness. He soon learns that he is in a large unknown bathroom and his leg is shackled to one corner. Shackled at the other end is Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes, The Princess Bride, Anna Nicole), another man who has no recollection as to how he ended up there. Lawrence and Adam are in a trap designed by the infamous uncaptured Jigsaw killer and that they must use all the tools they have to escape, even if that means cutting off their feet.

Saw is absolutely brilliant horror filmmaking. Director James Wan (The Conjuring 2, Furious 7) proves his worth in his first feature-length film based on a short he created with actor/writer Leigh Whannell. This is independent filmmaking at its finest, especially given the rushed schedule. The film had five days pre-production, the entire production schedule lasted eighteen days, and musician Charlie Clouser had three weeks to score the film. In essence, he created one of the most catching and memorable musical themes ever.

It’s extremely difficult to pull off a feat like this, with only two actors getting most of the screentime, but lead Elwes commands the screen and the whodunit nature of this first installment is exhilarating, as is the shocking finale.

Many people have taken issue with Saw’s reliance on gore over actual horror, and while it would be difficult to deny that, even the franchise’s haters can attest to the low level of gore in this first installment. It only came later that the increasing nature of sequels that the franchise got the reputation for torture porn (a term I will fight tooth and nail against).

Saw is a fabulous horror film, one of my absolute favorites. I watch it quite often as it is the best of the franchise. Wan’s masterful directing shows why he is such a name in Hollywood right now. If you’ve avoided Saw due to its graphic nature, I implore you to give it a try…if only a few minutes.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of James Wan’s Insidious, click here.

For my review of James Wan’s The Conjuring, click here.

For my review of James Wan’s Furious 7, click here.

For my review of James Wan’s The Conjuring 2, click here.

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 14 – [Happy 10th Birthday!] Paranormal Activity (2007)

Director: Oren Peli

Cast: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Friedrichs

Screenplay: Oren Peli

86 mins. Rated R for language.

 

Ah, Paranormal Activity, the franchise that killed Saw. I’m over it. I’m so over it.

The original Paranormal Activity has a fairly straightforward plot: A couple, Katie (Katie Featherston, Psychic Experiment, TV’s Solace for the Unloved) and Micah (Micah Sloat, The Death and Return of Superman) get a video camera to document the eerie happenings at their home. The strange activity seems to be centered around Katie, and Micah, having only just hearing about it, decides to attempt to capture it on film. What follows is a found-footage collection of the three weeks the camera is on.

The frights in Paranormal Activity are interesting, unusual, and a little intense at times. Director Oren Peli (Area 51) shot the film in 10 days using a script that was essentially a guided outline and created the characters alongside Featherston and Sloat to create as much realism as possible. Katie is depressed and sad as the movie shows the horrors she has experienced most of her life while Micah is kind of an asshole as he fails to see the toll inflicted on someone he supposedly loves. Neither performance is particularly exemplary but they are serviceable enough.

Credit should be given to Paramount Pictures and director Steven Spielberg for shepherding the film to release, as well as the horror fans who requested it in their homes. Paramount went all in on the finished product, opting to show the finished film without title cards or any credits in fact, playing up to the gimmick, and Steven Spielberg suggested a more marketable ending that this writer actually prefers to the original, if only slightly.

Overall, Paranormal Activity would be a good starting off point for horror fans. It is creepy but not altogether scary, and its thrills do not rely heavily on gore or dread but more a fun atmospheric ambiance. In fact, this is a film that is better outside of the theater, so gather some friends, turn the lights off, and enjoy!

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Christopher Landon’s Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, click here.

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

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