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,

[Early Review] The Conjuring 2 (2016)

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Director: James Wan

Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Frances O’Connor, Madison Wolfe, Simon McBurney, Franka Potente

Screenplay: Carey Hayes, Chad Hayes, James Wan, David Leslie Johnson

133 mins. Rated R for terror and horror violence.

 

Good evening, everyone, I just got back from an early screening for The Conjuring 2! Did I like it? Spoiler: Yeah, I did.

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This sequel from director James Wan (Saw, Furious 7) is set after Lorraine (Vera Farmiga, TV’s Bates Motel, The Departed) and Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson, Watchmen, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) have wrapped up their famed inspection of the Amityville house. Now, a far more terrifying case comes calling all the way from Enfield in north London. Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Mercy) and her family have been experiencing a new level of paranormal disturbance that threatens the lives of the entire family. This entity has centered itself on Peggy’s daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe, The Campaign, Keanu) and plans on forcing her to do the unthinkable. Now, the Warrens have found themselves in their most dangerous journey, facing an enemy that wants more than just the Hodgsons.

First of all, I have to congratulate Wan on not tackling The Amityville Horror. This sequel touches on it just enough to provide a context for the series. The Conjuring 2 is one of the more amazing horror films in recent times. It may also be Wan’s best film to date, and I mean that.

The acting from Farmiga and Wilson are again incredible, but it’s the relationships built between them and the Hodgsons, particularly Janet and Peggy, that make the film. It’s rare to call a horror film heartwarming, but that’s exactly what The Conjuring 2 reaches for amidst its shocking and tense mood. Young Madison Wolfe holds her own in her scenes with the more accomplished performers here. There’s also a terrific turn from Simon McBurney (The Last King of Scotland, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation) as Maurice Gross, a man searching for proof of life after death but who may be too easily convinced. On the polar opposite in the troupe is Anita Gregory (Franka Potente, TV’s Copper, The Bourne Identity) who is out to prove the Hodgson haunting a hoax.

Wan’s always had great cinematography in his films, and The Conjuring 2 is no exception. It would seem that the horror director’s entire filmography has led to this, from his smaller pictures like Saw to his action-packed extravaganza with Furious 7. Wan’s work has created a unique style pulling from everything he has done before and creating something wholly new.

Another progression is that of Joseph Bishara, who scored the film. Bishara is much more restrained than in previous works like Insidious, his score only enhancing scares instead of instigating them. It works very well here.

James Wan swings for the fences, even if he misses on the special effects. There is a hint of swift CGI to this film involving one particular element that I won’t mention here. You’ll know it when you see it, this piece of CGI will not age well, even if it didn’t completely take me out of the movie.

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The Conjuring 2 feels so personal and so profound, the master stroke of a filmmaker in full control of his craft. It’s incredible to have been a fan of this storytelling for over a decade and to see his metamorphosis into a skilled and strong filmmaker who impresses me more each time I enter the cinema. See The Conjuring 2. It’ll make you believe in studio horror again.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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

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

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

31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 28 – The Collection (2012)

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Director: Marcus Dunstan

Cast: Josh Stewart, Emma Fitzpatrick, Christopher McDonald, Randall Archer, Lee Tergesen

Screenplay: Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan

82 mins. Rated R for strong bloody violence, grisly images, language and brief nudity.

 

The 2009 film The Collector was written as a prequel to Saw, but when the producers vetoed that option, it became The Collector. While The Collector had its moments, it had just as many faults. Director Marcus Dunstan seems to have learned from his mistakes for the 2012 sequel The Collection, a highly stylized game of cat and mouse which sees Arkin (Josh Stewart, Interstellar, Transcendence) escaping from the clutches of The Collector (Randall Archer). Immediately after, Arkin is enlisted by Lucello (Lee Tergesen, Monster, Red Tails) and his boss Mr. Peters (Christopher McDonald, Requiem for a Dream, About Last Night) to find Peters’ daughter Elena (Emma Fitzpatrick, The Social Network, Before We Go), the Collector’s newest claim. When they get to the slasher’s lair, they discover that the Collector has a few more tricks in store for them.

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I’m not going to tell you that The Collection is a perfect horror film. It has faults, but it takes a major step up from its predecessor. Arkin has become a much more likable lead, having evolved from his criminal ways. The addition of equally likable Elena and Lucello, we have several characters that we care about. We want to see them live. When they fall into danger, I genuinely wanted them to survive.

I enjoyed the Collector’s background and the extensive look at how he operates as a serial killer, and though I agree that his lair and the traps he sets seem almost like he has second sight, but if you can suspend your disbelief enough, you can find fun here.

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The Collection won’t be for everyone. The film has a lot of detractors, but fans of the original will find a lot to like. Its creative team has evolved in the three years between the films, and it looks good for future endeavors.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of Marcus Dunstan’s The Collector, click here.

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