Movie Review: AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR – a technically impressive achievement, but I didn’t quite love it.

So the headline describes this movie perfectly for me.  Marvel’s 19th movie in its cinematic franchise is a hugely impressive piece of movie making, given the sheer scope.  I’m not just referring to the visuals, since this is generally the part of a CGI fest I find the least impressive.  No, the technical aspect I’m talking about are all the behind-the camera stuff, from script to production and everything in between (the legal department must have worked overtime for weeks on just the contracts).  Avengers: Infinity War is finally the main event that the franchise has been building toward since 2012’s Avengers, arguably 2011’s Captain America.

Continue reading “Movie Review: AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR – a technically impressive achievement, but I didn’t quite love it.”

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Movie Review: THE QUIET PLACE – to hell with the Rotten Tomatoes rating, this generic PG-13 horror movie is mediocre with flashes of abject laziness.

I have to say, when I saw the trailer for A Quiet Place a few months ago, my reaction was pretty muted.  It looked like it might be okay, but nothing that was going to make an impact either at the box office, or a lasting impression in the minds of those who went to see it.  Well, I can tell you that as far as Your Humble Narrator is concerned, I was spot on, but I’m clearly in the minority with my opinion, just like how I was with Veronica, a mostly blah horror movie with a legion of fans that loved it.  There’s no right or wrong opinions about movies, and I’m not so inclined to question the taste of people who like movies I don’t,  but I just can’t understand the high ratings for this movie.

As anyone who regularly stops by to read my reviews, you’ll know I admit to being very particular about horror movies.  I’m not looking for gore, and no horror movie has scared me since I was a kid, so I’m looking for atmosphere and character overall.  You want examples of this: The Witch, and very recently, Pyewacket.   But I’m also looking for authenticity, meaning: does it feel right to me?  Even though I don’t believe in anything, whether it be aliens, or ghosts, or magic, I need to believe in the world of the movie, and the goings on in it.  Of course, I’m very capable of suspending my disbelief, otherwise I wouldn’t enjoy any movie, but some movies I can buy, some I can’t, and The Quiet Place was one I just couldn’t buy.

The story is this: subsequent to the arrival on the Earth’s surface of vicious, voracious creatures who only have a hyper-sensitive sense of hearing with which to detect prey, a family try to survive on a remote farm while the world has seemingly been ravaged by the creatures, and the only way to do this is by living a silent lifestyle.  The Abbott family is led by Lee and Evelyn (real life husband and wife John Krasinsky and Emily Blunt), with kids Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and Marcus (Noah Jupe), and after a tragic opening that sees them leading a nomadic life, the rest of the movie takes place on a rural farm.

My misgivings about the integrity of the story started very quickly.  The entire premise of the movie is DO NOT MAKE A SOUND OR YOU WILL BE KILLED.  That’s it.  It’s simple and there’s nothing to clarify, and as shown many times in the movie, the parents spend lots of time emphasizing that one, single key to survival, yet the rules are broken time and time again, either willingly (which leads to the tragedy at the beginning), or with such reckless abandon (a pregnancy, a nail – which I’ll get to – the carelessly placed lamp from the trailer) that I began to wonder what was in the minds of the writers to create characters that seem so smart and cautious, only to have them act so dumb.  The answer, of course, is to generate contrived dramatic situations, and this is one contrived movie from beginning to end.

As well as this, I found many logistical issues with the premise.  A newspaper headline screams “IT’S SOUND!” implying that Earth has been under heavy attack for some time – yet this newspaper was not only able to run its printing presses at  a feverish pitch in order to get the word out, but trucks would be needed to  get the actual papers delivered.  That didn’t make any sense to me at all.  People are still doing their jobs when monsters are roaming the streets?  Still going out to get the paper?  Nit picky?  Hey, I never said I wasn’t.  And then there’s the farm the Abbotts have come to live on – those grounds are pretty well tended, considering the creatures can hear the tiniest sound …  And on this farm there was a nail, EE I EE I OWW!  This scene drove me crazy.  The nail is poking up a good inch and a half from a stairway that is clearly used a lot – if you’re casing the place for things that could cause you to make a sound (and the movie has very particular scenes of the family doing its best to soundproof the place), you don’t miss that nail.  You just don’t.  Yet somehow, they do.  Because the writers needed drama.  I’ll give out a rare spoiler, though if you haven’t seen the movie, you’ve already guessed what happens from this paragraph.  Someone stands on it.  And literally, from that point on, all I could think of was that every time someone, or something, descended those steps to the basement, they’d stand on it, like that visual gag of someone stepping on all of the garden rakes surrounding him and getting whacked in the face by the handles.  It was such a dumb element of the movie that it completely ruined the credibility of the characters for me, thus my interest in the movie was lost forever.

Another infuriating aspect was the creatures themselves.  Look, I don’t need to know where they came from, I don’t need some kind of pre-credit sequence of them bursting forth from the Earth’s bowels, or hitchhiking to Earth on some passing asteroid … but I definitely need to hear characters that are thinking “WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING HERE” and speculating, like any sane human would do, even if just for the sake of the audience.  There was also the problem I had about their super-hearing.  It’s completely and utterly non-discriminating.  They evolved somewhere with just the power of hearing, yet it’s completely useless when there are louder sounds nearby.  So you can talk by a country river or a waterfall because these monsters won’t be able to separate the sound of a prey animal from the naturally occurring sounds of nature?  Yeah, that’s shitty writing.  And nobody has figured out that surrounding, say, a country home, with some high quality speakers  will increase your survival odds mightily?  And these monsters took down humanity (well, it’s implied, at least)?  I just can’t buy it.  With all the scientists on Earth, with so many sound engineers on Earth, absolutely nobody figured out how to stop  these things before they decimated the planet?  Nope, it’s utterly unbelievable.

And may I say, the creature design is straight from whatever Monster Design 101 class exists in the CGI world.  They’re just the same kind of faceless shouty/roary thing you’ve seen in the movies for almost 20 years now, scaled down.  Think the monster from Cloverfield, the Kraken from the Clash of the Titans remake.  Boring, uninspired, and lazy.

But c’mon man, what about the movie itself?  Krasinski does a fine directing job, and while the writing is mostly awful, there are some effective scenes sprinkled throughout, and the performances are much better than the script needs them to be – but these are the tiny nuggets you can see shining in a deep bucket of dross.  Overall, it’s not a terrible movie, but there’s no way I can buy that it was ever 100% fresh on the Tomatometer.

2.5/5.0

© Andrew Hope, 2018

Movie Review: PYEWACKET – It’s too bad the title will put a lot of people off, because this indie horror is a terrific watch.

Yeah, so that title.  I can’t stand it, and I think it will put people off from giving the movie a fair shot.  Look, even I find it off-putting, and I know what it means! But the vast majority of people who see the title won’t.  It’ll just be a funny title that sounds like it could be some kind of slapstick comedy involving people getting hit in the face with custard pies and getting whacked on the behind with a paddle.  But of course, I’m British and grew up with these kind of vaudevillian shenanigans on the Beeb, so there you go.

Facetiousness aside, the title is actually the name of a witch’s familiar from the old days of the Salem Witch Trials, and in the movie it’s used to call forth into being a supernatural entity to do the bidding of a moody teenager, Leah (played incredibly well by Nicole Munoz).  If I stopped there and said no more you’d get as bad an idea of the movie as the title, but in all honesty this is the best horror movie I’ve seen this year by a long stretch.

If you’ve seen The Witch and enjoyed it (as I did), I can almost guarantee that you’ll get a lot of satisfaction out of this.  While it’s as connected to the goings on in Salem as The Witch, Pyewacket is a contemporary story, taking place in what looks like rural New England (it was filmed in Canada), but as well as that connective, thematic tissue, it also shares a distinctly creepy atmosphere and cloying sense of foreboding.  It also resonates with me because of two well-defined themes in regard to the specific nature of witchcraft and occult magic, and to the broad definition of horror as a whole.  I won’t expound on these pet themes of mine  here, but I see horror at its most successful when it deals with the inexorable doom of an innocent.  In movies like Candyman this is most evident.  No matter what the protagonist does, their situation winds tighter and tighter around them until death, or something equally bad, is the inevitable fate.  It’s a deeply personal throughline, unlike lesser movies that only serve up one pointless death after another.  And I’m extremely particular about black magic being a false salvation, with the high personal cost it requires from the user.  Pyewacket succeeds thanks to a largely terrific script by writer/director Adam MacDonald that’s heavy on character and ambiguity, but which also contains a couple of well done set pieces that  come at exactly the right times in the narrative, creating a supremely balanced horror movie.  I didn’t expect to be thrilled by this, but that’s exactly what happened after the closing scene.

Like A Dark Song, Pyewacket is the story of harnessing the power of the occult via ritual magic, with the ultimate goal of lashing out at others.  In Pyewacket, the ritual is authentic-seeming enough to appease me, and I’m a harsh critic of how the occult is generally depicted in horror movies.  What I really liked about the movie is the impact just performing the ritual has on Leah.  Dabbling in the occult is not for the faint of heart, and the regret Leah feels is palpable and almost instantaneous.  I loved this aspect of the movie, and Munoz delivers in a praise-worthy performance.  So too does Laurie Holden, recognizable from The Mist,  Silent Hill, and The Walking Dead.  Here, she is convincing as a recent widow struggling to maintain the relationship she has with her daughter, who is also trying to come to terms of her own grief over the loss of her father.  It’s never explained what happened to him, but it’s not necessary.  MacDonald’s script is pointedly focused on the gulf that grief has pushed between them, allowing for the occult to slink into that growing gap.

This is truly a small movie, but low-budget doesn’t imply low quality moviemaking.  Christian Bielz’s photography is terrific and moody, as is the musical score by Lee Malia, but the real star of the show is Adam MacDonald, whom I’d never heard of before.  This movie is the work of a real craftsman, and everything just seems to come together perfectly – I hope he doesn’t peak with this movie, but it’s hard to see him topping it any time soon.  The movie is produced by Jonathan Bronfman and Andrew Bronfman, who are also among the producers of both The Witch and another good little horror movie, The Void

I can’t say enough good things about the other cast members who round out the production.  Leah’s high school circle of friends are believably written, but also played well by Eric Osborne (Aaron), Romeo Carere (Rob), and especially Chloe Rose who, as Janice, is key in two of the movie’s most effective scenes.

At one point, I thought the movie could go off the rails if a minor character’s role in the movie became more important in act three, but MacDonald keeps it to a minimum – though having said that, I found this character’s two brief appearances in the movie to be mostly irrelevant to the narrative, as Leah is such a strongly written – and motivated – character she could easily have not needed the advice this character imparts.

I started off the review complaining about the title, but I’m going to tell you to ignore it. It’ll never grow on you – like I said, it didn’t grow on me even though I was familiar (heh) with the meaning – but it doesn’t need to.  Here, black magic is used to tell a story about the crippling effects of grief on the individual and the family, and how it can lead to destruction without the conscious effort to move on.  It’s a beautifully told horror movie, with much higher production values than lesser moviemakers could squeeze out of this budget.  The bottom line is, if you’re like me and include The Blair Witch Project and The Witch in your list of favourite horror movies, I can virtually guarantee that you’ll like Pyewacket.

4.0/5.0

©Andrew Hope, 2018